I’ve been talking about the project with my son Harry. He’s 9 and a story-teller from way back.
When he was a baby he chattered endlessly. Brian and I would smile at each other and wonder “Will he talk this much when he has words?” He comes by it honestly. It’s the Irish in our family background I sense in his gift and love of the gab. Mind you, that’s my side of things, so Brian might disagree.
When I asked him about a time that stood out when he had experienced compassion, he grew thoughtful and then remembered:
“We were in Ontario at grammie’s and I got really sick with a fever. I couldn’t even walk! You went out to get me medicine and it made me better.”
I love this moment because we were deep in the heart of suburbia, my childhood home in Scarborough, Ontario. The day before we’d gone for a walk in Thomson Park, named after the first European settlers in the area. We talked about how most of in Canada were immigrants at one time, including our family that came to Toronto in the 1700’s.
We talked about the aboriginal people who lived here before we came, and still do. I told him there was an Iroquois burial ground in Scarborough from the 1200’s. We talked about aboriginal land claims and Vancouver friends who were Iroquois.
As we walked and talked we came to the Cornell House which is now a museum of pioneer life, complete with a traditional Enlish style kitchen garden. I noticed the lemon balm growing, past due for harvesting. It’s a native of the Mediterranean but well-established all over North America. Another immigrant that’s grown deep roots here.
Later that evening when Harry got sick, I returned and hopped the fence into the now locked garden. I left a little tobacco in thanks by the base of the plant, as I learned to do from aboriginal elders, and snipped enough for tea. I don’t always do this but that sense of being back home, and yet far from home, and all our conversations about ancestors woke my sense of gratitude and respect.
The latin name for lemon balm is “Melissa” which means happy. It’s long been one of Harry’s herbal allies. He says he feels calm when he drinks the tea. It’s safe for kids, one of the many gifts from the mint family, and grows everywhere in Vancouver. Harry spies it as we walk the dog through the back lane’s and munches on it, staining his lips and teeth green.
The lemons and honey came from a green grocer not too far from the park. The shops change frome decade to decade but they remain home to immigrant businesses- this plaza is now completely halal and I was the only white-face shopper in the plaza.
When I got home Harry and snuggled on the couch while he sipped his tea. He fell into a deep sleep. The fever broke. When he woke up he was all better, in fact, he was full of beans. My mom and I marvelled at the resilience of his young body. I felt like I’d been on a long journey.