Brand building through storytelling

My Mother – Elizabeth

In the early 1950s my father, like so many others, left Europe on a Canada bound ship. The idea was to go on his own, check things out, get established, make a few dollars then send for my mother. A picture taken at a train station shows him in profile, staring intently at something outside the frame, dapper in a suit and tie, a banded felt hat, an overcoat casually draped over one arm, the other around my mother who leans against him, eyes closed, young and beautiful, sobbing.

She gave him a package of cigarettes that day with a few sprigs of forget-me-nots tucked inside.

This story was one my mother never tired of telling; she positively revelled in the memory of her sadness and fear and recalled in dramatic detail the months of waiting, the strain of wondering after each letter if she’d hear from him again, the seemingly impossible chore of packing up a house, getting herself and my sister across an ocean that, until it made her very seasick, she hardly believed existed.

“Can you imagine?” she’d say, breathless. “And I did it all alone.”

Last year, at Pier 21, through a series of tiny miracles, I was able to find my mother?s ship. I saw her name and my sister’s on the passenger list among hundreds of strangers and I imagined her arrival in that very building?the noise and confusion of it, the waiting at immigration, unable to speak English, feeling like a charity case as she was given a small amount of money, having her papers stamped, putting faith in strangers who pointed her towards various trains, the first heading east, then a second, north, through bush and more bush until she was sure they were going the wrong way.

“Where were the cities?”

It was already dark when, on October 31st, the train pulled into the station at Kapuskasing. The night was cold and windy, there were children wearing costumes and masks, some shouting; nothing was as she’d expected. She stood on the platform holding my sister’s hand, trying not to cry as she watched other people embracing, laughing, people who knew where they belonged.

“And then I saw his coat!”

There in the distance, open and flapping behind him like a cape as he ran towards them, smiling, waving. She said she’d never forget that moment, that image of his coat.

I bring her forget-me-nots each spring; this year I also brought a picture of the ship she’d travelled on. I hadn’t heard the story in awhile, not since my father died a few years ago. I thought maybe seeing the ‘Groote Beer’ would spark something but she just nodded, said it was a nice looking boat. She no longer remembers the flowers or the cigarettes, doesn’t remember the journey, his billowing overcoat, not even her own courage, but she still remembers him, and she still never tires of the story. Whenever I tell it she leans forward and smiles, like it’s the first time.

–blogging at

Posted by carin

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