On Tuesday mornings I go to the Middle School. A couple of weeks ago, visiting a Grade 6 Art class, a girl over whose shoulder I was looking turned and said, “Are you a grandfather?”
Bemused, I replied, “Now what makes you ask that?”
“Because you look like a grandfather,” she said.
“Is that a good thing?”
“Oh yes,” she said.
My own father, the grandfather of my children, lives in Sussex, New Brunswick. He is 84, and has been slowed in recent years by COPD, a much more common ailment than I ever knew. Last week, the Canadian Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) had its annual Heads and Chairs conference in St. John, New Brunswick, about 45 minutes from Sussex. In the fall of 2010, it will be the turn of the west to hold the conference, and we will be hosting it here in Victoria. This year’s conference, therefore, allowed me a brief visit to my father.
The drive from Sussex to St. John covers terrain quite different from ours here around Victoria. It is more rugged, but less dramatic. Rugged because it is less pervasively green, with granite and limestone splitting through the soil like a body that has outgrown its old clothes. Glaciation and centuries of erosion have done this work. Less dramatic because it is not a mountainous but a rolling countryside, treed mainly with pine, spruce and deciduous trees. In the middle of October, on a sunny day such as the one that befell me on that drive, the landscape looked as if kindergarten children had spilled all their brightest colours across it – bright blue sky, green of conifers, orange, red and yellow of changing poplars and maples, and brown at the edges where the colours melted together in fields now fallow along the St. John River. The highway is not at all busy, and one can let the eyes wander a bit more than would normally be the case.
A few days earlier, north of Toronto, I had stood amid a similar palette of colours. It was time for our annual Toronto alumni reception, at the home of Marianne Anderson, class of 1980 and the school’s first Head Girl. I stayed with my son and his wife, who live in Toronto, and who ten days earlier – just three or four days before the girl in the grade 6 asked me her clairvoyant question – had told me that I was, in fact, to be a grandfather. I have contemplated several times now how history (even if it is the history of our school) and centuries of glaciation can recede behind the foreground of a new child. The past is important, and the future is important, and the two meet in every one of us as we live our present moments. But in a school, and for me at that particular moment, I am very aware that all this important past exists to nourish the important futures of these children.