A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


When A House Is Not A Home
Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sometime in 1990 we started getting phone calls from the front (the Gulf War). American soldiers were given the opportunity to call their loved ones in the US to tell them that they were alive and well. These calls came from two brothers (black they were) who had befriended my oldest daughter Ale. The first time they came to our house, we had not be warned, Ale showed up with two men who looked like Pad Doc Duvalier’s Ton-Ton Macoutes. One of them was so large that his nickname was, I believe like that of American NFL player William Perry, The Refrigerator.

Rosemary, my wife, coming from the small village of New Dublin, Ontario was shocked. I attempted to be more liberal and asked the boys to stay for dinner. The calls from the Gulf, to tell me that they were ok since I was supposed to be concerned as to their wellbeing, became suspect after a few weeks. It seems that the two boys had woven a story of truths and half-truths (when truth is simple it is far more fun to invent a more complicated reality) and Ale in the end kissed them goodbye.

It had been in 1962 when my friend Robert had noticed I did not seem to have the capacity to make female friends. “I know of a girl who has everything you would want in one. She is intelligent and artistic.” So I had a blind date with an American black woman who was a converted Jew who told me, “My name is Benjamin but you can call me Benji.” She was pretty enough but it was difficult for me to reconcile my idea of what was beautiful with a person who had wiry kinky hair and large thick ( I could not recognize their sensuousness at the time). Wherever we walked in Mexico City we were stared at. I decided to invite Benji to visit my mother in Veracruz. In Veracruz my mother used her large house to teach the children of the executives and engineers of a large Alcoa aluminum plant there. I happened to mention to my mother that my Benji was black. My mother was most liberal and accommodating but she still said, “This friend of yours would not sit well with the people who have hired me here. I suggest you do not bring her.” I remember distinctly saying to her, “If I cannot bring my friends to your house which is my home then it is no longer my home.”

The relationship ended for two reasons. Benji and I had coffee at a beatnik café in Mexico City called La Rana Sabia (the wise frog) and she told me that no woman ever had dates with a man without considering the man a potential marriageable mate. I looked at myself as she said this and decided there was too much of my life in front of me to commit to any idea of marriage. Not too long after I went to Argentina to do my military service and I kissed Benji goodbye. In Buenos Aires I received a gift subscription to Downbeat Magazine from her and then she just disappeared somewhere in Chicago.

Today we had our Thanksgiving dinner because Ale drove fom Lillooet. So we had Hilary, Rebecca and Lauren ( Hilary’s husband Bruce works until late so he could not come). Our pleasant dinner was tempered by guilt in my part.

A few days before Ale had called to tell us she was bringing a Japanese exchange student/teacher and that she would stay with us. We have an iffy arrangement with our upstairs bathrooms in that one of the tubs leaks while a toilet in the other does not work. This results in an awkward situation especially if we have guests we don’t know. Ale is welcome to stay but anybody else imposes stress on both Rosemary and I. Hilary had already figured out some musical beds in her own house and was willing to allow both Ale and her friend to stay. I simply told Ale that this was imposing on us and particularly on something as an intimate family dinner on the special occasion that is Thanksgiving.

Ale “uninvited” her friend and arrived alone for our Thanksgiving dinner. I understand that I was wrong and that a home to be a home has to always be open to our children's friends. The other side of the family-gathering-coin is our duty in putting a bit of effort to meet new people who are friendly to our daughters and to keep that line of communication alive. I fell most guilty and for the record I will try harder the next time.

Our house is not always a home. And that is tragic.

The scan you see here is that of a lowly astilbe from the garden showing off its brilliant fall colouring.


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