September 20, 2009

Not crossing that bridge...

I've only ever mentioned this story to a few people. It's one of those sad and embarrassing episodes that is uncomfortable to tell, and yet, important to talk about.

When I was about 10 or 11, my Grandfather came over from Victoria to visit with us. While in Vancouver, he stayed at the old Alcazar Hotel (long gone now, I believe). Poppy, as my sister and I called him, was formerly a Corporal in the RCMP, and by all accounts, a gentleman and as they say, "a stand-up guy".

My mum wasn't with us, so I assume this was during a time when she was temporarily under some Doctor's care, perhaps at Riverview or somewhere else. As kids, we just knew that Mummy wasn't well, and that she was away and we really didn't know when she'd be home again.

We all went for a car ride in Dad's 1968 Plymouth Valiant. Dad was dressed in a white long-sleeved dress shirt, no tie, and dark dress slacks. Normally, he'd wear a coloured or patterned shirt and roll up the sleeves, so the white dress shirt meant that this was a somewhat formal Sunday event. Kim and I were dressed in nice clothes as well. For the life of me now, I cannot remember if this "Sunday drive" included a visit to see our Mother, but it's a distinct possibility. My Mother would be the first person Poppy would want to see, and a major reason for his visit to Vancouver. My Mother was always very dear to Poppy, and he to her. For all I know, as genial and respectful as my father always was to his father-in-law, there might have also been a bit of tension between them, or some resentment from my Dad, seeing how much his wife idolized her father. (I can only speculate, and will never ever know.)

Anyway, Dad drove us all through town, with Poppy in the front seat and Kim and I in the back. The day was a clear and cool, with sunlight coming through the occasional cloud. We drove quietly through the West End of Vancouver and into Stanley Park. This was probably my first look at Stanley Park, and I enjoyed seeing how green everything was, and how many trees there were.

Dad seemed very quiet and didn't say very much at all. I thought his mood was strange. I didn't realize what was really going on with him.

As we approached the Lion's Gate Bridge, I saw Dad look in his rear view mirror and say something. Just before the bridge, Dad pulled the car over to the side of the road and stopped. A Police Officer came up to his window and said something to him, and Dad went into his pocket and handed over something. We all got out of the car.

Dad's face was down, and his expression was very dark. We stayed by the car with Poppy while Dad was led over to the police car. The policeman put Dad's hands behind his back. I saw the glint of the handcuffs and heard the clicks as they were fastened around Dad's wrists. My Dad had been arrested for driving drunk. I'm certain that he was deeply ashamed of himself. Back then I felt so disappointed in him, and also sad for him.

The bottom had completely fallen out of our strange Sunday family drive, and we stood by the side of the road with the cars rushing past and no more sense of purpose. Kim asked Poppy something, and then Kim and I began finding a way to place or distract ourselves until a cab would come and take us home. I don't remember Poppy getting angry or even saying much at all. He kept his opinions to himself for our sake.

Thank god Poppy had been there with us. I loved my Dad, but this time, it was Poppy who was the one I looked up to.

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