This is my first writing assignment for school. The topic is a memory and since I am not presenting today, I offer it to you …..
My father was Italian born and owned a small grocery store in an isolated town in Northern Ontario. He was well known in the community for his premium meat counter and particularly recognized for his homemade Italian sausages, developed from the family recipe of his Calabrese mother. In today’s marketing language these sausages would be referred to as an artisanal product – hand made in small batches.
Making sausages for my father’s business was a very manual two person job. One person was required to turn the crank on the old, temperamental machine while the other person controlled the output at the other end to prevent the fragile casing of sheep’s intestine from overfilling and breaking.
My three older siblings had been pressed into service at the store in various roles and when I was ten years old my father decided that I, too, should be helping by occasionally making sausages in the evenings after dinner. I was not very happy about that decision. At eight pm on a school night, I simply wanted to put on warm pajamas and watch some television before bed. There weren’t many opportunities to watch TV and this bedtime privilege was highly valued. Instead, I would have to drudge to the store with my dad in the dark and cold of winter, often not returning home until long past my normal bedtime. I would then be expected to get up early the following morning to go to school as usual. Complaining, however, in our home, was not an option.
While my father was normally very gregarious and outgoing with his friends and customers, he was a quiet man without much to say to his children. He was often gruff and somewhat uncomfortable to be around. We weren’t encouraged to ask questions and certainly not engage in conversation, but on sausage nights, numbed by boredom, I considered all bets were off. I might have been his unwilling assistant, but on those evenings I held my father captive to my endless chatter and curiosity. In that dark basement, amid the racks of bathroom tissue and laundry soap, I peppered my father with streams of questions on whatever caught my fancy at that particular time.
He was not always cooperative to my interrogations, but for the most part, he tolerated my questions and some evenings he became outright chatty. There were certain topics he was never willing to talk about, like his experiences in the Canadian Army during the Second World War or about his life in Italy prior to coming to Canada. Those questions were normally met with a terse ‘why would you want to know that?’ This became my cue to be quiet for a while before I blithely moved on to the next subject. I never managed to crack his stony veneer on these subjects but they continued to hold endless fascination for me.
He would happily talk about the art of making sausages, the workings of a butcher shop, and generally most details my 10 year old mind could conjure up about his business. We talked about favourite colours, music, fishing and dozens of other topics.
In all these conversations I was looking for the spark of adventure in my father. I wanted to be wowed by his courage and daring, pithy insights or simply the ability to make me laugh at his cleverness. I was always disappointed. Perhaps that is the truth for all little girls who want to see a hero in their father. I began to see a simple, unassuming man. He never seemed to want or need anything more than what he already had. He never hinted at broken dreams or lost opportunities. It was as if any traces of adventure he may have had were long erased.
It was the beginning of a turning point for me. My fascination with the wider world was expanding beyond the small town I lived in. My immigrant parents had once lived out in that bigger world, but for the first time, I began to suspect that they would no longer be able to feed my growing curiosity. I began to feel I would need a bigger life, different from the one I knew.
These late night conversations, fuelled by a repetitive uninteresting task, gave birth to a compelling need for adventure – to explore, learn and experience as much of life as possible. Ironically, at the same time, a new bond had been forged between father and daughter. He had quietly instilled in his fourth child a strong work ethic and a powerful sense of responsibility. Going forward we would always seem to have the ability to easily share each other’s company.
I had been given a gift that took me years to recognize and appreciate.