My Ontario adventure began this Saturday in Sarnia. When I was taken from my father I lost contact with my mother’s extended family as well. Here is a vignette from the first leg of my two-week journey. The Watt family took me to a local pizza joint to hear their good friends perform.
His name is Dave Thomas. I’m not kidding. His wife, Miss Erin, is a red head. I resist the drunken urge to call her Wendy as I watch Dave’s fingers dance across his keyboard. Dave, a family friend, is playing a set at a local pizza joint. The establishment is a cross between a restaurant and a bar.
I’m sitting with the Watt clan at a table in front of the band. My Aunt Lu is my grandmother’s sister. She and my uncle Randy have welcomed me into their lives with open arms. They’ve agreed to answer important questions about the night I was taken from my father in September 1983. Swaying to the music, they keep my plate full of pizza and my cup full of beer. My cousins Debbie, Luanne and their husbands are with us too. I’ve only been with them for four hours and already we’re meshing as a family.
The bar lights above Dave’s head catch the diamond stud in his left ear, casting a tiny disco ball of light onto my left shoulder. He reminds me of Walter White, baldhead, goatee except instead of breaking bad he’s breaking into song.
When Dave’s not teaching music classes to local area children he’s playing it; giving birth to it in a way that makes you wonder why he’s performing in a pizza joint while people with less talent travel the world making millions. Dave is dressed in black patent leather shoes and a white button up shirt. He looks like a lyrical pirate of sorts, stealing our hearts through the words of Elton John.
“I’m not the man they think I am at home. Oh no no no…”
The lyrics touch me. I know what Elton is saying. It’s what my trip is all about. People know me as a certain person from a certain place and a certain family. They don’t know about the people I was taken from in 1983. Neither do I. That’s why I’m here.
Dave Thomas has a partner with him. Wulf Andrious Von Waldow. He’s a quiet fellow with intense eyes. He’s completely beige – hat, hair, knit sweater, pants, beard. He blends in with the brown walls of the bar with the exception of his black and grey Nike sneakers. Von Waldow is a perfect name for him, I whisper to uncle Randy. He’ll likely go missing between sets, blending in with the walls and everyone will have to look for him.
Where’s Von Waldow? Where’s Terra? I connect with him. We’re a part of the same game.
Von Waldow is a true artist. When he closes his eyes and put his saxophone to his lips the quiet introvert disappears. What was beige become black and grey. Watching him interact with his saxophone is like watching lovers. They stand to the left of the stage with their lips locked, making music. Von Waldow doesn’t need to talk. He says everything he needs to say to his saxophone and she, in turn, tells us what he’s thinking and feeling. She contextualized him. Von Waldow’s saxophone makes him feel found.
I feel found too. Sitting in the pizza parlor with my Aunt Lu, Uncle Randy and cousins I have a better sense of who I am and where I came from. I’m no longer a pair of black and grey shoes in a beige motif, complimentary but not quite right. My place within this clan is visible and understood. We heckle and adore Dave Thomas. We rib my cousin Luanne for ordering spaghetti in a pizza joint. My cousin Debbie has hiccups like a storybook drunk and we laugh as she slurs her words, telling us she never drinks this much (and she doesn’t). We’re the kind of people who notice the little things and used them to tease and appreciate one another. We celebrate big moments and leave ourselves open to extreme happiness, and on occasion, sorrow.
As the night draws to an end, Dave Thomas and I make eye contact. I give him a nod and he nods back. Registering what my heart means to say, he puts his hands to his keyboard and begins another song.
It’s perfect. I want to wrap it in a box and give it to my family. When they hear it I want them to feel every hug and kiss we missed for 31 years rush through them. I want them to know I love them from that place between your ribs, below year heart, that paramedics pump when they’re trying to bring you back to life.
Dave Thomas says it so well.
“I hope you don’t mind. I hope you don’t mind. That I put down in words. How wonderful life is now you’re in the world.”