It was 1978, I was in my early thirties, and I was working for Varian Associates as Canadian Sales Manager for their electron device group. I got a chance to go to England with one of our customers to visit one of Varian’s factories and attend a broadcast conference in Wembley.
Remember, I’m a British born Canadian living now in the USA. I was going home and I had not been there since a short vacation in 1962 with the family. I had left England at the ripe old age of ten in 1957, 12 years after the war. This was the ﬁrst year that the British could leave the UK taking sizable amounts of cash with them. Until 1957 “exchange controls” prevented the English from taking money out of the country. My father had accepted a job near Toronto, Canada, and we emigrated from the UK to Canada.
Arrangements were made for me to spend the ﬁrst few days with the customer in London and then I rented a car and headed to Bristol, the city of my birth. Unbeknownst to me, this was going to be a very nostalgic trip.
I was alone, and I tried to ﬁnd the home in which I grew up and the school that I attended prior to leaving England. I remembered the house that I grew up in had a huge front yard on the Gloucester Road in Patchway near Bristol. Gloucester Road in 1957 was a two-lane road. In 1978 it had become a multi lane dual carriageway (as the Brits call it) and the huge front yard that I remembered was now part of that road. I ﬁnally spotted the house, found a place to park a mile or so away, and walked to the house down a service road beside the highway. I walked up to the front door hoping to ﬁnd someone home who’d let me visit the old house.
There was no reply, so I carefully walked along the side of the house up the driveway to the garages in back and found the walk emotionally challenging. The last time I’d been on this driveway was twenty odd years earlier at the age of ten. Details of the old home, the shed, the garage, the ﬁshpond that my dad nearly drowned in when he backed his wheelbarrow out of the shed ﬂooded my brain with nostalgic memories. In the garden at the rear of the house stood a much larger version of the Mountain Ash tree that I had climbed as a youngster. Beside the tree was the same cedar fence that had been there all those years ago, and in that fence was a small gap about an inch wide at the top from which I had saved a small ﬂedgling bird that had fallen from a nest in that Mountain Ash tree many years ago. What a rush! I will always remember that walk up that driveway.
I returned to my car and looked for the school named Patchway C. of E. (Church of England) school. It was not where I expected it to be, but distances on foot at the age of ten and in a car at the age of thirty something are quite different. Asking around I began to realize that there were four lanes of highway over that school now.
I headed from there to my Father’s birthplace, Winterbourne, not too many miles away. I will try to describe the next few hours to you, but I’m afraid that my expressive skills may miss some of the feelings I experienced that afternoon.
I remembered a couple of things. I remembered my Dad telling me that he grew up in a house called Saint Quentin; the British always had names for their houses, on Dragon Road in Winterbourne. As a youngster we had visited family there several times, but the geography of Dragon Road was not ﬁrmly set in my brain.
I parked in the quiet village after driving by streets? of stone row houses built in the mid to late eighteen hundreds. Many were grown over with ivy and weeds, and I could not see the name Saint Quentin on any of the homes. I decided to knock on what looked like one of the friendlier doors on Dragon Road.
The door opened, a well dressed slim woman in her seventies answered the door, looked at me quizzically and said “You’re Peter Cane’s son.” As they say, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was immediately ushered in and the neighbors were summoned. I was barraged with questions about our life in Canada and tales of my dad as a youngster. I now know that he was the angel he presented himself to be when he was a young man living on this street.
I knew that Auntie Wilma lived at Saint Quentin, and I asked about her and how to ﬁnd the house. It was about three or four doors down the road, a little smaller but as heavily overgrown as the home of Miss Haversham in that Dickens book.
With some trepidation I walked down the road and found the house. The name Saint Quentin or at least some of its letters could be seen through the bushes, trees and ivy. I knocked on the door. I heard someone shufﬂing and grumbling as she made her way towards the door from the other side. The noises she made and the grumbling noises caused me to laugh out loud a little. My laugh caused the shufﬂing noises to stop on the other side of the door, and from the new silence came this old woman’s voice asking the question, “Peter?” I had no idea that my Father’s laugh and mine were so similar.
I shouted, “No, It’s Peter’s son, Chris”, Auntie Wilma opened the door and I was in for tea.
What a day that was. It will never be repeated. The driveway, the gap in the fence, the ﬁshpond, being recognized as Peter Cane’s son by sight and sound made it perhaps the most memorable day of my life.
It still brings a tear to my eye.