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Holiday Gathering

Mist floated in and out, hiding and then revealing the Olympic Mountains in Washington State across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

It was an American Thanksgiving feast, but I was celebrating in Canada, outside the village of Sooke, an hour’s drive west of Victoria.

In front of a fireplace nearly as tall as me, I sat with eight others, some American, some Canadian.  Along for the ride was the little Scottie, Nellie, who I was dog-sitting in Victoria for the month, and the golden-curled neighborhood dog Salty, the size of a small pony, who calmly observed the little dog barking at the giant for all she was worth.

I was at the feast because I’d met a couple at a Victoria pub on the American Election Night. American Democrats and a few Independents watched the election returns on CNN and PBS. We cheered at the good news, booed at the bad, and enjoyed being out of the country for these elections. I sat with two recently retired psychologists from Minnesota. She had inherited a home near Victoria, and the two were beginning their official retirement by spending six months a year in Canada, and the other six months in the States. (Canadians do not want United States citizens immigrating here unless they are young and savvy enough to bring a livelihood that will help Canada.)

In fact, when I drove off the ferry from Port Angeles, Washington, Nov. 1, I was grilled by Canadian Border Services. What brought me to Canada? How long did I plan on staying? How did I meet the person for whom I would housesit? Did I have a full-time job in the States? Did I own my home? Even though I had no trepidations, the intense questioning from a man who did not possess a smile made me identify with asylum seekers at our southern borders.

After meeting the Minnesota couple and being invited to their wonderful Canadian home on the water, I was happy to land in a fascinating group. They told stories about the bears on the island that raid garbage cans and steal apples off the trees. They talked about the growing number of hunters in the nearby woods with what looked like semi-assault rifles, concerned that bad American habits were slipping across the border. And they debated which were cuter: river otters or sea otters?

The hostess and her father, a retired American counsel general, regaled us with adventures from Haiti to Beirut.

On my drive home, my head bursting with stories, the full moon rose over the black, rain-soaked roads.

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The highlight of my trip that made me the most thankful, however, took place before I even crossed the border of our northern neighbors.

In Bend, Oregon, I spent three days with my grown step-daughter. We had gone through some rough patches as her dad and I attempted to merge two families, including three teenagers. She and I loved one another, but it was not always simple. That marriage ended about a dozen years ago, with lots of hurt to go around.

Seeing her now — grounded, and with a master’s degree, new baby and terrific partner, filled my heart. We laughed, we cried, and we had some tough talks. But we also remembered the fun we had all those years ago, recalling the delicious but disastrous-looking desserts we baked together on Thanksgivings. We made funny faces at her adorable 2-month-old son, and talked parenting, life  — and Netflix.

They say time heals, but this was more than time passing. While we have kept up from a distance, on this visit we were able to compare notes and fill in blank spaces for each other from when we were all together, and the days and years that followed. We let down our guards, and I have a daughter again. She’s an inspiration to me, and my world is fuller because of our friendship.

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