Thursday, 12 January 2012

A Lost Message Found


Chapter 1

October 2005

“Hey Peep! You came home at just the right time.” I announced while standing near the doorway to our home and pointing at the open sliding side door of the van. 

Inside the van were several cardboard boxes, the type that were once used for photocopier paper.

“Hey! Don’t call me Peep, Old Man.” Peep defiantly demanded with more than a hint of annoyance in her voice.

“Why not?” I questioned.

“That’s not my name.” she retorted.

“And Old Man's not mine… at least not yet.” I responded with parental authority.

“Wanna bet?” Peep challenged immediately.

“How much?” I asked in accepting her challenge.

“You better take a look in two mirrors first.” she suggested.

“Why two?” I foolishly asked while carrying one of the heavier boxes and setting it down on the floor just inside the doorway to the basement.

“In case you want a second opinion.” She responded; I walked into her well-timed barb with both eyes open.

“I need a volunteer to help me unload the van and carry these boxes to the basement…and you just volunteered.” I stated with the forcefulness a parent uses when leaving little choice for further discussion.

“Well I don’t think so.” Peep disagreed.

“Well I do think so, so let’s get busy.” I insisted with more forcefulness in my tone and then returned to the van for another box.

“You don’t just volunteer people to do things. You ask them.” she remarked argumentatively.

“In that case, consider yourself asked and I’ll consider that you've volunteered.” I replied, considering the matter settled.

I lifted a smaller box out of the van and handed it to Peep.

“You missed my point.” she added while reluctantly accepting the box.

“No, but we’re not running a democracy.” I decreed.

“And we’re not running a dictatorship either.” She countered and then set the box down at her feet.

“Well today we are!” I insisted. 

Picking up the box, I handed it back to her and said, “The sooner we get these boxes moved to the basement, the sooner we can do whatever it is we’re going to do.”

I paused to think about what I had just said and then asked, “What is it that we’re going to do?”

“We doesn’t mean you.” she clarified.

“It doesn’t?” I questioned in disbelief and feigning surprised shock.

“No.” Peep reiterated.

“Well I’m glad you got that part right.” I conceded, sounding as if I had narrowly avoided getting involved with something I really did not want to be doing.

“I’m meeting some of my friends from church and we’re going out for Chinglish food.” She explained.

“What kind of food is that?” I inquired.

“You know. Chinese and English. Chinglish.” Peep briefly explained while sounding as if she was telling me something I should have already known.

“Chinglish?” I questioned rhetorically.

“Oh Dad. Don’t be so gwei-lo.” She admonished.

“Hey! I know what that means.” I remarked and then pointed toward the doorway, indicating that was where the box she was still holding was supposed to go.

“Well you should after all these years.” she remarked.

“Why?” I asked, knowing the answer but wondering what comment would follow.

“You know what I mean.” was all she said.

I said nothing else and we soon had the boxes piled on the floor in the center of the basement. Later I would rearrange items on the shelves to make room for the boxes.

Peep is my daughter, but of course Peep is not her real name. My daughter has always had a quick sharp wit and an instant answer or comment for everything. When I started calling her Peep, the name just stuck. She lives in two worlds; one Asian and the other Caucasian. I suspect that when convenient she takes full advantage of both worlds but maybe never actually fully belongs to either. At times she can seem more Asian than Caucasian in her demeanor, but at other times the reverse is also true.

“What’s inside?” she prodded, referring to the boxes.

“Books.” I replied.

“What kind of books?” she persisted.

“Do you really want to know?” I asked.

“Not really.” she dismissed.

“Music books mostly.” I revealed anyway.

“Can I take a look?” she questioned, now showing a little curiosity.

“Sure. Go ahead.” I offered.

Peep lifted the cover off the one of the used photocopy paper boxes, and then stepped back. “These smell like they haven’t been opened in years.” She remarked disgustedly.

“They haven’t. They’ve been stored in Grandpa’s basement for years.” I explained.

“Smells more like decades.” She commented.

“Yeah…probably has been.” I concurred.

“Why are they here now?” she asked.

“Grandpa was going to get rid of them so I went and picked them up.” I said.

“You drove all the way to Pierrefonds and back just to pick up some musty old music books?” She questioned in disbelief, knowing that I hated driving through Toronto on the 401.

“Yeah.” I answered, sounding as if a seven hundred mile trip was no big deal.

After lifting the lid off another box, I removed a book and started flipping through the pages. Occasionally I stopped and glanced at pages that had once seemed so familiar, so vital, but now seemed so far removed from my life.

“What are you going to do with them?” She asked.

“Haven’t decided yet. Maybe give them away to someone who can use them.” I mused.

“I don’t think so.” Peep said slowly, gingerly returning the book as if she did not want to dirty her fingers by touching an old rag.

“Do you know anyone who’s studying music that might be able to use them?” I wondered aloud but not really expecting an answer.

“No, but I could ask around on campus.” She offered.

“Help me to flip through the pages and remove any papers that may have been left inside.” I requested rather than demand. 

Impromptu ideas were often written down on scraps of paper, tucked away inside books and then promptly forgotten until rediscovered.

“Why?” she questioned suspiciously.

“I used to stick notes and other stuff inside.” I explained.

“They had paper back then?” she responded with a hint of sarcasm.

“Actually we used birch bark but it was awful trying to keep it flat enough to write on.” I detailed without hesitation.

“Really?” she wondered, not certain whether or not to believe me.

“What do you think?” I questioned.

“You might be The Old Man but I don’t think you’re that old…at least not yet.” She decided.

“Seeing these books again sure brings back a lot of memories.” I commented, obviously with some trace of nostalgia in my voice.

Conveying a mood of nostalgia was not my intention though. I was wondering what I might have accomplished had I continued with my music studies.

“That’s what old people have lots of.” Peep remarked.

“Lots of what?” I asked, not really paying attention to what she had said. 

I was still wondering how different my life could have been if I had not turned my back on music and university.

“Memories.” She jabbed.

“I was studying music.” I said, ignoring her remark.

“I never knew you studied music.” She countered with surprise in her voice and sounding as if she was hearing this tidbit of information for the first time.

“I studied music for a year and then quit.” I admitted, revealing a sliver more about my past.

“Is that why we have a piano that you never ever play?” she probed.

“It’s part of the reason.” I confirmed.

“Why?” she wondered.

“Why what?” I responded.

“Why did you quit?” She pushed, sounding rather curious.

“Back then I thought I knew everything there was to know about music. Only now after all these years do I realize that I really don’t know anything about music.” I admitted, having had these many years of hindsight to reflect upon.

“I can tell you didn’t learn anything either.” She remarked.

“How would you know?” I challenged.

"Easy! From this title… Fundamentals of Sight Singing and Ear Training.” Peep quipped, while holding up the book for me to see.

“So?” I asked, wondering what her point was.

“Everyone knows you can’t sing.” She declared with a smug laugh.

“Well I guess some traits really are inherited…and guess who inherited my singing ability?” I countered.

“Who? Mom?” She responded.

“I don’t think so.” I answered dismissively and then removed another book from the open box before me.

“John Cage. I thought this guy’s music and theories were way out to lunch but I had to read and try to understand this stuff anyway. Well at least some things don’t change. This guy’s music hasn’t improved with age and his music theories are still out to lunch.” I commented nostalgically.

“At least he’s written a book... so some people must know about his music.” Peep commented.

“Have you ever heard of John Cage or listened to his music?” I prodded.

“No.” she admitted.

“Too bad! Because if you did, then you’d find my singing angelic.” I boasted.

“Not a chance.” Peep argued.

“Here’s one for you… The Art of Listening.” I teased and then held up the book for her to see.

“Very funny.” she dismissed.

Peep picked up another volume and asked, “What about this? Any old story behind this one?”

“Music? Strange. I don’t even remember that book. Maybe it’s one I was supposed to read but never did.” I remarked, and resumed flipping through the pages another book.

“Hey! There’s something written on the inside back cover.” she suddenly exclaimed as if she had made a discovery.

“I suppose it’s possible.” I concurred, unable to recall the book let alone anything that may have been written inside.

“This looks really interesting.” Peep commented and then continued to read. 

A moment or two later she then paused, gave me a puzzled look and finally and asked, “Who's PB?”

“Who?” I questioned uneasily and wondering if I had heard correctly.

I stopped what I was doing and looked at Peep.

“PB. It’s signed PB.” she repeated.

“Let me see that!” I half-demanded and Peep handed me the book.

Holding the book in my hands, I stared at the front cover but truly could not recall anything about the book. Finally opening the front cover, I started flipping through the first pages to find the index. Nothing inside seemed familiar.

“Inside back cover.” Peep said to remind me where to find what she had discovered.

I flipped over to the inside back cover to see what had attracted her attention.

“Oh my goodness!” I remarked upon recognizing the handwriting.


My dear,

This book is yours now…keep and read through and see if you like it. The word music is deeply absorbent in my heart and in my feeling. My dear, you bring music to my soul as you bring me to paradise where all flowers are blooming, where you can never feel the coldest of winter; just loving hearts. My dear, I am glad to be brought by your music to far certain paradise sometimes. It would be nice.

My dear, I did not read this book yet – let you read and tell me later which ideas are interesting for you. I hope I can read fluently someday like you (read and understand like my Vietnamese).

Maybe I will write a long letter in this two pages…so I just stop here before it will be. I will write letter for you. I bought this book long time ago but I forget about it…can you believe it? Sometimes I don’t remember well. My dear, enjoy yourself.

Tell me what pictures are nice in here.

Love,

PB


Surprised by the discovery of this long lost message, in disbelief I exclaimed, “I never saw this before!”

“Who's PB?” Peep asked again with a hint of concern in her voice.

“Why now? Why this now after all these years?” I asked in puzzlement, wanting to know why this message had remained undiscovered for almost thirty years.

Through the years I had read occasional bizarre stories in the newspapers about the post office delivering lost letters decades late, but this missing message I had all along and never knew.

“Tell me! Who is she?” she persisted.

“No one you know.” I said, finally looking away from words written in the back of the book and looking at Peep.

“You mean there was someone else before Mom?” she wondered.

“Yes.” I confirmed.

“Really?” Peep asked in disbelief, sounding if she had heard the impossible.

“Does it surprise you?” I inquired.

“Why haven’t I heard about this before?” She challenged.

“What on earth for?” I questioned.

“My future here was at stake back then!” She exclaimed.

“I really don’t think so.” I dismissed.

“Does Mom know about PB?” Peep asked.

“Yes, but we don’t talk about the past.” I mentioned.

“Yeah. I know. Everything in this family's always a big secret.” She remarked with annoyance.

“Here. Put this back in the box.” I instructed while handing the book back to Peep.

“Are you sure?” she questioned.

“Of course! What can a few paragraphs from the past change today?” I answered in a purely rhetorical manner.

She took the book, read the message again and then pointed out,” There’s no date here.”

“It was thirty years ago.” I confirmed.

“You still remember?” she questioned.

“How can I forget?” I replied with a question.

“You said it was thirty years ago.” she responded, sounding as if something that occurred thirty years ago should be equated with ancient medieval history.

“Although most of my memories have become tarnished, those days were a part of my life. I can’t simply make parts of my past completely vanish as they never were.” I explained.

“My future back then really was at stake!” Peep exclaimed again.

“Oh nonsense!” I dismissively retorted.

“Is there a once upon a time story here?” She probed.

“I thought you were in a rush to meet your friends.” I reminded.

“They can wait.” She insisted.


The Oddblock Station Agent


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