The turkey had been cleared and we were sitting around the dinner table picking at dessert. It was the mid-90s. I was in my mid-20s and I was visiting from Calgary for thanksgiving. My brother lived there. We were content in a hazy wine and pisco glow. Whatever that vitamin or mineral it is that’s in turkey, that was probably kicking in, too. My dad said he had an announcement to make.
He told my brother and I we had a sister. A half-sister, anyway. I looked at my mom. She had a radiant smile on her face that was too sad to look at for too long. Your mom knows, my dad said. Oh yeah, she knew. My dad had sprung it on her earlier that year, in public, as part of a seminar my parents ran called “Marriage Encounter". My parents had been running a mystical, cult-like (they taught that yoga was Satanic) marriage improvement seminar in far-flung places: Thailand, Bolivia, Chile, maybe Poland I can’t remember them all. Prior to that, my mom had followed my dad wherever he led, even giving up her own kids if that’s what he said God commanded. Missionaries for fifteen odd years. And during all of that time, as he loudly admonished all those he encountered to come clean before Jesus, my dad had forgotten to mention to my mom that he’d had a child with another woman. And that this kid was born at the same time as my brother and I. Because he’d been slipping around as a newlywed. He’d kept it a secret from her throughout his entire career as a Man of God™.
I don’t know who the mother is or was. I don’t know if it was a one-off fling or if cheating was a just a thing my dad did. The confession was short on detail. My dad said only that he and the mom had given her up for adoption. And that, recently, he had contacted the adoption services to indicate that he would like to get in contact with his daughter, should she wish to get in contact with him. To my knowledge, she never did.
Many of my mom’s journals found their way to me after she died. There’s only one F-bomb in the whole lot of them, and it’s in the note, the first of them, about the whole “Oops, I had a kid and forgot to tell you!” thing. “So he was fucking her that whole time?” she wrote.
Sister, whoever and wherever you are, the grass was no greener over here.
Inside the apartment of Dorothy Pelly (nee Dadson), Lawrence Avenue, Kelowna. The illustrations on the wall are from Dickens' The Pickwick Papers. They had belonged to her late husband, Edward Pelly. They'd previously hung in the significantly more magisterial home they'd occupied until his death. The framing details indicate they were made in Edmonton in the 1930s, where "Buck," as he was known, had been stationed, part of a successful, if itinerant, career for The Bank of Montreal, that also included lengthy stays in Salmon Arm and Winnipeg. Kelowna was his prize for all that; it's where he chose to retire in grand, but tastefully restrained, style. Buck died of a heart attack when my mom, pictured here, was 16. He was 73.