I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at all skeptical of finding the actual building in which my father was born. He was born a Baby Boomer in St. John's, Newfoundland, outside the nation that raised him, to an Air Force officer during the nascent years of the Cold War.
Coming here in search of my father's birthplace was a pilgrimage of sorts, but certainly an ambiguous one, too: research into St. John's mid-century city layout was hardly thorough, and after piecing together written descriptions of the city I could only muster a partial view of a dirt lot obscured by trees using Google Street View.
It was a long walk to Janeway Place, the lone street that matched an early facility's location on the north side of Quidi Vidi Lake. Clouds loomed and threatened rain, and the lack of a grid system made navigating St. John's streets a little more complicated than most cities. Along the way, I searched for meaning in the little turns, or pictured my grandparents ambling along on these streets, my infant father wrapped up in a blanket, keeping at bay the biting Atlantic flurries.
The children's hospital no longer stood where I'd been led. It had been demolished many years prior, after the Janeway Children's Hospital Foundation had relocated. Across the street, a new long-term care facility neared completion—I was happy that new use from the space had been found, but strange ghosts hovered over the empty lot where my father came into this world as a ten-pound newborn. I wanted to force meaning on the rocks and dust and into their energies and chemistry, and draw abstract connections from their presence at dad's arrival. With Oma and Opa both gone, these inanimate objects were now the only witnesses—and I wanted them to scream at me, and tell me what it was like. What was everyone doing? How much snow was on the ground? Did the sky split?
Was there a thunderbolt?
Try as I might, I couldn't squeeze any meaning out of the ground beneath my feet. It was cold and indifferent, a composition of metamorphic rock that had formed over millions of years and had seen plenty on its surface come and go. It wouldn't remember us in the way we remember it, regardless of what we do to influence it.
But though it's just a pile of rocks and dust, it's still special. At least to my dad and me.