BloodLines: "A Special Occasion" by Drew Hayden Taylor
We've partnered with the Canada Council for the Arts to present a new literary series: BloodLines. Inspired by this year’s Massey Lectures by Lawrence Hill, Blood: The Stuff of Life, BloodLines features new fiction, nonfiction and poetry inspired by the theme of blood—written by ten Canadian writers who have won or been nominated for Governor General’s Literary Awards.
In Drew Hayden Taylor’s BloodLines piece, new parents spar playfully on the racial legacy of their newborn baby.
* * *
“A Special Occasion” by Drew Hayden Taylor
“What do you think? Does he take after your side of the family or mine?”
Walter’s voice was hushed in the relative silence of the hospital room. Outside in the hallway, he could hear announcements coming over the loudspeakers, nurses milling about, and what sounded like a large Greek man joyously celebrating the birth of a family heir. Sharon, on the other hand, only had ears for the six-pound, eight-ounce by-product of their four years together.
“Well,” she answered, “look at how dark he is. He definitely got that from your family.” Walter was Ojibway and Sharon was correct. The baby already looked like he had a tan. The sleeping child squirmed for a moment, as if disagreeing with his mother’s assessment.
“But check that hair. That is definitely not Aboriginal hair,” he added. Unconsciously and unsuccessfully, Sharon tried to smooth down the baby’s tuft of reddish hair. The child’s Irish genes seemed to be in a state of war, trying to assert their independence from the Ojibway—or, to be more technically accurate, Anishnawbe—chromosomes they shared the double helix DNA strands with.
Sharon looked up at her husband. “Yeah, but hair colour is recessive. There must be some red hair in your background. C’mon. Fess up, Walter. Your family got a Celtic in the closet?”
Leaning forward, Walter picked up the small blanketed bundle from his wife. The baby let out a small murmur but otherwise didn't object. “Actually, I think one of my great-grandmothers might have come from that side of the Atlantic. We don’t like to talk about that side of the family. The white sheep of the family. And besides, just because your grandparents came from Ireland doesn't mean the red hair did. If I remember my history correctly, didn't the Vikings used to stop in there quite frequently to grab a bite and some R & R? Scandinavians, now they have some serious red hair.”
“No. We’re pure Irish. I hate herring and Ingmar Bergman.”
Taking in a deep breath, Walter appreciated the scent of his new son. He held it in his lungs for a few seconds before reluctantly releasing it. “How about that? They actually do have a new baby smell. A lot better than our new car.”
Father and son, Sharon thought to herself. This is only the beginning of the journey, for both of them. “So, we've got a half Ojibway, half Irish baby? What do you think that makes him?”
Sharon smiled. They had casually touched on the subject, danced around it, and, like now, made jokes about their bi-cultural creation. Both were aware that in today’s day and age, it really didn't matter much. In the past well, that would have been a whole different story. Families had been torn apart and feuds began by the mixing of the blood. Innocent children often devastated by the prejudices of adults. However, an unexpected benefit had been the development of several different subcultures formed by such unions. The Métis and the Creole to mention just two.
“Or how about Anish-rish?”
Not to be outdone, Sharon added, “Or or since he’s half Ojibway and half what you could call Caucasian he could be considered an Occasion? A special occasion.”
“I think I've heard that one before.” Now it was Walter’s turn to smile. “Irish and Ojibway. An interesting mixture. What do you think this means for his cultural and biological legacy?”
Sharon pondered the question for a second. “Well, stereotypes of massive amounts of drinking aside, he might be able to plant potatoes in the Canadian Shield?”
“Or maybe he’ll drive all the snakes out of Ontario with a braid of sweetgrass?”
This time they both laughed. A similar sense of humour was one of the things that had brought them together not that long ago. And once again, the baby murmured its disapproval at the sudden interruption. He had just been through a long and difficult day with some harsh travel involved, and he needed his sleep. All this talk of blood and race would have to wait. He needed what babies of all cultures and backgrounds needed; a little sleep, some milk, and a lot of love.
Everything else didn’t really matter.
Drew Hayden Taylor is a humourist, an award-winning playwright, a columnist, short-story writer, novelist, television scriptwriter and documentary filmmaker.
Photo credit: Thomas King