Friday, April 17, 2015

My Special Trip to Blackpool

rip to Bla

'Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!"
My trip to Blackpool was a long time coming...thirty-two years to be exact, since I had last gone home, to the place where I was born. This time I was going to meet my real father for the first time, and I was more than just a little excited. We had been corresponding through letters for a couple of years, and a DNA test had corroborated the fact that we were, indeed father and daughter. Now at last we were going to meet face to face, and I was returning home to my birthplace, that raucous, raunchy, rascal of a town, Blackpool, Lancashire.
A holiday seaside resort known for donkey rides on the beach, cockles and mussels, and the famous Blackpool Tower, (a smaller version of the Eiffel Tower built 150 years ago), the town had long-since seen it's heydey. I wondered what it would be like after so long, whether or not it had changed, and if I would remember the streets. I had been a child of twelve when we left for Canada, but the memories were still vivid. Most of all I was excited to meet my father. 
The flight left Toronto at midnight, and soon the dark cold Atlantic lay beneath us. Too excited to sleep, I wanted to see the sun rise over the horizon as we flew towards it, and after a while the clouds were lit by the most glorious colours of gold and pink. It had been so long since I had last seen England. I stayed awake the whole flight, until looking down I saw the sunny green patchwork quilt that was Ireland and Kilkenny below us. I was soon to learn that some of my ancestors had come from this place. 
Landing in Manchester that morning, I must admit I felt a thrill of excitement as the plane's wheels touched ground. I was home again, back in my England. Although I adored Canada and it would now remain my home, the magical island where I was born would always be my homeland. And I would soon see my father face to face. It was almost too much to believe! I had waited so long for this moment. I couldn't believe it was really happening!
Walking down the ramps through the airport I wondered if we would recognize one another. Then suddenly I was walking through the doors towards the waiting room full of people - a tall distinguished white haired gentleman bobbed his head at me from behind the crowd, and I knew him at once. He stepped forward and I said "Hi Dad'. We hugged and then he bustled us off to the car without further ado.
The trip to Blackpool was just under an hour, and although I was exhausted from pulling an all nighter on the plane, I was still too pumped to think about sleep. As we drove on the highway my eyes were drinking in the English countryside and my father's profile. It was just like mine. I had always been told that I looked like my mother, but right away there were things about him that were like me. His hands were long and slender like mine. 

As we approached Blackpool from inland I felt a huge stab of excitement when I saw the Tower for the first time. Part of it was scaffolded off for repairs - the season had not yet begun as it was still mid-June - however the elegant structure dominated the countryside just as I remembered it as a child. I couldn't wait to smell the sea and see the whitecaps once again. I was home at last. 
The next ten days flew by, as Dad and I toured the English countryside to Burnley, the cotton mill town my family hailed from. There I visited the graves of my grandparents, saw the place where Dad was born, and learned more about my ancestors. My great-great-grandmother had been born Margaret Riley, but they called her Maggie, he told me. I was thunderstruck - my two youngest children's names are Maggie and Riley. 
I spent a glorious day exploring downtown Blackpool and visited Abingdon Street Market, which was just the same as I remembered it. In the small street behind the market, and overshadowed by the church my parents were married in was the button shop that had been the house my Granny was born in.
Situated in the town's main square, it had become a charming little restaurant called the 'Five Cafe'. I was able to actually go upstairs to the very rooms where my mother's mother came into the world. Looking out the windows to the Winter Gardens and the Tower in the distance I was struck by the architectural beauty of Blackpool, the gorgeous facades and ornate ironwork of the buildings reminiscent of a bygone era.
This year Blackpool celebrates it's 150th anniversary of holiday-goers, pleasure-seekers and gaiety. It is my hometown, the place where I was conceived and born. How many of Britain's children had been conceived in this Lancashire town I wondered, where people once flocked to 'take the sea air'.
On my last day I walked along the beach, collecting some shells and bits of driftwood to take home to Canada. They smelled like home. As I passed through customs in Manchester the agent noticed the little bag of shells and sand.
"Some mementos from Blackpool beach" I explained.
"Oh Blackpool!" she exclaimed, "Gosh it's been ages since I went to Blackpool.'
"You should go" I told her. "It's still amazing."
And so it is. Blackpool will forever remain a special place, a place full of memories, smells, sounds, and laughter. The taste of Blackpool rock, the famous pink sticks of candy, is still as sweet as the first time I tasted it. And Blackpool, though older and wiser, like myself, still vibrates with it's famously joyful, thrilling, rollercoaster energy. As hometowns go, it's about as special as they get. 
MichelleDevlin is based in Barrie, Ontario, Canada.

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