I can attribute a large part of my inherent wanderlust to one of the most influential and inspiring women I’ve ever known; my grandmother Virginia Wyatt – ‘Gram’. From an early age, she took me all over the world; Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, England, France, all over America and the list goes on. Gram gave me the childhood that she could’ve never possibly dreamed of for herself. She always had a reason for travelling, something that she wanted to learn about, or to teach others about, or simply to see something with her own eyes and to experience for herself. She opened up the world to me, peeled back the veneer of things just enough to peak my curiosity. Instead of answers, she gave me questions. She taught me how to travel, how to be inquisitive, and for that I will always be in her debt.
Gram was heavily into genealogy, and a devout Mormon. She brought me on many trips with the sole purpose of tracking down her family and my grandfather’s ancestry. One of my favourite memories takes place in an ornate church somewhere in England when I was 9 years old. We were there looking for records that would illuminate my grandfather’s heritage. She mentioned his last name to the local priest, who in turn became quiet and a bit pale. I remember at the time thinking that we were in some kind of trouble. The priest showed us to the church’s records and quickly told us the story; apparently one of my grandfather’s ancestors had broken all the stained glass windows in that very church sometime in the distant past, and had quite the reputation of being a no-good rapscallion! (The look of disapproval and embarrassment in Gram’s eyes was, in hind sight, pretty amusing.) We had travelled all this way to find out that Gram was married to the ancestor of a blasphemer! As a child these stories don’t interest you much at the time but, as you grow older you realise that they have somehow managed to hang around in your memory bank. Sometimes, when you search, you find the unexpected.
One night, on that same trip, we were resting in our hotel in Paddington Square, London. My front teeth were loose and I ended up twisting and twisting until one of them finally popped out of the socket. I happily showed my grandmother my treasure while tonguing the freshly made bloody gap, but then immediately the mood changed… We were in England… How would the Tooth Fairy EVER find me here?! Queue the water works; this was a serious matter to a young, admittedly, spoiled brat! Gram sat me down and assured me that the Tooth Fairy would find me. She explained to me that the Tooth Fairy visits children all over the world and that she would have no trouble finding my tooth and leaving me a token in return. Later that night, Gram woke me up out of a deep sleep, pointing to a small object floating in the room. “There she is! Do you see her? There’s the Tooth Fairy!” To this day I have no idea what the object was, or if there was really something there at all, but, Gram had the power to make a child believe in anything no matter how fanciful. She had the ability to spin wild tales which would exercise and strengthen the imagination. That night, I literally SAW the Tooth Fairy! She was wearing a blue dress and had flown in through the open window and was floating there before my eyes. Sometimes, it’s ok to believe.
A few nights later, as we rested from the day’s journeys, Gram was flicking through the channels on the ‘tele’ and stopped to watch a program about the mission to the moon. The program was a BBC production, and I noticed almost immediately the difference in tone of the reporting. No, it wasn’t the accent that was so incredibly different; it was the way that the story was told… from a different point of view… without the usual American slant. I don’t remember all that much about the program, but I did have one of my first real epiphanies of my life: America doesn’t own the moon just because we put a flag there. Until that point, I guess I had always assumed that the moon belonged to America! Again, at the time, this train of thought seemed rather arbitrary, but looking back on it, I realise just how much that taught me. It helped me understand that there is a whole world out there full of untold stories, full of different perspectives and lifestyles. It helped me see beyond the nationalism and propaganda of America and realise that there is more to the world that just the comings and goings of the U.S.A… Sometimes, the world does not revolve around you.
Over two decades later, as I sit on a boat in Australia about to embark on a journey north to the tropics, I’ll take this opportunity now to say the things that I never got a chance to tell you: For giving me a gift that no money can buy, that no one can take away, that cannot diminish or fade, I thank you Gram. For opening my eyes to things I’d never dreamed of; for loving me unconditionally, I thank you Gram. Someday, somewhere, sometime, I know we will travel together again.