Pulling out of Montreal, I feel sad…not wistful, but sad: a feeling of loss.
Out the window of the train, from the bridge, I see it! “Oh! Habitat! Habitat!!”
I had been looking, searching, trying to find Habitat over the past several days. Finally, there it was off the left side of the bridge. I could see it from the train. Somehow Habitat WAS Expo 67. Seeing it now would …prove?… I was there. While we saw the big globe that I seem to remember as the center of the International Market Place* (did we not go because the exhibits were each so expensive? Or because of the lines? The lines….we stood in endless lines. We stood in lines to get on trains; we stood in lines to see pavilions; we stood in lines to leave. We stood in lines early in the morning, eating cereal out of what we now call “little boxes” – boxes of Cornflakes and Corn Pops and Sugar Frosted Flakes -boxes that turned into bowls when you cut the flaps just right. Cereal that we ate with the one big table spoon borrowed from the people we were staying with. Too big for a little person (was I 8? I feel like I was younger) to eat off of without spilling. You didn’t dare spill, though, or dad would yell. That spoon that had been so frustrating for him to obtain.
He had grown up in Canada, albeit Ontario, and was certainly NOT French Canadian, but I knew he had taken French at some time because we had a blue book downstairs on the shelf that was French (a dictionary? A course book?) I had looked at it from time to time and somehow, on this trip, he was mad at me for not knowing the word spoon. Somehow I must know it if I had been studying French (turning pages of abstract words in the cool basement over a long summer when there was nothing else to lure me out, does not, in reality, equate to studying, any more than thumbing through Arabian Nights (a book I knew was my mom’s, and that was always a mystery, that it was hers- she who washed clothes and made dinner and braided hair and got us off to school), made me a scholar of Persia. I did not know the word for spoon, I still don’t, but I remember feeling BAD that I didn’t know it when the flicker of hope, my chance to save the day, vanished.
The lady at the (motel? Place we parked our car? Some local person?) was from a foreign country. I don’t remember that she was just French Canadian, but that she was ….from somewhere else. Was she Indian? Or Thai? Or from real France? I don’t know. I do know that she gave me a small Tiki. I know it was a Tiki because she told me that. It was sort of man image made from flat hard green plastic with red eyes about two inches (even Canada wasn’t metric then) long and a half inch wide – like a dancing god. Maybe she was from Hawaii. Or New Zealand? Or Mexico. All I know is that I was so happy that I was given this small gift on a red string – and no one else did. I wonder if I still have it.
While standing in the long lines in the crush of people, we were always warned to hold hands and stick together. There were six of us: Bill, me, Sharie, Tommy and mom and dad. A family of redhaired kids and towering adults (my mom was 5’11”, my dad 6’6”). We saw a little boy – about the age of Tommy, I suppose, pull his pants down and pee on the street. I remember the little river move our way. I remember my dad say matter of factly with disgust “French Canadians.” I knew that French Canadians were less than non-French Canadians, that they were Catholic (calling their ministers father, which made no sense to me, and praying to the minister because they couldn’t pray to God….confusing system to me) and that they were dirty. My uncle married a French Canadian (she didn’t speak French, I don’t think, but she was Catholic – I didn’t really understand how that was going to work – I mean, we were Methodist, and, you know, could just say our “Now I lay me down to sleep”s directly and all). We were surrounded by all these foreigners.
There are no images of exhibits or shows or rides of Expo in my head, except: Habitat. It was a very big deal that we go to see Habitat. Habitat 67. We stood in a line to take a hovercraft to Habitat. A hovercraft had a big balloon on the bottom of a boat that went pretty fast and took us to Habitat. Habitat, as I remembered was a bunch of gray ,squares like shoe boxes that were piled askew on top of each other balanced, to make a place to live: a place of the future. We lived in a house, and so did everyone else we knew in Sagainaw, and in Canada and Pennsylvania (where my grandparents and other family lived). But Habitat was the future. Like the Jetsons. It was a grey day and there was a threat of rain or maybe it was already sprinkling when we arrived at Habitat. I have a vague feeling of disappointment or boredom or confusion once we were there. Habitat was a bunch of rooms- like bedrooms and living rooms and bathrooms. Maybe there were modern colors on the walls or appliances; maybe there were electronics of the future (intercoms? Tvs?) I don’t really remember that. I remember it being – rooms. Habitat was a bunch of rooms. We got some fliers, though, and I later I got the chance to talk about it at school, likely a “what did you do on your summer vacation” type report. And, after all, we had seen Habitat.
We left expo at night. We were running – always running with my former track star, hurry hurry hurry, bean stalk father who didn’t seem to comprehend that we kids were half his height. I remember the feeling of leaving something that we didn’t do – I didn’t know what, but we were missing/leaving/ignoring/escaping – something . Maybethere weren’t fireworks, but colored lights and people going in the opposite direction – in to our out – with looks of anticipation and excitement. We, we were just tired and leaving.
I had wanted a stuffed animal. I suppose people were carrying them – on a date, the boy in a feat of manliness winning a pink bear for his girl, perhaps. I don’t really know where I got the idea, but I wanted a stuffed animal. And I don’t know why it was going to be ok for me to have one. (Did we each get to pick one thing if we were good and that was mine?) But somehow I missed my chance. I didn’t take something (a blow up animal on a stick?) that was offered. Something that either wasn’t right or that I was too tired to accept. But I had nothing and I was crying and we were leaving. Throughout Expo there were machines that would mold colored plastic that looked like wax inside a clear (Plexiglas?) case you could watch through. The liquid would pour, the mold would turn, and then it would open, and POP! A figurine of Mickey or Mini or Goofy or Pluto would fall into a vending box below, where you would retrieve your prize.** (Had Disneyland just opened? Did they sponsor this section of Expo?) They weren’t soft or very nice – but we had some. Was one of these my last ditch consolation for “I’ll take anything. I want SOMETHING!” – maybe – but it wasn’t a stuffed animal.
Leaving Montreal, now, my memories of Expo 67, a trip that I don’t know how my family afforded or how they decided to take four small kids, flicker with little more than than exhausting exposure to dirty French Canadians, lines, and Habitat. But, I remember that it was special. It was something we did as a family. Something that people were impressed by our having done. This past week I visited a small city, covered in snow, with bright murals, and quiet polite people – Montreal, not Expo. I felt no connection to the mythic place or time, one bustling with throngs of people and …something. Something that was special. Perhaps the adult memory of family, that we did family things, that our family did something special. We saw Habitat.
I guess sometimes being the only one to get a good luck Tiki has to make up for getting a waxy yellow Mickey Mouse instead of a fluffy stuffed animal (even though it never really does). Habitat, from the bridge this morning, like the city of Montreal, smaller and more organized than the chaotic boxes I remember, provided confirmation. I had been there… we had been there.
….and I feel like I should look up the word for spoon in French, but, no, it is too late.
[My mother has corrected and confirmed and clarified several of these memories – but I have chosen to leave them as *I* remembered]
*America’s Pavilion, now houses the BioSphere