Places I’ve Called Home

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Way back in the day before color when farms were in black and white and sepia.

I almost called this list ‘Places I’ve Slept’ but thankfully saw the problems with that almost immediately.  Titles are hard.  Unless you don’t give a hoot about accuracy.  Anyway, here we go, a list of the various locations I’ve been referring to whenever I’ve said “let’s go home”.

    1. From birth to about age six I lived on a little farm in Ontario down the hill from my maternal grandparents farm, close to Lake Huron, beside a stone and cement bridge which spanned a raging creek.  I was little.  It looked raging to me.
    2. More permanent farm number two, about 8 miles from Port Elgin, the town I decided to call my hometown because I went to high school there.  This is the home I kept coming back to for most of my adult life, the place where my parents lived most of theirs.
    3. The Orchards house in Stratford where I boarded (a shared bedroom with a tiny little balcony) while attending Teachers College.
    4. A two bedroom apartment in St. Catharines shared with 3 other working girls.  I was a substitute teacher, on call to fill in anywhere in the city.  (This is when I met W at a residence party at the university) (it wasn’t all about work)
    5. The Wilkes house in St. Catharines where I boarded in a little smoke-filled bedroom while attending Brock University.  I was the one supplying the smoke,  convinced it helped me concentrate while writing boring English and Philosophy papers.
    6. A tiny little garage sized house in a backyard in Kenora, our first home as a married couple, close to one of W’s aunts who liked to feed us.
    7. Basement apartment in Dryden on Charles Street,  close to one of MY aunts who also liked to feed us.
    8. High rise apartment in Guelph where W went back to University and I worked at the campus bookstore, all in the interests of one day being able to feed ourselves.
    9. Basement apartment in Guelph for married University students.  Our daughters first home.
    10. Government house in Cambridge Bay, N.W.T.  Our sons first home.
    11. Row housing in Inuvik, N.W.T. The old ones close to the hospital, not the new ones on the other side of town.  We had utilidors and board walks.  And dust and mud and the scrawniest Christmas trees in the history of the world.
    12. Government house in Pond Inlet, N.W.T., right beside the Arctic Ocean.  The view from our front window was of the mountains on Bylot Island and random icebergs floating by or trapped in the ocean ice.
    13. Government house in Yellowknife on Bromley Drive, a paved street!  We were on our way back to civilization.
    14. And here we are, (and have been since the late 1980’s) in our very own mortgage free abode in sunny Alberta, the province my kids call home.

I’m glad we stopped our wandering ways.  I always worried that our kids would turn into little nomads with no roots.  Both of us had parents who stayed put even after we moved away and I wanted that stability for our kids too.

After all these years and all these places I still consider Ontario home and have vague dreams about one day going back there to end up somewhere close to the place I started.  I don’t know if it will ever happen, and really it doesn’t matter.  Home is just a thing you take with you wherever you go, leaving little pieces of your heart behind in every place you’ve ever been settled and happy. Nothing is forever, and we got good at packing up our memories and moving on.  I expect that skill will come in handy again one fine day.

 

Life As We Knew It Then

May 09

Life As We Knew It

We have great memories of living in Guelph, Ontario.  The first place we lived was an apartment in a high-rise.  We had very little furniture and we were dirt poor.  I was able to get a job right away at the Guelph Campus Co-op bookstore, and we immediately applied for co-op housing.  We had a car.  We made friends.  We had money for food and beer.  That’s what a student loan is all about isn’t it?

The Guelph skyline is dominated by the impressive Church of Our Lady.  I’ve never been inside it, but just looking at it always gave me a sense of serenity.  I have no idea why.

And the University Campus is quite beautiful.  I’m sure it has changed drastically in the years since we were there.  But there continues to be a wonderful sense of tradition.  The old buildings are kept in good repair, even if their function changes.

This is probably one of the oldest and best know buildings on campus, made into a coffee shop.  The co-op bookstore was fairly close, and I suppose it’s still there.  The only other landmarks  pertinent to this memoir would be the co-op student housing on Forest Drive, the Harvey’s restaurant, various pubs, and the Guelph General Hospital.

So picture the two of us.  I’m working full-time at the front desk at the bookstore, helping students find everything they’re looking for and loving being in on the hectic campus lifestyle.  W. is attending lectures and labs and any spare time at the library working, so that when we go home at night we can spend some quality time together, sitting on pillows on the floor watching our little black and white t.v. (which also sits on the floor) and more often than not, eating some kind of take-out.  Most weekends we feel like we deserve to party at least once.  Our friends aren’t picky, they’ll join us on the floor and drink our wine.  W. takes up smoking a pipe.  I find this hilarious.  My bearded pipe smoking biologist.  We smoke a lot of pot. We make wild plans to go to Africa and work for CUSO.   We drive up to my parent’s house every so often where my mom frets that we’re not eating right, so she stuffs us and our car so full of food we don’t have to eat or grocery shop for a week.  W.’s brother and his wife move to Hamilton where she works and he goes to school.  (We’re starting new family traditions.)  It’s great to have family close.  I find an incredibly beautiful long black belted pea coat at a thrift store for five dollars and I never take it off.  God I loved that coat.  Life was good.

So I guess that was the ‘life as we knew it’ that I’m referring to.  I don’t know why I thought it would go on and on.  Because suddenly – poof – it was done.  Time to finally grow up.  It was sometime before Christmas that I started to feel decidedly ill.  For over a week I was constantly nauseous, pale, tired, and weepy.  We’d just seen Love Story, so I imagined myself with some sort of fatal disease – our punishment for being so blithely happy.  I finally dragged my naive little butt to the doctor when a friend at work suggested I take a pregnancy test.  And that’s of course when all the signs and symptoms at last made perfect sense.  The very first things my doctor asked me were if this baby was planned, and was I happy about it and did I want it.  No, definitely not planned.  Too utterly stunned at the moment to think about the happy part.  But immediately protective, and enamoured, and committed.  I remember those feelings suddenly so strong it was as if someone had turned on a tap somewhere and they just flowed through me.  Of course I wanted it.  How could anyone imagine anything else?  W. picked me up after my appointment and just started driving.  I practically screamed at him….don’t you want to KNOW???  He said my face told him everything.  And he squeezed my hand and said everything would be okay.  And that started the crying that really didn’t stop for any great length of time for the next eight months.

Such ridiculously bad timing!  W. had two years of school to complete.  I had to work.  Neither of us had ever even talked about a child.  Life just seemed to keep happening to us.  I went home from my doctor appointment and threw my cigarettes in the garbage and then I phoned my mother.  Everyone kept asking me, are you happy about this?  Of course I was happy!!  Then why are you so miserable?  I DO NOT KNOW.  There are pregnant women who glow.  I was not one of them.  For me everything was a battle that I had to win.  I willed myself to not be sick.  I refused to take anything that remotely resembled a drug even if I had the worst headache of my life.  I gave up beer and wine and coffee and pop.  I started cooking vegetables and drinking milk.  I vowed to stay on my feet and work until the bitter end.

There’s a reason for a pregnancy being divided up into three trimesters.  The first three months are for getting used to the idea and dealing with the nausea.  Which could be a physical or a mental thing or a little of both.  The next three months are for reading everything you can get your hands on about pregnancy and delivery and nutrition and becoming an expert, especially if it’s your first one.  If there was a happy time for me, this was it.  Everything was new and interesting.  I could still see my feet.  The last three months, when ‘normal’ women do that strange glowing thing, were for me the most tedious, tiring, boring and miserable time of my entire life.  I don’t know how W. put up with me.    I did not like the physically awkward fat new me.  I didn’t want to admit how tired I was at work.  I wanted it to be over with.  My doctor actually said to me on one visit – don’t worry.  There has never been a case yet of a pregnancy that did not terminate.  I was sure I would be the first.  I would be pregnant forever.

The maternity leave rules back then were completely out to lunch, as far as I’m concerned.  I had to leave work six weeks before my due date, and return to work four weeks after that.  I did not need six weeks to wallow in self-pity.  That last month I sat in our basement apartment eating popsicles, drinking chocolate milk and watching game shows.  W. predicted our child would be born black and frozen, but with a high IQ.

We had gone  to pre-natal classes, because W. wanted to be with me for the delivery.  What a glutton for punishment he turned out to be!  I took my bad attitude with me all the way to the hospital, four days past my due date when I had abandoned all hope of ever seeing what the place looked like on the inside.   During labour I  informed him that if he ever did that to me again I would kill him.  And that’s when he shrugged and left the room and went to watch a baseball game in the waiting room.  Every labour pain after that I mentally strangled him.   He was smart enough not to come back until they gave me my epidural.

For every birth there is a different pregnancy and delivery story.  When you’re pregnant you get to hear them all, which means you’ve either already heard them or you may someday.  I won’t bore you with the sordid details.  Our daughter was born at 9:20 p.m. on the 27th of July.  She was the tiniest most beautiful little human being I had ever seen.  She scrunched up her little red face and screamed.  Even when she wasn’t yelling her eyebrows were pulled together in a mad little frown.  I was immediately a firm believer in the fact that a mother passes her moods on to her unborn child.

Top left is baby’s newborn frowny face.  Top right, the stunned new parents, with baby turning away thinking omg, why me.  Bottom left and right, new dad, new mom.  Baby thinking, okay, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.