Hubby and I are back in the old ‘hood this week. Downeast. Staying with my mum for a few days. Fishing and reading and visiting. Drinking too much tea and talking, talking, talking.
On Thursday we were up before dawn to set off for the long drive. Truck loaded with bikes, fishing gear, suitcases. Big cooler packed with fresh veggies from our garden to take to Mum. Thermos mugs of strong tea. Breakfast would be a few hours down the road. Our picnic lunch tucked into our trusty travel cooler that’s been everywhere with us from New Zealand to the Yukon to France, was behind my seat. By 5:00 A.M. we were packed, loaded, belted in, and ready for the ten hour drive.
Then we took a wrong turn… or didn’t take the right one. Didn’t get off the new highway that takes us around Montreal in time to avoid going an hour out of our way. Sigh. How the heck did we do that? Ah well. We’d never actually seen this part of Quebec. What’s one more hour? But we added another hour when we stopped for supper in Woodstock and then took the old road down along the Saint John River from there. That drive was like taking a step back in time. We drove past the old farms that I remember visiting with my step father. Past the place where my best friend Debbie and I used to go horseback riding. I tried to pick out the place where we went to the Saturday night dances in the back of someone’s truck, reckless teenagers that we were. The old road was bumpy and crumbling and tree lined. And lovely. Well worth that extra hour, even at the end of a long day of sitting.
|On the road before dawn|
The next day Mum and I did what we always do first when I get home; we made our usual foray to visit Gus at the best little book shop in the world. To us anyway. Gus and Mum are buddies although you couldn’t immediately tell that if you listened to them bicker. Only the fondness in their tone reveals that Mum thinks he’s the cat’s meow and I believe he feels the same. Last year I popped in to his shop by myself to get a gift certificate for Mum’s birthday. He told me that when he saw me through the window on my own, he thought, “Oh no, this is not a conversation I want to have.” And considered locking the door. He’d assumed that arriving without Mum, I was the bearer of bad news. He and Mum reluctantly posed for the shot below. Then Mum said, “Enough of that. Back to the books.”
|Mum and I shopping at our favourite book store|
I love to talk books with Gus. He is an avid reader, no surprise there. And he knows a ton of wonderful author trivia. I have yet to stump him with an author he hasn’t read or doesn’t at least know about. We discussed mystery writer Stuart McBride the other day. How his books are too graphic for me. But wonderfully written. I quoted a line from one of McBride’s books that I’ve never forgotten. Describing his unkempt co-worker, the main character says: “Her hair looks like it was styled by seagulls.” I love that line. Then Gus quoted another thriller author who said that a character’s hair looked as if it was styled “by grenade.” Then Mum said that my grandfather Sullivan used to say my uncle Dick, who had very thick curly hair, always “looked like he combed his hair with the egg beater.” Good one Grampy. You get the prize for best line. Love that.
That’s my grandfather Sullivan below. He was a big man. With very long legs… which we all inherited. I love looking at Mum’s old photos when I’m here. I get buried in her boxes of pictures and come out feeling as if I’m in a time warp. An identity warp, more like. Catapulted from retired teacher, wife, blogger back to youngest child, little sister, tomboy, budding artist (ha), frizzy haired drama queen bookworm.
The picture below is one I found from the late fifties. My brother Terry, sisters Carolyn and Connie, and me. I’m the one in pale green with the big head. Brother Terry is looking suitably serious and big brother-ish. When we were growing up, he could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. I was, to his chagrin I imagine, his ninth birthday present, since we were born on the same day. He was (and still is) the best of big brothers. Generous to a fault. With a wry sense of humour and his Grandfather Sullivan’s (and our mum’s) gift of delivering a great line. My favourite being one night at supper when I was around eight, which would make him seventeen. My mum decided that we should have the “talk” about sex. And Terry quipped,” Okay, Mum. What do you want to know?” That still makes me laugh. I’m pretty sure I never got “the talk” that night.
My brother has had many, many health challenges in his life. He’s a paraplegic due to an operation to remove a spinal tumour twenty years ago, a double amputee now due to circulation problems. And he’s battled other issues too numerous to mention here. My last two visits home he’s either been in hospital, waiting for surgery or recovering from surgery, or confined to bed at home. The van he had newly fitted for his wheelchair sitting idle in the driveway. And only in the past few weeks has he been given the go ahead to get out of bed. For the first time in almost a year. The first night after Hubby and I arrived, we heard Mum’s doorbell and there he was on the deck. Grinning. In his motorized wheelchair, with a bag of fresh corn in his lap. He’d stopped at the nearby vegetable stand. He’s back on the road again, in that new van, all on his own, just him and his dog. What a feeling of freedom he must feel. Of life regained. Makes me tear up as I write this.
|In our Sunday best, 1959|
Yesterday Mum and I drove up to Terry’s in the little blue car we’d rented so Hubby could be free to use our truck to go stream fishing or golfing… and we could be free to “run the roads” as Mum says. On the way we unexpectedly pulled in at Freddy’s Family Farm vegetable stand. Freddy has known Mum and me since we moved to the farm over forty years ago. He grows potatoes and corn, and used to keep a large herd of milk cows. Back when he farmed full time and cut hay on his island lots, he took his machinery over to the big island in the Saint John River on the farmers’ ferry that my stepfather ran in the summer. As a teenager in the 70s, I used to take over running the ferry to allow my stepfather to go up to the house for lunch or supper. The first few times I manned the controls, the farmers laughed, and teased me, tickled at the novelty of being shuttled across the river with their big machines by a skinny, frizzy haired girl. So on Sunday when Mum, gesturing at the vegetable stand, said, “That’s Freddy standing there in the green jacket,” we pulled a u-turn and went to say hi. Freddy leaned in Mum’s car window, smiled at me and said in his slow quiet voice,” Well… it’s Susie. You come to run the ferry boat for the summer?” I chortled. Delighted that he remembered that small piece of my history. As I said to my mum later, there are not many people left who remember that particular part of my past. See? That’s why it’s like being in a time warp coming home… or identity warp… as I said.
|On the farmers’ ferry in 1983|
So as you can see, while Hubby and I are here, back in the ‘hood, I’ve been a little lost. Who the heck am I when I’m here anyway? Little sister, youngest child, frizzy haired dreamer, ferry-operator (part-time)? All of those? Or none? Grown up and gone for more years than I lived here, it still feels disconcerting to return. Disconcerting in a good way. I think the layers of identity we accumulate over our lives, especially when we don’t live all of our life in one place, can be kind of like when we delete something on the computer. The bits are all still there on the hard drive… just scattered. Or in the case of identity, buried under the subsequent layers of grown up selves. And it can be good, I think, to try to gather those scattered bits. Unbury those buried selves. If only to remember who we were. And recognize how far we’ve travelled to become who we are.
Gad. I am waxing profound tonight. Time to wrap up this post. It’s way past my bedtime. And Mum is just down the hall. I might get in trouble.
How about you, folks? What’s going “back home” like for you?