Lost in the ‘Hood

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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.

Dawn on highway 417
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.”

Book shopping at Gus 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.

My grandfather Sullivan
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.

My brother and sisters and me, 1959

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.

That’s me on the ferry below… in the hat and rubber boots, with my mum, a neighbour, and my step-father in the wheelhouse. It was May 1983. I was home for a week from Ottawa and we were heading over to the island to pick fiddle heads. A spring rite of passage here in New Brunswick. I don’t have any pictures of me actually running the ferry. But you can take Freddy’s word for it that I did.
On the farmer's ferry, Douglas New Brunswick
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?

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30 thoughts on “Lost in the ‘Hood”

  1. Felt like I was setting off with you on the adventure at 5am & it didn't disappoint . Your mum has clearly not had an easy life . There have obviously been lots of worries along the way but she must be so proud of her family now & have many rich memories . I read a lot of personal memoir books & loved this . If you could keep on writing , I would keep on reading . And don't you look stylish in your ferry outfit
    Wendy in York

    1. Ah, thanks, Wendy. I've often thought I'd like to write Mum's story… but she'd never go for that. Right Mum? 🙂
      Re: ferry outfit. Until I found this photo I'd forgotten those fetching wellies. I had the thick wool socks because the boots were my stepdad's.

  2. Good to take the back roads sometimes, Sue. Especially when they meander through your memories 🙂 This is such a good post …I've really enjoyed reading it with my first coffee of the day. Loved the part about you as the "ferryman" I think there's something special about meeting up with people who knew us during childhood and teens …somehow we can feel right back there again! 🙂 Good idea to hire a car so that Stu has the opportunity to go fishing etc while you and your mum enjoy your time together. I think most mums relish the opportunity to spend time with their grown up children ….just mum and daughter or son. I , also felt emotional when I read about your brother arriving at your mums …. You must feel feel so happy for him …and proud! He's achieved so much.
    Enjoy the rest of your time with Stu and your mum …and the rest of your family and friends ….good times!

    1. Thanks, Rosie. I will. We're all so tickled for my brother. He is not a man who likes to be confined…and being on the road again has taken years off his face. He's like a new man.

    2. P.S. If you read the blog Mai Tai's Picture Book, check out her latest post. She's wearing almost the same outfit you wore when we went to lunch. White trousers and a blue linen tunic. The pants are a bit different but the shirt is really similar…I think.

    3. Well spotted! Just had a look …yes, the shirt looks almost identical, certainly the shade of blue. The trousers are more the style I wish I'd worn that day! I've realised as the shirts loose and quite long, like a tunic, it looks better with slimmer, skinny style jeans whereas the white chinos work better with shorter more fitted tops.

    4. Just read Mai Tai's complete post and noticed even our bags are a similar shade … although hers is a little more expensive than mine!!! 🙂

  3. Sue, you brought back so many memories. I grew up in Ottawa, but had a boyfriend that lived in Kars on a farm….this was way back. I was sixteen. I remember helping with the haying in the summer…the neighbors all helping. The women in the kitchen and all great food. For me it was another world. Getting up at dawn to go to the barn for milking. I did not stay with that boyfriend….but I'm truly thankful that this city girl had that chance. I have loved rural ever since. I eventually lived on the other side of The Rideau river on then called Second Line Road. Now on a small island in the Pacific Northwest.

    You are so right…every experience forms us…


    1. We live not too far from Kars. I'm guessing that you moved over to the Osgoode side of the river? I just asked Stu where 2nd line road might be and he said that almost every township had a second line road at one time. There is one a couple of roads away from us but we're on the same side of the Rideau as Kars. Isn't it a hoot to be having this very specific conversation between someone from Fredericton who moved to Ottawa and someone from Ottawa who moved to the Pacific Northwest?

    2. Follow the road through Osgoode…turn right about a mile from town….keep going to Dalmeny….we were a mile from that corner…going towards Dalmeny…..what is really bizarre is someone on our street on SaltSpring Island lived in Dalmeny when we lived there…..go figure.

      Do they still have the Kars Fair??


  4. Loved this post, Sue. Gus's bookstore looks like a wonderful place to get lost in. It's funny how life can go full circle. My mom grew up on the prairies where her educated immigrant father tried to farm but was forced to return to his profession during the Depression. His grandchildren are all urban professionals scattered across North America, but my niece, who has a Master's in literature, works part time on an organic farm near Toronto and would love to do that full-time. It fascinates me how so many of the millennials yearn for the 'simplicity' of rural life. Education is a great gift, but it does seem to erode those bonds of community that are essential in an agrarian life.

    1. Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. I think the "simplicity" of rural life today is only possible for those of us who visit. When you live there all of life's stresses are still there… bills, kids education, bank loans, seed prices etc etc.

  5. Wonderful post, Sue, so evocative. You come from a charming part of the country indeed, and it's lovely to know that there's so much continuity when you go back.The small city I grew up in has changed immensely since we lived there and although several of my siblings still have homes there, I feel very little connection with it since my parents first moved from their home there and then died fifteen and almost thirty years later. We pedalled out there the other day for lunch by the river where once only longshoremen and sailors would venture. Pleasant enough changes, but not home . . . I envy you (kindly, but still. . . 😉

    1. So much of the area I grew up in has changed, too, Frances. I still have the connection. But the fact that the barns have been torn down, the old house is empty, the pasture my stepfather worked so hard to clear growing up in alders… that is all quite hard to see. Even though I do my best to avoid taking off my rose-coloured glasses. Still it was delightful to revisit a part of my past when we stopped to see Freddy. That was a hoot.

  6. I loved this post-it is so interesting for me,like a novel! You have a great family
    Most all of yours stories (and all you bloggers and commenters,too) are engaging -going home means to me walking about two miles in different directions,even to visit my grandgrandparents homes,or my late parents-in-law,-not to mention the twenty steps to visit my parents :-). It must sound very strange for you
    I lived from my 3rd-6th year in a village near Zagreb(which is Zagreb now,of course)-it was my father's first job as MD and that is all of the moving stories more than two miles far away (it is like 7 miles away aprox. :-):-)
    And childhood memories-there are a lot of them 🙂

    1. Thanks, Dottoressa. It must be very different from my experience to live so close to your family all your life. Most of my family have migrated to other parts of Canada. Are the family homes all still occupied by your relatives? I can still drive by my grandparents' homes (both paternal and maternal) but both have been sold and are quite changed now.

  7. Memories !

    Your cold weather outfit of sweater, jeans and gumboots/Wellies reminded me of visiting my uncle's farm in the winter and squelching around with my brothers in the damp surrounds until I literally got bogged in knee deep mud and had to be rescued then having to walk back to the farmhouse in freezing cold, wet socks as my boots were left behind in the deadly morass that threatened to claim my young life !

    1. Ha. Good story Cee. I have encountered man-eating (or girl-eating to be more accurate)) mud also. But usually when I'm fishing with Hubby and he pulls me out.

  8. Loved this post. Memoir writing is not easy and it's a tribute to your skill that it is evocative and universal in its themes.

    Thank you


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