Coming home after an absence, you see it differently. When you leave one home to visit another, you get it both ways. Going back to Ontario after a year in a new home, I was both visitor and resident simultaneously. I was surprised St. Thomas looked the same, but how much does anywhere change in one year?
My eyes had changed, though. I saw beauty in things I’d never really noticed for a long time. Waiting for a pizza one night, I looked at the main street – the buildings themselves and the details of architecture we often forget to look at. Chef Bondi Pizza, in business since the early 1970s, next door to Your Fish & Chips, in business for even longer. Both with signage I’ve known all my life. At 10 p.m. the street was empty enough to stand on the middle line. Yet cars are driving somewhere, people singly or in pairs walk home or to the bars, dogs and their people are out for their late night constitutionals.
Being in Aylmer at a Scottish-surnamed, German-speaking family-run Mexican food shop, The Tortilla Store, buying corn tortillas in bulk to bring back to NB. Looking at the parking lot of The Bargain Shop across the side street. A horse and buggy parked alongside the cars and minivans. Getting teary-eyed outside the John Street Tim Hortons in Aylmer. Waiting for my coffee, I automatically nodded to people at the tables. They nodded back. They may well be the same ones I’ve seen for years at the same tables at the same time of day. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the other outside this common meeting ground, we always nod hello.
Missing Aylmer; the complex mix of peoples in a small town, there long before the term cultural diversity became common parlance. Stores and restaurants that have remained exactly the same since I went to high school there. I hated Aylmer and all small towns then, thought the big cities had it all. Eventually learning that, really, big cities become living in your own small neighbourhood for the most part and that getting away to see fields and forests requires a major expedition. In Aylmer or St. Thomas, you drive only a few minutes and you are in countryside with cows and horses or woods.
In a London department store, the young sales clerk who waits on us isn’t busy so she starts chatting. She’s counting the months until she graduates from university and can leave the small-town dust of London behind her for the Big City. She can’t wait. I remember being you, I think as I listen to her talk about what London doesn’t have. But she will do well in Toronto. I can see the virtues of Hogtown, but London Ont is big city enough for me now. I was born and bred in real small town Ontario and I have grown old enough to appreciate that.
Then returning to New Brunswick and what is now home. No take-out pizza close enough to get it home still warm. No Tim Hortons without a 20-minute drive. But the stars fill the sky as they cannot do against the lights of any city or town. The fields and woods beckon us to come for a walk. Silence other than the songs and squawks of birds.