Category Archives: Time and Space

Dinner Talk

Swiss Chalet in Saint John, two 20-something women with a toddler Swiss_Chalet_quarter_chicken-2011-Tabercil-wikicommonseach and one infant. Four full meals. One child picks at his food, the other has eaten all he wants. One woman eats her meal, the other appears to be done. All the plates are still full. Side dishes, most still full, been pushed away.

One toddler goes exploring, over to the next table. He reaches as high as he can and pulls napkins and cutlery off. The woman sitting there smiles and talks to him. The child’s mother doesn’t notice what woman on cell phone wikicommonsis happening two feet away. Her head is down, over her cell phone. She is reading and texting. The other woman doesn’t notice either. She is chewing french fries and talking on her phone.

Finally the child’s mother looks up to see where he is. “Come back here Randy” she says and apologizes to the couple. They say it’s ok, they have a grandchild the same age. Randy sits in his chair. Mom goes back to texting.

The other mother goes to the washroom, baby carrier in one hand and phone held against her ear with the other. She returns, still talking on her phone. Both women continue texting and talking to people who are not in the restaurant.

Randy climbs down from his chair and goes to yet another table to pull things down and hang off restaurant patrons’ legs. Occasionally, his mother looks up from her screen to see where he is. Sometimes she gets up to retrieve him. He screeches when she demands he sit still. She goes back to her texting and reading.

Birthday Boy

birthday cake with sparkler wikicommonsWaiters head over, bearing birthday cake with a sparkler. They surround the table, clap and sing to the other little boy, who has stayed quietly in his chair. His mother continues talking on the phone, glancing up as they finish to say thank you. Then she returns to her call. The other woman texts throughout the entire thing. Birthday kid eats his cake and looks confused. The waiters are gone and everyone at his table is back to ignoring him. Randy screeches, baby sleeps, moms talk and text on their phones.

Randy’s mom looks up long enough to realize he is tired and is not going to shut up. “Ok, I’m taking you outside” she says. She puts her phone in her purse, gathers both boys up and leaves. Randy screeches all the way. The other mother puts her phone down and gets the baby ready to go. She asks for boxes for some of the food. Thank heavens, there is enough left to feed them all for another day. While she waits for the bill, she talks to her baby and to the couple sitting beside her, apologizing for her nephew bothering them. “It’s ok,” they too say, “we have grandchildren that age.”

Thankfully, Randy hadn’t made it to our table. While the child’s behaviour was understandable, if not desirable, that of the mothers kid-and cell-phoneswas not. Talking neither to each other nor their children, engaged solely with people somewhere else. We were fascinated by it and repulsed. Happy birthday, little boy. You deserve better than what you got.

junk email aug 2018
From a spam email I received recently. I highlighted the probably accurate – and scary – figure.

Five years later

I wrote this the day after it happened five years ago because I needed to cleanse my mind of this hideous family outing. I didn’t post it then though. Maybe it was just a “when I was young” old fogey complaint. Everyone had a cell phone, and always seemed to be on it doing something. Part of life. But others still talk about the omnipresence of phones, even little kids. The kid who wrote this widely-shared essay would be about the same age as the two little boys in Swiss Chalet.jen-adams-beason-fb-may-2018

Mary Jo Kopechne

kopechne 1969 july 27 nydailynews.comKnown best as “the girl in the car”, Mary Jo Kopechne had a promising career as a political worker in Washington. She was idealistic and enthusiastic – the sort of person you want to see in public service. Then she died at Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts on July 18, 1969. The car she was in, driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy, went off a bridge. He survived. The next week, she would have celebrated her 29th birthday.

Mary Jo was born July 26, 1940 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. She was the only child of Joseph and Gwen (Jennings) Kopechne. Her grandfathers were coal miners. Her family had been in the Wyoming Valley of north-eastern Pennsylvania for 250 years.

Soon after she was born, her parents moved to New Jersey. She graduated from that state’s Caldwell College for Women in 1962 with a business and education degree.

Montgomery, Alabama

St_Jude_School_June-09_chris-pruitt-wikicommonsAfter graduation, Mary Jo moved to Alabama. There she taught school at the City of St. Jude, a Roman Catholic mission in Montgomery. From its establishment in 1938, it served both black and white community members.

Selma to Montgomery March Day 5 The_Abernathy_Children,_Ralph_David_Abernathy,_Juanita_Jones_Abernathy_and_John_Lewis_lead_the_line_up_and_beginning_of_the_March.-leaving-St.-Jude-for-State-Capitol Mrsdonzaleighabernathy-wikicommonsSt. Jude was put in the spotlight in March 1965 when it opened its grounds and doors for the march from Selma to Montgomery. Harry Belafonte organized and paid for a concert there that last night of the march. The “Stars for Freedom” rally included Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Joan Baez, Sammy Davis Jr., and many more.

White parents didn’t like the attention this gave the school so they pulled their kids out. Just as it had become de facto integrated, St. Jude became de facto segregated.

Washington D.C.

Mary Jo had left Montgomery by then. She moved to Washington where she worked as a secretary for Florida Democratic Senator George Smathers. A year or so later, she began work for Sen. Robert Kennedy.

During Kennedy’s 1968 campaign, she was one of six aides called the Boiler Room Girls. They compiled and analyzed data and intelligence on primary delegate voting probabilities.

After Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Mary Jo left Washington. She was devastated by the loss of the man who represented the ideals of social justice in which she so strongly believed. But she didn’t leave politics. She moved to Colorado to work as the campaign strategist for the former Governor’s Senate campaign. Then she returned to Washington. She worked for a political consulting company, one of the first, organizing campaigns at all levels of office.

Chappaquiddick

She kept in touch with friends from Robert Kennedy’s office. The party in Chappaquiddick was a reunion of the Boiler Room Girls. Ted Kennedy was the host, and he left the party with Ms. Kopechne.

Chappaquiddick_bridge-Edgartown-MA-2008-Arwcheek-wikicommons
The guardrails on the bridge at Chappaquiddick were added after the accident

One week after her death, Kennedy appeared in court. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily injury. The judge suspended the mandatory jail time, saying Kennedy “has already been, and will continue to be punished far beyond anything this court can impose.”

“A man does what he must…”

Later that night on television, Ted Kennedy quoted from his brother John F. Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage. He said, in part:

A man does what he must — in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressure… Each man must decide for himself the course he will follow… For this, each man must look into his own soul. [NY Daily News July 27, 1969]

An odd – even audacious – choice in light of the circumstances. Legal charges, an ongoing investigation and controversy about his actions the night of the accident. However, his words somehow close the circle of the Kennedy decade.

Kennedy_bros-John-Robert-Ted-July-1960-US-Senate-wikicommonsThe youngest, and only surviving, son quoting the elder brother who ushered in the 1960s. Such hope, dashed by assassination. Then his brother Robert assassinated, another loss of hope. The decade ended with this third tragedy, the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. An accident, but a messy and mysterious one. She was not a Kennedy, but her life was entwined with theirs in terms of her beliefs and work. Her death also.

Mary Jo Kopechne 1962-Caldwell-College-yearbook-wikipediaTed, his wife Joan and Robert Kennedy’s widow Ethel attended Mary Jo’s funeral in Pennsylvania. Joan, who was pregnant at the time, later miscarried. Joseph and Gwen Kopechne moved back to Pennsylvania. They received a settlement of $141,000 from Kennedy’s insurance. Joseph died in 2003 and Gwen in 2007.

The movie Chappaquiddick is now, or soon will be, in a theatre near you.

Martin Luther King

I don’t remember what I was doing when I heard that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed. I do remember the shock and horror I felt. The loss and hopelessness that it signified. Even to me, a kid. But a kid old enough to understand what he was saying, and how important he was. How important his message was. He was the hope.Martin Luther King with wife Coretta Scott King 1964 wikicommons

Then two months later, Robert Kennedy was shot. Another hope, gone in the flash of an assassin’s bullet. It was like some horrible circle was closing, taking down those in whom we all had invested so much. First President John F. Kennedy, then five years later Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. The killing of those whom we believed would make change. Would indeed make America great again.

Lorraine Motel sign, Memphis TN wikicommons1968 was a bad year. There were no giants left. No individuals who spoke with the authenticity and lyricism of Dr. King. No presidential candidates who made you believe yes, we can!

Four decades after Dr. King

Forty years passed and Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States. Dr. King and the Kennedy brothers rolled into one. If any of you ever rolled your eyes when someone over 50 said they feared for his safety, think of this: that person remembers those assassinations.

Dr King with dog in car, photo signed by him 1964 Florida wikicommons
“For Toby Simon – With great respect and warm [illeg] – Martin Luther King”
Fifty years on, Donald Trump, a president whose electoral campaign and time so far in office has spurred different memories of 1968. George Wallace, former governor of Alabama, also ran in the 1968 presidential election. Fears again felt by those old enough to remember. The white supremacism that we thought was gone, clamoring again at the White House.

Civil_rights_leaders_meet_with_President_John_F._Kennedy-28-Aug-1963
l- to r: Willard Wirtz (Secretary of Labor); Floyd McKissick (CORE); Mathew Ahmann (National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice); Whitney Young (National Urban League); Martin Luther King, Jr. (SCLC); John Lewis (SNCC); Rabbi Joachim Prinz (American Jewish Congress); A. Philip Randolph; Rev. Eugene Carson Blake partially visible; President John F. Kennedy; Walter Reuther (labor leader); V-P Lyndon Johnson partially visible; and Roy Wilkins (NAACP)

Salisbury Horses

“Outside this lovely home, drive down the circular driveway covered by mature trees and be greeted by an old barn and about 3 acres cleared ideal for horses.”

3063 main street salisbury mikedoiron.caThus reads the real estate listing I found online for a 5.6 acre property in Salisbury NB. It is now owned by the Dangremond family. They bought it so they could keep their horses Misty and Reiner at home instead of having to board them. A barn and cleared pastureland – ideal for horses!

Then, while putting up fencing last year, they were told that the property is zoned RU, Residential Use. They appealed for rezoning, a variance, or even a temporary permit to keep the horses there for even just a year. Denied.

Following the story on CBC NB news, I’ve hoped, even believed, that the town council would wind its neck in and allow the horses to stay. But the news report yesterday was that the horses must move.

Reiner and Misty beside barn
Beside their barn, from “Help Misty and Reiner the horses” gofundme page

A neighbour has offered to board the horses – yes, a neighbour. A distance of 150 metres, CBC says. Not a big distance for the Dangremond daughter to walk to see her pets. Also not a big distance for the town council to make whatever variance is needed so those pets can stay in their own barn.

I realize municipal planners must do what is best for their region now and in the future. Evidently, the town foresees residential expansion in the area where the Dangremonds live. But, if houses are not going to be built in the immediate future, why not make an exception for the Dangremond horses with as many caveats as the council deems necessary?

location of propeerty google maps
Location of property in Salisbury area – click for larger view

Zoning Labyrinth

This sad story reminds me of when we were still in Ontario, hunting for a small farm in Elgin County. John Blake of Elgin Realty warned me that what looked like a farm might not be zoned one. So I started phoning municipal, township and county offices to get an overview of the zoning basics. No generalities, only a labyrinth.

One side of a road might be agricultural, the other – just as distant from a street light or a Tim Horton’s – is not. A township line at the edge of a property means another set of rules. Animals and farming may be “grandfathered” in after a zoning change, meaning they can stay only as long as those owners stay. Other times you can bring in new animals as long as the presence of farm animals is continuous. So, if the existing animals move off before the sale closing date, you can’t move new ones in. The planners told me to ask about each and every property.

Salisbury horses Reiner and Misty, photo Joseph Tunney CBC
Salisbury horses Reiner and Misty, photo Joseph Tunney CBC

That said, Salisbury has the chance to make a statement that matches its lovely rural-looking appearance. Let the Salisbury horses stay at home.

Misty and Reiner have a GoGetFunding page (updated July 7/17). You can also check the Facebook page Power in Numbers for Misty and Reiner.

Christmas Stable

Their stalls are decorated, the horses snugged in. Wintertime at the stable, and Christmas approaching. Stockings soon will be hung on stall doors.Fletcher in decorated stall photo dorothy stewart

The riding students who decorated the stalls will come to the barn on Christmas Eve, so one told me, to have a Christmas party with the horses. They will fill the horses’ stockings and give them their presents.

Samson aka One Kid CoolOne horse is getting a lot of stuff from his Secret Santa. I know because she told me. Whispered it, actually, so Samson couldn’t hear. And they are practical things that horses need but that he will also enjoy. A lot of thought went into choosing his gifts. (Amazon links below give you a clue)

I’m sure his Secret Santa has made a Christmas wish list for herself. She’s a girl in her early teens and she has a wide range of interests. But the only gifts she has talked about to me are those she is buying for the horses. The special, big presents are for “her” horse but she’s been shopping for small things for all of them. She’s very excited about it, about the shopping for them and the giving to them.

“Her” horse is not actually hers. He belongs to the stable. The other horses being shopped for are the stable’s lesson horses. The details of ownership don’t matter. We all have a special bond with our favourite horse, no matter how many others may ride him or her. The horses feel the same way, I think. They have their favourite riders too.Willie in aisle beside decorated stalls

I don’t know what they think of their decorations. Well, I do know what “my” horse thinks. When I was leading him to the cross ties, he tried to eat the holly off a stall door. So that is his opinion: food!Butternut Stables doors with wreaths

Therapy Visitors

“A woman was here today, a long time. I don’t know who she was. She had a dog. I don’t know if she was lost. But she sat right here, with the dog, talking and talking. I didn’t want to be rude, but I had things to do.”

mom and charlie dog 2012My mother told me this one day at her assisted living home. She didn’t have anything she had to do. She had Alzheimer’s. I doubted that this woman and her dog really existed. But to be sure, I asked the nurse if anyone had been to see Mom. “Today is the day the therapy dog comes,” she said.

I told Mom the names of the dog and woman, and explained. She kind of remembered. But why were they coming to see her, she asked. “He was a cute little fella. But I’ve got my own dogs!” She meant mine who came with me.

“A kid was here!”

Another time, Mom was even more distraught. “A kid was here all morning. I don’t know where her parents were. I thought maybe I was supposed to be babysitting her. But I’m too old for that.” I asked where the kid went. “A nurse took her, thank heaven.”

The nurse told me what I suspected, after the therapy dog incident. School kids visiting nursing home residents. It’s good for the kids and good for the elderly.

Therapy or confusion?

I’ve seen the joy dogs can bring to nursing homes. The residents in Leo being therapy dog at Glendale Crossing 2012Mom’s home were always so happy to see me. When I went alone, I found out who they really wanted to see. ‘Where are the dogs?’ Those who usually smiled and came over, even if they couldn’t speak, didn’t even notice me. It was the dogs they wanted.

Bearing in mind Mom’s opinion on unsolicited visits, I kept the dogs away from residents who kept away from them. For Mom, the staff made notes on her preferences. She did not mention any more perplexing visits.

Social contact is good therapy for people in long term care. It breaks up their daily routine, the boredom, keeps them connected. Staff do their best but they have the nuts and bolts of care-taking to do. So waverley-resident-cat-2009visitors, of all ages and species, help. But they can also be confusing, especially for those with memory loss. Like for Mom – wondering who is this, do I know them, why are they here.

“Why don’t they ask you?”

“Do-gooders!” Mom spat when I told her why the young girl was with her, “why don’t they ask you first?” Words to keep in mind. Maybe they did ask and explain, and she forgot. Alzheimer’s can cause memory and perception of reality to wander. Frequent cues might help lessen confusion, at least for the moment, about the “who” and “why” of visitors.

Annabel

Michael Crummey wrote of Kathleen Winter’s novel Annabel, “a beautiful book, brimming with heart and uncommon wisdom.” That’s on the book jacket. It’s true. This is a beautiful love story – of two young people, a family, friends, and a big land.

Amazon link for Annabel
Amazon link for Annabel

It was one of the books chosen for 2014’s Canada Reads on CBC Radio. Despite (or because of) the praise it received, I decided to avoid it at all costs.

Its Labrador setting interested me – but. It sounded too much like it was good for you. “Diversity” and “inclusiveness” were used to describe its story. These are words that I used to like but now make me gak like a cat with a hairball. Hearing them now used too earnestly, too combatively, too often, too everywhere.

Last time I was at the library, there was Annabel in a display rack. I stopped and looked at it, went on, then came back. I took it, reasoning that if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to finish it. Too quickly I finished it, even reading and rereading as slowly as I could. I wanted it to go on forever.

People and Places of Annabel

It took a few pages to overcome my resistance and hook me. I still feared it would be a misery of a read, filled with horrible, heartbreaking things happening. And there are those. But, as the characters do, you get past them somehow. It’s how Kathleen Winter tells the story, I guess. You care about the people, and they all have something very good in them (well, all but a few of them). I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot. You’ll have to take my word that it is a rare and joyful experience to read.

Annabel - Sunset-NWRiver-WikipediaYou move into the story – into the houses and the towns and the landscape. And the story moves into you. I realized just how much when I said aloud to the book “You’re up by Bannerman Park!” when a character, lost, describes what’s around him to another character over the phone.

Books can make you laugh out loud and cry. Rarely do they make you simply smile as you read passages that are so lovely you want to imprint them on your mind and memory. Annabel is one of those books. You want to know what happens after the story ends, and you also just want to remember what was in the pages.

Heaven

When my dog Jack died, I believed in heaven. After his burial, my mother-in-law gave me a card with a little story in it. It’s about a Heaven - Doug with Jack in Outer Battery, St. John's 1998man and his dog walking along the afterlife road looking for heaven’s gates. At the beautiful golden and pearl gates with a sign saying Heaven, they’re told “sorry, no dogs allowed.” They continue walking. At a rickety gate in front of a small farm, a sign also says Heaven. The man asks if his dog can come in and is told “Of course he can.” So in they went.

It made me feel better to think of Jack in that heaven, met at the gate by my dog Jamie and cat Cedric who died before he came to me.  I knew they would recognize him as one of the family.  Doug, the German Shepherd who had ‘mothered’ him when he was a pup, would be there too.

They would take him to Heaven’s Porch, where my dad would be George Anger and Jamie dog 1991sitting with his brother and brothers-in-law.  Dad would pat his side and say, “well hello Jack, so you’ve come to join us.”  Dad’s brother would say “so you’re the sonovabitch she named after me, are you?”  Jamie would run around in front of the porch, barking and tail wagging, legs dancing.  No trace of the arthritis that had crippled him up.

That’s what I pictured the night Jack died, thanks to that story in a sympathy card.  It comforted me.

No sin means no heaven or hell

I had read the story aloud to Jack’s mourners and, of course, I cried. My mother looked askance, and said “dogs don’t have souls.” I put the card away. That was a debate I wasn’t taking on right then. Neither was my mother-in-law. Like my mother, she was a church-going woman of strong faith. But a different church.

Mom’s thesis, I knew, is that animals cannot sin and do not have immortal souls. They are innocent beings, so do not have consequences in the afterlife. Heaven and hell do not apply to them.

It has famously been said that there are no atheists in a foxhole.  Of course there aren’t!  Why, when you are in danger or great despair, would you not cling to anything that gave you hope or solace?  Part of that solace is that you can make it anything you want or need.

You can picture your enemy burning in hellfire, screaming and clawing at the walls of the pit.  You can even picture it before he dies, and enjoy the anticipation.  If you reconciled yourself with him by the time of his death, perhaps you’d see him being welcomed into the arms of Jesus.  Jack at Man o' War's grave, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington KYEven if his sins hadn’t changed, you can see what you want his afterlife to be, and believe it to be reality.  You can maybe see yourself going beyond the white light to “a better place”.  If you picture yourself in the pit of hellfire, you might find yourself looking for a way to avoid that place.

Heaven needs Hell

The afterlife, being something we can’t know about, is pretty much whatever you believe it to be.  Different faiths have different pictures of it, some more detailed than others.  In the fundamentalist Christian belief system in which I was raised, one of the truths is that animals have no souls and therefore are incapable of sin.  Their death is final with no afterlife, either good or bad.  Heaven cannot be an option if Hell is not also a possibility.  If my dog Jack cannot go to hell, he also cannot go to heaven. Thinking of him in heaven is misinterpretation or blasphemy.  It’s nothing personal toward the dog; it’s just the “reality” of the world we don’t yet know.

I don’t like thinking about a heaven without dogs. So I’d rather stick with my fuzzy and situational spirituality and comfort myself with the Jack beside Kettle Creek, St. Thomas winterpicture of Jack on the Porch of Heaven with my other animals and my dad and Uncle Jack and other family and friends.  That gives me comfort.  If I were in a foxhole, I’d be praying non-stop to God to keep me alive or at least ensure that I go to the Heaven where I can sit on the porch with Jack.

James Herriot wrote a lovely story about dogs’ afterlife. “Prince and the Card Above the Bed” is in a small, beautifully illustrated volume entitled James Herriot’s Favorite Dog Stories, New York:  St. Martin’s Press 1996.

If you haven’t seen this, Church Wars is a concise little debate on the question of dogs’ souls.

This was first posted July 31, 2010 in Stories on my St. Thomas Dog Blog. This Saturday, Jan. 30th, marks the eighth anniversary of Jack’s death.

The Tao of Horses

“If you knew a horse, you could depend on him and if he was going to do something bad, you could depend on him to do that too. I always understood horses better than I did people.“

This opinion on the staightforwardness of horses is from retired US Captain Thomas Stewart. His story is in The Tao Of Horses: Exploring how horses guide us on our spiritual path by Elizabeth Kaye McCall. At the end of WWII, Capt. Stewart and Dr. Horse stories Lipizzaner 2002 London ONRudolph Lessing, a German army captain and veterinarian, got 200 Lipizzaner stallions and broodmares out of Czechoslovakia before it was given to Russia in the Allied division of territory.

The Lipizzaner story is in the chapter entitled ‘Peace – The unequivocal ambassador’. This book has many such horse stories – individual people and horse breeds that are particular noteworthy in the equestrian world. It’s a small book and it covers a lot of ground. Each chapter focuses on a few people and the breed of horse with which they work. You get the story of the breed, including individual horses, people and their philosophical musings on what horses and their particular branch of equestrian activity gives them mentally and physically. The author adds her own thoughts in short sections at the end of each chapter. She includes a physical or mental exercise as well as travel tips and internet search suggestions.

I stay well clear of any book with ‘Tao’ in its title, too New Age self-helpish for me. But when I found a copy in a thrift store – why not? I’m very glad I bought it.

Horse Stories

Before I read it, I did not know the singer Wayne Newton is a well-respected breeder of Arabian horses. I did not know that the drummer of the 1970s band Three Dog Night, Michael McMeel, was inspired by the movie City Slickers to set up an equestrian programme for Los Angeles “at risk” kids. The book tells the horse stories of people you have heard of. It also tells about those you probably don’t know of but are happy to learn about.

Tao of Horses
Click for Amazon link

This book is what its title says, a look at the way of horses.  It discusses them and their relationship with humans in all ways – practical, emotional and psychological. You get an easy to understand overview of breeds and equestrian arts. As well, there’s a lot to think about in terms of how horses and humans connect at the heart. Ms. McCall shows the art of dressage, for example, and also explains some technical points of it. You also read about a family who have spent their whole lives in pursuit of this dance between human and horse. You are moved to think about that expression of balance and fluidity in terms of your own life, with and without a horse to share it.

It is a self-help book but it doesn’t outline steps to fix your life. It gives you something better. Food for thought about yourself and your emotional interior and about creatures – human and equine – outside yourself. It also teaches you about horses and equestrian disciplines from reining to racing. A lovely book, and well worth its full price for horse- and non-horse people alike.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Nov. 10, 2011

 

Coming Home

Coming Home Talbot-St-to-east-photo-D-StewartComing 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?

St. Thomas at night

Talbot-St-to-north-dorothystewartMy 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.

Talbot-St-to-south-dorothystewart

Aylmer, Ontario

Being in Aylmer at a Scottish-surnamed, German-speaking family-run Mexican food shop, The Tortilla Store, buying corn Tortilla-Store-Aylmertortillas 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.

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. Then again, maybe I’ve never seen these particular people before. Doesn’t matter, we always nod hello.

horse-and-buggy photo D StewartMissing 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 Clarkes-Aylmer photo Dorothy Stewartmajor 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.

Home to NB

coming home, field-walk-photo-Jim-StewartThen 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.