“It’s still raining.”
I’m walking up to the car rental place on Saturday morning to retrieve the car in which my girls and I will drive down to the much anticipated Shores of Erie wine festival in our home town when Debbie calls. “Bring rubber boots, raincoats, umbrellas, tarps, dinghies – whatever you got. And for heaven’s sake, don’t wear anything white. Or nice.”
I’d been getting updates on the back home weather all week; it started pouring about five days previous and hadn’t stopped; until that moment I’d nicely avoided thinking about the consequences. And call me a reckless avoider, but I don’t even consider taking that freshly ironed white shirt out of my suitcase.
The back home weather report is inconceivable. It’s the most perfect morning of the entire year, and I wish we could move the entire festival four hours up the highway. Luscious September days like this are precious: sunny with a soft breeze – the kind that caresses your skin with the gentlest of kisses. There isn’t an ounce of humidity and the sky is so clear it sparkles.
After collecting the girls we get on the highway, happy in spite of the mucky news. The event is about old friends, wine, food and live music. Last year we had such a good time, seeing so many of my home people dishing out so much love. Add to that memory the gorgeousness of that September and the beautiful setting alongside a familiar river – not going was not an option.
The luscious weather remains perfect for pretty much the whole ride down the highway. When we’re down to a half hour away, we begin to see layers of cloud formations: some thick and cotton-like, seemingly miles deep, others wispy and flying fast underneath them. And then the occasional black one hanging like a lame threat over some farm field.
When we finally pull into the yard at Debbie and Len’s, it’s stopped raining and Deb’s looking disbelievingly at the breaks of blue in the sky. We did our best to bring it along, we say.
The rolling grounds of Fort Malden are a sloppy mess. We’re talking barnyard. It seems no less crowded than last year. Apparently wine lovers are a serious lot, and no one is going to let a little rain and mud diminish any of their fun. Kind of like making lemonade out of life’s lemons, what was once a promenade of cute dresses and sandals has morphed into a parade of audacious wellies.
Thousands of pairs of audacious wellies – beautiful thing number sixty-three.
One doesn’t venture away from one’s table much this year for fear of going topsy turvy in the muck. And yes, I wore that white shirt. At one point Kelsey has to ask a bloke to give her a pull because she gets stuck. She isn’t the only one suffering mucky dilemmas. We witness a number of fall-downs one amusing one by a guy who is gallantly carrying a girl on his back. It is amusing because Princess is NOT pleased and climbs BACK on his slimy back for the rest of the journey to the paved walk about five feet away.
Next day, Sunday, the sun joins the party and by after lunch when we go back to the site, the conditions have improved considerably, and continue to do so until the event closes. Sarah Harmer, who we’d stayed the extra day to hear play charms everybody. With the crowds considerably thinned and the sun shining, it is a most pleasant day.
They say that for a time Fort Malden served as a lunatic asylum. I’m amused by the thought of what those who walked the Fort Malden grounds a couple hundred years ago might be thinking from the vantage point of a netherworld, of these hoards of people in crazy-coloured rubber footwear happily wallowing around in acres of mud and seeming to celebrate that with endless toasting and good cheer.
If I were one of those netherworld beings, I might see that party down there, mud and all as most definitely beautiful thing number sixty-four.
I’m in a good space. Recently someone was going on about my choice of home and work locations citing with disgust the dirt and grime and pace of the city core. “Yeah but,” I interjected, “I’m really happy.”
I thought of that as I walked to work this morning with the delicious September air on my skin. It was warmer today after a few overcast, chilly, damp days. Everybody seemed grateful. Or maybe it was just Friday Mode: you sense a relaxation in the bodies collecting at the street corners – hands gripping bags a little less tight; shoulders a little looser; conversations with friends a little lighter. A pretty, smiling girl in a floating dress sails by on her retro-styled bike riding standing up, her hair tossed back. TIFF is everywhere, adding to a mood: white tents and sections of red carpet and temporary stages and other photo op units dot the downtown core. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought of striking a campy, movie star-ish pose in one of them.
The oft-mentioned getting off the subway for two hours a day and onto the sidewalk for one, is doubtless a major factor in my current feeling of strength and contentment. And that one hour walking is just the commute. Having given up my transit pass, I’m walking over all those distances I wouldn’t have thought anything of covering on a streetcar months ago. Sometimes I curse that once-handy card, but really only when I’m overloaded with groceries, collected after work when I’m hungry and my lack of judgement in gauging things like how much that giant Ontario cantaloupe will impact the weight of the bags holding the other fifteen things I’ve got to get home with me.
Work itself is coming together. Changing jobs is never an easy adjustment. For the first few months I felt like I was floating in the wind, unknown amongst my far-flung colleagues, but my [new] manager has been putting effort in getting my name out there and I’m finally meeting people and getting to know those that work around me. After months, I’m finally feeling like I belong.
This summer I joined a gym. Yep, me. The new job gave me access to a great corporate rate and the new location gives me access to a small women’s gym where I go at lunch to engage weights and strength training, but mostly indulge in all things related to yoga. I’ve practiced yoga off and on for many years, mostly at home. There are some fine instructors at my gym and I’m working harder, posing more courageously, challenging myself in ways any recorded instruction could not generate. If you practice yoga, you’ll know what I mean when I say my body is breathing, my hips are singing and my spine is floating.
My girls and I are gearing up for a road trip tomorrow, back home for a wine festival on the rolling grounds of Fort Malden at the edge of the Detroit River in Amherstburg. I may need to detox by Monday when I come home. But right now, being in a good personal space is the right frame of reference in which to take myself back home to my always loving people for a couple of days.
I can say confidently in advance, after a couple of days in the country and the space and timing of a pretty town on a river amidst old friends, my good space will be shining like a diamond when we return on Monday.
When I was their age, I wrote in homemade diaries, I noticed boys and hung out with Lynn at the schoolyard on Tuesday evenings to watch the town's marching band practice. I got my ears pierced and my period. I started babysitting. The extraordinarily compassionate Jack Barnes was my teacher at Amherstburg Public School. Thank goodness, because it was the only time in my life I was not self-assured.
We went roller skating at the Amherstburg arena over the summer and wore homemade halter tops tied around the neck with shoestrings. I wore eyeshadow for the first time; it would have been blue. We still listened to CKLW AM radio, and the Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family were still the shows to watch on Friday night.
And funny – looking back on the movie screen in my mind, those days were always sunny.
Paige and Elaine on the cusp of teenagerhood: beautiful thing number 47.
My girls and I leave the city Saturday morning and head southwest to my hometown for an oft-lauded wine festival and visiting with old friends. We listen to classic rocks songs on the radio which instigate one memory after another - a nice accompaniment to the flat, boring stretch of highway. As we get close to Essex County, the sky gets more and more overcast and we curse the imminent rain for intruding on the much anticipated party.
Navigating the once-daily haunts due south of HWY 401 is like I always say: everything’s strange and everything’s the same. I drop the girls off at their dad’s and go to Debbie’s where we catch up over a Guinness. I hope you have a friend like her.
The rain is coming down hard and steady and we carry on cursing it over a drive to the grocery store to pick up what will become the beautiful spread of a breakfast the next morning. Once we’ve all gathered back at the house we pack up golf umbrellas and plastic sheeting to cover wet picnic table seats, and the rain lets up just then. Even the weather gods shouldn’t mess with serious wine drinkers intent on a good time and happy homecoming.
The grounds are a bit mucky but certainly not “Woodstock” as some grim souls had predicted. As soon as we walk into the place and before I can get some wine into my glass we start running into old friends. I didn’t send out a “facebook blast” saying I was going down, thinking that with the short turnover in time I’d be content to bump into people as the fates would have us do.
There are lots of long hugs. I don’t know if I can describe my gratification in the love I got from my old friends – to still "belong" to them. I make my home in Toronto now, but despite a number of moves around different neighbourhoods I still don’t feel as if I “belong” anywhere. Maybe that’s related to my single, empty-nester state. But whatever it is, these wonderful old pals can’t possibly know how easily they filled what has been a rather empty vessel for quite some time.
Next morning at Debbie and Len’s we all sleep late, maybe a little groggy from all those bottles of that excellent D’Angelo Foch. After the big breakfast, Deb and I sit out in the backyard with spiked orange juice and admire the day – particularly the clouds.
Not willing to waste the weather gods’ change of heart, we go back to the festival site and see some more people, and try some foods. It's such a beautiful spot beside the river, and it is great to look around the town and all its changes.
As I told a couple of my colleagues about the weekend Monday morning, one said she thought I looked particularly happy. She’s right. This sort of weekend is one of those reminders about what exactly it is that sustains us. I don’t care what they say. You can go home again, and they will all love you as much as they did the day you left.