Saturday morning Ceri and I walk up in the pouring rain to collect our rental car for what is has become the annual long weekend road trip to Amherstburg to see friends at the Shores of Erie Wine Festival. After collecting Carly and Kelsey at their respective homes we get on the highway and point south-west. There is a dodgy hour or so, trying to get coffee and sandwiches behind a busload of seniors at the first available highway stop. Eventually though, the rain clears, and the sky puts on a show and suddenly we're almost there.
I’ve been back home again. I took another mini-holiday to visit Windsor to participate in a four-day Intuitive Painting Workshop. The next post will be about that (remarkable) workshop. But integral to the experience as a whole are the four days I spent in Windsor – in and around places I frequented in my thirteen years living there while my girls were growing up; the place I left seven years ago.
I’d not been close like this to Windsor since I left it. When in the area I’ve either stayed in its easterly suburbs or in my original hometown of Amherstburg. I choose not to live with regrets but I’m wondering, what the hell was the matter with me?
Maybe it took those seven years for me to need to get there and be in it and find pleasure and comfort in it. Like I did over this past extended weekend.
This time I stayed with Lynn. She carted me around and gave me use of her car when she didn’t need it and brought me morning coffee and cooked me meals and poured me wine and dished as much love and support as she ever has in 45 years of a friendship. On my last day there she drove the 30 km west from her home to Mackenzie Hall on the city’s west side just to drive me the six km to the train station; a cab ride I was most prepared to take.
Having a friend like that? Beautiful thing number sixty five.
In each of those four days I drove (or was driven) along the Detroit River – and the sight of it from Lake St. Clair to the Ambassador Bridge about broke my heart each time. Of course it did. It was a compass point for most of my life. Marking west in Amherstburg for the first 30 years of my life, and north in Windsor for another 13. I looked upon the riverfront path I walked on so many nights and thought of my first adventures in online journaling on a homemade website where I documented the experience.
I live in a new place now, and next to an impressive body of water, but there’s something about a river. The methodical movement in it causes a restfulness in the mind. The freighters passing through and the bridges and the other city so close on the other side. Most of my father’s career was spent navigating that river, further placing its waters in the sensibilities of his daughter. He was often away for periods of time when we were kids and it was that river that would have carried him away most times.
And then Windsor’s streets; quieter, cleaner, everything on a smaller scale than Toronto, where I live now. Ouellette Avenue hasn’t changed much; a few restaurants gone, a few new ones in their places. Neither has our old street changed – from the perspective of darkness anyway. Our old happy (and haunted) house is still there, with its porch and its maple tree. Carly snapped a shot of it earlier in the summer to show us how much it didn’t change. There were many hours lived on that porch under that maple tree.
It was late when I went by. I wished I hadn’t missed seeing our old neighbour Louisa on her porch. I know she would have been there. Down at the corner, the diner has been remodelled, but the convenience store is exactly the same. One night a bunch of us from the workshop I was attending had dinner at an old favourite restaurant of my girls' and mine, Basil Court – Thai food I’ve yet to find equalled in Toronto.
Windsor seems smaller and slower than it was when I left. It’s probably not – it’s probably my perception, because I needed it to be. If I had to describe how I’ve felt in those four days, it would be “cocooned.” Probably because I needed to be.
It’s easy to write about the love dished out to you by a life-long friend. I do that a lot; it seems I have a lot of life-long friends who dish me a lot of love. What’s not as easy to write about is the kind of experience I had at the workshop. I’ll get back to you on that one. In the meantime, this space is for Lynn and Windsor. I’m feeling a lot of things coming away from those four days of living in my old city and painting intensively. The most of substantial of those is grateful. And that, my friends, is beautiful thing number sixty-six.
“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.
This is a response to Willow's latest Magpie Tales visual creative writing prompt. Visit Magpie Tales and find all kinds of wonderful writers and poets and their takes on the prompt and giving hearty support to each others' creative efforts. Give it a try! A creative challenge is good for you!
I come from tomato country, in what many call Canada’s “banana belt” – Essex County. You never tasted a tomato as good as a warm, fresh picked field tomato. No tomato was redder, richer and full of flavour as those. Sadly, most of the tomatoes there are machine harvested now, and with the forced ripening for one-time harvesting, they have never tasted the same.
There was a tomato factory in Amherstburg when I was a kid, and every August the familiar tomato soup smell permeated the air as the farmers rolled in daily with their wagonloads of tomatoes, and the colourful and exotic migratory workers from Jamaica would appear in the streets. Sometimes the boys in my neighbourhood would run after the tractors and hitch a ride on the back of the wagon. That tomato soup smell always reminded us that back to school was coming.
When I grew up I married into a farm family and one of their crops was tomatoes. Workers would come in from Quebec each year to pick them. For a few years before my kids were born I would sit on the planting machine with the others and feed the seedlings into the grippers on the wheel. The steady clicking and turning of the machine had a meditative effect – and made the job rather pleasant, and I learned to love the bitter smell of the plants. Later in the season we would hoe weed patches – a much harder job but you sure didn’t have any problems sleeping at night!
When I think of those years I think of gorging on summer’s bounty. We would have fresh corn and toasted tomato sandwiches every night for supper. We canned pickles and tomato sauce and our freezers were stocked with bags of corn, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus. I remember long days, with barbeques and dogs and deeps suntans and the smell of dirt and grass on my stained, calloused hands.
These are the things I think about when I find field tomatoes on the market in August and I pick one up and take a deep whiff.