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.
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.
This is a response to Willow's latest Magpie Tales visual creative writing prompt. I'm two days late posting – but I liked the prompt, it's timely, and it furthers a bloggy theme that has revealed itself this week.
Last week I had dinner with an old family friend from back home who, like me, picked up stakes and came to Toronto and has settled herself in the Beaches. There’s something about living near the water that seems right, I said, and she agreed.
She and I both grew up near the Detroit River, and it’s a waterway that features prominently in the essences of both Amherstburg and Windsor where I spent most of my life. When I left the area, I was given several pieces of art to remind me of home – two featuring ships on the Detroit River and a one of a great blue heron in the marshlands off Lake Erie.
In my last few years there I walked by the river many nights and I recall the change that came over me the instant I came off my street to the river’s side – inhaling the air affected every pore – it was electrifying. Since leaving Windsor I’ve hovered down near Lake Ontario as close as my budget would allow. Many people have asked me why I subject myself to such a long transit commute to my job on the north end of the city, and while there is certainly the “cool factor” of living right in one of this city’s marvellous neighbourhoods, the idea of being landlocked has always loomed when I considered where next to hang my hat.
And as one might generate from the previous couple of posts, the world of rivers and lakes has always had a place at our table by way of our sailor dad. Having a tug captain for a father was a novel thing to tell your friends – no one else’s father was a tug captain. It certainly wasn’t the happiest situation for him to go away for periods of time when we were small, but I think it’s probably one of the sources of the independence in my sisters and me; at the very least it’s attuned us to the sensibility of a sailor. That kind of life isn’t for everyone, but it was for my dad, his brothers, his father and generations before them.
Something else that has probably played a part on my gravitation to the watery side of things is the fact that a quarter of my bloodline features a whole bunch of islanders. Some of them came over from the Western Isles of Scotland to land themselves on the Manitoulin Island in Ontario. Aside from the hunk of land under their feet, water is the central thing to an islander’s existence. Many make their living on the water. They are aware of its gifts and its dangers – it is both life giving and perilous. And for islanders, it’s the road out.
The need to feel free is one of the fiercest desires in me – probably more of a burden than a boon. I always blamed it on having emerged from a bad marriage, but really, I’m thinking it goes much deeper than that. Being near the water somehow appeases that need for freedom – maybe there is some tiny gene way down somewhere in my body that is appeased by the sense that I’m always near the road out. Or maybe it's some random genetic link to some fisherman who once cast out his nets searching for the thing that will get him through the next day.
Maybe the water simply carries some internal symbolism of the grand search. It’s not such a bad thing, to be always searching – the idea that there’s something new around the corner is renewing. And renewing is better than stagnating.
So me and my inner fisherman will carry on with the nightly water walks and ponder the grand search. Or maybe we won't.
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