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.
“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.
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.