On Monday, December 25th I will be celebrating my last Christmas in my childhood home.
I knew this day was coming, and for my ageing parents, I was looking forward for them to be free of the responsibility of maintaining an entire house. With it just being the two of them now, it made sense for them to sell. But now that the inevitable is a reality, I am doing a bit of reflecting and discovering that This. Is. Big.
We moved to Nowhere when I was six years old. I remember the first morning, looking out my bedroom window and crying. Instead of seeing people strolling down a sidewalk as I had just a day earlier, I saw a field of bull-grass, and I thought, “Where the heck am I? What were mom and dad thinking?!”
I was convinced that our parents were punishing us for some unknown offense. As a youngster being taken miles (it was a 10 minute drive, or an hour on your bike if you pedalled fast) away from civilization as I knew it, could only be seen as cruel and unusual punishment. My young and selfish mind could not conceive of home ownership, affordability, or the fact that 5 children–7 on weekends- required space to run and play.
When I realized that begging to go home was not going to work, I started to make peace with my new home as did my six siblings, and that’s when the adventures began.
This is going to make me sound really old. But looking back on those days in Nowhere, I can truly say that in my day, we knew how to create our own fun; we knew how to use our imagination, and we had a unique sense of what it meant to be a good neighbour, something I have not seen since and doubt I will again .
Among my list of friends in Nowhere, was Sadie. I first spotted her by an apple tree. This in itself is unremarkable, but Sadie was in her eighties, and she was actually IN the tree. I decided that this made her some sort of Wonder Woman and we became fast friends, not just me, but all of us kids. We learned that Saturday morning was her baking day and we took turns offering quality control of her baked goods- pies, crinkle cookies and fresh bread. We marvelled at her house; it was like a museum. A wood stove, a genuine feather bed, water that you had to pump to get a glass, and of course an out-house completed the Little House on the Prairie theme.
Sadie’s property spanned acres and all of it was our playground. Building forts in the back fields, chasing the heifers back into their pasture when they got loose, and tobogganing off the mink barn roof in the winter (and knocking the wind out of your lungs in the process) was all part of our childhood.
“I’m bored!” were two words only the bravest of children would use in Nowhere. You were quickly told to “go outside and find something to do!” And we always did find something to do, even if the end result found us in hot water. Attempts at relieving our perceived boredom included chasing mom around the yard with a dead mouse ( it wasn’t me–you couldn’t pay me to pick up a dead rodent), placing the skull of a dead cow on the shed roof to see how long it would take a grown-up to notice, and raiding the neighbouring apple orchard at night when the countryside should be asleep. (Turns out that a lot of country kids got the same idea at the same time). In the summertime, we learned that if you started hounding dad in the early morning for a trip to the beach in the afternoon, he would eventually succumb to our incessant pleading and we would pile victoriously into the car for a trip to the lake. If his resolve was particularly strong and he couldn’t be persuaded, we still had a nearby watering hole that we could bike to. As long as you weren’t squeamish around water snakes and blood suckers, a jump off the dock offered sweet refreshment after pedaling over gravel roads, dodging tractors and combines to get there.
While much of our entertainment happened in the great outdoors, the home itself was, and remains the heart beat of our family. The little brick house was a labor of love. Originally purchased almost fifty years ago, it was definitely your fixer-upper. Discovering the hard way that the kitchen plumbing was nothing more than garden hose, dad got an honorary diploma as a plumber. Later he earned the titles of painter, brick layer, carpenter, and dry waller. His determination (and stubbornness) to learn and do things himself literally saw him with broken bones, burns, and blood, but he wouldn’t change a thing. He could rest satisfied at the end of a hard day.
Mom was pretty talented too. If home renos didn’t happen quickly enough, she revealed her talent as a demolition expert. But along with her ability to de-construct, was her ability to create. The garden that once spanned one third of the back yard, was her medium of choice. Out of the earth and from her hands came entire meals-as long as you were wise enough to stay out of her…..kitchen.
Summer dinners elicit the most mouth-watering memories for me. Multipliers dipped in salt (multipliers are onions, for those who don’t know their varieties) cucumbers soaked in vinegar, radishes, potato salad, steamed asparagus, and tomatoes that actually tasted the way a tomato is supposed to taste, was a taste of heaven. A visit home wasn’t complete without leaving with a jar of homemade pickles, peaches, pears or salsa. I confess I hid the dill pickles at the back of my own fridge so I wouldn’t have to share. Confession is good for the soul.
As an adult, some trips home to Nowhere have often left me sad, glad to be heading back to the city, and others still, longing for the chance to play one more game of up-the-ladder with mom and dad at the kitchen table, sipping on a rum and coke, and then finally falling asleep in my old bedroom with only the stars in the sky to offer any ambient light.
If I have learned anything about growing up in this obscure little hamlet, it’s about remembering my roots, remembering where I came from.
“Who dares despise the day of small beginnings…..? (Zechariah 4:10)
Over the last forty-four years, children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren have travelled through Nowhere on their journey through life. Some have passed through without looking back, while others return to be refreshed, to be grounded, and to just take a break from the world. Dad has permitted some up on the roof to repair shingles, and mom lets the odd one of us into her kitchen. We’re all learning.
As I reflect on this last Christmas in my childhood home, I’ve come to this conclusion. You weren’t Nowhere. You were Everywhere and Everything, and Christmas will never be the same.
Thanks for the memories.