When I was still quite young, living with my parents, I asked my mom if she missed her home. You see, my mother was a war bride from the Netherlands who came to Canada in 1946 after marrying my father.
Every winter she never hesitated to express her extreme dislike for the snow and cold temperatures.
She mourned that Northern Ontario had no “spring” and would leap from winter to summer with only a short interlude of slush and mud. Trees and shrubs seemed to transform overnight from naked to fully dressed.
And summer? Mosquitoes, black flies, and other little flying vampires made the outdoors an itchy miserable existence. I was quite confident that my mom hated Canada and would have liked a do-over.
Lake Commando, Cochrane
Her response however surprised me.
She pointed out that she had – at that point – lived in Canada far longer than she had ever lived in Holland. This was her home … and no, she never thought about going back. Her life was here.
She then gave a long description of what she loved about her home in Canada … besides her family and friends …. she listed the fresh northern air, abundant clean water, wide open spaces, and the relaxed easy-going lifestyle. These were all things she felt her original homeland was lacking.
That conversation came back to me recently and its relevance to my own life came into focus.
I’ve always thought of myself as a Northerner first. Although I never returned to the North after I left home to attend university in the South (I know some of you will find any reference to Canada as “south” to be funny), I still felt like I was a Northerner at the core.
My childhood and formative years were spent in the North. I believed that experience created a unique DNA that would never change – figuratively speaking, of course.
This summer I was back in my hometown for a class reunion. My classmates and I were all turning 60 this year and came together to celebrate this important milestone. On that visit, as I spent many hours catching up with both old and new high school friends, I realized that I had lived away from my hometown for MORE than DOUBLE the number of years I actually lived there.
Later that same weekend, I spent an afternoon with my younger-older brother. He toured me around all the back country roads, sharing all the local ‘landmarks’ that everyone seemed to know, but I had somehow missed in the years I lived there.
Ferry crossing the Abitibi River. In the winter, this becomes an ice road. I knew it existed but I had never seen it … nor do I think I could ever find it again.
I discovered that my hometown was a place I didn’t know at all. I must have been sleepwalking for the 19 years I lived there. In my defense, teenagers tend to be oblivious anyway, and perhaps I was worse than most.
However, it really hit me this past weekend as I was buzzing around downtown Toronto … I wasn’t a Northerner at all – not any more. I am a city girl to the core and Toronto is my home.
Approaching twilight at Nathan Phillips Square, City Hall
As I zipped up and down familiar streets, this feeling of being home wasn’t simply because this is where I currently live, but because this is where the vast majority of my adult memories lived. The streets had landmarks that meant something to me.
Toronto Dance School – formerly St Enoch’s Presbyterian Church (1891)
It’s unlikely I will ever move away from Toronto – at least not any time soon. However, if I ever do, it will be interesting to discover whether my new concept of *home* will remain here … this place where I married, where my sons were born, and where we grew together as our own family unit.
Either way, one thing I know for sure is that I’m at home right now. My memories recognized it much sooner than I did.