Saturday, May 19, 2007

Grew up in a Small Town

I grew up in one of those places where there are no real traffic lights, everybody knows everybody else, and the nearest mall is a 25 minute drive away. I walked to school every day and played in the park with my friends, safe under the watchful eyes of adults who knew I was "Mary and Bill's kid", even though I didn't always know who they were.

When somebody gave their phone number, they only had to provide the last 4 digits because the other three were always the same. I was around 14 years old when I got used to having to give people my full phone number. Giving directions to our house was the same: "I live over on Maple, near the arena" was all that was required for somebody to nod knowingly and ask if I knew "the Kilgours" or some other family who lived nearby.

Years later, that little Northern Ontario town is still with me...

Every street is so familiar - I could draw a map of it right now, with street names and people's houses labeled (although many have moved now) and reproduce most of the town by memory. The names of the shops on the single "downtown" street (downtown consisting of a miniscule area with a doctor's office, police station, fire department, and a handful of restaurants and clothing stores) haven't changed, and I can still order the best Chinese food ever across from the CN rail station.

The parks and fields near where I grew up are still the same too...

This time of year, around 9 o'clock at night, when it's just starting to get dark outside and the warmth from the day is still in the air, I used to kneel in front of my open bedroom window, listening to the sounds of baseball games in the field nearby. I never really liked the sport, and didn't have anything to do with it really, but for some reason the sound of those games fascinated me. It was peaceful somehow. When I was really small, I used to sing to myself during those times; quietly out the window, looking at the stars and dreaming about my future. I could stare out the window for hours, daydreaming about things to come as the sounds of clapping and cheering and bats connecting with balls drifted through the night air.

On weekend nights in the spring, the neighbourhood kids would all get together for huge games of Hide and Seek, or Capture the Flag. One year, we played Flag every night for two months straight. There had to have been 30 or 40 kids out in the streets, plotting how to get past the rival teams to win the game. Even though we were out running around without any grown-ups, nobody ever worried about something happening to us. We were safe.

I spent a lot of time on my own as a kid, often sitting up in the weeping willow tree in our backyard. The branches were thick and strong, and one of them was low enough for me to climb onto with a book and a snack from the corner store. Hundreds of pages were turned there, some stained with a bit of grease from a bag of Doritos or Cheetos Corn Twists (too bad they don't make those anymore), or a spill from a bottle of Tahiti Treat pop. (It's amazing I only have 2 cavities)

It was my place. From that spot, I could see people walking their dogs, rollerblading, biking, and stopping their cars to chat with others. Even those in a rush took a moment to wave hello.

Even though I haven't lived there in years, I can still remember every street as though I walked down it yesterday. I remember the exact places I'd cross the road to get to the arena or to the corner store, or a friend's house. I remember which roads were good for roller-blading and the short cuts to other neighbourhoods. I remember which houses had the best Christmas lights, the really good ones that lit up the sky around them, and never stopped impressing me no matter how many times I saw them.

When I go back to Capreol, Ontario, people I haven't seen in ages will ask me how it was in England. That's just how small towns work. Proud parents tell other parents about their children's university programs, jobs, travels, and other adventures when they see each other in church or the store, or wherever, then if the story is interesting enough (and it usually is), it's passed around to everybody else. I'm still hearing stories about people I went to primary school with and haven't seen in 15 years. It's nice that we're all still connected that way, even with thousands of kilometers in between.

If there was anything I could tell the daydreaming little girl looking out her bedroom window, it would be that the world out here IS amazing and wonderful, filled with sights beyond belief, fascinating people, and incredible experiences. And that after seeing and doing all of these wonderful things, I will return to those familiar streets and wave to the people who've known my family for generations and be happy just to be home again.


  • At 12:56 AM, Anonymous MOM said…

    It is nice to see good old Capreol through the eyes of my grown child and share the fond memories. Some how I don't think this wonder, this nostalgia would be the same if you had never left the place. I am glad that your roots hold such fond memories.
    Love MOM

  • At 8:02 AM, Blogger Tam's thoughts said…

    I love to read your post but can't finish reading. I find them to long since I have a little one. This is my 3rd attempt.

  • At 8:29 AM, Blogger Melinda said…

    Mom - I completely agree that being away from home has made me appreciate it more. I sure didn't appreciate the town that much when I lived there ;)

    Tammy - I hope your little girl is doing well and starting to let you sleep once in awhile (and of course read my blog posts!) :)

  • At 12:26 PM, Blogger Suldog said…


    You have a wonderful written voice. You make me ache nostalgic for a place I've never been. Well done.


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