Memories of my hometown still treasured today

I am missing my hometown today, the place where the stories and people include me.
I am missing the geography that is sealed tight in my memory; the turns in the roads, the grade of the hills. I am missing the clickety-clack sound of the car going over the bridge to International Falls that made me feel I was on a train.
I am missing the trees on Second Street that leaned in, wrapping their branches around each other like the old friends they had become.
I am missing the stores that were as familiar as home; the faces that smiled down at me saying you are welcome, we know you. I am missing the people that form the collage of my childhood.
I am missing Fort Frances.
I am sitting under the large maple in my backyard, its colours starting to shift away from summer green. The pony, my living lawn ornament, is vacuuming up the apples from under the crabapple tree in the front yard; the pony looking oh so pleased with life.
I try to follow his example, to let simple contentment win out over worry and concern. So, I lean my head back against the tree, close my eyes, and recite in my head the names of the stores that lined Scott Street.
And always my memories settle in one place, where the pink boxes and pink bags are the theme, several of them tucked away to this day in my box of treasures. The store is Betty’s.
I’d like to run down the sidewalk right this very minute and pull on the big glass doors at Betty’s and see Mr. Anderson standing behind the counter, looking up and smiling immediately. I tried as an adult to call him Ron, but he was of that generation, my father’s, where we honoured respect.
Our parents earned it, expected it, and taught it as fundamental a lesson as learning to tie shoes.
I would walk straight back to the fabric and stand in awe, gazing at the possibilities: the thread, the buttons, the zippers. I just wanted to drag my fingers along the colours, coveting the bolts of fabric.
“Betty,” with her wonderful white hair pulled back in a French roll, would show me something new she just got in—something that dazzled her. And when I had decided, the big scissors came out from under the cutting table; the very special Betty’s scissors.
As a youngster learning to sew, and as a teenager with my own hard-earned cash, Betty’s was the place to go. And always standing in the store waiting to help with whatever your needed were Blair and Doug. I was so happy to see their faces light up with familiarity, though I was always a bit shy of them, having admired them as neighbours, as fellow horseback-riders, as Hereford enthusiasts, as farmers.
They were on a pedestal, I in awe of their “coolness,” they being the big boys, my brother’s age. I followed my dad’s lead and oh my, how my dad enjoyed their company, talking cows and big plans.
Blair and Doug could transition from farming to store proprietor with a smooth ease. And now they have become the guard—the steadfast symbol that marks the past and the present.
Things have changed. Betty, Ron, and Elaine are gone, have slipped away from this physical landscape, but there’s a magic that remains. Blair and Doug are that magic.
Many of us who return to Fort Frances, who make the pilgrimage to our roots, make a stop at Betty’s to recharge memory’s battery.
I can’t help wondering if Blair and Doug are aware of the space they hold, of the gratitude from us who remember, of the respect they have earned by holding true to their course and keeping back time.
They pass on their wonderful instant smiles, their welcoming gestures, so immediate and sincere. I am so grateful they are there; the constant that I can visit no matter which tree it is I lean up against, no matter what day I choose to remember.
I am so lucky to have their roots entwined with mine. They certainly were—and are—one of Fort Frances’ wonderful families.
Lucky us.
wendistewart@live.ca

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