Safely tucked away under blanket tent

Growing up is an obligation of which I have been an unwilling participant.
Despite gritting my teeth and clinging by my fingernails to the doorframe of my childhood, life marched on and dragged me along with it.
I adored my childhood and it grows more perfect with every passing year. I’ve filed the memories away as though on index cards, in no particular order, and when I take one out, the memory comes complete with sounds and smells and texture, and I am transported home—home to Fort Frances.
When I visit Fort Frances, I expect each and every memory index card to be in place, simultaneously, and nothing to have changed, especially me.
In my remembering, I am all ages at once. I want to stop people on the street and say, “Do you remember when . . .” and begin to blurt out all the memories that make me laugh and wince and cry and shout for joy.
No one memory seems more important than another; they all become blurred together like a kaleidoscope in my mind—each one drawing my breath in as though I am both surprised and relieved to have remembered.
I think childhood for most of us is like a blanket thrown over the dining table under which we crawl to feel safe. My blanket tent is Bonnie Brae, the name my father christened our farm on the Rainy River, where Crozier and Roddick bump up against each other.
Bonnie Brae has changed. There are no toboggans careening down the hills, complete with children’s screams and mittens torn free and boots filling with snow. I can’t dash across the field to Annie’s loving arms.
There are no little girls with bare feet and brown legs bouncing and balancing on the ponies’ bare backs. There are no white-faced Hereford calves pushing heads together to settle an earlier dispute.
Doug and Blair (the only older boys I ever idolized and still do) aren’t sitting atop their steeds, “Stormy” and “Rock,” looking beyond cool as they come to help us move cattle. It has all changed despite my wanting it to stay exactly as it was.
The other landmarks that fill my index cards have gone or shifted or changed. The Shop Easy, the Royal Theatre, and the Rainy Lake Hotel, to name a few, have gone. There was no movie for a quarter after the Santa Claus parade this past December after a miniature tub of ice cream, complete with little wooden spoon, handed out from the back of the Flinders’ dairy truck.
The Electric Bakery isn’t wrapping up honey-dip doughnuts or long-johns in white paper bags for me. The Noden Causeway isn’t shiny and new, the concrete smooth and white, the ribbon cut at its opening still gently floating on the air.
There are no crowds of teenagers leaking out the doors of the old high school, tennis games going on, Homecoming floats needing tissue flowers fluffed. No Jim and Billy with their magical guitar wizardry. No Mr. Quesnel at the head of my home room smiling his patient understanding smile.
No Mr. Malinosky with his booming voice and passion for literature. No Mr. Visser banging on his little drum saying, “Come up!” No milk for a dime, no chili and hotdogs and Mrs. Kerr’s incredible kindness.
It went too fast, seems it passed in merely a heartbeat. I gather now with friends, those who stick with you through all the bumps and bruises. We find no end of things that make us laugh—each friend throwing a memory into the soup-pot that becomes our collective youth.
Friends form a chain to our past; they crawl into our remembering and the memories prevail, they never fade or weaken.
We each have our mental scrapbook of the events that shaped us, both good and bad, and hidden in our graying hair is still the child where the perfect parts of us endure and float to the surface each time we watch the next generation taking their place.
They say you can’t go home. They, whoever they may be, are wrong. I travel home with every breath I take, knowing I am who I am because of where I grew up.
I can’t find me on the streets or in the buildings, but all the parts of me are safely tucked away under my blanket tent
Contact me at: wendistewart@live.ca

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