I was just laying in the tub, to soak, and to suck some of the aches out of my bones. It is occasionally necessary. I am reminded that I am older than I once was, and hopefully younger than I will be. I don’t know. I would need a crystal ball to have the answer to that one.
It is far into what will be known as the COVID summer. It has slowed down the pace a bit and laying in the tub is helped by the fact that I don’t immediately have anywhere to go, nothing driving me today but my own thoughts, and as everyone else is still sleeping, I am alone in my thoughts.
Well, not alone exactly. My thoughts are housed with the comings and goings of many people, in and out like a train station. Because a lot of time has already transpired, these people feel free to come and go in my imagination. Some visit my dreams. Some are even dead. They are all food for thought.
So, I am sitting here thinking about Peterborough, affectionately known as Peterpatch. What brought this on, is the sounds and smells coming through the window. They are summer sounds, like cars beginning someone’s day, a rogue lawnmower, and the birds.
It takes me back because Peterborough in the Kawarthas is a place of lakes, boating, swimming, and all other such summer kind of things. They had winter too, but the winters seem to have been not much more than a lot of waiting for summer to come around again. It’s oddly like life. Half experience, half waiting, and a bit of rumination.
There are a bevy of things that occupy my thoughts. There are some very early memories. We moved there when I was four, so I still have quite a mark of the west on me. Saskatchewan and big skies and cowboys. And yet, Peterborough has also stuck even though I rarely have a reason to go there anymore. I think virtually anybody I knew there has either died or moved away. And so I visit Peterborough in my thoughts.
When we moved there, my Dad worked for General Electric, a warehouse kind of factory building with the tall windows that had the white collar people in offices and blue collar workers on the floor. My dad was white collar. He didn’t like to get his hands dirty. The town, mostly blue collar. There is a great kind of egalitarionism there that still blows through my veins. Most of the kids I grew up with, their dads worked in factories and such. Even so, there were often two cars in the driveway, mom at home and a cottage to boot. It’s likely a good thing that Peterborough could not anticipate that such a dynamic would not last. The modern economy has made what once were considered “good” jobs, insufficient to the times. Those same people, a lot of them have fallen into substance abuse. You can read about it on any given day in the Peterborough Examiner, the one I used to deliver door to door and now occasionally visit on the web.
There are some ages that are seminal, and stick with you forever. I am told by my own kids that a lot of their dreams and imaginings go back to our first house which is a hop and a skip away in Bronte, close to Oakville. It is kind of a hamlet to the town, and we are fortunate that we have not had to leave yet. I like Oakville, but only because it is kind of Peterborough-ish in some ways. Manicured lawns and quiet, and still not that unruly.
The sounds and the smells coming in the window, the summer awakenings of the day, remind me of the many times that I woke up as a kid and wondered “what shall I do today?” There was also the matter of who to do it with. There were the stock people around that I took for granted. I looked at a family picture the other day while cleaning in the basement. It was a shot at my parents’ 35th anniversary gathering in about 1994. We all were standing bravely holding hands like nothing would change ever, and yet now when I look back my parents are both dead, which is something you never think about when they are alive.
There is also my brother, the one who has distanced himself from the family. It never occurs to you in life that some friends will come and go, even some family. Things change. Even though it may sound unbelievabe, some people will unfriend you in real life, even family. If it sounds a little more harsh than Facebook I guess it’s because it is. If we were fortune tellers and someone could warn us would it make things better? I don’t think we could handle the anxiety. One day at a time like Jesus said, is enough of a burden.
That same brother, we used to walk to accordian lessons together, taking turns to carry the accordian which was heavy, and really hated, at least by me. It was a nerd instrument and my parents made us take it because seeing it on Lawrence Welk, it was considered to be be more respectable than the guitar. We used to stop at the YMCA for a ten cent Coke to share, and sometimes a honey cruller doughnut from a diner along the way.
That brother has changed a lot, and so have I. And yet we have not, really and that may be part of life’s bundled problems that we have to share and carry around like the accordian we didn’t get to choose. When we took swimming lessons I became a “frog” while he remaind a “tadpole” because I was more daring, though younger by a year. We used to go down hand in hand, walking about five miles even though we were about four and five years old respectively. Our mom used to give us a dime to spend, and between two people it went a long way. You could buy a lot of that shoestring licorice in different flavours, three for a penny. We swam at the beach until we had enough, and then we came home. The beach was a cheap babysitter and it reminds me just how much times have changed.
Another weird thought runs through my head that shows me how much times have changed. It’s the snow plough horse. When it snowed, the closest farmer was paid by the municipality to bring his horse to clear the streets. I used to wait in nervous anticipation of the horse. I would feed it the most enormous carrot I could find in the fridge and I was in awe and terror of the huge teeth and the rubbery lips of the horse that looked like they would suck my arm into that big eating machine along with the carrot. I always wondered when it was safe to let go, or lose a finger. The horse towered over me and it would crowd me awkwardly in the rush for the carrot. Like family, it wielded a fearsome power that seemed impossible to harness. I sensed it could crush me in a clumsy moment if I got on the wrong side of it.
Of course, we moved away, and there is something to be said for that. You grow a few layers of experience in the outside world even though your personality seems to be often set in stone from an earlier age. Temperament is one of those things. I remember my brother was quite hot-headed and when he was offended, it could last a long time.
I was reminded of this dynamic one summer the two of us spent at my grandmother. We were farmed out there because there were some complicated adult things going on in the family that we couldn’t and perhaps shouldn’t know about. It’s the bliss of ignorance. And so it was that we were farmed off to be with my widowed grandmother in northern Saskatchewan. Treated to a different dynamic and a different vibe, and a different pace of life. The good thing was that because of our parents, we were “known” in the town even before we got there, and were therefore welcome, and welcomed. There was also the vibe of living with our grandmother who couldn’t really cook very well but indulged us in other ways. I think knowing all those adult things that kept her awake at night, she somehow pitied us and tried to make up for it in other ways. God bless those people who do that, we need more of them, I think.
It makes me wonder in life if it would do you any good to know things in advance. Chances are I think, nothing would really change, it would add up a certain portion of sorrow no matter what. You would watch life unfold like a train wreck at times, and you would not be able to stop it. The ignorance of youth shields us from a lot of things. As Adam and Eve found out in the Garden of Eden, knowlege and understanding can also be your undoing. You are best to get it by degrees as life dishes it out I think.
And so I take in the smells and the sounds. There are also things I guess I don’t know now, and so I had better take today as I find it. The smells and sounds are a reminder and they are also a blessing. One day at a time, sweet Jesus, I think the song said. Time to be grateful.