My friend, Nigel, once told me that if he and his family were about to be crushed by a giant boulder rolling towards them, the kids would throw Daddy in the boulder's path, cling to their Mommy and breathe a sigh of relief that she was unharmed. Daddy would be dead, which might suck for a minute, but Mommy the Universe would still be there.
"Kids gravitate towards their moms, and even though kids love their dads too, it just isn't quite the same," Nigel said with a gap-toothed grin.
He's right too.
When I met the future mother of my children there was one specific quality that made me fall in love more than all the rest; Michelle was from a small town in the country. She also had a way of pointing out my big city shortsightedness. You can't teach that. You really can't.
Photo by James Di Fiore
No offence to all you city and suburban kids, but there's something about a person who is from a small town, a small town with just one restaurant and a part time mayor, a farmer's market and a burgeoning yard sale scene. People in small towns seem unspoiled by the world, naturally empathetic, and blissfully unaware of all the things people in cities seem to fret over. They are not easily offended, they do things without being asked, and they visit without calling first. That last one is a positive trait, in case you are confused.
So, after a lifetime of urban and suburban living, my family and I are now living in my partner's hometown for one year, and I can't remember the last time I felt completely certain about a life altering decision.
Our new home is a quaint little place called Killaloe, an old mining and paper mill town famous for it's Polish settlements and Vietnam draft dodgers. It is also the official birthplace of Beaver Tails, which has to count for something. Michelle grew up here, and her mom is a retired schoolteacher, which means whenever I am in town I can mention her last name and voila, instant ice-breaker.
She has fond memories; memories that are adorned by lakes, forests, and deer instead of big box stores, coffee shops and feral cats.
When we lived in the city I used to schedule breaks from being at our apartment. I would leave the house and wander my neighbourhood, seeking for something interesting or just a solid hour of conversing with someone, anyone. It's just who I am; I need conversation of any kind to feel sane. In the city this personal necessity can often double as a minefield where triggered activists unload on unsuspecting chatterers, pouncing on language rather than staying on ideas.
Not so in the country. And while it is easy to poke fun at the lack of sophistication or modernity of country folks, what you can't deny is an authenticity that seems almost extinct in the city.
But I did not move my family here as a private protest on social justice types. Not even close.
The truth is this was Michelle's idea. I work from home, and she's on maternity leave, but ever since the birth of our son just over two years ago, Michelle has been longing to return home. I finally understand why.
I've never really had an affinity with where I grew up. I tend to associate my hometown with my teenage angst or as the place where dysfunction poisoned my family life. Truth is, I couldn't wait to get out of dodge. And when I left, I never looked back. Not even once.
Michelle has a decidedly different take on where she grew up. She has fond memories; memories that are adorned by lakes, forests, and deer instead of big box stores, coffee shops and feral cats. Of course she has some bad memories too, but, unlike me, none of her bad memories are directly related to the surroundings she was in when she experienced those bad moments. But for me, the site of a big box store or even a Coffee Time can still make my stomach turn. If only I had a campfire to curb my teenage angst, in other words.
My son turned two in August, about two weeks after my daughter was born. Two days ago we packed up the car and drove back to Killaloe. We drove to get away from Toronto, and to get closer to each other. We drove through Peterborough County, through Bancroft and the Madawaska Valley, and eventually pulled into our dirt driveway leading to our modest cottage on Round Lake. We unpacked the car, hustled the kids inside the house, gathered everyone onto our bed and had our very first family meeting in the sticks.
The kids didn't know it, but they were nestled inside the first day of a childhood I wished I had, and one that Michelle had always spoke of with pride. Michelle is the superhero that keeps this family of misfits together, by the way. She has to deal with me, after all; a writer still dreaming of a day when he becomes the breadwinner of the family he never thought he'd have, juggling various ideas to better himself before his children are old enough to notice. She would say I am being ridiculous, and that the kids love me and that everything was going to be OK.
Perhaps if my family ever did come across the boulder from Nigel's anecdote, I'd save the kids the trouble of sacrificing their old man by tossing them into Michelle's indestructible arms, tipping my cap and laying down on the boulder's path. Then again, I bet Michelle's wand-waving hand would somehow snatch me from death's grip with seconds to spare, just to make sure the kids didn't have to see their father do something so shortsighted.
Hell, she probably wouldn't even get a crease on her cape.
But as the author of our current lifestyle switch, Michelle has cemented the assumptions I carry with me about country folks. They continue to be the most authentic, practical, and naturally wise people I've ever known. What they see in city folks like me, I'll never know.
Oh, and happy birthday Michelle. See you by the campfire.
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