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Growing Up Low-Income In Rural N.B. Left Me Richer In Every Way

My address was off of a highway, but I wouldn’t trade my childhood in a one-gas-station town for anything.
Author Haley Lewis sitting on the porch of her family home in Taymouth, N.B.
Author Haley Lewis sitting on the porch of her family home in Taymouth, N.B.

Taymouth, N.B. — Like many young families just starting out, my parents didn't have a lot of money. That is why they moved to the outskirts of Taymouth, N.B. before I was born. They saved up just enough to make a down payment on a home on some acreage my grandparents owned, 45 minutes north of Fredericton.

I used to struggle describing just how small Taymouth is. Over the years, however, I've gotten pretty good at it with anecdotes I've developed: "It's so small I can't even list it as where I'm from on Facebook." or "We used to have to drive trick-or-treating." Many people from New Brunswick would have a hard time finding Taymouth on a map.

But this isn't a sob story, and I loved growing up in the country. There isn't anything I would change, especially how my experiences prepared me for life's many challenges — even eventually moving to the city.

What some would call "isolation" taught me a lot growing up. My sister and I learned what it took to be independent, which plants were safe to touch or eat (and which ones you should stay far away from), and how to fix things (hiring someone out from the city wasn't always possible). Most importantly, we learned how to pee in the woods.

Every day was an education in self-reliance. My mom stayed at home until both my sister and I went off to kindergarten, something I now see as a rural luxury. She would take us on field trips in our own backyard.

We learned to love the outdoors, and make our own fun by wandering aimlessly through the forest and swimming in the Nashwaak River. Sometimes we'd find a turtle, and on other occasions we'd stumble upon a dead eel or be eaten alive by bugs, but each and every experience taught me something new.

I learned math quickly because my mom coupled it with a learning technique she called "pinecone tag." She would ask my sister and I math questions while we played on our swing set. When we got one wrong, she'd throw a pinecone at us.

We learned to respect nature and the environment by naming animals we'd see. My dad built us a treehouse in our playroom and we helped put it together and paint it crazy colours.

At night, we cooked almost every meal together. We made everything from bread and cookies, to mac 'n' cheese with kidney beans. We even grew much of our own food, including carrots, potatoes and rhubarb, and would harvest it all together. In the winter, my parents would build a giant luge. It stretched two football fields long down part of our 10-acre property, and we'd spend hours on our Crazy Carpets sliding down the hill. The only bad part was having to walk back up.

It would all pay off.

City problems

Eventually my family had to leave Taymouth, because jobs. We hopped around the Maritimes for a few years, New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, until we eventually wound up further west in Ottawa. It's there that I got my first taste of city friends, city life and city problems.

After the initial culture shock wore off ("You've never been to a Starbucks?"), I was relieved to discover that I was actually kind of prepared to live in an urban environment, something that seemed so overwhelming at first. Things that would leave my city friends in a tizzy often left me cool as a cucumber.

Skaters on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.
Skaters on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

There's a constant anxiety surrounding "what to do" that plagues city folk who have the world at their fingertips. I never let it get to me, and still don't. When my friends complained about not having anything "major this weekend," I knew there was always something to do: going for a walk or bike ride, baking cookies, beading, window shopping or grabbing a beer at a local pub. Try and bore me, you can't. I have my mom and adventures in nature to thank.

Then there was moving out for the first time, a challenge for any young adult. The crippling fear an Allen key or flat-pack furniture gave my friends left me laughing — my dad had already equipped me with my own toolbox, and taught my sister and I how to use tools growing up. Days at the treehouse were clearly days well spent.

Some people can be so wasteful, even though it's really easy to learn an invisible stitch. My friends would throw out clothes that had holes in them until they realized I could fix them with my sewing skills. Sweaters, pillows, jeans, even a duvet with a foot-long rip — no hole was too intimidating for me.

People also seemed to spend so much money going out to restaurants all the time, which I think takes away from the fact that going out to dinner should be a special occasion. I can cook and bake, and do them both well. I can whip up mac 'n' cheese and molten lava cakes from scratch; my friends would have to make theirs from a box or order delivery.

Sometimes, I miss my rural life

Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been easy. No rural life lessons can adequately prepare you for the homesickness, cost of living and sense of alienation of a big city.

Every siren, honk and engine rev had me quivering my first night in the city. Public transit left me practically in tears. I think of the $1,325/month I was paying for my share of a two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver, and I'm pretty sure that could get me a beautiful, four-bedroom historic home back in the Maritimes. And when I smile at people on the subway, or ask directions of someone wearing headphones only to be ignored, it breaks my heart a little bit.

Our house in Taymouth.
Our house in Taymouth.

I will alway miss my mom, dad and sister, and the simple rural life we had. But that's fine because I know when I go back East, I'll be greeted by family, cheaper rent and hellos from strangers on the street.

Hometown is an ongoing blog series and conversation led by people who know there's more to Canada beyond city limits. If you live or have lived in a small or rural community, and have a perspective or opinion you would like to share, take a look at our Blogger FAQ to see how to get started and reach out to

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