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I didn’t see my daughter this week. I wasn’t working long hours or in some distant city that made getting home impossible. Instead I got off work on time, traffic wasn’t awful, I was home at a reasonable hour, and I still missed her by minutes – every single day. My heart sank each time I opened the front door to the silence of her asleep in her bed, or the faint chorus of my wife’s lullabies, as she lay on the floor beside our daughter, singing her to sleep.

Not seeing her, even for a day, hurts. But there is something special about it too. It reminds me of my parents and how lucky I am. In the mid-1970s my dad was a student minister in Bluevale, a tiny village in rural Ontario, hundreds of miles away from Toronto. Every Sunday night, dad drove to the city for a week of classes, and long nights of studying. Every Friday night he came back to Bluevale for a joyous reunion with his family before the chaos of the weekend began. Two young boys full of energy, a wife who’d born the burden of being a single mom all week, and the demands of his calling as a minister – two services in two rural churches. The physical and emotional toil of leading those congregations on Sunday mornings must have been overwhelming, knowing that come Sunday night he’d be driving back to Toronto, to do it all over again. Four years of that. Four years of not seeing his boys every night.

I have nothing but great memories of those years. My mom was ever present, caring for my brother and I, taking us to the general store where a glass bottle of Coke cost a dime and a bag of chips was twenty-five cents. She played with us, and planted gardens with us and was always there for us. In my memories my dad was ever present too. I don’t remember the weeklong absences. Instead I think of all the things we did together. Baseball, fishing, walks by the old mill near our home. It was idyllic.

As an adult, and a dad, I have a greater appreciation of the challenges my parents must have faced. My father’s sadness at not seeing his boys for such long stretches. The strains and stresses my mother must have endured all alone with two boys, the wife of a minister in a small town with all eyes upon her. To this day my mom speaks about Bluevale often, the friendships she formed, and the way the community supported her. But it could not have been easy for her.

Although I have lived in British Columbia for over ten years, Ontario still feels like home. It still is home. I miss small town Ontario. The brick buildings, main streets, century old homes, and farmers’ fields which surround every town. Bluevale was the epitome of rural Ontario and it became a part of me which I will never shake.

In late spring 2014 I went home again. The timing was perfect. A long relationship had just ended. I needed my family. And although we had talked about returning to Bluevale for years, we’d never made the trip. It took us a couple of hours to drive there along straight country roads. We visited both churches. The front door of the first we visited was open. We wandered around and found my dad’s picture hanging in the basement, forty years after he’d preached there.

Dad in the Belmore church

Visiting the second church was sadder. It wasn’t a church anymore. Instead the church had closed, the building sold and that sacred place had been turned into a home. It made the 1970s seem a long time ago, perhaps the last decade when a village of a few hundred people could sustain a church of its own.

Bluevale church (2).jpg

The closed church did not ruin our day. Far from it. Happiness and wonderful memories abounded. Walks around the old mill and through the quiet cemetery near our home we had once walked through regularly. And our old home was still there – “the manse” in church parlance. The center of my childhood years. When I was the same age as my daughter is now.

Bluevale Manse

I had a full day with my daughter yesterday. We picked blackberries along the side of the road revelling in a “secret spot” we had found. Then to our favourite coffee shop where buying her a treat is always a highlight of my week. Perhaps the most special moment was at the library, where they’d set out toys and masks for kids to play with. And one of the librarians had a Polaroid. A Polaroid! Who knew they existed anymore? My daughter, who talks to Siri and asks for shows on Netflix, knows nothing of Polaroids. So for her it was magic, real magic, when the librarian took a picture, and out of the camera slid a white piece of paper. Which Molly shook, and watched as it transformed into a picture of her and her dad. A Polaroid. It was like we’d been transported back into the 1970s. To a small town in rural Ontario. Home.

Polaroid

 

The Essence of Summer

Online dating brought my wife and me together. It was inevitable. We had so much in common. A love for running, reading, dogs, history, travel, Victoria.

However, it might have been something that wasn’t in our online profiles that sealed the deal.

Camping.

I think we were the only two people on match.com who didn’t rave about camping. Or at least pretend to love it.

We might be the only two people in British Columbia who don’t camp.

Maybe it’s because we’re both from Ontario.

I’ve lived in BC for over ten years. I’m proud to reside here. Fortunate to raise my daughter in a beautiful and prosperous province where people flock from all over the world to both visit and live.

Yet Ontario will always feel like home. Because it was home for three and a half decades. Not just for my formative years. I was creeping up on early middle-age when I left.

And I noticed differences when I arrived. Subtle but very real.

In Ontario, people go to the movies.

In B.C., I hear, “have you seen that show?”

“No, which one?” I reply, thinking maybe I’m being asked about “Seinfeld,’ or “Breaking Bad.” Thinking I’m being asked about a television show.

Instead, the response I get is, “Star Wars (Episode One Thousand: Attack on the Audience).”

I say, “No I haven’t,” while my inner voice screams “It’s a movie, not a show!”

There are language differences at work too. In Ontario, I heard the word “copper” daily. Because a police officer was a copper. For example, “That guy I just pulled over is a copper with Hamilton.”

No one says “copper” here. Instead everyone is a “member.” I’m still not used to that. Member of what? Rotary? A golf course? The Jell-O of the Month Club?

These small differences appear at work and at play. My ex and I had a cottage on an island not far from Victoria. Except here everyone called it a cabin. An inconsequential difference. Meaningless. Yet it grated every time I heard it.

Because cottages are very Ontario. Going to the cottage – your own, a friend’s, a rental – is for many people the essence of summer.

The same way that camping is here in B.C. Not everyone owns a motorhome or camper. It just seems like it. Which is understandable, because never-ending forests, pristine lakes, and the mighty Pacific offer incomparable beauty.

All things which I want to see. Which my wife wants to see. However, we want to see them and then drive back to our hotel, with indoor plumbing, a kitchen, cable and the internet.

Our daughter is not from Ontario. British Columbia is her home. It’s her culture. Her friends will camp. She’ll want to camp. She should. She should experience the best that this province has to offer.

Sonja and I owe her that experience. We might do it. Next summer. Perhaps starting by pitching a tent in the backyard. Still a pretty big adventure for a two year old (and for this forty-seven year old). And maybe that evolves. Maybe Sonja and I open our minds and try something new. Maybe we embrace our adopted province and start camping.

Or, dear reader. My friends. The ones with little kids, tents, RVs. Maybe you can take her for a few days. Just a few. She’s cute, funny, full of personality, and won’t take up much space in your camper.

While you’re gone Sonja and I will rent a cabin and watch a show.

Hey I’m trying.

One step at a time.

The Essence of Summer