This is Aaron and his new friend, Morwyn. She is, incidentally, the daughter of my best friend from high school, Lisa. We are at Centennial Park, where I remember going to the Ice Slides. The ice slides are basically a steep hill with two sets of wooden rails that run all the way down the hill. In the winter, they flood the spot between the rails so you can whip down the hill really fast. I was always too afraid to go down as a kid, and spent many winter birthday parties sitting miserably at the top of that hill. I remember biking down to this park with my friends when I was about 11 or 12 and playing in the nearby rapids and loosing my shoe and getting lost on busy roads (the highway maybe?) and eventually getting home no worse for wear except for a few bumps and bruises. Going there as an adult, I was amazed at what a great park it is. It has a train ride in the summer and sleigh rides in the winter, an old logger's camp and equiptment that you can wander through, an entry to some shallow rapids, two big hills (essential for winter), two sets of play equipment, and farm animals. Plus random bits of forest spread through everything.
The day before this, I went to Boulevard Lake with my Mom (I forgot my camera, sorry). I remember going to Boulevard Lake a lot as a kid with my parents. And I remember biking there to go swimming with my friends in the summer, and swimming across the whole lake and getting leeches on our ankles. I remember loosing a kite way over in the big field next to the park (which we didn't know belonged to the mental institute, just that it was free of overhead wires and therefore safe for kite flying) and following the string all the way to boulevard lake. I remember taking youth groups to play mini putt at the course here, and driving fast around the curvy road that follows the lake.
I remember shortly after I was married, the day before Dave was going to certify our little 1984 Dodge Colt, named Nigel, and sell him, I let Nigel roll into the Taco Bell behind our first appartment and created a, erm, large dent in the rear of the car. I had to go to Boulevard Lake and tell Dave, who was playing tennis, that I had just put a dent in the car. Only I couldn't bear to go without moral support, so first I went to Lisa's house and told her and Iain about it, and we laughed about the fact that the dent's apex was where we had applied a "push" sticker as a joke the year before. We didn't fess up to Taco Bell, but they found out it was us (I think the fact that my car neatly fit into the corner of their resteraunt might have been a hint) and charged me $50 to re-stucco the hole I had made. You can still see the difference in the stucco to this day.
We also went to the Hoito, the most famous restraunt in Thunder Bay. It started out as a Finnish Co-op where the bush camp workers could come in and get a hardy meal for a good price. Now it is a Thunder Bay staple, and everyone who has ever lived in Thunder Bay MUST go and eat Finnish pancakes at the Hoito when they visit, whether they ever ate them when they were in Thunder Bay or not.
The funny thing about the place that you grew up is that a lot of things stay the same. The landscape. The parks. The resteraunts. The backdrop of the place is so similar to what it was when I was a kid. But in the more intimate lives of the people I knew in Thunder Bay, so much has changed. We stayed at Lisa's Mom's house. Which is not the same house Lisa grew up in -- her Dad still lives in that house alone. We visited Lisa and her daughters, even though she actually lives in Columbia now and was just in town for the summer. We saw my Mom's new little house in a senior's complex. It is my first time being to a home that belongs only to my mother - the last time I was in Thunder Bay was for my Dad's funeral, and his bowl of nacho chips and the book he had been reading were still on the nightstand in the room where I was sleeping. I bumped into Jenn, one of my friends from highschool who now lives in Ottawa, and met her daughter who is a little older than Aaron. As well as bringing back memories, going home always causes me to reflect on who I have become since I last left.
This time I went through Thunder Bay with a mixed sense of hope and sadness. I missed my Dad. I was excited to be moving to a new stage of my life, but sorry that he never got to hear about it. I got to see my long time friend. It is good to spend time with people where so much does not need to be explained, where you can just pick up where you left off in your last visit and your last email. It was good to see my kids play with my Mom and enjoy visiting their Nana Cook. It was good to reflect on how much I've grown and changed since highschool -- hopefully keeping some of my creativity and fun loving ways, while becoming less impulsive and careless.
The day we left Thunder Bay and did another long day of driving towards my uncle's house, I felt a sense of going back in time. I had done this drive many times as a kid. I remember sitting in the back of whatever car we had at the time, half car sick, half reading, waiting to get to my Grandparents' house. I didn't get to see my Grandparents very often, but they were very special to me - I get my creativity and craftiness from this side of the family. My Grandmother was always making this or that, and knit me a pair of slippers for my birthday every year of my childhood. My Grandfather used to roam around the woods and ditches in Northern Ontario finding fossils and old bottles. He tried to build his own welding machine based on instructions in Popular Mechanics. He was curious about everything. I am glad that I know them, as I never knew my Grandparents on my Mom's side of the family. Driving that drive back to that place reminded me that in moving East I am not so much moving away, as I am moving back home, to my roots.