By Evelyn Symons
It was only an hour and a half drive, but the journey would have an enormous impact on the rest of my life. I was ten. Our family of nine, including the dog and cat, left the city of Richmond Hill, Ontario where my father had been an advertising executive for the radio station CFGM, then in 1967, a country and western station. For me, this was move number four.
With a grey tabby cat and a large golden dog on my lap, I watched the scenery change from the backseat passenger-side window. The highway became quiet country roads that dipped and meandered, often following streams and rivers. It was County Road 9 of the Nottawasaga Township that took us to our new home, The Dunedin General Store. Life in the city was now in the rear view mirror.
The four doors of our midnight blue Oldsmobile Delta 88 opened simultaneously, all for different reasons. My mom had had a baby on her knee for duration of the car ride; my father was to meet with the previous owner, Bruce Leighton; and my oldest brother was probably on the lookout for pretty girls. My door was barely open when the cat leapt from the car followed by Susie, my collie shepherd mix. It was time to explore our new surroundings.
I ran into the house through the side door of the enclosed porch, known afterward as the mudroom. Only a pale green swinging door in the kitchen separated the house from the general store. The room was enormous with lots of light streaming in the windows. A black wall-mounted telephone rang from across the empty kitchen.
The ring sounded different that the one I was used to — it rang two long and one short ring. I picked up the receiver and said hello. A firm female voice quickly questioned me, asking, “Where’s Doreen?” She had me there. I had no idea who Doreen was, let alone where she was. I explained that I was the new girl moving into the store. Her voice softened as she gently chastised me. “You must wait for your own ring before you answer the phone dear.” Still not understanding, I said, “Oh.” I even nodded my head as if she could see me. That was my introduction to “the party line.”
The Noisy River ran through our backyard. It was a fast-moving river that cascaded over the rocks, and was so close that if you lost hold of your laundry while hanging it out on a windy day, it could very well end up making its way downstream toward the Nottawasaga River.
Dunedin is one of the many valleys tucked into the Niagara Escarpment. To me, that meant summer hills to hike and winter hills to toboggan. I was in heaven.
Susie was now a country dog and no longer had to be tied up. She and I could walk for miles, which we did. I signed on to be the papergirl. With my canvas bag slung across my tall slender frame, I walked for two hours each day delivering twelve Toronto Telegram newspapers to homes and farms. The farthest farm belonged to the Royals where, on the hot days of summer, Mrs. Royal would see to it that I had a cold glass of lemonade before my walk home.
I read any extra papers dropped off in the bundle on the front porch of the store. I read about the love affair many Canadians had with Pierre Elliot Trudeau as well as Steven Truscott being denied a second trial. (Thankfully in 2007, he was acquitted of all charges.)
Two of my customers faithfully rewarded me each Saturday with a ten-cent tip; this gesture from Mr. Felstead and Mr. George Scriver always made me feel very special. I later learned that Mr. Scriver was an inventor at heart. In 1916 he invented an automobile tire pump that ran off the motor of the car. That was a big deal back then, with road conditions less than ideal. I can still see this quiet slender man standing in his doorway, perhaps waiting for the arrival of a lanky girl and her dog.
I quickly learned that most people were related to each other and I did my best to learn everyone’s name. There were the Royals, the Rowbothams, Weatheralls, Hallidays, the Hammills, Youngs, Abbeys, the Meatherals and many more. One Mrs. Meatherals was now my grade five teacher and the school principal. I didn’t hear her once raise her voice. She lived in the white house set back from the road at the end of the village, just as it heads to Creemore where the school was. It was a school bus ride away.
Each school day, the bus passed the store and headed to the farthest farm to pick up Marc Royal along with Janet and Alan Abbey. I could watch it pass by from my upstairs bedroom window. I knew I had a few more minutes before I would be boarding from the front porch with my lunchbox in hand. I loved my new lunchbox. I loved it even more when my mother packed a big juicy orange. It made a wonderful trade for the delicious chocolate cake that Janice Walker’s mother packed for her.
Along with being the new storeowner, my father assumed the role as postmaster as each store proprietor had done since 1869. He sorted the mail just as you would imagine, putting letters into the wooden cubbies that were the backdrop of our tiny post office located inside the store. It was closed in 1969 (Creemore Post office assumed the responsibility) making my father the last postmaster of a one-hundred-year-old tradition.
Our home was filled with adventure. The kitchen pipes froze; my older sister started to date; my oldest brother fell in love with the girl he’s still married to; I caught a younger brother smoking with a friend at the age of six, and another younger brother somehow locked himself out on a balcony for a few hours. The kitchen doubled as a living room for a short time, while my father turned the living room into a Yamaha motorcycle show room before extending the building. I wonder if the extension was my mother’s idea?
We watched hockey night in Canada when our rooftop aerial and the weather would allow. I tobogganed the hills, walked the river’s edge, and swam in the swimming hole. I played baseball in the park on the other side of the river. It was an automatic home run if you could hit the ball into the river.
There were several more moves in my future. My parents worried. Did they move the family too many times? Would their five children ever feel that they had roots after the many transplants? Would they ever feel at home?
They needn’t have worried. The move to Dunedin helped me to realize that I am home in the city or the country, standing near the ocean or enjoying the company of old and new friends in their home. Home is in the imagining of my mother’s hug or my father’s next big plan — for it is not a physical location — it is a state of mind, a wonderful feeling.
Home is where we feel safe to be who we are, it is where we feel joy, and warmth and love. Home is where we never feel less-than. It is fun. It’s where we laugh as loud as we want or to cry without feeling small.
My home looks like freedom. It is a safe place to launch toward the next adventure. And when I lose my way, home feels even better. I am home again.
Photo by my father
Please contact Evelyn for any writing requests. As a a skilled interviewer, she is passionate about the natural world around us. She has experience in writing Artist’s Statements, website content, non-fiction stories along with articles for magazines and newspapers.
Contact Symons email firstname.lastname@example.org
Please join me along with other current and former members of the London & Southwestern Ontario chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC). on June 25, 2017, from 3-5 p.m. at Anderson Craft Ales (1030 Elias St., London, Ontario)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
London, Ontario, June 13, 2017
You may not have heard of a fur-bearing trout, but it’s coming to London, Ontario in time for Canada Day.
The story of the fur-bearing trout and how it hoaxed people in Scotland is just one of many personal, non-fiction pieces collected in The Fur-Bearing Trout … and Other True Tales of Canadian Life. The book is a timely celebration of Canada during our sesquicentennial year with contributions from 16 authors, current and former members of the London & Southwestern Ontario chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC).
But these stories are not just about our corner of Southwestern Ontario. These true tales of Canadian life cover the breadth of the nation and will resonate with readers from coast to coast. Within this book, you will encounter a famous dead elephant, a national hero, possibly Canada’s worst ever hockey team, train travellers, an angry bear, beautiful sunsets and northern lights. All of them offer a slice of truth about what this country is about – even one about a fur-bearing trout.
The book’s launch is on June 25, 2017, from 3-5 p.m. at Anderson Craft Ales (1030 Elias St., London, Ontario). Members of the public who want to celebrate with the local authors are welcome. The Fur-Bearing Trout … and Other True Tales of Canadian Life will be there, hot off the press, for $15 a copy.
Copies of the book will also be available at Attic Books, Chapters/Indigo and other bookstores and venues. Readings will be scheduled from now through December.
PWAC London gratefully acknowledges the London Arts Council for their generous grant towards printing costs for this book.