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A place to call home July 20, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, family, history, journey, learn, life.
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A photo from the family archives: I’m in the red snowflake hat.

“Where’s your home?” It seems a simple question. I first heard it from a man who lived in a L’Arche community.

I’ve had lots of homes. I grew up in my parents’ home, built just before I was born. I lived there for 21 years (not including time away at university). They are still living there, although my two brothers and I have moved away.

Then I moved. Three apartments in Saint John, one in Woodstock, then Oshawa, Newcastle and Orono. A house in Port Britain, then an apartment in Cobourg. We are now on our third apartment in Toronto, the best place yet.


Our current home in Toronto.

“Where’s your home?” It’s where my heart is, where my partner is, where my stuff, my memorabilia, my computer… where I can be myself. But that’s not a place so much as an idea. It’s wherever I happen to be living at the moment.

If there was one place I could call home, one place that I’m rooted in, no matter where I roam, I would have to say Saint John, where I grew up. I’ve lived in Ontario for nearly 20 years, but it’s not really my home. When people ask, I tell them I live in Toronto, but I almost always add: I’m not from here; I’m a Maritimer. Some part of my heart will always be in that rocky sea-and-forest landscape that I associate with my childhood.

Saint John 1

Saint John from the air.

One of the Maritime themes is that of people leaving — for Toronto, Calgary, other places — in order to find better jobs, better opportunities, a better life. Yet there’s a second half to that story: a lot of Maritimers come home again, or at least they yearn to return.

I left that “home” a long time ago. I’ve heard people say “you can’t go home again”. But is it true? Or is it just that everything changes, that home is never the same again?

The people I grew up with have moved away or moved on with their lives. The paths I used to walk, the stores I used to visit are gone, overgrown or redeveloped. What I think of as “home” is a place in time, so in that sense, I can’t go home. I can’t go back.

And the fact is, I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to be an awkward teenager again, or return to that stage of my life when I was just beginning to discover my interests and develop a sense of myself. I like who I’ve become, my work and friends, being able to make my own way in the world.

Yet there’s something else, some part of me that feels cut off, adrift. I felt that most keenly during my most recent visit, when my parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I was surprised to see how many people I recognized, and how many people knew me and greeted me, not as a former acquaintance, but as family. Until then, I had only thought of home as geography, a mix of woods and houses, the cool blanket of fog drifting in off the coast, the steep road we bicycled to reach the blueberry patch under the power lines…

So where is my home? Is it really a place full of memories, the childhood I’ve left behind?

I wonder if there’s more to that place than I had counted on, as if there’s a future as well as a past. How would it feel for me, the confident grown-up me, to return to this place that still pulls at my heart? Maybe all these years I’ve been living in exile, and it’s time to go home.

Where’s your home?

empty benches

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Reigning cats and dogs May 6, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in cat, change, dog, family, journey, life.
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snoozing in the sun

I’ve always been a cat person. One of my earliest memories was of the family cat Dusty, followed in time by Frisky and Trixie and Coffee, then Tigger and Tobey and Kit Kat.

the look

Cuca (on the right) is our current reigning cat. He came to us as a kitten, a timid creature emerging from under bushes in a church garden, mewling pitifully. He is the most playful cat I know, although sometimes he prefers to chase ankles instead of catnip treats.

Cats have always seemed mysterious, graceful, solemn and wild. I remember enticing our family cat onto my bed at night, so I could fall asleep to her comforting warmth and constant purring. In one moment, a cat can be impossibly proper, the incarnation of etiquette. And the next moment — look out — that impeccably sophisticated goddess is suddenly racing across the room after a tinkling ball, or leaping impossibly to the top of the bookcase… and down again!

When I think of cats, I think of Rudyard Kipling’s short story, “The Cat That Walked By Itself” from his Just So Stories:

“…between times, and when the moon gets up and night comes,
he is the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to him.
Then he goes out to the Wet Wild Woods
or up the Wet Wild Trees
or on the Wet Wild Roofs, waving his wild tail
and walking by his wild lone.”

somebody loves me

But now I find I’m a dog person. Now that I live with Cai the magnificent, adorable Cardigan Welsh Corgi (on the left), my life has completely changed. And this Saturday we will welcome Fergus or Robin (top photo, on the left) — we have yet to finalize his name — to our family.

What is it about dogs that has captured my heart? They are so tuned in to you that it feels that you’ve never had a friend so loyal. They are ready to play, to run, to snuggle beside you, to attempt any feat for your pleasure, and theirs. Who would not smile to see them wiggle and wag with delight and anticipation whenever you offer a game, a biscuit, a greeting?

When I think of dogs, I think of Buck from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, and the intense love and loyalty he felt for his master:

“He had a way of taking Buck’s head roughly between his hands, and resting his own head upon Buck’s, of shaking him back and forth, the while calling him ill names that to Buck were love names. Buck knew no greater joy than that rough embrace and the sound of murmured oaths, and at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his heart would be shaken out of his body so great was its ecstasy. And when, released, he sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, his eyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with unuttered sound, and in that fashion remained without movement, John Thornton would reverently exclaim, ‘God! you can all but speak!’”

Cats and dogs are just two of life’s pleasures. I know that, without pets, it’s easier to travel and cheaper to eat. A cat can be left alone for the weekend, and the worse you will find when you return is disdain. But a dog is fully committed to being part of your life. 

Since Cai has come to live with us, we have gone for more frequent walks, remembered how to play, and we have met and talked and become friends with more people — even here in the cold environment of a big city — than we could have dreamed. And that is a gift.

(For more stories about Cai and the new puppy, visit my partner’s recent post and read her corgi-tagged stories. And for more corgi goodness, visit the breeder’s blog, or check out the two photo sets featuring Cai on my Flickr site.)

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