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Fork in hand, I open the fridge to investigate a rag-tag selection of Tupperware leftover edibles, figuring, why cook for one when foraging will do?
Peeling off lids, I find half lemons, steel-cut oats, leftover soup with a sheen of… well, that’s going down the drain.
Oats it is.
It’s while digging into the grey, gloppy mass that I remember. Coffee cream. I’m out. And really, coffee is merely the vehicle that enables my 18% cream habit, and I’m going to need some for tomorrow’s morning fix.
Channeling my inner Shirley Valentine, I say to the kitchen walls, “Probably should get it now, otherwise you’re gonna have a 6am Needs visit tomorrow morning… come on, lazy bones jones, just get up and go.”
“Fine,” I tell the walls. “I’m going.”
Setting down the partially eaten oats, I don rubber boots and coat, grab wallet and head out the front door. Destination, the Superstore on Quinpool Road.
It’s a short walk from my house to the store. To get there, I walk west on Duncan Street, make a left on Chebucto Lane, turn west on Allen when Chebucto ends, and then make a hard left on Monastery Lane, which poops me onto Quinpool Road.
This is where the grocery store lives, along with Canadian Tire, a bagel shop, shoe repair, the paint store I frequent when I’m in a paint chip mood and, oh yah, the local NSLC where I get my wine fix(es).
Not far down the street, two little boys pick up my trail, one on a rat-trap bike with banana seat and high handlebars, the other on foot. They look to be brothers.
“Hey lady, are you a stranger?” the boy on foot asks.
“No,” I answer.
He follows me, repeatedly asking the question, me repeatedly replying ‘No.’ We rinse and repeat until the little boy, struggling to keep up with me, has enough of the game and runs on ahead, and rejoins his brother on the bike. But then, all of a sudden, he veers back around, runs straight at me, and stops on the sidewalk, blocking my path. Plunking his two little hands on his two little hips, he hits me up with a new question.
“But are you a stranger to us?”
“Yes, I guess I must be.”
West of The Commons and a stone’s throw from Citadel Hill, downtown and the sea, the neighbourhood I share with these little boys was once called Trotting Park. Haligonians reference it these days by one or all of its three parallel streets—Duncan, Lawrence and Allen.
Not far from where Duncan meets Windsor Street is a little yellow saltbox house, Canadian flag flapping to the left of its front door.
That’s my house.
My street is cozy, lined with tall, skinny clapboard houses painted in jellybean hues of oranges, blues, greens, reds, and sometimes, even pinks. Not a hint of tan, beige, brown, or cookie cutter Benjamin Moore shades, like this year’s trend setter Caliente. (Goddess, how does that word qualify as a colour?)
The three streets are home to a hybrid mish-mosh of alternate lifestyle living arrangements and people. Could be a doctor living next door or student or all four members of the punk band, Like a Motorcycle. Might be the fellow who runs The Last Word, the best used book store in the city, which is round the corner on Windsor Street, or the key cutter from the Canadian Tire store.
Last summer, a brown van parked in front of my house, for a month. Inside lived a group of friends. One evening they partied outside the van into the wee hours, waking households—waking my household. The next morning, I knocked on their window until they woke up, and then asked if, in the future, they wouldn’t mind keeping the partying inside the van after 11pm.
“Ach, so sorry,” the sleepy-eyed fellow said. “We had a friend visiting… a little too much to drink…. won’t do that again.”
No one around here much minds such seasonal street campers. And so three weeks ago, when my Ontario friends, Helga and Rolf, parked their VW Westy on my driveway to camp out for a few nights, not a peep of protest, save from the crows cawing at them from the maple tree in my backyard.
If a Haligonian hasn’t lived in this neighbourhood, they’ll tell you about someone who has or does. And after they share which house, where and whom, they’ll finish up with a ‘yeh, yeh’ said in an intake of breath.
I used to mistake this weird breath talk for a gulp for air, inverse burp or signal of impending heart failure. Nope. None of those. It’s a word expressed via ingressive pulmanic speech, a habit common in the Atlantic Provinces. And when the ‘yeh’ is uttered, it should not to be mistaken for a ‘yes.’ It’s more like an oral punctuation, singling it might be time for a self-reflective pause before moving to the next topic.
Directly across from my house is the most popular Laundromat in the city, The Bluenose. Cars stream the street during the day with the comings and goings of drivers running overloaded laundry baskets in and out the Landromat doors. Once, before I lived on the street, I took a sodden load there, intending to use the dryers.
“Can’t you read the sign?” I was asked as I set down my basket.
I followed the guy’s finger, pointing to the sign, and read its one rule. If you don’t wash your clothes at The Bluenose, you cannot dry them at The Bluenose. Out I went out with my soppy laundry basket perched on my hip.
Kitty corner to my house is Renaldo’s, serving the tastiest meatball hero sandwich. Ever. Two brothers own the restaraunt, while their father owns Salvatore’s, a restaurant located in the Hydrostone, which happens to be home to the second best meatball hero sandwich. Ever. Since its opening three months ago, Renaldo’s has become the neighbourhood ‘it’ spot, and yes, the servers know me.
Life here is a walker’s paradise. My car sits idle in the narrow drive for days, sometimes weeks on end, the gas tank thirsty hardly once a month. Everything I need is just here. And sorry city planners, this is not the kind of zone you can plunk down and make happen. Nah, it took a century and a half, and lucky me for it. The neighbourhood is about diversity at its very best, and through the rattle-y walls of my 1860 home, I get to listen to life on Duncan Street for my nightly lullaby—the rumbles of buses and oil trucks, the screams of sirens, and the delicate ice cubes tinkles on Renaldo’s patio.
It gets dark early since the clocks changed, and it’s murky, though it’s hardly past five. The streetlights turn on, flooding the darkness with incandescent yellow. The voices of the two little boys who’d trailed me begin to fade away, called home, I suppose, by the time minder favoured by so many. Streetlights.
At The Superstore, a heap of avocados sit in a lovely green pile. They’re cheap for a change at a buck a pop. I give one a quick squeeze between thumb and middle finger. Rock hard. But no mind. Avocados are the green banana of our times, and they’ll ripen soon enough. Before getting too involved in the produce, I remind myself why I’m at the store and head to the dairy section to grab a quart of cream, wondering if maybe I should consider cutting back on the habit or buying 10%. Nah. Too few pleasures in life these days. Not giving up 18% yet.
On the walk home, I compare living here to my old LuluLemon Land life. Chock a block with brown and red brick homes framed by golf course worthy lawns, my old Beechwood neighbourhood was boxed in by four-lane streets—Westmount, Columbia, University and Keatsway—an arrangment that deterred walking too far and maximized driving, everywhere. Double garages were the twin lungs of my car culture life.
My two homes and the cities they live in, Waterloo and Halifax, are to each other as chalk is to cheese.
Earlier today, I’d been seaside with three friends, picking wild cranberries at a secret patch. I was instructed to bring a ‘dumper’ to collect the berries, and a larger container to empty the dumper into when it was full.
The rules of the cranberry patch were simple. Never reveal the location and pick until feet are frozen, fingers numb and nose begins to run. Check to an afternoon following every rule and bringing home a big bucket of wild cranberries.
Fall is late this year, as many leaves on the trees as on the ground, lots still green. The wind blows a tussle around my feet and they gather into a mass that whorls upward, reminding me of a school of herrings I’d watched in the sea when I was at the waterfront, a month or so ago.
Somewhere on Duncan Street, I imagine the two little boys who’d followed me might be babbling to their mom or dad about the lady they saw, or maybe they’ve already forgotten me, busy with homework or dinner, though likely, their’s won’t be served in a Tupperware container.
Home again, I cram the cream into the fridge, beside the bowl of cranberries, washed and waiting to be frozen. A quick finger pinch on the batch in the freezer says they’re rock hard, so I roll the berries into a freezer bag and refill the tray, losing a few to the floor in the process. They bounce off the pine boards at crazed angles, reminding me of the hard black Indian rubber balls I played with when I was young, and a few red berries roll under the fridge. I’ll ferret them out from under there some other day.
If I keep at it, the freezing task will be done by tomorrow, which is critical since I’m soon to leave for the 1892 kilometer journey through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec, all the way back to Ontario and Waterloo.
In the third year of this runaway life, it’s strange to recall what I fretted about when I first moved to Halifax. Mostly, it was that I’d never make friends, never feel at home, never fit in. A bowl of red cranberries says differently of friends, and my Duncan Street neighbourhood of feeling at home.
It’s the last worry that keeps me wobbly. Nova Scotia is the greatest love story of my life, and lately, I’ve begun to think that love alone might not be enough to over come something very important.
As a runaway, I might never fully fit in. I cannot trace my roots to this land, to this place. And what I know now is that place is everything in the East Coast–who your people are the golden ticket of belongingness. What of me, then? Forever to be the Come from Away stranger the two little boys who live on my street called me out as?
In my mind’s eye, I set up a scene as comfort.
It takes place ages from now, in the kitchen of this same 1860 Duncan Street house. My hair is totally grey, and my knees twinge when I move the wrong way.
I drop something that rolls beneath the fridge. Forgetting my age, I fall to my hands and knees too fast and whinge aloud to the kitchen walls. Reaching my hand under the fridge to grab whatever rolled beneath, my fingers hit upon a teeny knob of something. I pull it out and look. It’s a dust-laden dried up old cranberry. Oh yes, I remember! It was from that first wild cranberry picking I went on with Gail, and Donna and Julia, right before that long ago November when I thought the Ontario streetlights were calling me home.
“Well then,” I say to my Shirley Valentine walls, “This old berry is still here, and so am I.”
* * * * * * * *
Stay tuned to find out what happens in the next few months…
For more on the history of Trotting Park: http://halifaxmag.com/cityscape/the-little-known-neighbourhood-of-trotting-park/
To learn about ingressive speech patterns: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/atlantic-canadian-speech-pattern-explained-1.3801351