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Holding fork in hand, I open the fridge to investigate a rag-tag selection of Tupperware leftover edibles. The surprises lurking inside the containers are a typical dinner. Why cook for one, when foraging will do? Lazily peeling away lids to reveal half lemons, steel-cut oats, or leftover soup, I suddenly remember something. Coffee cream. I’m out, and being coffee is merely the vehicle enabling my 18% cream habit, I cannot be without in the morning.
Channeling my inner Shirley Valentine, I tell the kitchen walls, “Probably should get it now, otherwise you’re gonna have a 6am Needs visit tomorrow… come on, lazy bones jones, just get up and go.”
I close the fridge, set down the partially eaten soup, slip on rubber boots and coat, grab wallet and head outside, destination, the Superstore on Quinpool Road.
To get to the store from my house, I walk west on Duncan Street, make a left on Chebucto Lane, a perpendicular thruway bisecting three streets, turn west on Allen where Chebucto ends, and then make a hard left on Monastery Lane, which pops me onto Quinpool Road.
This is where the grocery store lives, along with the Canadian Tire, a bagel shop, shoe repair, the paint store I frequent when I’m in a paint chip mood and, oh yah, my local NSLC.
Not much past my front door, two little boys pick up my trail, one on a rat-trap bike with banana seat and handlebars, the other on foot. They look like they might be brothers.
“Hey lady, are you a stranger?” the boy on foot asks me.
“No,” I answer, without slowing down.
He follows me, repeatedly asking me the same question, me repeatedly replying ‘No.’ We rinse and repeat, until the little boy, struggling to match my gait, finally seems to have had to enough of the game, and me, and runs on ahead to rejoin his brother who is on the bike. But then, to my surprise, he veers back around, runs straight at me and stops on the sidewalk, blocking my path. He plunks his two little hands on his two little hips and hits me up with a new question.
“But are you a stranger to us?”
“Yeah, I suppose I am, but I’m working on not being one.”
This neighbourhood I share with the two 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. I live on Duncan, west of The Commons and a stone’s throw from Citadel Hill, downtown and the sea.
Not far from where Duncan meets Windsor Street is a little yellow saltbox house, with a 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, russet, or cookie cutter Benjamin Moore colour trends. It’s also a walker’s paradise, and my car sits idle in my narrow drive for days, sometimes weeks on end, the gas tank thirsty hardly once a month.
The triplet streets contain a hybrid mish-mosh of alternate lifestyle living arrangements and people.
Last summer, a brown van parked right in front of my house, for a month. Inside lived a group of friends, and one evening, they partied outside the van into the wee hours, waking households—waking my household. The next morning, I asked if in the future they wouldn’t mind keeping it inside the van after 11pm.
“Ach, so sorry,” the fellow said. “We had a friend visiting… had a little too much to drink…. won’t do that again.”
No one on the street much minds seasonal campers. And so three weeks ago, when my Ontario friends, Helga and Rolf, parked their VW Westy on my driveway and camped out for a few nights, not a peep of protest to be heard, save from the crows that swarm the maple tree at the house behind mine.
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 the tale with, ‘yeh,’ said in an intake of breath.
I used to think such strange breath-speech might be a gulp for air, inverse burp or indicative of impending heart failure. It’s none of the aforementioned. It’s a word expressed via ingressive pulmanic speech, a habit common in the Atlantic Provinces, its meaning not to be confused as an affirmative, yes. Think of it, rather, as oral punctuation, indicating it’s time for a self-reflective pause before moving on to the next topic.
Directly across from my house is the most popular Laundromat in the city, The Bluenose. Cars are always coming and going, their drivers running overloaded baskets of clothing in and out the Landromat doors. Once, before I lived on this street, I took a sodden lanudry load there myself, intending to use the dryers.
“Can’t you read the sign?” I was asked, as I set down my basket.
But there it was. If you don’t wash your clothes at tThe Bluenose, you cannot dry them at The Bluenose either. Out I skittered out with my soppy laundry perched on my hip.
Kitty corner to my house is Renaldo’s. The restaurant serves the tastiest meatball hero sandwich ever to pass through my lips. Two brothers own the restaraunt, while their father owns Salvatore’s, another restaurant located in the Hydrostone, serving the second best meatball hero sandwich ever to pass through my lips. Since opening its doors three months ago, Renaldo’s has become a popular hot spot, and yes, the servers do know me quite well.
This neighbourhood seems a storage hold for diversity in its montage of culture and people. Could be a doctor living next door or student or all four members of the punk band, Like a Motorcycle. Could also be the fellow who runs the best used book store in the city, located round the corner on Windsor. It’s not the kind of place you can plunk down and make happen. Nah, it took a century and a half, and through the rattle-y walls of my 1860 home, the outside life of this Duncan Street leaks inside—buses and oil trucks rumbling down the street, sirens wailing in the distance, the caustic call of crows, ice cubes tinkling in the glasses on Renaldo’s patio, and the sound of kids playing, maybe even the voices of the two little boys who trail my walk to the store, until that is, they have to run back home when the streetlights turn on.
At The Superstore, I grab a quart of cream from behind a glass door in the dairy fridge. If I’m lucky, it might last me a while. Avocados are cheap for a change, so I give a couple a quick squeeze between thumb and middle finger. They’re far from ripe, but no mind, avocados being the green banana of my generation, and they’ll ripen in good time.
On the journey home, I compare the triad of streets to the homogenous LuluLemon land from whence I came.
Chock full of brown and red brick homes, complemented by splashes of bright green, golf course worthy lawns, my old Beechwood neighbourhood was laid out in a grid pattern, hedged in by four-lane streets meant to maximize car living and commute culture. Driving was integrated into my waking hours like breathing, double garage doors the lungs of life.
My two homes and the life I lead in each, former and current, are to each other as chalk is to cheese.
Earlier today, I’d been seaside, picking wild cranberries at a secret patch, with three friends. I’d been instructed to bring a ‘dumper’ to collect the berries in as I picked, and a larger container to empty the dumper into when it was full. The rules of the Cranberry Patch were simple—never reveal its location and pick until feet are frozen, fingers numb and nose begins to run.
The wind blows a tussle of leaves that skitter around my feet, and then collect ahead of me in a mass that whorls upward, not unlike a school of herrings I’d watched in the sea while on a run down at the waterfront, perhaps a month or so ago.
Fall is late this year. It seems as many leaves are on the trees as on the ground, most still green, even. Somewhere on the street, I imagine, live the two little boys, called home by streetlight, albiet so much earlier now that the clocks have fallen back. Maybe they’re babbling to their mom or dad about me, the lady they followed down the street for a while, or maybe they’ve already forgotten me, busy with homework, the dog, or forking food into their mouths, though likely not from Tupperware containers.
Back home, I open the fridge and cram the cream 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 frozen berries into a freezer bag and refill the tray, losing a few or more in the process. They bounce off the pine floor at crazed angles, like the hard black Indian rubber balls I used to play with when I was young.
If I keep on it, the task will be done by tomorrow, which is critical because on Wednesday morning, I leave for the 1892 kilometer journey back through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec, all the way to Ontario.
In this third year of my runaway life, it’s strange when I think of what I fretted about when I first moved here. Mostly, it was that I’d never make friends, never fit in, never feel at home.
A bowl of red cranberries tells me differently.
Yet in some ways, I will always be the stranger those two little boys saw. Being a Come from Away, it’s the things I never paid much mind to or maybe didn’t really know about or fully understand until I lived in Nova Scotia that have become the true worries in my runaway love story, and my greatest fear now is that love alone might not be enough.
And while I accept that what will be, will be, what I’m wishing for is a day, far from now, when I might find myself in my 1860 Duncan Street kitchen, on my hands and knees upon the old pine floor, peering beneath the fridge, and having my eyes chance happen on an old dried up cranberry lodged in one of the fridge wheels.
I’ll pick up the old, dusty fruit, hold it in my fingers and smile, falling into the memory of my very first wild cranberry excursion and that long ago November, when the Ontario streetlights almost called me home.
* * * * * * * *
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