Since I last visited, my Canadian cousins have moved from London to Paris. Ontario, that is. Driving through Toronto, I realized what a massive megaplex that whole area is. When I visited Alistair and Kelly before, they lived in London, which I thought of as a suburb of Toronto. Being behind the wheel on my most recent visit I realized that London is over an hour away from Toronto, and is actually a large city itself, with a population of almost four hundred thousand people.
Paris is closer to Toronto, but much smaller. I arrived at night, later than I’d hoped. I left Montreal at about five, thinking I had about a four or five hour drive. It was more like six or seven. Plus I took the wrong exit and ended up driving around lost for a bit before I could find anyone to even ask. Everything was closed up at eleven pm. My phone had no service in Canada and my gas tank was almost empty. I was sure thankful when I finally found someone who could direct me to the street I needed.
Kelly had stayed up to let me in, and we talked for a short while before heading to bed. A couch was nicely made up in the basement and I crashed out, having had a long day of fast driving. I was happy to be in a safe harbor.
Alistair is my mom’s cousin. Their mothers were sisters, from Scotland originally. Three sisters from Scotland, Irene, Mary and Lily, all ended up marrying North Americans and settling across the pond. Mary was my grandmother, whose estate I would also be visiting later in my travels. She and her sisters were always close, even though they lived at distance. The Todds (Irene and Alan) had a great cottage on a lake in western Quebec, where family reunions often took place. Some of my earliest memories are from my first visit to that cottage when I was three, and a great spiritual awakening took place for me while staying on Lac le Blanc in 2005.
I have several other first cousins once removed on this side of the family, but I’m closest to Alistair and Sheila, who also lives in the Paris area. She and her husband John bought a farm on the outskirts and have been living there for several years. I had not been to this farm yet, so I was glad for a chance to catch up with everybody. We all saw each other at my grandparents’ funerals, but I hadn’t been up to this part ofCanada for a visit since 2005.
I am fortunate that my family is flexible, because my plans changed several times during my visit. This was shortly after we decided to fly my wife and daughters up from Mexico early, and I was trying to figure out the when and the where of purchasing tickets. I ended up staying three nights in Paris, which gave me a whole day to visit Niagara Falls.
I also spent a day exploring Paris, which is a fine town. Small town life at its best. The downtown was in walking distance from the house, so I headed out with my camera and my bottle of water. The Grand River is joined by the Nith River right near downtown. The streets were active, with people out on foot and businesses open. The weather was sunny and beautiful.
While contemplating the river from the dam, I shot a short video on the concept of property and trespass, which has somehow disappeared from my files. I also stopped in the health food store, which was more of the vitamins and supplements variety, though they did have some food (I bought muffins) and some fine homemade soaps.
When I returned to the house, a bunch of kids were playing basketball in the driveway next door. My cousin Connor (Alistair and Kelly’s son) has a goal too, and I saw some basketballs in the garage on my way out. I grabbed a ball and went out intending to play on the taller goal at the Todd’s driveway, but before I even take one shot, the kids asked if I would dunk on their shorter goal. They wanted me to try a bunch of different styles of dunk, which took me back to my middle schools and high school years, lowering the goal and having dunk contests.
I was never just great at basketball, though I did play in middle school. Of all the sports-ball games, I liked it the best. I haven’t played in years though. It was only because I was tall that those kids thought I was so awesome. We ended up shooting around for over an hour, talking NBA playoffs. I got into a groove eventually and was making some good shots. The age range of these kids (all guys) was about nine to thirteen. It was interesting hearing them all talk, vying for my attention, trying to tell who their favorite player was, or show me a certain move. The social dynamics of the situation unfolded immediately, and I felt for the kids who wanted to be heard and weren’t. I tried to give attention to everyone, but the older kids were on it, asking all sorts of questions that I tried to answer.
Eventually one of the ringleaders talked about Connor’s ramp, which they use for bike jumps. He really wanted to get it out and set it up so he could demonstrate. Kelly and Alistair weren’t home, and I had spoken briefly with a parent next door, this was definitely one of those unsupervised situations where I had to choose a side. Was a kid, or an adult?
I trust you can guess which direction I went. The ramp came out and the kid went for his bike. We set it up right in the middle of the street. The kid makes a pass but doesn’t take the ramp. Next pass he comes in and does, but slowly. His front wheel hit pretty hard, but he stayed up.
“Take it faster!” I urged. I had my camera out, filming.
He took it faster and executed a perfect jump. Both wheels landed simultaneously. He shouted with exhilaration at his success, raising both hands as he pedaled. I took a video of the second jump too, but somehow the file got corrupted and I could never view it. Too bad, because it was really a much better jump.
“Would you do it?” he asked me when he pedaled back over.
“Sure. Can I use your bike?” I asked.
“Yeah! Hey guys! He’s going to do the jump!”
I hopped on and took off up the street. The front brakes were too tight. Not that I would need them. I was just glad that the kid hadn’t panicked and braked at the wrong moment on his run, because this was a serious handlebar-vault front brake.
I did the ramp with ease, wishing we could prop it up a bit higher, even, but then Kelly came home and my adult character forced his way back into the conversation. “See! Now you’re in trouble!” he snapped. Yes, for those who are wondering if I’m serious, whole conversations take place within my mind between my inner child and various other roles that have developed as an adult navigating our authoritarian world. My true self just keeps wanting to make friends and have fun, but this childlike wonder is constantly told “but that’s not how things are…” and given a long list of reasons why we can’t all just have fun and live like we want to.
Fortunately, Kelly was cool. She just laughed to see me playing in the streets with the neighbors. Connor was with her, and he also didn’t mind that I’d borrowed his ramp or his basketball. Connor would have happily joined us, I’m sure, except that he was still recovering from a broken collarbone. Skateboarding injury.
I also got to spend some time with my cousin Rhiannon, who had just graduated college and was home contemplating what was next. It was good to catch up on her life. The last time I’d seen her she was eleven. She came with us out dinner at Sheila and John’s that night, after Alistair came home. Kelly and Connor had to go to some practice of his, but Kelly would be joining us later too.
Sheila’s place is awesome. It’s an ancient farmhouse, around a hundred years old, and there’s also a huge old barn that is still in pretty good shape. They’ve been working on restoration projects slowly, but even as it was, the place looked very nice. They had a horse, two donkeys, and a sheep. I went out to greet this barnyard gang while it was still light. Except the sheep, they all came right up to me and said hello. We had a nice time checking each other out. Animals are so much fun.
What a nice evening that was. Sheila and John made a wonderful feast, and Kelly showed up in time to join us for food. Conversation around the table with these folks is always something else. Beyond interesting topics and overall wit, they are so funny. The puns! I couldn’t believe how easily they fire off puns. One topic, having something to do with a bear, opened up the door to about six puns that came mostly from Alistair, Sheila, and Rhiannon, rapid fire. I was laughing so much.
Always nice to spend time with family. I’m blessed to have lots of good folks in my family, and to have fairly well-maintained relationships with extended family. We are all connected, all family, but having shared ancestors and knowing people for your whole life, that really means a lot. Relationships are so vital, and are in fact the greatest form of wealth we could hope for. So as James Taylor says….