This summer we made our semi-regular trek to Alberta to visit my family. It was a fun-filled visit that saw my entire family together for the first time in almost two years – with a new nephew on the scene and my other niblings growing up so fast I can hardly believe it, I cherish these times more and more each passing year.
My visits to Lethbridge also give me a chance to catch up in person with Aaron, my B(and O)FF. If you’ve been reading WoMH since the beginning you know that Aaron started this blog with me and our other good friend Laurel in 2009, when our lives converged here in the ‘Peg for a whirlwind eight or nine months. Aaron and I met in Grade 10 and became fast friends. He’s probably the reason I survived my otherwise mostly unpleasant high school years. Through my dad’s death, moving away for university, new relationships, breakups, great apartments and grotty ones, street meat at closing time and coffee over Coronation Street on Sunday mornings, Aaron and I have been through a lot together. Now that we’ve put down our roots in two cities hundreds of miles apart, we only see each other once or twice a year. The time we spend together is scarce and sacred.
There’s a set of things we always try to do when we reunite in Lethbridge. We always go to Humpty’s. (Yep. The poor man’s Denny’s whose turn of the century ads featured Brett Hart wrestling a giant egg. That Humpty’s.) It’s something we’ve been doing since we were teens: after we’d stayed till closing time at the Penny Coffee House, we’d shuffle a few blocks over and continue our conversation at a place with no closing time and no locks on the door. Back then we had our favourites on the jukebox and a quirky waiter we’d kid around with and a standard order of panfries and coffee. Lately, we fit these Humpty’s dates into busier schedules and sometimes we have to turn an otherwise strictly carbs-and-caffeine date into (gasp!) an actual meal. More often than not I’m drinking decaf, cause’ a girl with little kids has gotta take all the sleep she can get. The decor in our preferred Humpty’s has changed (for the better) over the years, and they’re not listed as “panfries” on the menu anyone (“savoury diced potatoes”? come on!), but our conversations still revolve around the same topics: love, money, happiness, sadness, gossip, dreams, family, the past, and the future.
We always go to Winners. Both of us weak in the presence of adorable and often frivolous home furnishings, we are now trying to be more sensible with our money. On this last visit, Aaron snagged a rolling bike rack that he’d been waiting two years to buy. I lingered over but ultimately thought better of a pink cast-iron anchor-shaped decorative hook. We left triumphant, our yearnings for whimsy sated and bank balances mostly intact.
We also always go for a drive. For two people who are generally fairly eco-conscious this has always been our weakness. A basically aimless drive around the city, listening to the soundtrack of our younger years (Ani DiFranco, Counting Crows, Rufus Wainwright, Dar Williams) interspersed with our current favourites, guilty and otherwise. Sometimes we just drive, and other times we hold true to our high school days and get Twizzlers and peanut M&Ms and park at Henderson Lake and chat in the dark, not caring that we’re basically stationed at Old Makeout Point. We drive past places we’ve lived and yearned to live, schools we’ve gone to, friends’ and lovers’ apartments and the empty Blockbuster where we knew every title in the Canadian and documentary film sections.
On one of these drives this summer, Aaron behind the wheel and I in the passenger seat, I found myself staring out the window at all the new developments along Mayor Magrath Drive, the main commercial drag closest to where I grew up. It has expanded so much in the past 10 or 15 years that I can hardly believe it. It got me thinking about what a hometown really means, and my ever-evolving relationship with my own hometown.
I’ve written here before about my relationship with the southern Alberta town I grew up in. When I was a teen I couldn’t wait to escape. Once I left, for the longest time, my visits home were met with a mix of low-grade dread and obligation. Not because of my family and friends, of course — I was glad to see them all and would never have considered not going home. There was just something about the town that I pushed back against. Old ghosts.
When we envisioned our future life together, my now-husband and I agreed that we could live anywhere as long as we had family nearby – whether that was Lethbridge or Winnipeg or somewhere else. But it wasn’t until I had my first child that I really started to see things in Lethbridge that made me think…hmm… maybe I could live here again, after all. The city seemed to offer more than it did when I was a teenager, but maybe that was just my adult impression. For as small and accessible as Winnipeg seemed to me when I moved here from Vancouver, Lethbridge felt even smaller, in a nice way. It was growing (almost 95K now!), and had better concerts, retail stores, etc., than it did when I was growing up, but on the whole it was still a manageable size. They even had a francophone school, which was important to us.
For a while I thought we might even alternate living in Alberta and Manitoba every few years, so we could be near to my family. But you know how it goes. You get settled in, your roots get deeper. It took me a long time to make good friends here; to up and leave now would be starting from scratch.
Still, on that night drive with Aaron, thinking about Lethbridge and everything it’s been to me, I surprised myself by starting to tear up. I mourned the impossibility of living in two places at once, and the cruel irony of having come to terms with the town at a point where it’s too late to give it a second chance. As we drove around a totally new-to-me development in the south end of the city, I thought about how I would never know all of Winnipeg the way I know all of Lethbridge — or at least all of the Lethbridge that existed when I left. I don’t know why this feels important, but it does.
I’ve always been fascinated by — and romanticized — the civic relationship. I’ve felt certain, for most of my life, that I was maybe meant to be born and live my whole life in a very small town. I love shows and movies set in tiny towns where everyone knows each other. I am equally intrigued at how there are cities like New York that have such strong characters that they actually become an inextricable part of citizens’ identities.
Blogging here has given me such a great opportunity to explore many aspects of Winnipeg, the place we call home. But is it really my home? When planning a trip to Alberta, I constantly catch myself thinking of it terms of “going home”. But when I’m there, I refer to home as my “real”, present-day home, in Winnipeg. I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom the term refers to more than one place. To stray slightly from cliche lane, if home is where the heart is, then my home will always be in more than one place. And that’s okay. I think life is all the richer for it.
Aimless Driving Playlist for Aaron – Fall 2015
- Bloody Motherf&%#$S A$$hole – Martha Wainwright
Heard on Orange is the New Black, researched and downloaded immediately. Have sneaking suspicious Aaron may have already made me a mix CD with this track on it at some point, but it felt new and powerful to me. As teens Aaron and I thought it was awesome that one of our favourite singers, Dan Bern, was rumoured to be dating Martha Wainwright, whose brother Rufus we loved too.
- God Only Knows – Natalie Maines
Aaron and I loved the movie Saved! with Mandy Moore, and the REM version of this song that played over the end credits. We both love Natalie Maines and while this particular version isn’t my all-time fave, I can’t help but think this was a great track for her powerhouse voice.
- New Morning – Lisa Loeb
When I was a young teen and discovering my dad and I shared some of our musical tastes, he gave me a copy of Bob Dylan’s New Morning on CD, saying it was one of his favourites (I still have his handwritten Christmas gift tag tucked inside it). I loved discovering this Lisa Loeb cover on a kids’ album; it’s got gorgeous harmonies in the chorus.
- Chandelier – Brooklyn Duo
My old boss in Vancouver has two lovely daughters, one of whom is a Juilliard-trained pianist. Marnie and her cellist husband Patrick formed Brooklyn Duo, and have recorded amazing instrumental versions of top 40 pop songs. Aaron gave me Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear for my birthday last year so this seems an appropriate track for my mix.
- Learn to Let You Go – JP Hoe
I remember Aaron talking about JP Hoe when he lived here, but I didn’t really discover his music until recently, when I heard this song playing during a set change at Festival du Voyageur. Love it. (Especially its sweet mando licks.)
- On the 505 – Matthew Barber
Can’t remember exactly how I stumbled onto Matthew Barber’s music, but I love it and I’ve seen him twice in concert over the last couple years. I like this track in particular because I’m a sucker for songs about current events and this is a really moving one.
- Black and Gray – Michaela Anne
I heard this track in a Starbucks while I was having a solo-date writing Christmas cards last December. I Googled in vain for the lyrics that day, but tried again a few months later and found in. Something about it just feels like a song Aaron and I would listen to on a drive.
- Heart’s on Fire – Passenger
My yoga instructor plays non-whale/chanting music during our class, which I love (hey, good music!) and hate (I become distracted trying to figure out who the singer is, or trying to memorize the lyrics so I can look up the song later). Luckily the lyrics to this chorus weren’t that hard to remember and look up at home.
- Stronger than That – Bahamas
I admit that often the only new music I hear is on CBC and on DNTO in particular. Heard this song one day as I was driving with small whining children and it pepped me up 🙂
- Heavenly Day – Patty Griffin
Patty Griffin has been a fave of ours since we were in high school. This song is especially dear to me as my sister-in-law sang it as I walked down the aisle at my wedding. Love this live version from the Artists Den.