I’ve always been a night owl. I’ve worked at night, I’ve played music at night. I’ve enjoyed the pub life over the years. Getting up in the morning has usually been a chore and has never been anything that I’ve savoured. Lately though, my sleeping habits have changed and rather than fight it, I’m beginning to embrace it. I was up this morning by five, made myself some breakfast, and though it was spitting outside, I decided to go for a walk.
The first thing I saw, at 6:45 am, were four community volunteers in my neighbourhood assembling what looked like the beginnings of a tent city in our little park so that the Canada Day games and weinie roast would carry on for the neighbourhood kids, despite the gloomy weather. I then continued into the adjacent cemetery because it’s the prettiest walk in the area. In the front, newer part of the cemetery, is the Chinese section. It occurred to me, looking at these hundreds and hundreds of stones with Chinese script on them, what must it be like to be an immigrant? Or a refugee? On this Canada Day morning, I wondered how many of these people were born eight thousand miles from here and in their wildest imaginations could not conceive of the idea that they’d be buried in a cemetery in Ottawa.
The next section of the cemetery was an older part, where many of the people had been born in the 19th century and had been gone for a hundred years. The same question. How many of them were born in England or Ireland or Scotland and had no idea they’d end up where they did?
It was an instructive lesson that we really are a nation of immigrants.
I then visited my parents’ grave, just to say hello. I don’t really say hello or talk out loud but reading their names and their birth dates is a good act of humility. It’s a reminder that every one there was once as alive as you and me.
It started raining harder but I pushed on. On to my old neighbourhood. Many of the houses have been replaced and most of them have been renovated but the streets are the same. There are more BMWs and Mercedes where Volvos used to be but if the cosmetics are different, the bone structure is the same. Lots of hockey nets and basketball hoops. Some things don’t change. Hey, there’s James’ house. And Mike’s and Joe’s. And Jeoff’s, where we would play poker on Wednesday summer nights while we watched the Expos game in French. There’s the house where my friend Chris was house-sitting on the day John Lennon died and we played his records and cried for hours. There’s Joanna’s house where we used to have kissing parties in the basement in grade six.
I went to the ball field. The pitching rubber and the plate looked shiny and new but maybe it was just the rain. I stood at the plate, holding an invisible bat, wondering how far I could hit that sucker. If I should try to pull it or just go with it and take it to right field. This was the same batter’s box I first stood in in the summer of 1975, the year the Bad News Bears came out.
I toed the pitching rubber, staring in at the plate. It seemed like the right distance but I wanted to be sure so I counted it off. Fifteen paces, 45 feet. Just right for softball. I somehow felt pride in my old neighbourhood for that moment for that very reason.
The rain was really coming down now so I started to make my way home but not before passing the little townhouse where I used to live. I looked at my old bedroom window. I saw where the tiny kitchen was and even in the rain, somehow I could still smell 1975.
On my way home, I saw a bakery was already open so I dipped in and bought my wife a chocolate croissant for when she awakes. As I got near my home, the volunteers in the park were still hammering away at the tent pegs in the pouring rain for what is sure to be a successful Canada Day picnic, weather be damned.
On this rainy morning, I’d walked three or four miles, travelled three or four decades and I was still able to return home. It was barely eight o’clock and I’d already felt like I had a pretty good day.