Our Retractable Umbilical Cords
Arlene, Leanna, Sharon and I sat around the table in Arlene’s kitchen in Watson , Saskatchewan , drinking tea and wine and comparing our lives. I grew up in eastern Montana , the others in eastern Saskatchewan . We are all women of the Prairies. We all left home vowing never to return. We each opted for a complete cultural change and each landed in a Big City . We made our lives, were happy, and now, here we are, back home again.
Sharon was the first one of us to respond to the subtle but definite pull back to our roots. Ten years ago, she and her husband Ron were on their way from Vancouver to Newfoundland to seek adventure on the opposite coast and to look over a restaurant which sounded promising. They stopped in Watson to visit Sharon ’s family. Sharon ’s mother Sophie was beginning to need extensive care. And the little café at the intersection of the two highways just happened to be for sale. Figuring one’s fortune was where one found it, within days Ron closed the deal on the café and began work to expand and rebuild. Over the years, on their rare days off from the restaurant, the couple began making Sophie’s house into their own home.
Because Sharon and I are close, you could say we are sisters of the chosen variety. Arlene asked, “How do you two know one another?” We laughed and our answers tumbled out. “We are buddies.” “Yes, we met in 1992 at a workshop on Mount Shasta where we were paired up.” “As buddies, we were responsible for one another, had to know where the other one was at all times.” “And since part of the experience was in the wilderness, this was important.” “We discovered we have common interests plus shared geography.” “And you oughta hear our coming of age stories.” “And we were the only two at Shasta who grew up in isolated country. It’s a bond of understanding.”
During the time I lived in Seattle and she in Vancouver , we continued our friendship, visiting three or four times a year. “Once Sharon moved back to the Prairies, our visits were infrequent. So the first person I called to announce my return to Montana was my buddy Sharon.” “Doesn’t surprise me,” she said. “I’ve been expecting this.” “Now we try to get together several times a year.”
Arlene, Sharon ’s cousin, returned to settle in Watson following several life changes, which included the deaths of her parents and a brother. Leanna is Sharon ’s hometown friend whose Mom had died only two months previously. That week she was stacking up piles and making keep-sell-toss decisions over her mother’s lifetime collections which filled every shelf, closet, wall, room, nook and cranny in the house. If Leanna finishes sorting, dispensing, and disposing in her own lifetime, we will all be surprised. The stuff could fill the Museum of Kitsch .
What brought us back? How did we each land in our parents’ houses? Never once did one of us say, “Gosh, I would love to live in my hometown in my parent’s home.” Sharon and I even paid good money for these houses which we did not want. Bit by bit, room by room, we have turned these old-fashioned but well-built houses into homes that fit us. Now Arlene and Leanna are beginning the process that Sharon and I have nearly completed: pitching, patching and painting. We all had sworn that we would never return. Yet, here we are, living fully and happily.
Each of us had a theory to explain what drew us back: family duties, a personal need to start over, a quest to rediscover familiar values, love for the land, insanity (?). As we sat around the table, we developed the answer to our questions. We are born with an invisible but retractable umbilical cord. It stretches to allow us every experience we choose. Then at a certain time, un-definable, it reaches its limit and begins retracting, pulling us hand over hand back to our beginnings.
Will we stay put forever? Are we stuck here? Who knows? The answer will be different for each of us. Maybe the umbilical cord will stretch again. But we’ll never go far away in spirit. The distance back will never be as long.
HDN: Looking out my back door
October 21, 2010