Yesterday I went for a long walk with Paisley. We went to the 2nd hand bookstore where I looked unsuccessfully for Infinite Jest. That book is way too long to get on hold from the library. As I was leaving the store and heading to the coffee shop I smelled something that literally stopped me in my tracks. There were men re-tarring a roof across the street and the sticky hotness of melted tar filled the air. I was immediately back in Fort McMurray in the summer time. I would meet my Dad at the bus stop and he would pick me up and swing me around as soon as he stepped off the Diversified bus that took him and the other men to work and back each day. His clothes, his hair, his hands, all smelled like tar sands from being in the plant all day. It smelled like work and heat and oil and, well, home.
The Fort McMurray that I called home for more than 20 years is gone. It has doubled, nearly tripled, in size since I left and the house I grew up in is occupied by people I don't know. The community is in crisis and is bursting at the seams. The infrastructure is insufficient and the crime rate is high. It is congested, crowded and dingy.
When we were kids growing up in Fort Mac we knew everyone on our street. Almost every person we knew had immigrated from another country. I had friends from England, Africa, Guadalupe, Trinidad, South America, India and of course, Newfoundland. It was safe and small and friendly.
I am envious of people, like Brian, who have their childhood home to go back to. I don't know that they appreciate what they have. My parents and siblings have moved south so there is nobody left to visit. All of my memories are locked up in a city I never visit and a piece of me will always stay there, suspended. I often long to go back and lie in the grass of my backyard or play basketball on the courts outside the junior high. To see people who knew me when I was a kid and bump into old teachers at the mall. While there is something to be said for starting fresh it is nice to encounter your younger self every once and awhile.
Today while walking to Starbucks I had exactly that. A fleeting moment where I was a kid again. When the most exciting part of my day was hearing the bus engine rumble its way down the street and me and my brothers would go flying, barefoot, down to the corner to see our Dad emerge from the folding doors. All the men would saunter down the street and shout their good-byes as they took their children's hands and heading into their homes for dinner.