I saw a chipmunk yesterday. It ran across the driveway, a tiny sliver of striped fur, and disappeared under the porch. Here in New Lowell, the chipmunks are probably the fastest thing around.
I have come to Canada with my grandmother to stay with my great aunt and uncle, and am writing this in their sleepy little house on the edge of nowhere. My first impressions of this place are that change is slow, and the pace of life unhurried.
Going through airport security on our way here, my grandmother was as nervous as a prisoner stepping up to the noose. I assured her that there was no possible reason for her to be stopped. Naturally, her necklace set off the body scanner, and I was made to eat my words for the next seven and half hours.
Upon arrival we were met by my great aunt. Sitting in the back seat of her car, watching the city of Toronto pass into countryside, I was awed by the massive open fields. My great aunt says this is potato country, and the farms here grow for the huge potato chip companies.
The roads are like roman roads; they stretch to the horizon, as straight as thread pulled taut, twice as wide as the cramped streets of England. The houses here don’t squat, they aren’t crowded together like a fence of windows either side of the road, they sprawl; vast, board-covered edifices painted white, pale blue, or dove grey. The bigger gardens are the size of housing estates, with enough space between them to fill in the gaps.
Canada is and isn’t a foreign land. Certainly there are a wealth of similarities with England. Breakfast is still toast and cereal, marmalade and orange juice. The local supermarket, Sobeys, isn’t far removed from Morrisons, and Shoppers Drugmart is the equivalent of Boots.
But there are also vast differences. My second cousin told me how she doesn’t let her cat go wandering at night because of the coyotes, and my great aunt’s dog has a phobia of the turtles in the pond down the road. There are few pavements because no one walks far – everything is so spaced out that driving is the only reasonable option.
The humour is similar, but with different nuances, and the bins have locks because of the racoons.
Travelling with a grandparent is an odd experience, to say the least, and odder still without parents to mediate the vast gulf of years between us.
Maturity has brought me closer to my grandmother. She is the epitome of the traditional English matriarch, complete with a knitting habit and stiff upper lip. She likes to have a scathingly polite mutter about rude people, has a royal family calendar, and drinks tea by the bucket.
Our differences could fill a book, and she spent the whole flight trying to persuade me not to watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which I’ll grant, might have been sound advice), but she is what you might call ‘the living past.’
Now that I am old enough to enjoy her stories we have become close. I think we are going to have some adventures in the two weeks ahead, and I feel that this is an important thing for both of us – a last opportunity for me to be a grandchild, with emphasis on the child, before life gets in the way.
And as for the lighter: a gimmicky tourist piece from Walmart.