The summer season was coming to a close. I felt it in the coolness of the evenings and saw it in the light mist that hung over the bay as dawn crept over the forest which surrounded the village.
Our long hours of daylight were shorter and fewer children came to swim by the inlet of the bay. They had started to swim two days after the ice disappeared from the lake and I missed their laughter and young voices shouting as they splash about in view of my front window. The quietness brought back memories of leaving home to return to school each year.
I recalled how we stood on the platform of the station waiting for the train. It was a cold unfriendly place and as often as we left from this train station, we never saw the town. Our time of departure was well into the evening and precious last moments were preserved for family. The last few days were spent shopping for new clothes, visiting old friends of my parents and being together in the hotel rooms. Now, on the station platform, we moved closer together listening to the signal of the approaching train as it gasped and grinded its wheels to a stop in front of us.
This was the part of the journey which reached its highest peak of emotion for all of us and it remained the most vivid in my mind. We struggled to control our emotional state but it never worked. The thought of leaving for 10 long months seemed like eternity at this point. I had been going south to school since I was five and if I thought it would come easier with time, it never did. In fact, I envied the younger ones who didn’t know how long and lonely it could be…
On board the train, we rushed to the windows to catch a last glimpse of our parents as they stood waving to us. We tightened our arms around the small ones who cuddled in for security. Clutched in their small hands were paper bags containing a few familiar items from home—bannock, blueberries and slippers made from smoked hide. Soon everyone was asleep but me. I watched the passing lights flicker through the darkness of the window, and taking a deep breath, I drew in the familiar smells of home that came
from the bags the children carried. Loneliness hit the pit of my stomach and I fought back the tears that threatened to overflow.
Closing my eyes, I visualized the house; my mother moving about in the kitchen; my father sitting at the kitchen table; the baby in the hammock; the roar a freshly lit fire makes and the smell of coffee perking; the low murmur of my father’s voice; the clear sweet song of the birds; the lapping of the water by the shoreline outside of my bedroom window; the rhythm of a paddle gently dipping and sliding into the water as my grandfather went to his fish nets early in the morning; the crackling and smell of firewood from my grandparents’ small wood stove in their small one-room cabin; the barking of the dogs; from one lone bark to a volume of barks and back to one lone bark; and the deep harmonious sounds of frogs singing in the creek as dusk fell around the village.
I’d see within my mind the sharp outline of the church sitting on the ridge across the bay. Dotted along the banks were white canvas tents and overturned canoes along the shoreline; the green grass surrounding our home; the dock and the inviting blue waters closing in around me as I dove in. Mercifully, the rhythm of the wheels and the swaying of the train would lull me to sleep.
In the early morning our train pulled into the city and we were overwhelmed with the busyness of everything around us. Holding tightly to the hands of our bewildered siblings, we were caught up with baggage, porters and streams of people moving to and fro along the long platform and the enormous station. The cab ride to our residences was a tour of narrow streets, stone buildings, exclusive shops and steep hills.
Our arrival at residence was a flurry activities. Greeting old friends, meeting new ones, claiming a bed, a dresser and closet room took up our time and thoughts. With the night came memories of home. The ache in my chest cried out for release and as I laid in the darkness of the room, I let the tears flow. The responsibility of the younger ones was gone and I could hide from the peering eyes of my roommates who were, no doubt, doing the same.
I knew, as time became filled with studies, friends and schedules, that I would overcome the loneliness and start marking the days as one does waiting for a happy event.
My sister and I saw the boys on Sunday afternoons. Together we roamed the Plains of Abraham, counting and climbing steps up the steep cliffs and exploring along the paths through the bushes. It reminded us of home and it took away the sounds of a busy city. The museum bore evidence of our existence as we signed the register every Sunday.
We became closer, being careful not to hurt each other’s feelings and our parents would have marvelled on how well we got along. We missed the comforting embraces of our mother and the reassuring hand of our father. It made us independent, growing up faster than our peers and robbing us of a normal childhood.
I resented the time it took away from sharing with my mother and the bonding that was formed between mothers and daughters. Our conversations were restricted, as in many cases, we both had to be there to understand the importance of that time. She seemed to stay naive and untouched… And there was a time when I felt I had surpassed her, knowing more than she did.
Our one contact from home was my father’s yearly trip to Montreal. His stopover fora few days always was a happy time as we overflowed in his hotel room and attracted humourous attention in the elegant dining room. Much too soon, he was gone, and we comforted each other with the knowledge we were less than six months away from home.
The effects of those school periods haunted me through many of my adult years. I came home in the summer with my family, felt the familiar excitement of seeing all of us together again. I still wept each time I left, never having enough time to make up for those lost years. A great part of me yearned to stay behind; to satisfy my hunger for parental love and affection. The cry of the little girl who left home at five years old still dwelt within me. The cold,
dark, bleak station represented the loneliness we endured away from home.
I live close to where I spent the summers. The bay is still there, but I can no longer hear the familiar sounds. They are replaced by construction, vehicles, motored boats, television and radio. The village has been caught up in a faster-moving world and nobody has time to smell the flowers.
Blueberry season is here. Children have started school in the community and I am on my way to the city to return to school. I don’t know if the train still travels that route because we can fly by plane now and reach our destiny in less time than an overnight trip on the train.
Still, as my time of departure approaches, I fell the flutters in my stomach and I want the summer days to never end.
When I board the plane with my five-year-old granddaughter, I wonder if someone will give her a paper bag of familiar things from home. Will I draw a deep breath and close my eyes to remember sweet memories of home… The smell of blueberries, bannock and smoked hide.
Wishing each student a good and successful year of studies.