Saturday, August 18, 2007

Small towns - the dirt just tastes better there

So I went home to Norland the other weekend-

You see what I did there? I actually typed home without a second thought when in fact I went to my parents’ house in Norland. I am a grown-up after all – I have my own home and it’s not in Norland, it’s in Toronto, okay?

Okay, it’s in Don Mills, but Don Mills is well within the city limits. And while Don Mills may have started as a suburb, that was so long ago, it’s practically considered downtown now! But I digress.

Anyway I went back to Norland (winter population about 300) where, unbeknownst to me, the Heritage Homecoming weekend was in full swing.

My mom, my brother and my niece hit the festivities in the afternoon where we chased Graham around the inside of the sweltering hockey arena where I looked at old photos and bought a gorgeous framed print by local artist Clive Kay for my dad (for $40! No wonder I love small towns). Graham also took his first pony ride outside and charmed folks in the beer tent by grabbing the first half-full beer he saw and tossing some back. (His father’s genes, I swear).

That night his dad and I left Graham with Grandma and Grandpa and returned to the arena for the homecoming dance. We had a blast and here are some of the reasons why:

* It was only $5 to get in
* The beers were $3 (tax included) and no tips were accepted
* You could help yourself to ice water from pitchers and glasses
* At midnight a free spread of sandwiches, fruit, cheese and sweets was rolled out
* They had spot dances for door prizes (spot dances are where you remain in place after the song finishes, the DJ instructs you to walk left or right a certain number of steps and the couple ending up closest to the spotlight wins – brilliant!)

It was wonderfully fun and lovely and retro but not in that condescending, bullshit, ironic way that has fostered bingo games and charades and the like at downtown clubs.

Some of my cousins were there and I also saw people I hadn’t seen since high school, elementary school really and they were friendly and welcoming. They talked about their kids, asked me about mine and inevitably inquired whether I was still writing. I also chatted with older locals who seemed genuinely interested to hear about Graham whose existence my mom has been shouting from village rooftops for nearly two year now.

At one point in the evening I turned to my husband (who’s never lived outside of Toronto, okay, Don Mills) and declared “I love Norland.”

And I do. No matter how many years I spend in the big smoke, this little blink-and-you’ll miss-it-village will always be special to me. Sure it’s a cliché, but the people I know there are solid and decent and kind. And after all these years I still feel like they really care about me. And that’s a great feeling.

Many times throughout the years, I’ve been razed about my small town upbringing but it’s always been a badge of honour for me – a cultural experience that my city-bred contemporaries never had. I think sophistication is ultimately the ability to feel at ease no matter what your surroundings and I’ve always secretly (and sometimes not-so-secretly) been disdainful of urban hipsters who like to brag that they feel lost in the wilderness when they go north of Bloor.

How fragile is your sense of confidence and self when you lose it outside a 10-kilometre comfort zone?

I am as comfortable at karaoke night at Sonia’s Motel on Highway 35 as I am at a party on Queen St. and I hope my son will be the same way. While I want him to grow up to be charming and urbane, I also want him to feel comfortable in places like Norland. I couldn’t bear it if he turned into one of those pansy-ass city boys we used to laugh at, who couldn’t start a boat motor, or swing an axe and didn’t want to get their hands dirty.

So far Graham seems to love Norland too. And he has no problem getting down and dirty. In fact, playtime at Grandma and Grandpa’s house (on the lake) consists of hanging on the beach and shoveling in mouthful after mouthful of that delicious, country sand.

Eat up my boy. May you grow big and strong.

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6 comments:

jordan said...

ok i just stumbled upon your site (from shamelesslysassy, i believe) because the name "don mills diva" popped out at me. i live in burlington and thought it was cool to see a blogger, so close. BUT ..weirdly enough, i came upon this particular post and i see Norland, where my family has had our cottage for the last 40+ years!
i must say, i'd be proud to be from Norland ..its so small and quaint and i LOVE all the scenery. we're on shadow lake and i think it's the best spot ever. we're right across from the boy scout camp, if you know where that is. i won't mention the name, in case that's giving out too much, but wow ..i'm kind of excited that you're from Norland! and a blogger, at that.
awesome ..i've rambled, sorry about that ..excitement took over! :)

jordan said...

oh & i forgot to mention that i LOVE sonia's, although we've never gone to the karoke nights ..but even more, our family loves to go to the Noble Motel for the "all you can eat" roast beef night. sitting on their screened in porch, stuffing your face while overlooking a gorgeous lake ..what could be better?
thanks for bringing out the nostalgia in me!

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