I have lived in Huron County all of my life – 30 years. For the first 19 I lived in “the north” as I have learned it is called. I had never heard of it as that until I got into social services. A social worker friend of mine who is a few years older than me, and who I looked up to in highschool and whose footsteps I kind of followed, grew up in the same area as I did and now works in the same town as I do, and we both get a kick out of that term - The North. The northern part of our county, surrounded by farm land, gravel roads and wide open spaces.
While in University, I spent a couple years in the southern part of the county, commuting 30 mins each way every day to school in the closest urban area (population 300 000). That area that I lived in is almost like a suburb of the city - it's so close, you go there for everything.
For the past almost 8 years, I have lived on the “west coast” of our county, in the beachy, tourist town that is like the “city” (Population 8000 in the winter, maybe 15000 in the summer) of our predominately rural county.
I have lived everywhere in this county but in the “east end”, which is where my brother has now settled.
For the last 3 ½ years, my job has taken me all over our large, spread out, rural county, 3 days a week, every week. I provide outreach services within 17 different communities of Huron County. I have gotten to know a lot of parents, grandparents, kids, professionals and families and, because one of those days takes me “north”, I have seen people I went to elementary and highschool with grow up into those parents and professionals I now work with.
Both my mom and my dad still live in “the north” end of Huron County – they never left, and I suspect they never will. Same goes for both of my grandmothers, my aunt and her family, my uncle and his family, and my great aunt and uncle. This isn’t just the place that they live - this is their life, their home, their everything. My grandparents have lived there since they were children. Yeah…I’m from one of those families.
“The North”, to me, is actually known as “Howick Township”. It is comprised of a few tiny villages of about 500 people each, and is anchored by a country elementary school and an arena. The closest grocery store, bank, day care centre, highschool, Rec Centre, fast food outlet, police station, and hospital is 20 mins away down the major highway. If my mom wants to go to Walmart, the closest one is 45 mins away, where I live. If you want to get gas for your vehicle, there is one gas station between the three villages, one gas station between here and 20 minutes away. And of course, it is only open during certain hours. There are two restaurants between the three villages – tiny family restaurants, where the local seniors gather for coffee each morning and church goers gather every Sunday. Where everybody knows everybody else, and their business. And if you want to know someone's business, this is where you'll hear it. Where the staff know what you want before you ever order, and don’t need to ask you how you take your coffee. There are plenty of churches, mostly United or Anglican. The nearest Catholic Church, Baptist Church and Christian Reformed church is again, 20 mins away. Each village does have its own general store, although there is always the chance one may close, as has happened in the past, and each village has its own post office.
There is no public transportation, no taxi cabs, no Tim Hortons, or Starbucks, no 24 hour ANYTHING.
The majority of Howick Township is agricultural, with a variety of small, family owned businesses. My mom has worked at the same place for 30 years, within one of these small towns. My dad owned his own business there, up until just recently. The area is surrounding by Mennonites – the Amish. My in laws do a lot of business with the Amish, and my own father knows many of them by name as well. If you want to go to a “Farmer’s Market – you go to the Amish. And a lot of people do. It doesn’t get much more “Farmer’s Market than that.
I visit this area in a professional capacity once every 2 weeks and I will admit it is my favourite outreach day. I visit it in a personal capacity much more often of course. The majority of my family, and Jeff’s parents and brother all live there. Each time I am coming down the “home stretch” of the highway, I am hit by a flood of memories. A sense of familiarity washes over me. I can’t go anywhere in this area without remembering something from my childhood and teen years… the fort we built near the highway...playing road hockey (on the road) and yelling “car!” when we saw a car coming... The long bus rides to and from school, for more than 10 years, and all the memories that go along with them.
The little league games and rivalries - mine, Mike’s and my dad’s - with the neighbouring villages. My dad coaching our ball teams, and my parents as heads of the Park’s Board. The years of co ed ball tournaments. We grew up in ball parks. We kept score, “lined the bases”, umpired, cleaned up garbage, worked in the food booth and behind the bar, and played on the teams and were patrons of the food booth and the bar. Baseball was a big part of our childhood, and our entire family.
Anyways, both Mike and I both had paper routes. Both Mike and I worked in the local restaurants…a job we both still look back on very fondly. I became quite close with the owners of one of the restaurants I worked at in highschool, during a tough time in my life. Their children were just babies then, and now their oldest is in highschool and is one of my facebook friends. It’s been years and years and years and I can still talk to the woman who owned that restaurant like no time has passed. That family was very important to me when I was a teenager, and when the father died quite tragically a few years ago, it broke my heart.
What I remember from “the north” is going out after breakfast, coming home for lunch, then supper, and staying out till dark. Somewhere in our little town. My parents lived at one end, my grandparents at the other, and 2 aunts and uncles in between. My brother and I saw 6 of our 9 cousins and were usually hanging out with at least one of them every day, until we moved away from home. My grandma babysat 4 of us each and every day from when our moms' maternity leaves ended until we were old enough to stay home alone. As a result, my cousins and I are very close with eachother, and many of us as adults are quite close with our grandmother as well.
My Brother, Myself, My Grandma, and our cousins that grew up in the same town as us, this past January.
Playing baseball, or hockey (never soccer, like my daughter now plays). Playing capture the flag, or town wide hide and seek. Swimming in the local pool, or the river…yes the river. Fishing. Building forts, or “shacks”. Playing games in the cemetery, climbing trees, riding bikes. Riding and riding and riding. Or rollerblading. Or skateboarding. Tobogganing down the “big hill”. Babysitting what felt like every kid in that town and watching them grow up. Meeting at the park. The ball diamond, the “bridge”. My dad has also been a firefighter in the area for as long as I have been alive, and I remember that they used to carry their gear in their own vehicles. I can still see it in his old truck.
This is a town small enough that everybody’s kids were everybody’s kids. Everybody watched out for everybody else’s kids, and gave them hell if they deserved it. And no one thought anything of it.
I drive by one church and remember all of the times spent in its basement as a girl guide. Or the public speaking competitions. Or Christmas bazarres. I drive by the old library and remember attending story time there. Teaching scrapbook classes there. Attending bridal and baby showers there. I drive by the parks, and remember spending so much time there over the years. Playing, swinging, sliding, meeting friends, going there to think, carving initials in trees, hanging out, rolling down the hills…My wedding pictures were taken in one of these parks. I drive by “my church” and remember Sunday school. Christmas Eve services. Funerals I have attended. I was married here, my kids were baptized here.
Because after all, this is home.
I drive by my elementary school and smile. My grade 8 class had over 40 graduates and it's still like that now. We would walk as classes through knee deep snow to the neighbouring arena to go skating in the winter. Over 400 kids go to this school and not one of them walks. I rode a bus to school from the time I was five years old to the time I could drive myself. Every Friday night we went rollerskating…cause that was THE THING to do. That, and it was the ONLY thing to do. And our parents did it the generation before.
Some of my friends from elementary school have come back to the same place to raise their families…something we never thought any of us would do, and some of them that are back, still can’t believe it. I have reconnected with one such friend, after losing touch for quite a long time. We were very close childhood friends, and many of my memories of this area involve her. And now that she is back, and I visit regularly, its almost as if neither of us ever left. It’s almost like we have made up for all of the lost time and picked up where we left off. Now we are both married, we both have 2 kids, I’m sure we both think that if anyone would have stayed here it would have been me, not her. But it's not me. My kids will have a very different childhood than I did. Not better, not worse, just different. Their grandparents don't live here, nor do her cousins, or any immediate family. None of their cousins will go to their school, which they walk to. They live in a much bigger, busier town than I did growing up, and I love it here, and am choosing this for them. But there’s something to be said about living in such a small community as I did. About letting your kids play outside all day, not knowing exactly where they are, but knowing they are safe. About babysitting kids whose parents used to babysit you. Now that we are the parents, we know where all the good hiding places are. We have eyes and ears all over that community, just like our parents did. Living in a town where there is no grocery store, no hospital, no daycare centre, no police station, is truly is a different way of life. There can be a lot of inconveniences. But there are a lot of blessings too.
This is where I grew up.
This is my home.
4 hours ago