“Brantford depresses me. There’s no Starbucks and people hang bed sheets and flags for curtains,” my brother, Dax, observed last Christmas. Insert melancholy Springsteen “My Hometown” kinda lyrics here.
We renamed the city “Blahford” early on. Often confused with Brampton, Bradford, and Bramalea (and any other southwestern Ontario town that started with “B,”) we did have bragging rights in claiming hockey legend Wayne Gretzky as our own. Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone, had a smaller fan base, but was ours too.
The only redeeming landmark for us was George’s House of Spuds. Once a week my mom would wheel the ’74 Pinto into the Calbeck’s parking lot and we’d be allowed to split a large fry from the flat-tired food truck. The grease and vinegar bottomed out every cardboard box into our laps–and no wonder, the fries sat in your gut like wet cement for two days.
To me, our hometown was Arthur side road, not the city of Brantford. Hell, we were related to everyone on our road. Our property had a stand of sturdy pines, raspberry bushes and railroad tracks that split the acreage. Horseradish, canteloupes or wheat grew in the field to the left. My great-grandmother grew puffballs and her prized roses to the right. Directly behind our house, there was a lily-pad dotted pond which served as a magnetic force, regardless of the season. It was a perfect swimming hole (full of leeches), a private hockey arena come winter, and the soundtrack that we fell asleep to. Hundreds of spring peepers embracing a still March night in chorus? This sound alone is home.
Our hometown perimeter was as far as our mighty BMX and banana-seated bikes could take us, and we found everything we wanted in that circumference. Nan always had C-plus or Tahiti Treat in her wormy smelling root cellar (and she was usually distracted by Another World from 2-3pm). My grandfather’s pig barns were a constant source of amusement, stink and accidents requiring band-aids and peroxide. The pig burial grounds took years to properly excavate and sundown permitting, there were shotgun shells and arrowheads to collect.
We sat in the retired GMC Sierras my grandfather parked by the pond to “rest.” After intense de-cobwebbing we’d pile in and huff the discarded Skoal tobacco containers. Kiley would pretend to drive (erratically) and I’d root around the glove box, detective-like, until we remembered that there were probably some catfish that we could poke with sticks. The days were epic: picking scabs, sunburns, wild cucumber fights and surviving on surreptitious handfuls of Chips Ahoy! cookies. We couldn’t bear to come inside until dark.
Our hometown was us. Dax, Kiley, our parents and wonder dog. Xanadu’s schnauzer coat, better designed for urban life, was a catch-all for burrs, manure and/or duckweed from trailing us. We sometimes thought we wanted a swimming pool and a corner store, but we were the spoiled ones. We had two acres of the best hide n’ go seek hiding spots and a drive-in theatre three cornfields in front of our home. Plus, we had real curtains, not bed sheets and flags.
Did we miss out on anything?
(*Nostalgic note: After writing this I Googled “Spring Peepers YouTube” and am now listening to them in downtown Toronto on the first night of November: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhBsNqF7Hkk)