This time of the year it’s not hard to find our thoughts drifting to times past; to times spent with others—friends and family especially—and mostly to home. Memories flow. Childlike delight at finding unexpected gifts left, as if by magic, by a tree. The thrill of discovering that being the bearer of gifts is every bit as pleasurable as being the one who receives. The satisfaction of knowing that the ones you love are truly pleased to see you once again. Each time there is a sense of home. But home is not a something set in time or in space. It is, at times, the house you lived in while quite young. It may be the one you lived in while learning to be a young adult. Perhaps it is your first house or apartment. Maybe even the place you are in now. Home is where the heart is. At least that’s what the clichéd old sentiment asserts.
Funny thing about clichés— ok, not ‘funny’ as it’s really about irony: they begin as thoughts that almost perfectly capture an idea or a sentiment; so much so that they become what we now call viral, spreading by word of mouth and through every communications medium until the words are spoken effortlessly by everyone and heard with the same ease. Then, it happens: the words lose their meaning. The phrases become little more than ‘fillers,’ spoken and heard with about the same sincerity and thought as people usually put into, “How are you today?” when what they really mean, mostly, is, “I like/respect you enough to acknowledge meeting you but really have more urgent/important things to do now. Maybe we can talk later but not now. Oh, is there anything urgent—a life threatening illness maybe—that I should know about just in case. I’d hate to miss the funeral; that would be awkward.” See—less thought and less words.
So it is with home. So it is with Christmas.
Here—North America’s Northeastern Edge—we have a tradition of having to leave home because of work. In times past, when our economy depended mainly on the fishery and on logging, the men would leave for extended periods, either on fishing vessels or in logging camps. As time went on and travel became a little easier whole families moved away; men and women alike. Toronto at first. As its oil industry boomed Alberta’s beckoning fingers called increasing numbers of East Coasters…and they went. Places like Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray became as well known as the more familiar St. John’s, Sydney and Gander; perhaps more so. In many ways the leaving was like that in times past. Logging camps were replaced with oil and gas work camps or mines, voyages on schooners and western boats were replaced with ones on oil tankers, oil rigs and support vessels. Whole-family moves to ‘the Boston states’ were replaced with ones to cities in western Canada.
The bodies left but the hearts did not.
Letters were once the lifeline to home. Each day the loved ones at home and away would make the trek to the post office with quiet but eager anticipation. Some envelopes would be opened right away and even read out loud to the others making the same trip. For most, group experiences are so much more powerful and, besides, by sharing your letter you could reasonably expect to hear others. More details, more experiences more…life. Many other letters would be quietly tucked in a purse or a pocket, unopened for the trip back to the house and only opened and read, filled teacup nearby, in the safe confines of home. For some, intimacy counts for more.
In time, letters were mostly replaced by telephone calls and, as rates declined, talk volumes increased. Inverse proportions are found everywhere, aren’t they? Unlimited evening and weekends packages became the thing. In many rural communities in the nineties it was often impossible to find a dial tone after supper. People at home would call the loved one(s) away and just leave the phone on. On it would stay through evening housework, through watching the hockey game, right up to going to bed.
Talking about…what? No, it did not work like that. When we are with our loved ones daily, what do we talk about? The true meaning of conversations often rides high above the words.
In the Internet age the telephone has been replaced once again, this time, through things with names like ‘facetime’ and ‘skype’ viewing has been added to listening and speaking . It’s almost like being there.
Real contact has no substitute. The other forms are exactly that—other. While electronic communication tools bring great value, great pleasure into our lives it’s probably best to see them as exciting new ways to communicate rather than as replacements for real time contact. We all know that.
During this past month the fall winds have swept away the summer’s growth. The leaves and flowers are gone. The grass, if it’s not already covered in snow is no longer bright summer green. The days are shorter. Funny, isn’t it—when the summer growth stops it seems like we take the cue to come alive ourselves? We’ve long since dropped our lazy summer habits and for months now we’ve been picking up where summer left off.
But we’re getting a bit tired now. Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day may have afforded something of a break from the fall routines but now we long for something a bit more substantial. It’s time for a rest and, as we look around to take stock, to see if we have prepared enough, our thoughts once again turn to home, the one place we can recall being fully whole and fully rested, and the longing begins. It matters not where you are. Perhaps, through what, in these modern times, must be seen as something of a fluke, you are lucky enough to still reside in the place in which you were raised. You still long for that thing you call home.
And so, here on the Eastern Edge, traveling has long been associated with the Christmas season. Like the fabled magi of old, the wearied travelers plan and take the journey ‘back home.’ Maybe by road, maybe by air, but always filled with a mixture of anticipation and excitement.
Traditions—real ones, not just the cleverly marketed sales pitches that seem to dominate the many magazines and websites devoted to the season—are brought back to life. Religious celebrations, gift exchanges, Christmas dinners, community dances, kitchen parties, mummering—all of it fun and meaningful at the most-felt level. Life and memories are constructed with love. Old friendships are renewed and some new ones made.
But nothing is permanent. This, too shall pass is always the watchword. Before long the restlessness returns and it becomes time to move on…again.