Every time I encounter someone from Canada it feels like my life there comes up to the surface and brings with it memories of places and people. In a conversation with Melita Richardson, the new president of the Ontario Art Therapy Association, I found out she grew up in New Brunswick, in a small village where the only language was French. This is not the only difference between St. Cathartines, a lovely small town next to Niagara Falls where she lives now, and her hometown. On the only occasion we took the children in our not-so-trustworthy Land Rover east for the summer instead of west, we visited New Brunswick. Like everything in Canada, it is fairly large. It is hemmed in by the sea to the north, with a meandering shore of little fishing villages, and to the south by the mighty USA. To the west are the Gaspé peninsula and Quebec, and to the east, a seashore and Nova Scotia. Most of the population is concentrated at the eastern and southern side.
Some of you may remember my story about mixed-up languages and adventures with our retarded, or let me use the politically correct word, challenged, Land Rover. We were in the Gaspé peninsula, on our way to the large park which encompasses the entire center of the peninsula. As we arrived at the camping site in the park, we looked for a place that was not sloping, so that the 2 younger children who were to sleep in the back of the car would not slide. To our amazement, there was another Land Rover exactly like ours, doing the same maneuvers in the spot across from us. What were the odds for 2 challenged vehicles like that meeting in a remote park? Of course, we smiled at each other and started a conversation. They were from the Big Apple, just a couple, with no children, and very friendly. They’d heard of a superb restaurant, just down the road about 30 km – did we want to join them? They would make reservations. We looked at each other, and the temptation was too great not to pass up an opportunity like this.
As soon as the kids settled down, we joined our newfound friends in their Land Rover and hit the road. Tucked among the trees, just off the only road through the park stood a lovely inviting cabin, with glowing lights and some music drifting out. We were greeted at the door with “bonsoir,” and told we could not enter since the men did not have jackets and ties! Incroyable. Only in Quebec can you find a restaurant in the middle of nowhere, at the edge of a provincial park, with a dress code which does not even exist in some of the most reputable restaurants in some cities! Fortunately, they were used to bums like us, and had jackets and ties to dress up the men. The meal matched the reputation. The fish was fresh and well prepared, the greens crisp, and the potatoes French Fried. I can see you laughing. It really was not Fish and Chips. It was served with vin du pays and local berries for dessert. And the best part of the evening – there was no disaster with the kids, they were all asleep when we came back.
We parted a couple of days later, promising to stay in touch, to come and visit in New York, and for them to visit us. It never happened. I do not even remember their names, but my memory of them lingers, and the feeling of connection and joy remains when the memory surfaces. Being open and curious allows us to connect, even just for a short time, and touch another person. Humans are wired for connections, and the more positive contacts we have, the more our brain gets wired for embracing pleasure. We receive and we give. Part of the suffering in the year of the Covid pandemic happened because of the disconnect. The physical isolation from family, friends and even strangers walking down the street causes a feeling of abandonment which carries with it pain, anger, and despair. The saving grace of the online platforms was only a partial solution to loneliness. Some of us are better at maintaining contact with past friends and acquaintances, and thus are more resilient when it comes to isolation. Those who maintain contact will use any means available to continue nurturing contacts, and thus will help maintain mental health in their friends and themselves.
We did not plan a visit ahead of time, but decided to travel on to visit a young family we had befriended when they were at our university, and who had now moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick. It was important for us to see them in their own place and meet their new baby girl. Our children looked to them as to older siblings, since they’d often been with us for meals and holidays, and even moved in on the rare occasion when we went away for a few days. After the wonderful time we spent with them and the little redhead girl who was a spitting image of her mother, we kept in touch infrequently, until even that petered away. About 20 years later a gorgeous redhead entered our daughter’s synagogue in Toronto, and my daughter welcomed her and exclaimed “you are the spitting image of —, whom I knew when I was a young girl.” The young woman said: “That was my late mother.”
Crossing over from Gaspesie to New Brunswick we found a lovely beach, which was covered with wild blueberries. We crawled on all fours, picked and ate and filled some pots, and laughed out loud when we saw our faces all smeared in purple. It was good to be able to run to the sea and cool off in the water. Except for my husband who stayed on the beach, since he turns into a fish when he gets into the water. I kid you not, this is what he told the children, and they never were able to push him in to verify or refute his claim. We had dessert, or the makings of dessert, but what about the main meal? No problems. On the way to our campground, we passed a fish canning plant, and stopped to get some fish fresh from the ocean. What they offered intrigued us. They were selling cod tongues or cheeks. I’d heard of this delicacy, but we’d never had it, so we bought a few pounds for our supper. What could go wrong if I made a batter and fried them? Kids will eat anything fried. We tried, but it turned out you have to acquire a taste for this chewy “delicacy”. We ended up at a genuine fish-and-chips place and had ice-cream with blueberries for dessert. I seem to remember this trip for the culinary encounters we experienced. I must be hungry. I’d better stop and prepare supper. Oh, I have some salmon. We are having fish tonight, not with chips, but with leftover rice.
On a more serious note, I’d like to share something I was moved by, and that you may be willing to open your heart to: https://www.pacesconnection.com/g/practicing-resilience/blog/honoring-and-remembering-my-precious-son
And if you are so inclined after you read the note, go to: https://app.mobilecause.com/e/HSZPBQ?vid=jbuss