Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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"I want to raise them up in benediction, for there is a divine spark in each human moment to be blessed. These are real people I lift up, people who may have gossiped and hated, but have also dreamed and loved. They carry you in their hearts, whether they understand you or not." Rachel Hardy, in A Canoer of Shorelines
I grew up in a small rural community, and yes, we fit the stereotype for curiosity. At the same time, we always have each other's back.
Rachel, in A Canoer of Shorelines, learns through her journal reflections the intimacy and love that define a small community; her counterpart Julie, in the present, is in the process of learning this.
Julie, in the novel, is suspicious of everyone in her new surroundings, imagining that they are slowing down as they pass, evaluating her past, present, and future failures. She dreads leaving the staffroom, sure that the moment the door closes behind her, they will be analyzing her failings. She "knows" that the neighbours will race for the phone to let her landlord know that she has set his lawnmower on fire. The truth is, people are interested: I wonder how she'll manage that big place; will she want help? Does she know the long history of that place? Now she'll remember to check the chaff around the engine; no harm done at least. The judgments are generated in the mind of Julie.
Those of us from small communities are used to the infrastructure. During my travels, a member of an isolated community commented that whenever they saw me out walking, they appreciated the way I waved to everyone. Well, if I went walking along the roads of home and didn't wave, people would probably stop and ask if everything was all right. People care about you, so you wave, and let them know all is good.
Do we watch one another? Definitely! Once, I stopped to visit a friend, and a sudden rain came on. I closed my car door and sprinted the few metres to her door. By the time I reached my friend's kitchen, someone was phoning to tell her that the person in her driveway had left their windows down. I will take that attention any day and thanks!
And then there was the time that I arrived for Christmas, having been unable to do so for years. As my son and I strung lights around the front verandah, a car paused at the end of the driveway. Then the horn was blowing, lights were flicked on and off, and the car moved on. And I felt the joy of knowing that my homecoming was seen and blessed.
A special time involved the installation of the security system. After the installation, I went to town, and returned to discover the alarm had gone off repeatedly. An elder and veteran from World War II had started his car and driven up, fearing that the place was burning. "You should not put yourself in danger like that," I told him. "That is a burglar alarm, and what if you had been hurt?" "Not much danger of that!" he replied. "Everyone else was already there!" Are we curious? Definitely! But it is not an idle curiosity; it is the curiosity of community that looks after its own.
The people of home have guarded my going up and my coming down. They are the ones who know all my story and love me anyway. Yes, I have a little fun sometimes when I write, but anyone who reads it all knows that they are everything to me.
Home can be a physical place or a place tucked deep in the heart. Home is the people who guard your memories.
I cannot describe how moved I was when people of home stepped up to support my writing journey with A Canoer of Shorelines. I tell my stories by fiction, but they are rooted in the world that has been with me from the beginning. And I have discovered that people far away share that world. They have their Meadowbrooks, their Lailas, their aunts like Rachel's aunts.
My next book, The Ice Widow, takes place far from Meadowbrook, and is again fiction. I have tried to work out some things, and fiction is the way I do it.
Some day, though, maybe I will gather the stories that have made me smile all my life, gentle stories of truth and warmth, the precious stories that define my people of home. Blessings, my friends.