Old Friends…

Map of Toronto
TO, or Tronna, as natives are wont to call it...now known as the GTA.Image via Wikipedia

Sat on the park bench like bookends.

So goes the gorgeous 1968 song by Simon and Garfunkel.

In Toronto for a week, I’m basking in my past, catching up with men and women who have known me since I was thin(ner!) and bouncing off the walls with ambition (still am) and had not yet been married or divorced.

I left Toronto in 1986 for Montreal, New Hampshire and New York, where I’ve lived ever since. I go back two to six times a year to catch up with old colleagues and friends like:

Vicki, who I met in Grade Four, whose backyard contains what’s left of Pickles, my late hamster

Joe, my dreamy crush in high school, all blond bangs and deep blue eyes

Sally, (who shared my deep crush on Joe), my best pal from high school, at whose lakeside house I’m writing this from, and with whom I re-connected at our 1995, 20-year reunion

Marcia, who met me when I was afire, even at 20, with journalistic ambition: she was the head of public relations for the National Ballet of Canada and (yes) got me a part as a walk-on in Sleeping Beauty. I did all eight performances at Lincoln Center, with Nureyev on-stage as the Prince. It made a great story, especially when I came on-stage about 20 bars too soon on opening night!

Peter, an architect with whom I fell madly in love on a Cartagena rooftop when we were both there on holiday in our 20s. He’s gay, so we became, and have remained, dear friends

Stephen, who desperately wanted to marry me when I was 26, and lived with me ages 22-25, but married someone else instead and is now divorced and a PI living in the countryside. It was great to catch up on all those lost decades

Ken, my former squash partner from University of Toronto, now a lawyer and newly, at midlife, a Dad and husband

I’ve also loved physically passing by my past…

the streetcar rumbling past Maclean-Hunter, the downtown magazine publisher for whom I started my writing career, while still an undergraduate, for a magazine called Miss Chatelaine (hence the kd lang song title!)…the Chinatown restaurant where my Dad made a film in the 1960s…my old apartment building a block from campus, and a block from my Granny’s old apartment building.

And, while Toronto is a city of 3 million or so, the degrees of separation are few:

My sister-in-law — in her early 30s — met Stephen at my U of T Malled event and knew him from rally car racing.

A man I met for a business lunch has a former philosophy professor of mine as his father-in-law

The photographer who took my photo for a story by Canadian Press works with my sweetie on freelance stories for The New York Times

What’s it like now when you visit your hometown?

Did you leave it?

16 thoughts on “Old Friends…

  1. I left my hometown when I was 18 for another country, didn’t go back for almost 10 years, and here I am, incidentally, on a week’s visit (2nd in 6 months) while reading this post 🙂

    Everything has changed. But not that much. I notice things I’ve never noticed before. A lot is simultaneously familiar and strange to me, like I am looking at it all with my schoolgirl eyes (when I lived here) and my almost-foreigner eyes of the present, at the same time. I’ve changed a lot as a person, but some of the things at the core remain the same. It is certainly interesting going through each day, filtering all of these things in my head.

    I think you have planted a seed for a blog post 🙂

    1. See? Same wavelength — even separated by a gazillion miles. 🙂

      It’s odd, isn’t it? I consider Toronto my emotional home (ages 5 to 30, all my schooling) and NY my professional one, where I have really realized some of my fondest dreams (book-writing, some national prominence, re-inventing myself on a larger, tougher stage.)

      I am really happy that my old friends still reach out and want to be friends; NYC is very difficult in this respect, which is why TO remains home in a profound way. But, having gone through the endless dramas of 3 recessions in the US in 20 years, plus NYC work challenges, has toughened and hardened me. I think and behave quite differently from my friends who’ve had terrific careers, uninterrupted, by never leaving Toronto behind.

      I miss my Canadian social capital! Only now, after 20 years in NY, am I starting to see that I have some there as well. The big difference I see between Toronto and NY is that there is very little movement in the TO job scene, and connections are everything….in NY, people come and go and you can cold-call strangers and they are fine with it.

      1. I have to say there is little I miss about the motherland.. largely because the friends I had here are mostly everywhere else in the world as well, so it’s only family here for me. That aspect, I suppose, tends to make the whole deja vu experience even stronger, as family is your living history in a lot of ways.

        I’ve never lived in a truly worldly city, and I can’t imagine anyone in the motherland or present city of residence being fine with cold calling. That’s mad!

  2. Charlene is a friend of mine and led me here. Great story, fascinating to me as it is reading about another life I do not know. I grew up on a farm, went to school in a small town with 9 people in our class. I left when I was 21 and I have never been back and I have no contact with any old friends. I presently live as a nomad, looking back at it now I have been rootless for quite a while it appears.

    1. Interesting…

      I am not sure how often I would have returned to Toronto had it not been: 1) close (a 90 minute flight or 8 hr drive); 2) where my Dad lived until last year 3) the center of Canadian publishing so I can write off these trips against my taxes as well.

      NY has sometimes felt overwhelming to me, so returning to the love and support of friends who “knew me when” has bolstered me when I needed it most.

      1. I have travelled quite a lot and find how people have grown up and live around the world very fascinating. I have a good friend in Thailand who grew up in a Karen village, poor, no running water, no electricty. He now has a masters in English and communication from Bangkok Uni and it is almost mindblowing to hear of his upbringing and life.

        I hear you on the “knew me when” feeling but growing up in such a small town, we had to go to a new school at a larger city after grade 7 and then again after grade 9 etc. so we were all split up and friendships just faded out.

      2. It must be an interesting life to be such a nomad. I have lived in five countries and six cities/towns…only in NY and Toronto did I make lasting ties….not in Montreal, London (as a small child) or Paris (on a fellowship). That makes a difference in how I feel about returning.

  3. I grew up in Camden, New Jersey which is one of the worst cities for crime in the US. I left for good when I went to grad school and have lived about a half-dozen places since. I used to go back fairly often to visit my folks, but since they passed away my trips back have been pretty rare and I have little sense of nostalgia for it — I wish I had more.

    1. Might be tough to get misty-eyed for Camden.

      I am lucky that I enjoy getting back to Toronto and so many of my friends are still here. Without that, there would be no attraction.

  4. I don’t have a hometown…wherever my parents happen to be living is referred to as “home.” But the place that honestly made me feel obnoxiously happy being there was London when my family lived there in the UK. I’m thrilled to be going back and dragging J. all over it.

    But I have people all over the place. And even if they’ve never met, I’m constantly amazed at few degrees of separation there are between them! I’ve lived all over, how do my friends from various locations all know the same people?!

    1. I suspect our circles are often much smaller and tighter than we think….you and J are academics and from an academic family. My sweetie is a career journo from Santa Fe, NM and I from Toronto….and we know tons of people in common (even before we spent 11 yrs together) thanks to our decades in the same industry.

  5. I am from St.Andrews and LOVE to go back (even although I don’t play golf!) but I also feel deeply attached to a remote area in NE Scotland (Easter Ross) and the amazing thing is I discovered an old tomb there quite by chance and in it lay one of my ancestors from the 15th century! I have no idea why I was drawn to the ruin in which I found the tomb (it’s ultra remote) but I truly believe it’s more than just a coincidence. Roots definitely pull on you from the past and make you feel a certain way about a geographical area, for sure.

    1. That is soooo cool!

      It was very neat when my Dad and I went to Rathmullan, Co. Donegal to see my great grandfather’s house and the one room schoolhouse where he taught. Despite the name Kelly, I have never felt terribly Irish — but they do share, as a nation, three of my favorite activities: drinking, conversation and story-telling. It was funny to see our surname on stores and trucks everywhere.

  6. It’s strange to hear people waxing lyrical about home towns, I have several. London, where I went to school, though my friends have all moved away, it was a boarding school. Nottingham, where my family are, though I have never really lived there. Where I am now, in the south west of the UK, where I married and have settled after years in the Air Force. I have a place in France that I’m building, we have new friends and a new language there, so I suppose for me, its mostly where I am at any given moment. I am still nomadic. I don’t think of anywhere in particular as a place I’m going home to, they all are “home” when I’m there.

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