A small-town vacation

BNSF 5307,EMDX 9006.
BNSF 5307,EMDX 9006. (Photo credit: therailroadrooster)

My father moved from Toronto last year to an Ontario town that’s become popular with retirees, with elegant, early brick buildings, a river, a few good restaurants and three bookstores. Not bad for a place with 16,500 people.

— I visit one of the bookstores, buy a paperback and introduce myself to the manager. “You’re the second author we’ve had today,” he says. The first? Alice Munro. That’s like strolling into a music shop and being told that Beethoven stopped in a while before you did.

— There’s a line-up at the chips fan, selling Extreme Fries. Dad and I order the sweet potato ones and eat them, gooey with ketchup. A million calories, but so good.

— It’s dusk here at 9:30, so that’s when the drive-in starts its first show. It’s out, of course, on Theatre Rd., surrounded by fields. There’s a little booth at the entrance with a stern warning, “This is not a campground.”

We pay $20 for our two tickets, tune our car radio to 92.3 and pick a spot with a good view. Little kids in pajamas settle into the cars and trucks around us. We watch Men in Black III. Dad falls asleep. It starts to rain, so I have to use the windshield wipers to watch the movie.

— We walk to the corner deli for lunch. There are all my Canadian favorites — smoked meat and butter tarts and Smarties — for sale. Yay!

— His next-door neighbor keeps bringing us wonderful food: a cooked salmon, chocolate croissants, muffins. She’s 89 and a Buddhist.

— There are two sets of train tracks, one for the CP rail freight train and one for the VIA/CN line that carries passengers. The station, built in 1865, is brightly painted inside and lovingly restored to period condition. I take my husband Jose and we wait until the turquoise VIA train stops, pulls down its metal stairs, and he climbs up with all his bags. This sort of rail-side parting, the holidaying wife left behind, the husband heading back to his work in another country, feels somehow timeless.

The lady in her cap and uniform pulls up the stairs. I try not to cry and wave him off.

The freight train is miles long, laden with metal containers from all over the world. What’s in them? As it pulls past us, which seems to take a deliciously long time, I wave to the conductor. You have to wave to the conductor, no matter how old you are. (You can’t wave to a jet pilot mid-flight, after all.)

I wave to salute him and all the men (and women) across the centuries who’ve done this essential work. The train still brings us salamis and shoes and computers and new cars, chugging across the landscape from some distant port, from a ship that brought them to us from somewhere far across an ocean.

It’s magic.

At night, the train whistles pierce the darkness, echoing through the trees.

28 thoughts on “A small-town vacation

  1. Oh how many times I’ve been here at the “rail-side parting, the holidaying wife left behind, the husband heading back to his work in another country, feels somehow timeless.” Love this line!

    My favorite related moment was meeting my husband in Paris… given cryptic directions…coming from two different countries we actually encountered each other walking from separate directions, toting luggage to the hotel. Timing is everything. I love your descriptions!

  2. Don

    That’s exactly how I felt as I read your post – a feeling of magic. Drive-ins, the train, the conductor awakened so many memories. I must say tuning in our car radios would have been like going to Mars. We had the speaker, which so many accidently drove off with. Thanks for a wonderful post.

  3. Jose R. Lopez

    I really loved this post my dear and I am so happy that we are married. Full of details, color, sounds, etc. I can papa asleep in the front seat! Talk soon.–“The Sweetie”

  4. This post is a great reminder of simple pleasures, and also the fact that we not need to go to exotic locales for vacation. In fact, the idea of vacation seems sillier to me as I grow older and more satisfied with my work and domestic life. There is plenty to enjoy all around us, daily, and I don’t feel the need to escape. In fact, I worry more if I leave. Who will tend the gardens? Will be chickens be ok? Will the vacation destination and travel be more hassle and cost than it’s worth?

    1. I still long for exotic locales as well, but know when I am too tired and worn out to deal with all that excitement and adventure. I really enjoyed getting to know my Dad’s town and look forward to more of it. I may go back later this summer and house-sit for him.

      My next two week are also in a quiet place and I can hardly wait to….sleep, read, swim, ride my bike. Simple indeed.

  5. That was a brilliant read! I wish I was coming to the US for a year (or 6), not just a month. Way too much to experience, and horribly little time to experience it all in.

  6. Lovely story Caitlin. I’m actually in a small town I visit all the time that’s full of nostalgia, although a completely different kind of nostalgia.

  7. I got goose bumps reading that. Simple things like eating chips with your Dad, sharing food and oh, trains, wonderful. Great big metal power houses which strangely are one of the most romantic things on the planet (coupled with stepping on a ferry to a small island). Lovely.

  8. Glad you enjoyed it….stepping onto a ferry to a small island…so true!! We married last Sept. on an island in the Toronto harbor (went over by water taxi) and it only added to the magic.

  9. jorgeherreraca

    What town us that? I live in Burlington, ON and I’d love to take my wife on a weekend date to walk around and see a movie at the drive in. Sounds very very romantic.

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