Friday, May 13, 2011

Childhood Friends

I have recently reconnected with a couple of my childhood friends. Something about turning 40 has had me traipsing through old decades to see if I could uncover something old that I could make new again. One especially fond memory was of sleeping over at a friend’s house 30 years ago and waking up in the wee hours of the morning to watch a Princess marry her Prince. When our power went out the night before the recent royal wedding, I complained about this on Facebook and that same old friend invited me to watch it at her house. Time passes but our histories stay woven in the fabric of our being.

Although the initial meeting with friends that you haven’t seen for over ten years can be awkward, I have been amazed how quickly a real friendship will resume as though not a single day has passed. If I want to feel nine years old again, I can hang out with my best friend at age nine. I wonder if they are counting the lines under my eyes or the grey hairs on my head or the extra chins that I have acquired. Not in judgment. Only as a way, it seems, of marking the time that has passed. Yet something greater is at work here – the knowledge that we have extended ourselves over the bridges of the years to this place, here and now, still together.

What surprises me most is not only how easily we fall into old comfortable ways with each other but how much of that girl from a few decades ago is still alive and kicking in me. On the outside it seems that I have changed so much, moved so far, evolved into something entirely different but on the inside I’m still that same kid. And that’s a great thing!

Today I went to my favourite take-out restaurant in Ottawa, the Red Apron to pick up their compost and a snack. They specialize in local and organic ingredients (including some of our veggies) and prepare some of the nicest dishes the city has to offer in my opinion. The best part of all, when the timing is right, is that you get to heat it and eat it in your very own home (where hair-washing and fancy dress is optional). Their brownies are simply to die for. The soups are divine. Roasted vegetable burritos, bison and sweet potato pies, and caper and cream cheese coulis that is out of this world.

Anyway, all of their cuttings get bagged and frozen and once a week we load up our van with frozen compost to bring it home to cows, pigs or chickens. Believe it or not, the chickens were the quickest to make the association between the unloading of bags from the trunk and the fact that it is goodie time. To see them running from all around towards the colourful mountain of vegetable matter is a hilarious site to see. They will knock over anything and anyone standing between them and that pile!

When I pulled up to the back door of the restaurant, a new fellow came out from the freezer with his trolley full of bags. He looked confused when he saw me so I told him that I was there to pick up the compost. “You are the one?’ he asked, looking over at my wee economic and environmentally friendly vehicle. ‘You wouldn’t believe how much you can get in this trunk!’ I exclaimed as I pushed aside some barn boot covers, a shovel, and the canning supplies that I had bought that day in town.

The fellow then told me about a girl who wrote a book about raising pigs on foods from dumpsters in the city. I knew he was speaking of Novella Carpenter, the author of the book Farm City that I had read and thoroughly enjoyed. But I did find myself wondering if he thought I was taking my Toyota Yaris to some backyard team of livestock a few streets over (ironically, this was exactly where my bachelor apartment was downtown 8 years ago when I moved to the farm). Nothing wrong with the urban farming scene - it stands to teach us larger-tract-of-land owners a few things about efficient use. I just wonder why I didn't have that 'country' air about me. I took this as a compliment. Always good to keep people guessing.

A few weeks back I encountered my first ‘blonde’ comment in what I would swear to be a decade. I had done something silly to deserve it – that is if you believe all blondes to be lacking in intelligence. Further back still I attended a lecture where the speaker outlined his disdain for the youth of today. He called them lazy and without direction among other things. When I asked a question after his talk and he repeated what I had said as something to do with someone from ‘that age group’, I found myself wondering if he thought me belonging to the youth category. Again, a great compliment embedded sneakily in an insult.

What I find so delicious about these experiences is that even though I sometimes feel so deeply tired, and jaded, and dirty, dirty, dirty under the fingernails, people still see that girl from ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago. She was blonde, naïve, with less dirt worked into the wrinkles on her hands. But someone, somewhere still sees her. So she must still be there.

Our childhood friends have the ability to lure out the young souls we once were. Yet I have been blessed with the realization that the girl I was is only ever an arms length away. I can find her in the trunk of my car with decomposing vegetables. I can find her in a dumb blonde joke. Or when someone overlooks the potential in the young minds of today as they complain about the damage they are bound to do with our future. Flip the coin and you see a different side.

Who knew that any little slight or error in judgment could bring me back to that place, cozy and warm under a blanket, watching a Princess marry a Prince as the sun comes up on the horizon? I can’t say I wanted to be that Princess, but I surely didn’t know then I’d end up here. But this is my dream. I wasn’t meant to live in a palace. Instead I live in a kingdom of funny, bobbing chickens and eager cows, giggling children, a patient, loving husband and naughty dogs.

I’ve taken that little girl along with me and she is still only ever an arm’s length away. Have you visited your childhood friends lately?

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