September 28, 2007

Memory Lane

Ah, the prairies.

I grew up in the prairies. I loved the prairies. When we moved to Ottawa and people asked me where I was from, I said I was from the prairies. After all, I was. And I was proud of it. I was a prairie kid.

But it has been a long time since I've been back and the north has stolen my heart now.

This past week, I was in Saskatoon for a conference. Although Saskatoon is a prairie city, I don't think I can honestly say that I was "back in the prairies". Being back in the prairies would mean that I would have to walk into and out of a small river valley, skirt some wetlands, smell some crumbled sage, lean into the wind, and lie in a field to take in a sky that can fill my entire field of vision.

Even still, the city was full of things - little things - that brought back some long-lost memories.

Since I was attending the conference on my own dime (one of the not-so-perks of being self-employed), I was lucky that I could stay with friends, Janet and James. I bussed downtown in the morning (when I didn't get a ride with James) and back in the evenings. One warm night, after an interesting bus ride where three of the riders were engaged in a three-way make-out session (no, I'm not kidding), and as I was walking back to Janet and James' house, I heard a sound that I hadn't heard in a long, long time - or had even thought of in a long time - chirping crickets.

A wave of memories hit me as I stopped to listen.

It brought me back to my childhood days in Regina. During the peak of summer, I always found it difficult to fall asleep. It was summer. When bed time came, I was charged-up by the bright summer sun and wound-up by a day full of playing. I would lie in bed, staring at the ceiling.

As I sought slumber, I would look for faces in the shadows across the stucco ceiling. I would toss and turn and try very hard to get comfortable. I even counted sheep, but it never, ever worked. Has counting sheep ever really worked for anyone?

Inevitably, I would tune into the sounds of the chirping crickets outside my window. I was so used to them that, for most of the time, the chirping was nothing more than background noise. It was when I was lying still, with nothing better to do, that I would tune in and let their singing wash over me.

I would picture the cute, little black insects stroking their legs against their bodies, trying to imagine how such a small animal, making such a small gesture, could make such a loud noise.

After a few minutes of listening, it would seem like the sound filled the room - that a thousand decibels of cricket chirping threatened to overwhelm my ear drums.

Someone had told me once that the frequency of the chirping could be used to tell the temperature. First, I would listen for changes in the frequency, picking out one cricket over the songs of an hundred others. Then, I would try to calculate the temperature, using a mathematical equation that I could never really remember. And, somewhere between trying to remember the equation and counting the chirps, I would fall asleep. And I always fell asleep happy.

Walking around downtown Saskatoon brought back some other memories, too. Like the time when my brother's birthday wish was to eat in a fancy restaurant. My Dad had meetings and we were in Saskatoon over my brother's birthday. It seemed like he always had meetings in Saskatoon during his birthday. There was a fancy restaurant in our hotel and my brother got his birthday wish.

At one stage during our multi-course meal, our server brought out the fixings for Caesar salad. He began to make the dressing, right in front of us. Then, he did something that, if he had known my brother, he never would have done. He committed the unthinkable act of adding raw eggs. My brother's face went a peculiar shade of white. He HATES eggs. I once witnessed a most spectacular and prolonged battle between my Grandma and my brother when she once tried to make him eat eggs. Not by a longshot did she win that one.

Back to the restaurant. The eggs were added. The dressing was mixed and the salad was tossed. Because it was his birthday, the waiter handed my brother the salad first. We all watched in anticipation. Would he eat it?

Gamely, he reached for his salad spoon and took a bite.

The verdict was in. It was delicious. My Mum got the recipe from the restaurant and, to this day, it's the dressing that we all look forward to at family gatherings. It was the stuff of family legend. (Mom, if I'm remembering this wrong, I don't want to know how it "actually" happened.)

Going to Saskatoon was like taking a walk down memory lane and, even though I never lived in Saskatoon, I can understand how some people can plant such deep roots where they live. It's not just because that's where their friends and family are; it's because of the memories.


Anonymous said...

Well, you got the parts right about the salad being made at our table in the restaurant and Tim really enjoying it.

Meandering Michael said...

Hrm. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in what once was, rural, Southern Ontario and thus too heard crickets throughout the summer evenings. Since moving to Whitehorse some 10 years ago, I've missed their beautiful song, and until now, almost forgot that crickets existed. Definitely something to be said for hot, humid summer nights - oh how I long for thee.

My wife's parents came from Saskatchewan and now live there again after 25 years in the Yukon. In Herbert, to be exact (about 30 minutes from Swift Current).

We've gone there every autumn for the past few years, missing this year is our first, and I love the experience, especially for kids. Being able to pick apples from trees, dig in the dirt, walk in the fields, drive old machinery around and live a life even slower than that of Whitehorse (believe it or not) is wonderful.

I adore the prairies for all of these reasons, plus a few more, but you get the point..

Oh, and the $2.00 homemade pie with free refills of coffee helps as well.

Anonymous said...

Mom, is that really the recipe you use?