My Childhood Home

On a whirlwind of a trip, I spent two nights and one day in Toronto last weekend, though that only begins to describe how strange of a trip it was for me. I can’t remember having ever flown into Toronto before. My family always drives because our trip across the border is actually just a shopping trip for Canadian apparel and food. I have never declined the chance to see a Jays game either and did so this time only because I had seen them a week before. Strangest of all, though, was entering Canadian not as a citizen but instead with an American passport.

As far as logistics go, that doesn’t change much. Instead of filling out how long I was out of the country (3 years, I think?), I wrote in how long I would be visiting for. Instead of the immigration officer asking me what I was doing out of the country, I was asked what I was doing in the country. And maybe one might guess that I was born in Toronto because my reason for visiting was “family,” but that really doesn’t come up in idle conversation either. For all intents and purposes, I traveled as an American.

Many of my classmates and friends are likely offended by this portrayal. You say “bathroom,” I say “washroom.” You lost at hockey in the last Olympics, I won. By now, however, I know far more about being American than being Canadian. When I went to dinner with my cousins, they asked me a variety of questions about American life, like “Is marching band really like the movie ‘Drumline’?” or “How do you like the imperial system?”. A daily email with headlines from the Toronto Star remains my last connection to Canadian culture, which I generally don’t understand. As a case in point, when I was at Chapters, I was looking around for a quick book on Canadian history. If it hasn’t happened already, someone needs to write a book for emigrated Canadians who want to reclaim some heritage without really putting any effort into it.

I have accepted the fact that I’m more American at this point than Canadian. The label “Texan” doesn’t seem as offensive as it one did, and although I maintain that Houston is not an exciting place, I don’t think I would be honest to myself or fair to reject that bit. Country music is not intrinsically bad, “y’all” is actually a useful phrase, and conservative values actually do have some basis in thought. And although I’ll still listen to Ben Folds while working, point out that “you guys are dumb,” and remain the equally stubborn liberal I am, the stereotypical Texan has grown on me, which is a great lead-in for all the cultures in-between, both ideologically and geographically.

My memory of Toronto is somewhat foggy. I remember a few landmarks here and there, but renovations mean that even most of those are gone. As I was riding around in the car looking eagerly out the window for any remnants of what I knew, I concluded that I pretty much don’t know my hometown anymore. Driven around for a minute, I probably couldn’t tell you whether I was in Toronto or Vancouver, knowing the city to be Canadian only because of the French under all of the English. One truly doesn’t pay attention to directions or locations until driving, but I would hope to at least recognize what I call home a little better.

That afternoon, I walked the 5 minutes down to Hollywood Public School where I went to school for junior kindergarten and 3rd grade. I couldn’t wait to see the vast fields I ran around on, the towering walls for huge wallball games, and the hill we would sled down. As you might expect from any visit to a childhood memory, however, it wasn’t that. The field might have stretched 2 soccer fields. I was amazed that we ever crowded 15 people around that wall. And I bounded the hill in 4 steps. Sledding backwards perhaps wasn’t as hazardous as I had thought.

The obvious change is that I’m physically bigger than I was, surprised as you might be from my last post. To be less prosaic, though, the world was a lot bigger back then than it is now. When I had only lived in one city and only gone on a few, isolated road trips, my world was only a few suburbs in the Toronto metropolitan area, and my playground was that around the school, which possessed a disproportionate amount of my mental map and even more of my memories.

I agonized awhile ago about where I would tell people I’m from, and the answer is far trickier than it would seem. To add to the confusion, when I have been traveling away from school, the Bay Area is my default response since that is where I spend most of my time nowadays. And to layer on the difficulty now is what nationality I am. It frankly doesn’t seem fair to say “Canadian” anymore as I whip out my American passport and clearly have dated memories about what Canada is. And the stickers on my computer and preference for sports teams don’t quite scream red, white, and blue with bald eagles soaring through the sky, either. It frankly doesn’t matter, though, as those sorts of questions are no more than conversation starters anyways. I can’t answer any of those sorts of questions entirely honestly, but come story time on that, at least I have it all straight in my head.

PS: Hey drawmates, I’m not full of crap when I say “washroom.” Here’s my proof that I actually went to Toronto

Missing Canada

Without an NHL team in town and little natural climatic inclination towards it, hockey rarely comes on TV around here. So when I arrived home to see my sister watching the Stanley Cup finals between the Ducks and Senators, I tuned in.
Honestly, hockey never overtook baseball as my favorite sport. In the 9 years I lived in Canada, I never once attended a live hockey game, and I probably watched fewer games on TV than the number of times I’ve been thankful for having Holycross as a teacher. Even so, the sport has grown on me. Maybe the sport truly is in my blood. Or maybe some part of me is trying too hard to be more Canadian than I am.
For the game itself, the skill of the players shocked me. I had never realized the players’ skating ability, or the dexterity and game sense to work their sticks.
But that wasn’t the cool part about watching the game. Set at Scotiabank Place (wiki-assist), the boards were filled with advertisements for Canadian companies, which my sister and I nostalgically pointed out during the game.
In many ways, Canada isn’t so different from the US. Most of western culture can be considered one, except for low-quality Canadian TV. And for all of the claimed differences, it’s not major shock to move between the two countries.
Regardless, I felt comforted looking at the Canadian ads and thinking about all that. It feels like home. When it comes to home, the details matter. Safeway or Loblaws? Krispy Kreme or Tim Hortons? Zellers or Target? Home isn’t where the heart is; home is where the past is.