The garage door doesn’t look like this anymore, and neither do my sister (left) and me. (Family photo)

The garage door doesn’t look like this anymore, and neither do my sister (left) and me. (Family photo)

Sarah Simpson Column: Home is where you know your neighbours

My mom has lived at that address for 43 years.

You’d think after doing 186 of these columns that I’d just sit down at the computer and start writing and 900 words later I’d file it, get up, and carry on with my life. The truth is, sometimes I agonize over what to write. Today is one of those days. That’s why I’ve just spent roughly 67 words telling you I haven’t yet decided what to write. (833 words to go!)

Given the whole pandemic situation, I haven’t left Vancouver Island for more than a year but it is coming up on roughly a year ago when my mom came over to pick up my kids to take them to her house on the mainland for a weekend visit. That turned out to be the last weekend before the world as we knew it shut down.

Ever since the children’s return, FaceTime has been the main mode of communication between my family and my sister and mom’s families on the other side of the Strait of Georgia. It’s become such a commonplace thing, now, to have Auntie or Gram propped up in the corner while we go about our day. Likewise for them to have us on the counter while they make dinner or whatnot. I’m grateful for the technology and how much it has evolved over the last 15 years. I remember the early days of MSN messenger and trying to chat with my young nephew and it was always a crap shoot as to whether or not it would work at all.

Anyway, the other day I was talking to my mom as she cleaned out her two-car garage. The big garage door was wide open and the sunshine was beaming in and lighting her rosy cheeks beautifully as she puttered about.

My mom has lived at that address for 43 years. Her garage contains a lot of stuff.

Back in the day, when I was a tween or young teen, the garage wasn’t nearly as full. I used to go into it and hit a tennis ball against the inside of the closed garage door, pretending I was the world’s best player. I’ve never actually learned how to play tennis properly, I just liked the idea of it. (My mom hated it, though, because hearing a tennis ball hit the hollow door over and over again wasn’t the most pleasant sound to endure.)

After I practiced my backhands and forehands and whatnot, I always interviewed myself in my own head. I asked myself questions like “So Sarah, could you tell the crowd how you got to be such a phenomenal tennis player? What is your secret?”

And, of course, I’d answer, too.

“Well, it takes a lot of practice and mental toughness,” I’d say, and then decide it wasn’t a good enough answer.

Because I was the interviewer AND the one being interviewed, nobody minded that I changed my answer, so I’d say, “I was born with a natural gift, and over the years I’ve worked to really give that gift the opportunity to shine…” or something like that. I did that all the time, have post workout interviews, with my own self playing the role of athlete and reporter.

Little did I know that my first real job out of journalism school would be as a sports reporter. All that time I thought I was going to be an athlete — and I was for a long time — but it turns out that I was a reporter all along, I just didn’t know it yet!

Anyway, I was chatting with my mom while she worked in the garage and all those memories flooded back. It had been a long time. But something kept happening while we chatted that gave me pause. Every now and then somebody would walk by and my mom would stop what she was doing and talk to them from the relative COVID-19 safety of her garage.

“I’m just talking to my daughter and granddaughter on FaceTime. They’re on the Island,” I’d overhead her tell the passerby. “Yes, yes, I know. FaceTime is all we have these days.”

“Who was that?” I’d ask when she retuned to the screen.

She’d reply that it was so-and-so from down the street where an (insert an old neighbour’s name that I’d remember) used to live. Two or three neighbours passed by on their walks, each time stopping and having essentially the same conversation with my mom.

Each time I’d ask who it was only to be told it was a neighbour that I’ve never met.

I’d lived in that house for 17 years. I spent my entire childhood there. I knew all the neighbours and they knew me. I knew every crack in the street from our days of racing go-karts. I knew exactly how many steps it took to walk to my elementary school around the corner. At least, I used to.

It got me thinking about home. About all the neighbours I knew there and that I know now in my neighbourhood in Duncan. The new ones I’ve slowly gotten to know since we’ve lived in our current house.

Yes, I haven’t been to my hometown on the mainland in more than a year. But truth be told, I’ve actually been home all along.

(And no I didn’t quite hit 900 words, but that’s what this sentence is for!)

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