My friends thought I was crazy when I moved back to my grandparents' old house in a small town as soon as I retired. I’d spent my working life in Toronto and they said I would get tired of small town life very quickly. And it’s true; I miss the social life and the variety of everything from shops to concerts. But what I found were memories and tantalizing glimpses of a way of life I had forgotten, along with the warm familiarity of people you actually know.
I’d forgotten the importance of a name, for one thing. Not that it’s important any longer, but growing up my family name – Watson - was a name to be reckoned with in Ellersville. My grandfather, Theodore Watson, was mayor for 23 years. His wife Elizabeth, my grandmother, was a pillar of the United Church, the Canada Day fair, the Christmas hamper drive and anything else that needed a pillar.
My mother, born Alice Watson, had married Elmer Boychuk. I was in high school before I understood that it mattered that I was kin to the Watsons but my actual last name – Boychuk - was something to be ignored. When I was 16 my father died. Promptly mother changed her name, and mine, back to Watson. My memory of my father is of a small, rather weary-looking man. Looking back now I wonder if perhaps he was exhausted by the strain of continually trying to live up to the honour of being married to Mayor Watson’s only daughter.
I remember realizing when I was quite small that Grandpa Watson was two people. In his corduroy pants and plaid shirt with bird seed in the pocket he was one person. In his three piece suit and gold watch and chain he was someone else. Plaid shirt grandpa was Horsie who crawled the floor with me on his back urging him on. Gold chain grandpa was Sir, not spoken to unless he had spoken to me first.
Grandma Watson was only one person, whether she wore her flowered house dress or her new hat and her best pearls. She was Mrs Mayor Watson and no one but her husband called her by her first name. She set the standard in town. As summer approached nobody wore summer dresses and white shoes until she did. If she frowned at a child his mother knew instantly that her parenting strategies were too lenient.
I have to smile at the memory now – it was all so long ago – a different time, and it seems a world away, although now I’m back living in Grandma and Grandpa’s old house on Main Street. My own grandsons would never be able to understand the respect accorded to my grandparents. They don’t understand why I left the city.
Ellersville is no place to live, they say, and it’s true. It’s not really a town any more because most of the young folk have moved away to make a better life for themselves, my own kids included. They see this house as old fashioned, inconvenient, drafty. They don’t feel the memories.