For over 35 years B and I have shared many wonderful journeys together. It’s not that we are perfectly matched, for B is the consummate perfectionist (blow drying her hair before a bike ride) and me so fragmented from my childhood that I do well to brush my teeth.
But she is a driving force in my life and recently drew me back to revisit my birthplace in the prairie farmlands around Winnipeg Manitoba. Even though my parents have passed, my brothers don’t speak and there truly isn’t a reason for me to return, this beautiful and mystical friend holds my hand and helps me reframe my childhood.
This trip felt different from the start. In the past, I would become anxiety ridden just knowing I was returning, and as the date got closer I would begin to feel nausea, and endure deep sadness about the breaks in my family, it was an all too predictable pattern. But this time I was not submerged in this, but experienced an acceptance about the whole circumstance, and a new sense of joy about the entire adventure.
From the moment she picked me up, B and I began to plan how we might explore and enjoy our time together, and perhaps it was no surprise that we chose to start our journey with poutine in the French neighbourhood of St. Boniface. The next day we headed north for a bike ride through King’s Park, a reflecting moment walking the labyrinth at the site honouring ‘Carol Shields’ and ending at the magical ruins of the Abby of Our Lady of the Prairies in St Norbert. Saturday was also the incredibly popular St Norbert Market day. The abundance of local fresh food inspired a desire in me to create a fall harvest basket for a family member. So, basket in hand we motored off to Steinbach for a visit with family and to deposit my fall gift!!
Taking Highway 59 to Highway 52 we passed the family farm, the farm that requires a novel of its own – a place where the story of our family has unfolded and continues to unfold generation after generation. Turning left off the ‘52’ towards the Klippensteins and then the Hieberts we passed the Randolph Chortitzer Mennonite Church. Wikipedia says it was one of the first Mennonite churches built in Western Canada (1876). The starkness, the simplicity, the whiteness evoke memories of my being woken on Sunday mornings, spit polished and showing our Sunday best at this place of reverence, looking so sane, but in fact feeling very far from it. As no musical instruments were ever allowed, the services seemed to go on endlessly with the minister delivering his Sunday message, accompanied by the token song leaders (only ever men, one of which was my dad) known in Low German as “Fe senje”.
The adventure continued with a return to the Neufeld garage, the anchor of the community where we picked up our mail, had our trucks repaired and purchased our treats, and a social check-in point with other farm families in the community. A caring local had clearly taken the time to acknowledge the garage and my two-room schoolhouse with plaques marking their location and their years. The day was completed by a visit with family in Steinbach and the enjoyment of my traditional meal of choice – Verenki with Schmaunt fat and Foarmawurst!
Summers in Manitoba are all about the lake – a jaunt to Nutimik Lake in the Whiteshell Provincial Park brought back all the quintessential memories of lonely fishermen sitting on rock outcroppings hoping to snag a pickerel, with boaters busily cruising up and down to their favourite fishing holes.
With our journey coming to a close, we chose a day of cycling and exploring the expansive space of Bird’s Hill Provincial Park. For the first time I was a tourist in the land of my childhood. It felt like a healing, for in this journey home I had become a delighted explorer in a place that had brought a lot of pain, and I had finally found a peace and joy in my birthplace.
Journeys are what life is made of, and B was much more than just a lifelong friend. She was a guide to my healing!