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Recollections from a small childhood village

The crossroads of Kintore was the nearest settlement where I grew up. A tiny village of a few dozen people. One of many interchangeable dots decorating the agricultural grid of southern Ontario. Flat cornfields lay in all directions under a wide blue sky, interspersed with pastures for dairy cattle. If you dropped a marble in the middle of the intersection it wouldn’t roll anywhere.

If someone asked where you were from, it was polite to start with a larger town or city first. This was done in order to save the gentle embarrassment of a fellow Ontarian not knowing the name of your particular hamlet. “Near London” you’d say. This was met with either a vague “Oh yes right” indicating that was specific enough, or an eager nod and listing of nearby towns. “Thorndale?” “Yes yes” “Oh well actually Kintore” “Right! Just down from Uniondale.” We’d smile, content with our shared geographical culture, such as it was.

Though we lived on a gravel road a few miles away, I spent a lot of time in Kintore at my friend Kevin’s house. My parents would drop me off on their way to work, or pick me up on the way home after teaching night classes.

Kevin and I would go to the corner store after school, split a banana popsicle, then wander back to his house a mile down the road. To the west of town a cemetery was populated with rose quartz headstones and the deceased residents of previous generations. We would creep through the rows, finding the family names of our schoolmates or silently reading the birth and death dates of children gone a century earlier. “Dorothy Peterson, 1895-1902”. We’d imagine the little girl below our feet. They’d just dig a hole and drop you in there and you’d never go anywhere again.

To the east of town was an even older cemetery, but the rock on those headstones had crumbled and you couldn’t read them, except perhaps to make out a date from the early 1800s. We pondered why a town with so few people had two full cemeteries to its name.

In the winter we liked to entertain ourselves by throwing snowballs at the transport trucks on the highway in front of Kevin’s house. We’d miss or score unnoticed hits on the big trailers. Once I nailed a car with an icy snowball on a cold night. It screeched to a halt as we crouched in the ditch, me holding my breath with the hot-eared knowledge that I’d done something Very Bad. He drove on without incident a minute later. “Don’t tell my Mom,” Kevin said in a whisper as we accepted the reprieve and scampered down the driveway to the warmth of the living room and the hockey game that was always on.

The elementary school was on the road south, the church on the road north. Everyone seemed to go to church except our family. It made an alluring but faintly sinister impression on me that I didn’t know how to articulate at the time. None of the kids in my class seemed to enjoy it, and they all had to go to extra school on Sundays.

We’d play British Bulldog every recess and lunch hour, with elaborate rules and modifications that made the simple game of tag endlessly compelling. Once in a while there would be a fight, but all the biggest boys were gentle farm kids and lacked any sort of mean streak.

We had a québécoise French teacher join the school when we were in grade three. She was aghast at our lack of fluency and quickly devolved to playing us old episodes of Téléfrançais. She was very lonely and would often cry quietly while we did our work or watched the television. I didn’t know how to comfort her except to try my best in class.

Once each spring the old janitor at the school would get out an enormous two-storey ladder and creakily climb to the roof of the gym. We’d all gather around shouting while he collected all the balls that had ended up there over the year. He’d laugh and boot them as far as he could out onto the playing field as we screamed and ran after them. Each one a vaguely remembered comet returning to our orbit. One year he slipped off that ladder on the way down and shattered his hip and femur. He walked with a limp after that.

The summers were lazy and slow. Roadside stands sold corn and peaches so good you’d look forward to them all year. We’d play baseball in the long evenings and then get ice cream at the store before driving home. I got one home run in my little league career, twisting my tiny frame to unleash as much fury as I could with my ridiculously oversized bat and finally making that sweet connection that launched it far into the outfield. Kevin hit a homer every other game, but he still made a big deal of mine after I rounded the bases.

After grade eight half of the class went to high school in St. Marys and the other half to Ingersoll. Kevin was on the Ingersoll side. I never saw him again after that final summer, though we still lived just a few miles apart.

Eventually my family moved away from the area. I’ve never been back since, but the place is still there deep in me. My earliest remembered impressions of this good Earth.