Somewhat of a Memoir, FOUR: Toronto

TORONTO is a funny place. People try harder to look more relaxed whereas in Montreal there is a general air of laid-back attitude naturally without putting too much effort in. The second-hand stores in Montreal are legitimately resources for those looking to get rid of old, and stock up on new-to-you clothing whereas in Toronto the second-hand stores are boutique-ish and trendy. Where in MTL shopping refurbished is a life-hack, in TO it is a lifestyle. On the streets of High Park where I visit my godparents every Easter, in these little shops you can find marked-up used clothing rebranded as “vintage” and there is an attempt at a high-low vibe, selling used boots and decades-past dresses next to new, designer jewelry and accessories from local artists. Toronto was the first and last place I heard the term “upcycle”.

As cemented in fact and history as it is that Montreal will and always be significantly superior to Toronto, The 6 still has a beloved spot in my heart. My yearly trip to the Tdot with my siblings and significant others is the one and only family tradition that has survived my mother’s death and subsequent (yet long time coming) collapse of my familial unit. Easter during my graduating year of high school would be the last we would spend together in Toronto with my parents until we would continue the tradition the next year just us kids. My mother had recurring symptoms of her diagnosis from nearly five years prior and had known something was wrong. It wasn’t until we took the train back there in June to settle her will that she would look me in the eyes and tell me that she was going to die.

My mum was a tough lady. Her motherly instincts were strong in wanting to protect her children but she could also shock you so much with her bluntness that it left you speechless. Since passing the ten year anniversary of her death, the more unpleasant memories of her are surfacing and it has put me in this weird state of grief where I wonder where I would be and if I would have maybe avoided some of my struggles had she still been around but also how much better I would be coping without her had she been a different type of mother. She believed that most all of the time your own company was far better than that of anyone else’s, that saying no was the most powerful two letters a woman could learn, and had a general apathetic attitude towards rules, social norms, structure, and authority. She hated competitive sports because she wanted everyone to go home a winner.

My yearly trip back to Toronto is like visiting the emotional bank. My godparents have hosted us every year since I can remember and they have a trust fund worth of memories for me, (to my dismay, some of it is even videotaped,) which they tell like scrupulous spenders, wanting to make the most impact out of their shares. They have treated the situation of me longing for a mum long gone and looking for pieces to hold onto with the care and diligence of a large sum of investments, and as I go about my daily life when my emotional wallet is looking sparse, I have no hesitations reaching out and making a withdrawal to help me through my difficult day, week, or month. I have the freedom with them of being as fragile as the stock market and knowing that I can’t do well in every way, at every time, yet I know they are there to help me focus my energy in life on what is most profitable and of least risk as would a seasoned financial expert. I look forward to this trip every Spring. This weekend is the most time I get with my family all year.

Family is a strange thing. They are likely to be what has shaped you into who you are, whether vowing to be just like or even the complete opposite of something you saw growing up. My mum was a big believer that family is the people you choose and not necessarily those you were born into and I have to agree with this to a certain extent. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, invitation or even a phone call but always remember where you came from.

There’s not too much and sometimes even is too little you can say about family until someone gets offended. All I know that I am able to say with complete confidence is take care of those that take care of you, even if that isn’t a blood relative. Make sure you pay attention to, and make a point of paying back and/or paying forward, or simply being explicitly grateful for the time, effort, support, and thoughts that are put into you. Likewise, be mindful of intention because those that provide some or even all of these things are sometimes not the healthiest for us, can be just as negative experiences and influences or even not the ones who are there to answer a call when we really need it. For me, this one weekend a year in Toronto is precious and dear to me and the memories we make will forever fill a part of me that longs to keep family close enough.

The weekend together brings up all kinds of interesting emotions. Some traditions have held strong like egg painting and a chocolate hunt, other traditions have faded such as “mad money” where prepubescent kids were given forty dollars and told to go nuts and was often spent at the Roncesvalles used book and music store to buy CDs such as the way out of my nine year old demographic Monica’s record The Boy Is Mine and new traditions have emerged such as taking home at least one new book either from my godparents’ personal library or one of the three thriving book stores within a ten block radius of their beautiful home every year.

My godparents have absolutely mastered the art of collecting. They have one of the most interesting book selections, wonderful pieces of art hanging on almost every foot of every wall, and the most Easter Bunnies I have ever seen emerge for the season in one home. They have raised at least seven cats that I know of, currently the owners and parents to Lola and Simon, yet have never had any children of their own. When we are there we eat like royalty, drink in abundance, (sparkling water for me,) and laugh generously. They have managed to collect not just physical things but thriving relationships in each other and their friends, memories of trips and travels, and stories and experiences from local excursions. The pair of them are by far some of my favourite people on this planet.

You don’t get that way by accident. It takes constant devotion to pour yourself so lovingly into someone else and with such care in everything you do. To this day, as I near my twenty-ninth birthday, I still receive birthday and Christmas gifts carefully wrapped in the colourfully dyed paper towel used to dry off the eggs we paint at Easter that my godmother dutifully saves all year for such occasions. I have learned from them about love and endearment just as much as the value of sarcasm and unheeding to their totally contrasting Type A and B personality fits. They have this practice of being a couple down to an art and are some of the most doting hosts I have ever had the pleasure of being welcomed to. They are a prime example of the types of relationships you can build with love and nurturing and I both admire and envy them for the positive connections they have cultivated throughout their lives. These associations are rich (from what I have observed) and though they may live in the self-righteous, wannabe hub of Canada, they have managed to find the absolute gems there and I can only hope for myself and for everyone that you find those key players who bring you a bountiful of good in your lives. I really think that’s the least we can hope for anyone.

In Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please she talks about the importance of having people in your life who knew you way back when. I know for me one of the biggest comforts of having friends and family from my youth means that I can share in my memory of my mum with them, and that they will always have an understanding of her humour that I will never have to explain. They understand and will accept you more than anyone who is already set in their ways as an adult, from my personal experience, and you will have so much shared experience that really does create the foundation and basis of a strong relationship. When we are given the freedom to opt out of things that maybe don’t feel like they are for us right at the beginning we don’t give relationships the chance to develop and I am forever, eternally, and abundantly grateful for those who were stuck and put up with me in school and know me from way back then and also those who I have managed to collect and hold on to over the years.

xxo,

Ashlinn

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