A Place to Call Home

Our fam­ily came to­gether by leav­ing the world be­hind

The Walrus - - CON­TENTS - by Ian Brown

A Place to Call Home Our fam­ily came to­gether by leav­ing the world be­hind

The white cot­tage at the mouth of the Go Home River was the first sum­mer place I ever rented on Geor­gian Bay. I was in my early for­ties, the break­ing point in a man’s life, and the cot­tage sat­is­fied sev­eral re­quire­ments: it was spare, beau­ti­ful, and on a lively and change­able body of wa­ter. The bay re­minded me of the At­lantic shore on Cape Ann, north of Bos­ton, where I grew up with my broth­ers and sis­ters. It was also se­cluded: the only way to get to the cot­tage was a two-and-a-half-hour drive fol­lowed by a se­ri­ous forty-minute boat ride over open wa­ter. My wife and I had a young fam­ily and felt like we had found our place, a place just for us and for any­one who wanted to be with us. And while it was re­mote, and far away from doc­tors, which we, strictly speak­ing, ought to have been closer to, es­pe­cially af­ter Walker came along — he had been born dis­abled with a shock­ingly rare ge­netic syn­drome that had turned our lives in­side out—it was also a place where Walker could be who he was, free from the stares and ex­pec­ta­tions of oth­ers. As could the rest of us. The light and the wind seemed to change my son, calm him down, and also in­spire my daugh­ter. Hay­ley made bead cur­tains and read to her­self and to us, and she learned to swim. (I have a pic­ture of that mo­ment in my bed­room. It’s my favourite of all I own: Hay­ley stand­ing to her waist in the wa­ter, hands on her hips, her ela­tion ex­pand­ing as she re­al­izes what she has just ac­com­plished. My wife says it is an image she wants to keep in her mind when it is her time to leave the world.) Hay­ley and I also did a lot of paint­ing, if you could call it that, out on the flat gran­ite Cana­dian Shield slabs that tum­bled down from the white cot­tage to the wa­ter: we’d sit on the point with our wa­ter­colours, with Walker in his trav­el­ling crib, and we’d sketch and swim, sketch and swim. It makes me cry to re­mem­ber it — not be­cause that time is gone but be­cause we ex­pe­ri­enced its as­ton­ish­ing peace and pri­vacy and plea­sure to­gether, full of hope. It was also the last place we va­ca­tioned be­fore I took on a brace of full-time jobs at the CBC and the Globe and Mail to make more money, be­fore the world con­sumed us. In 1998, the first sum­mer we rented the cot­tage, Hay­ley was five and Walker was two. That was the year a de­vel­op­men­tal pe­di­a­tri­cian re­vealed how de­layed Walker ac­tu­ally was. He told us Walker would never read or drive a car. Then he asked if I had any ques­tions. I replied by ex­plain­ing how Walker changed when we went up there to the is­land, how he seemed to lift his head to­ward the light and the breeze in the west and set­tle. I asked if I would ever be able to ex­plain to Walker how much that place meant to me. “Not ra­tio­nally, no,” the doc­tor replied. “But it sounds as if he al­ready un­der­stands it any­way, in his be­ing. You know what the Buddhists say: get out of the way of your own mind. In that way, Walker’s miles ahead of all of us.” It was also at the white cot­tage on the is­land, amid all that beauty and na­ture and still­ness, that Hay­ley and I first forged our re­la­tion­ship, our close­ness. I think of the is­land and the cot­tage and the sleep­ing cab­ins and the wa­ter and the bent trees and the rocks, all of it, as this in­cred­i­bly deep and mean­ing­ful place be­cause of her, full of all the grace of the world. Ev­ery­thing was an ad­ven­ture: the blueberry pick­ing, the pos­si­bil­ity of snakes, the bears, the slith­ery cold of the wa­ter. I could think about all that for­ever. It still calms me down when I do.

Ian Brown is the au­thor of The Boy in the Moon: A Fa­ther’s Search for his Dis­abled Son. His por­trait and re­lated es­say ac­com­pany the ex­hi­bi­tion Peo­ple and Place by John Hart­man, which opened on Novem­ber 8 at Ni­cholas Me­tivier Gallery in Toronto.

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