I must have been carb-deprived. Or hormonal. There’s no other logical explanation why the sight of a bottle of maple syrup would move me to tears, in the middle of Marshall’s in the middle of Texas. But there it was, a tiny 250ml bottle sitting on the shelf, (we’d call that an “individual portion” in Quebec) with an itty-bitty label that read North Hatley. A flood of childhood memories came flooding back of summers on the lake, working at the antique shop, poutine at Jay’s. It was where my kids went to school when we first moved back to Canada – the same school their grandparents had attended. It’s where I did groceries on foot, and then regretted it as soon as I started walking back up the hill with my pregnant belly. It was about the closest thing to home that I could touch – and the nostalgia was overwhelming.
Then I got a bit Robert Frost-y and wondered whose woods the syrup came from. Surely, I’d know the family – there’s only about 600 people who live in North Hatley. Then I wondered how on earth this tiny bundle of yumminess got all the way to Texas. And that’s when the tears came – how did I, a somewhat larger bundle of yumminess, get to Texas? What was a Canadian doing so far from home?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not unhappy in Texas, in spite of being so far from maple trees. As a child, I loved all things cowboy and rhinestone, and actually longed for Tanya Tucker and Glenn Campbell to be my godparents! Two of my siblings attended college in Texas, so I’d visited and loved it here. And when we moved here 5 years ago, we were surrounded by southern hospitality and our entire family has been warmly welcomed into our community. We feel at home here now. But somehow, that small sticker with the name of a familiar village on it, reminded me of where I come from. And it warmed my heart in a happy-sad sort of way – happy for all the fond memories it evoked, but sad for all the things I miss.
I think that’s one of the hardest parts of trying to settle into somewhere new. You can’t really tell your friends back home that you’re loving your new life, for fear of hurting their feelings….like you’ve moved on to bigger and better things. And you can’t really tell your new friends all the things you miss about home, because you don’t want them to think you don’t appreciate them. I worry that if I lament about the things I miss, it would imply that their hometown is inadequate for me.
I’m usually able to manage my mixed emotions: I find joy in where I am, while being grateful for where I’ve been. But then the tiniest thing can totter my tight-rope walk – and being thrown off balance is disorienting. As I put the maple syrup in my shopping cart, and dabbed my eyes, I got to thinking where the hell is home for me?
Is it my childhood home where I biked the dirt road to my grandmother’s house on Swede Road, passing the sawmill that still had the Knutsonville sign? I know I belonged there. Or was it Singapore, where my Malay neighbors welcomed me like royalty to their wedding, or my Chinese neighbors who made sure we never spent Chinese New Year alone, or our Indian neighbors who kept bringing out freshly made chapatti as I scarfed it down. I know I was welcomed there. Or was it Montreal, full of language diversity, intense debates (arguments!) with friends over dinner and wine, my very own flower garden, coffee in the front yard as neighbors would stop by to chat. I know I thrived there. Or is it Texas, where I have been brought “backstage” at a rodeo, invited to church by total strangers, welcomed on camping trips, had friends rally around our family during tough times. I know I am loved here.
And maybe that’s just what home is: to belong, to be welcomed, to thrive, to be loved.
Home is a moving target. It’s wherever we are as a family. It’s wherever we find kindred spirits amidst different languages, different cultures, different religions. I have learned to look for the things I have in common with those around me, even though the differences can be glaring at times. We are all so much more similar than we realize at first. And slowly in each of our international moves, I have found tiny bits of common ground to build a foundation that becomes home, a place where I belong, am welcomed, thrive and am loved.
And my Costco sells family size portions of maple syrup, so I think I’ll be okay.