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Vacationing back where I started

Our son was still in day care the first time we drove to New Hampshire, my home state, for a summer vacation on the cheap. Like every day care, Ben’s kept a hamster. Like every preschooler, Ben had a vague grasp of language: he heard what made sense to him, and this didn’t always coincide with what we actually said. He thought we were bound for New Hamster, and New Hamster it has been ever since to my husband and me.

For 17 years we vacationed in New Hamster, drawn by simple but predictable pleasures. Loading up on tax-free jeans and T-shirts at the Mall of New Hampshire. Eating fried chicken on my sister’s screened porch, down the road from our rented cottage on Pierce Lake. Drinking gin and tonics with fresh mint on my mother’s screened porch a little farther afield. Remembering those long-ago summers, I always hear the muffled pock that a porch screen makes when you touch it. I hear the lulling creak of a porch swing. At home in Toronto, people have patios modeled on the ones in home decor magazines (where there’s hardly a porch to be seen). That’s a loss, I think. A porch holds you in the arms of the house, sheltered from rain and mosquitoes, while you listen to the swish of the leaves outside.

After my mother’s death and my sister’s post-divorce move across the country, we gave up the summer drive to New Hampshire. We had more exotic places to go. Travel, to us, meant Europe: vineyards, castles, cobblestoned streets lined with half-timbered houses. It meant dinner at the kind of restaurant where you book at least a month in advance and spend the next six months paying the bill. While touring the smallest distillery in Scotland or the history-drenched cemeteries of Paris, I forgot all about screened porches.

This summer we found ourselves missing New Hamster (and weary of blowing our money in Michelin-starred restaurants).  By the time you read this we’ll be there, visiting my niece and my best friend from high school, whom I haven’t seen in 40 years.Then we move on Boston, the first city in my life, and a favourite hiking spa in the Catskill Mountains. Returning after long absence to the places that have formed you is exotic in its own way: they shimmer with memories and yet they have changed. Will there a screened porch and a tall gin and tonic? I’ll be sure to let you know.

Posted by Rona

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