Visiting my In-Laws is an ordeal. It's not because they're evil (they aren't) or they don't enjoy visitors (they do), but because it's a long, long drive to the little mining town 30 minutes north of Sudbury that they call home. The degree of difficulty is increased since we typically make this trip during the treachous Winter months only.
A good trip is several hours of travelling with only the occasional snowflake making it's way across old highway 69 enroute from Georgian Bay. A not-so-good trip is significantly more than several hours on the road with white-knuckle whiteouts randomized between Barrie and Anywhere North. This year's Family Day weekend excursion was (mercifully) under the watchful eye of St. Christopher, and our only problems were the usual Toronto traffic snarls that kick-off any long weekend.
While I do my usual grousing about making this trip, I'm increasingly aware that this is a respite from the rest of the World. Their little town of 1,200 souls - many of them retired miners - is the stuff of which NFB documentaries are made. There is a sense of community (and community involvement) that seems to revolve around 2 churches, the hockey rink, and a 3-sheet curling rink. Throw in a bank branch, a post office, a beer store, and a couple of variety-come-hardware-come-grocery stores - and it's a wonder that Stuart MacLean hasn't brought his schtick to town.
It's a place removed from the typical frenetic, self-important drumbeat that seems to govern too much of my professional and personal life 'down South'. Everyone takes you at face value. No matter what you look like, how you dress, what hobbies fill your time, what you do for a living - you're accepted with common courtesy. Not that it's particular to small, northern villages, but I like that way of looking at things.
When Winter weather keeps us inside during our visits, it's okay by me. There's a small, little-used room in my In-Law's basement. It's got a gas fireplace that heats the tiny space too much by a half. There's a misshapen sofa laden with expansive homemade afghans sporting godawful colours and patterns. There's a rocking chair tucked into the corner if you need to get away from the heat. The wall-shelfs sag under the weight of a lifetime's treasures: old hockey trophies, old pictures, Peanuts paperbacks, even a few 8-tracks of old-style country tunes. There's the TV - willing to play any old movie that bests fits your mood. And there's the sound of my father-in-law padding down the hall with a couple of beers or maybe a few glasses of Scotch to share. By any measure, it's a cocoon against anything, anywhere, anyone else.
When Winter weather lets us outside, that's okay, too. Snowy walks are surrounded by valley slopes filled with grey-tinged evergreens. There's real sliding to be enjoyed at the abandoned ski hill a few blocks away (although you can shorten the walk to 3 minutes if you cut through a few neighbour yards - they don't mind). If the place is empty, you're always welcome to throw a few rocks over at the curling rink. If you're so inclined to sit through a church service, there's pretty decent coffee and treats in the basement afterwards. Sometimes, someone might loan you a spare snowmobile for a few hours.
It's age that makes me consider these things, I think. Everyone is getting older and these respites, this cocoon, will fade away in time. So I'll just appreciate them a little more while it's all perfect.