Small Town

I live in the urban enclave of the Glebe, which means (some) neighbours go out of their way not to say hello. It’s just the nature of the beast, as my late uncle liked to say to describe people. But small towns are different.
We took a trip in time this past weekend. My daughter Rachelle had a hockey game in Smiths Falls, which meant an hour’s drive out of Ottawa. Smiths Falls used to be known for their Hershey’s chocolate factory, but as I now understand it I think they are trying to become a centre for medical marijuana. Good exchange, if you ask me. Chocolate is delicious and popular, which makes it the next sure thing on the do-gooders’ list to be banned. First the boards of education will order it out of schools’ vending machines. Then the provincial governments, never one to be left behind when it comes to banning enjoyable products and activities, will follow suit. The people must be saved from themselves of course.
But I enjoyed my brief stay in Smiths Falls, even if I wasn’t there to pick up a supply of medical marijuana. I don’t need the stuff, at least not yet. I’m not saying it has never been tried. I am a baby boomer after all. But the couple of times I did inhale it only served to make me hungry and dopey, two states of mind I often find myself in with no need of outside help, thank you very much. Oh, and paranoid as well. The last time I smoked I found myself afraid to step out on the dance floor, sure that the bearded guy sitting at the nearest table was hiding a hatchet that he wanted to drive between my shoulder blades.
After dropping Rachelle off at the very impressive new arena I found myself with time to kill, the game not starting for another fifty minutes. Driving into the business section I was confronted with the choice of either Tim Hortons or Burger King. I am partial to burgers and fries, but my wife tells me I should lose at least ten pounds. So of course that made Burger King even more attractive, but I needed a coffee.
The last person who spoke to me in a fast food joint in Ottawa was a panhandler outside the door of the establishment, who greeted me with,”GimmemefivedollarsandI’llleaveyoualone.” Seriously, that’s how he spoke. He was hard to understand, and so I asked him if he would leave me alone for two dollars while forking over a toonie. That was my only human contact in the next twenty minutes except for the placing of my order with a disinterested cashier. But Smiths Falls was an entirely different kettle of fish. The cashier, at least eighty pounds overweight, smiled and made conversation as she took my order. She even referred to me as ‘dear’, a moniker that I haven’t been called since my kindergarten teacher was trying to stop my crying after I accidentally dropped my ice cream cone in the mud. After sitting down by myself with my order, the guy at the next table greeted me with “Two gold”, in reference to the gold medals Canada had won on this day. I don’t usually get this type of friendly conversation even at my own dinner table.
But what really made me relax was the age of most of the patrons. The majority of them looked like they had been in high school during the Diefenbaker administration. An older fellow seated near the front window was looking out when he saw what was obviously an acquaintance step slowly and seemingly painfully out of his car.
“Oh, oh; look who’s coming in. We’re going to learn everything now. What’s his name again ?”
“Earle,” his seatmate reminded him.
“Oh yeah; Earle Burrows.”
Earle was followed into the establishment by a cat, for which Earle politely held the door open. The cat wandered slowly around, nobody paying the least attention. He meandered over to the table by the window, looked up at the old fellow seated there, and jumped right up. With his tail in the air, he circled methodically around the coffee cups.
The old guy had obviously observed a lot of felines throughout his numerous decades. “That cat’s gonna shit,” he declared. Sure enough it happened. Thankfully it didn’t drop in anyone’s coffee.
Uproar. If I thought there had been a lot of conversation previously the noise and animation rose to the level of a high school corridor just before dismissal on a Friday afternoon. Nobody in the room could not have witnessed such an event and not be moved to make some sort of commentary to their seatmate.
Except for one table, I noticed. They were an elderly, obviously old married couple. They just continued to stare glumly, not a word passing between them. Some things never change.

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