Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Je me souviens

Every time I visit Toronto, my city of origin, it is always an adventure to discover what type of vehicle the rental car company has set aside for me. This weekend, I touched down on the red-eye to find a perky white Chrysler PT Cruiser waiting for me in the lot.

It is a nice machine to boot around town in. It's spacious enough to fit all my luggage in the back compartment with room to spare. But there is something unique and special about this particular vehicle that I just happened to be assigned. It has a license plate from the province of Québec.

Québec is the primarily French-speaking area of Canada, a neighbor to the east of Ontario. It has a unique culture that renders it quite unlike any other province in this country. The license plates on their cars have a slogan on them that epitomizes the French Canadians' dedication to their history. It reads "Je me souviens."

Literally, this phrase means "I remember myself." But figuratively, it means "I remember my history. I remember my past."

This statement, adorning the plates on my vehicle for the week, rings true for me as well.

I have returned to my hometown for a birthday celebration for my father, his 60th. I write this entry while sitting in the same computer room I used to sit in while chatting with my BBS friends in 1991 - back when the Internet was something only a select few had even heard of. Since my arrival, I have bought groceries at the store I used to shop at when I was in high school. And I have driven the same route downtown that I used to take to my first full-time job.

Je me souviens. I remember my history.

The real Cadbury chocolate. Hockey Night in Canada. Tim Horton's. Peameal bacon. Bad drivers. And the cold - oh, the cold ! My first step outside, and it steals the very breath from me. I am a prisoner to its inescapable wrath. No layer of clothing is impermeable to the bitter wind, pushing with all its force, mercilessly biting into every inch of uncovered skin.

Living in California for the past five years, the memories and sensations of this place have inevitaly faded. But every time I step off that plane, and into the world I once called home, they come rushing back with feverish enthusiasm.

Life here marches on in this place, as it does everywhere else.

New stores and plazas have gone up in droves since I've been gone. The once-unassuming mall down the street has been transformed into an upscale shopping mecca. The area around the northern office of my previous company has been completely built up, with numerous restaurants, stores and donut shops surrounding it.

My relatives and friends are still the same great people I remember, but each is little different. Some have gotten older, others have become healthier. There are a few new young additions, and those that have been around for a while have become taller, smarter and more talkative. Life is growing and evolving all around me.

I remember my past.

I remember my youth in the suburbs of the east end of the city. I remember the disastrous move to a podunk north-town that was quickly undone by a second move a year and a half later. I remember the tumultuous times of high school and college, and the various people that shuffled in and out of my life in that time. I remember the growing pains, the interpersonal conflicts, and the long days and nights of studying, partying, chatting online, discovering the Internet, and selling computers to help pay for my college residence fees. I remember striking it out on my own for the first time, getting my first real job, buying my first set of business clothes, buying my first house.

Life marches on.

Since my relocation to Silicon Valley, the business clothes are ancient history; much too big for my current figure, and no longer needed for the casual attire that is customary at my current job. My old house is still in the family - first purchased from me by my parents when I relocated, and now recently sold to my youngest sister and her new husband. I barely recognize it for all they have done to it. Even so, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

My parents have put their house up for sale. They don't need all this space for just the two of them. Their house, in which I sit at this moment, has been the cornerstone of our family for years; the place where everyone lands when Sunday lunch time comes around. Life won't be the same without it. But the memories will always be there, for as long as we care to reflect on them.

I remember my history.

The snowflakes have started to fall, gently and delicately, onto every outdoor surface. The dusting of snow on the houses, the cars and the naked trees is breathtakingly beautiful. I can only look out this window in awe at nature's handiwork.

I don't miss the cold. I don't miss the roads rendered treacherous by snow, sleet and ice. I don't miss being forced indoors by the unrelenting chill. But this scene outside my window, right now, gives me a sense of peace. It is familiar. It is a part of me. It is my roots. No matter where I travel, no matter where I end up, it will remain with me forever.

Je me souviens.


Blogger James said...

I love this post. Well done, my friend!

November 30, 2005 at 12:23:00 AM PST  

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