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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Checking Out The Neighborhood

August 15, 1991

It's been a year since we moved into Whitehorse and people are still asking, "How do you like living in town?"  When I tell them that I love it, many of them get a cynical look, a sort of I-think-thou-dost- protest-too-much expression and peer deep into my baby-blues, seeking pain and suffering. Confronted by the intense inspection, I gaze back guilelessly, wide-open eyes watering with the effort of conveying the sincerity of the declaration.  Satisfied, my interrogators turn away with a look of compassion and say, sotto voice, to their companions, "Did you see those tears?  She's in denial, poor thing, eating her heart out."

Why would they think that?  Have you ever known me to be anything less than completely candid?  Ask me anything and I'll tell you.  Shoot, somedays, you don't even have to ask.  My life history, what I ate for brekkie, what stage I'm at in my physiological aging, my political affiliations, my measurements...well, maybe not my hip measurement but other than that, my life's an open book.  So why would I lie about how much I like being in town?

Funny, isn't it?  Most people get a faraway look in their eye when you talk about gettin' out of town, goin' to the country. They begin ima- gining the cool and green of a river filled with finny things, and birds twittering, and a fresh breeze sighing through the whispering pines - a Lake Isle of Innesfree kind of place, where "peace comes dropping slow."

Friends, I've had all that.  For 45 years, I had that until I was almost smothered by the peace that dropped slow but tended to pile up until I could hardly see over the top.  Yes, I loved Johnson's Crossing and yes, I loved being able to step off my back stoop and be in the bush and yes, I even loved that, in the winter, we could be all by ourselves for days on end without another person around. 

Of course, after more than 35 years of constant, under-the-foot togetherness, sometimes Phil and I didn't have a whole lot to say to each other, either, and that business of not having another person to talk to for days on end could get to be a bit of a drag. 

But though I loved it and our summer busy-ness and truly, never found it lonesome or a burden, I was glad to come to town.  I like all the activity of it: our neighbours walking around and chatting; the kids roller blading or riding their bikes.  As I hup-tup-thrup my way around the sub-division, checking out the latest developments and testing the sidewalks and gutters, following drainage ditches to their conclusions, I like being able to stop and visit with my fellow hup-tuppers.  I like being able to go shopping without having to be thinking two weeks ahead.  And I especially like that I can go to a show, or the Art Center, or to visit my Ma or the grandkiddies, just on the spur of the moment, little or no planning required.

There are other pleasures, as well. 

The sight of gutters on both side of our street, for instance, running full after a heavy rain, never fails to delight me.  Sounds silly?  Maybe so but to this old gal who couldn't seem to outgrow the fun of making rivers during spring run-off, every downpour encourages more complex feats of engineering, utilizing stones, branches and other bits of flotsam and jetsam that have washed down the concrete ditches.

Lawns and flower beds invite inspection at every turn and in Granger, all the new houses need to be assessed for unique construction, for compatibility of siding and trim, for ornamentation of decks and/or balconies.  One house on Taber has received so much attention from me that the people living on that crescent have set up a neighbourhood watch to report on my activity in the area.  "Hey Harry, there's that big broad again, the one with the grungy Reeboks and the baggy blue jeans.  Yuh, she's just standing there at the end of your driveway with her mouth open, saliva drippin' offa her chin, just like yester- day and the day before."  It's a gorgeous house, folks.  Makes me feel good just to look at it.

 And there's the Klondike and all the misty memories she evokes, and the controversial Visitor Center with its interesting and unique "roll your own" theme and the incomparable slide presentation that makes one proud and happy to be a Yukoner.  There's the great hiking trail along the roiling, grey-green river and if you're feeling truly adventurous, you can buy a ticket to ride on the good ship 'Youcon Kat', with Cap- tain Red at the helm, beyond Whistle Bend and back.   

Of course, all this loveliness is somewhat tempered by an aura of..

je ne sais pas.. not danger, exactly, but of the unease that is generated by being a stranger in a land that is not quite strange but certainly not as familiar as my old stomping grounds. 

And Phil worries about me being out at night and my penchant for talking to anyone who'll listen, especially since the attack on a Porter Creek woman a week or so ago.  "Although," he adds, "anyone who starts up with you would probably get exactly what he deserves." 

"Hello there," I'd say.  "Nice night, isn't it?  Might rain of course but what the heck, after all this sunshine, we could use a bit of moisture, I suffer from the heat, you know, I think it has something to do with the hot flashes I've been getting.  You want what?  Oh, my wallet?  What a coincidence, my son, Keeley - a big boy with long brown hair, you might have seen him around? - said the same thing this morning while I was eating the leftover tuna casserole for breakfast, wishes he could have mine instead of his because mine is fuller... Have you been drinking?  I don't think it's a good idea to be out on the street in your condition. And speaking of streets, did you happen to notice the house back there, the one that's going up right on the corner?  I don't care much for that porch thing they've added, do you?... Whoops, steady, you almost knocked me over... Good thing I've got such a broad base, we'd both have been down when you lunged like that.  Well, I've gotta be on my way, get in another kilometer or two, it helps me with the dieting, I've lost nearly 20 pounds, you know... Whoops, there you go again, you've got a good grip but you'd better  hang onto this lamp post, it'll support you better than my shoulder... Sorry, I'd like to stay and chat but I must go. Take care.  Hup-tup, hup-tup, hup-tup....." 

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