Finding touchpoints in times of transition
Today I drove to Steinbach, Manitoba, for the first time in over two years. I had a dentist appointment, and since they were loyal enough to invite me to come back, I drove the one-hour distance from Winnipeg. It was good for me to get out of the city, to feel the effect of leaving and coming back to Winnipeg, if only for a day.
Steinbach felt suspiciously familiar, untouched by the pandemic except for the occasional mask. After the dentist I went to my favourite shoe store and picked out runners and sandals, supported by the art of an old-school knowledgable salesperson. Two senior Hutterite women in traditional dress convinced me to choose the fluorescent orange runners over the light blue ones, and so I did.
“They will see you coming for miles!” said the older one. We all laughed.
Then I drove north to Ste. Anne to try on clothes that a seamstress and friend were making. Like most places, I made a couple good friends in the year that I lived in Ste. Anne’s. After I tried on the shirt-dresses we drank coffee in her backyard. Somehow this casual encounter made it feel like the pandemic was over. I wanted to stop by the house where I rented a basement suite but I didn’t want to be a bother, pandemic and all. Funny, how the brain negotiates unknown pandemic protocols.
I was surprised by the comfort of the town. The unchanged-ness. The way I mindlessly drove right past my old street as I always did, questioning the legitimacy of u-turns as I backtracked to the first street after the church, which lit up the town with a chorus of bells at noon. I followed the route where I got my bike legs ready for Florida commuting. I passed the gym, the rink where I skated for free on Sundays, the place I got my nails done and the ‘Cordon Bleu’ Cafe (actually threatened by the Cordon Bleu institute in France) where our newly formed Creative Connections group met on Friday nights. I passed the police station and thought, “Oh yes, that’s where I got the protection order,” a seemingly benign memory that symbolized my reason for being in Ste. Anne in the first place. I was in hiding.
The last time I left Ste. Anne, I was leaving for Florida. I had every reason to leave. I was renting a basement suite, looking for more rewarding work. I endured a year of harassment that was emotionally and financially draining. I needed that chapter behind me in the worst way and Florida, of all places, offered a respite, a call to work and the invitation of purpose back into my life. This was also when I bought the house that I am in now, a Winnipeg staple that I knew would be safe haven if Florida went south … which, we now know it did. A year later, I lost my job due to the pandemic and found myself U-Hauling it back to the empty house that I had never lived in before.
There was a quilt that followed me through this journey. I started it in Niverville (another rural town) in 2018, before I escaped. Of all the things I insist on moving from place to place, my long-arm quilting machine always makes the cut. The quilt pattern reminded me of a basket weave and the prints had an Oriental appeal, and so for the topstitching I drew inspiration from sashiko, a Japanese embroidery style. I free-handed the circular design over the panels, doodling with thread one slow block at a time as the quilt weight shifted over the table. I didn’t finish the quilt in Niverville, and it took me a full year to pull it out again in Ste. Anne. Then in Florida. Then, finally in Winnipeg, each time trying to invoke muscle memory to repeat the circular patterns. Each time, interrupted by a move. That’s how this quilt got her name, “Summer, interrupted.”
We need our touchpoints, the common threads that pull us through the absurdity of what life offers. I find this through craft, through every sewing space that has offered tranquility in trying times. I also find it in the stability of Manitoba, a place with so many places that feel the same through the passing of time … “Friendly Manitoba,” as the license plates say. I’m excited to return one day, to experience non-pandemic Winnipeg and live hard in this city of art, accessible concerts and food. While my summer will be interrupted once again by another move, it is with an awareness that there is a home to come back to, a safe place in Canada that welcomes me without judgment as I slide in and out.
The “Summer, interrupted” quilt, now complete, will remind me of my ability to return to who I am and where I need to be. There is tradition and stability within me, a calling to home no matter how far I wander out.