I have traveled a lot in my life. Some might say I was chasing my elusive dreams. I have moved from place to place many times. I was born in the City of St. Catharines in Ontario, Canada. It’s a large city known for many things by the locals but not so much by those afar. Perhaps it is because it is so close to Niagara Falls which tends to steal the proverbial limelight
The Family Farm
My first move was as a new born baby, home to the family home, also new, on a small farm about five miles outside the city limits. My dad had read a book titled Five Acres and Independence during his time in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II and he purchased about twelve acres of good farmland shortly after the war. It was to provide stability and security for his young wife and future family. It was for independence.
The farm produced many things. It had a cow or two. A horse to pull the plow, later replaced by a tractor. Ducks. Chickens. Pigs at one point. Even rabbits, chinchillas, and earthworms. Pears. Apples. Plums. Peaches. Raspberries. Strawberries. Goose Berries. Black Berries. Elderberries. And currents. Asparagas. Squash… oh, yes, lots of squash. And don’t forget the radishes!
There were three houses on the property when my dad bought it. A barn. A chicken coup. A pig pen and some other out buildings. The main house included a small country store, auto garage (later to be converted into a wrought iron railing metal shop), with two gas pumps outside. The land became home to my maternal grandparents and great grandmother, my paternal grandmother, my mother and father, and in turn the three Henry children, Sheila Marie, Stephen Baker, and Jennifer Louise.
Over the years it was also temporary home, and sometimes refuge, to a mixed lot of aunts, uncles, cousins, and various societal outcasts. Shortly before I was born my father built a new home on a knoll at the edge of the small ravine that dog-legged across the property. My parents and older sister lived in the basement while my dad built the house, board by board, brick by brick, shingle by shingle, above them. On arrival from the hospital I was moved into the as yet unfinished second floor bathroom which I vacated for a room of my own when plumbing and fixtures were finally added about a year later.
The house remained under construction for most of my childhood and I remember my dad coming home from work (the farm made money but not enough to live on) to spend his evenings insulating, paneling, painting, and wall papering. Laying floor tiles, I think, was of greatest interest to me. I helped. I learned how to spread glue for the tiles, and all about nails with the head on the wrong end. Later in life, when I had to tackle small home repairs or additions, from electrical wiring to plumbing, I seemed to know how to do things I had no idea where I had learned. Thank you, dad.
From before my time there, up until the year before my father’s death when I was in my teens, the farm was home to many side businesses as well. Besides livestock and crops raised for our consumption and sale at the farmers’ market, there was the country general store and gas station, the metal forge, the roofing business, the green houses (I would take my own stab at running those one day), the Christmas tree business, Rockhaven Rockshop, and the Antique business. I guess I came by my entrepreneurial interests legitimately.
My Elusive Dreams
I also came by the desire to move, to not stay too long in any one place, just as naturally. By the time I was seven we had already moved from the farm to two other cities and back again. Later, when I left the farm with my new bride to start another business (I had already had several of my own) in a new city, it would only be for a short stay. In our first ten years of marriage we moved eleven different times. Today I am in my seventeenth residence. I have been here now for fourteen years, my longest stay in any one place. Oh, and don’t think my wife wasn’t a willing party to this lifestyle. After our separation and divorce, while I was settling here, she moved another half-dozen or so times!
I don’t regret a single move. We did and saw so much. Experienced more. And I know I learned more than a dozen formal educations might have provided. Charlie Rich puts a more poignant spin on it than reality may have delivered, but I certainly was chasing my elusive dreams. I still am. And I hope I always will.