By K. Taylor, Aurora ON. I have a confession. I’ve lived in Aurora (on and off) for decades. I’ve lived in the south back when it was all new builds; garage after garage. Before the gorgeous trees took hold and it morphed into the leafy, green oasis that it is today. I’ve lived in the old part of town; post war bungalows nuzzled higgledy-piggledy along streets that curl through Aurora like exotic snakes, each one completely different from the last. And I now live in the Bayview-Wellington corridor; a lovely spot where I can walk five minutes in one direction and find myself among the long grasses of the Aurora Community Arboretum that swish and swoosh in the bleak November breeze; or I can walk the other way and meet all the demands of modern life; banking, shopping or lingering delightfully over a steaming tea.
But … as I say … I have a confession – and it ain‘t pretty. Because, as much as I love Aurora; from the turtles that sun themselves along the Nokiidaa Trail in summer to the rows of cheery homes painstakingly strung with festive lights in the depths of winter; I’ve always bought into a city-dwellers view of the suburbs. Now, one might rightly argue that Aurora is not a suburb, it is a town. But humour me please, just for a minute. Because, yes, until very recently (and I’ll get to that soon) I really did buy into the story which those smug city dwellers have spun for us.
I found myself, one recent, rather chilly morning, pushing through the barren tundra that is the parking lot of my local grocery store. The wind slapped my face, picking up steam over nearby scrubland; no towering skyscrapers or historic buildings to halt its icy blast. The glowing grocery sign beckoned like a consumerist beacon, come in, we have EVERYTHING you will need. And they do. And trudging past row after row of silver SUVs; like the rolling waves of a cold and pewter sea; I may have been feeling a tad bit despondent.
“They don’t have to deal with this in the city,” I grumbled to myself; somewhat inaccurately. “There are indoor walking paths and quaint shops that one just ‘pops into.’ There’s the greengrocer you know by name and the butcher who always puts in a bone for the dog.”
Now, I’ve lived in the city, so no need to burst my bubble, I know when I’m romanticizing. But as I crossed that frigid wasteland of a parking lot, I wondered if all those smug city folk were right. There was nobody walking; it was a sea of cars. And the next parking lot over would be the same, and the next. Even on sunnier days the pedestrians could be counted on one hand. And the butcher or greengrocer? Heck if I know. We have convenience and comfort, but what about those other “c” word? Where is the community? Where is our character?
Are they right? I wondered (not for the first time.) These city folk with their frog’s leg-topped waffles (seriously, it’s a thing, I swear); with their public transit and character homes. Because they also seem to have a togetherness that we don’t always get here, a sense of purpose. Living in the ‘burbs is selling out (they sneer, in this little vision I‘ve created.) The ‘burbs are space over style; stuff over substance. Have we sold our souls for free parking and an en-suite bath?
And so I pull up my collar and dart into the big box store; because they do after all, have everything I need in one place. And I buy this argument of mine until I step into the warm, bright store, until I’m greeted by a lovely gush of warm air and there comes to me a memory, sort of like one of those greeters only its all in my head.
It’s a hard fought memory; at first just a tickle, and it has to shimmy and claw its way out from beneath the to-do lists and everyday fretting that generally clutter my mind. But it’s tenacious and it manages to free itself. “Hello,” it says. “Enough with the judging and the self-pity. Don‘t forget about me.”
It’s the memory of the man in the coffee shop; a few weeks ago now. it’s the memory of the most distinguished of gentlemen; seventy at least, with a ruddy complexion and one of those lovely old man noses; bulbous and jolly. He was dressed, as I recall, in a red glitter hat and vest – the kind of gaudy sparkles that make kindergarteners woozy with delight – a real dandy.
Now I should probably mention that it happened to be Halloween; and that there were also a ladybug and bee lined up for their morning nectar – double double. My own friend wore a jaunty fascinator with a spider perched on top that would have done Princess Kate proud. But there was something about that man and his dapper duds.
And I had to acknowledge that bland suburbanites; who only live for carpools and deals on family-sized cereal boxes; don’t do this sort of thing. No one who dresses up as a ladybug or a bee or wears a spider in their hair can be devoid of character – can they? Even if they do drive a silver SUV and have an en-suite.
That character is there, those lovely quirks that make us who we are; they are there, simmering under the surface of us all. And where there is character, surely community must follow?
Yes, I am convinced there is a true community at work here in Aurora, we just have to embrace it a little. Just nuzzle up beside it and cast out a tentative hand, maybe we’ll start with an awkward back pat. Baby steps. The point is that we’re more than a huddle of the empty houses of commuters. We’re no less than a collection of characters; and whether that character shows up in a sparkly tie or just a twinkle in your eye, think of the fun we can have.
And as I stood in the lobby of that grocery store, pulled off my hat and shook the wet – dare I say glittering? – drops of melted snow from my scarf; as I peeled off that protective coat to reveal a cheerful red sweater; I headed into the grocery store for my milk and cat litter; knowing that every one I passed has their own sparkle. And think what a town we can build with that.