By: Stewart Jeans
My parents, Pam and Thom Reavie, moved our family from Toronto to Burford in the spring of 1969. To be honest, I wasn’t happy about it, but eight year olds don’t get a vote. The house on Maple Ave. South was a bleak light grey colour. The constant stream of big trucks pulling into the Co-op and fertilizer plant scared me. And the bannister going up the stairs was wobbly, just waiting to give way as soon as I leaned against it. On top of all of this, I had left my friends and my school behind. I was all alone. Well, except for my three brothers who were all in the same boat.
Of course, it didn’t take long to start making friends, find my footing at school, and learn my way around the village. The old grandstand at the fairgrounds was a great place to play with new friends. Parents found jobs and the family found its new rhythm.
Now it’s the fall of 2020. The house is light blue with white trim. The buildings are still there with new businesses, but the Co-op and fertilizer plant are gone. Even the train tracks that ran by the house are gone. The bannister is still wobbly, still waiting for its chance to get me. There’s a pool by the garage that many of you will be familiar with because that’s where mom taught either you or your children how to swim. And after fifty-one years, mom has decided to sell the house and move into Brantford.
I’ve come home to Burford for a week to help mom get ready for the move, start getting the house ready for sale, and to say goodbye. It’s been a strange and emotional week. I got to visit with my two dearest friends from high school, the years evaporating as we talked until we were teenagers again. Organizing household items becomes a drawn out affair as every item I pick up evokes memories that have to be examined and embraced. Being referred to as “Pam’s boy, Stew” by people I run into on the street makes me laugh. No matter how old I get or what I do in life, in Burford I will always be Pam’s boy, Stew, and that’s just fine with me.
I have often wondered over the years what the community was like now. Was it anything like when I was a kid? During the past few days I’ve seen, happily, that at its core it’s still the same. As mom’s health and eyesight have begun to decline, people around town have stepped up to help: a long-time neighbour from across the street checks in on the cats; a pair of sisters from the church deliver the most delicious food, including squares and pies, for mom so that she rarely has to prepare food for herself; the man who cuts mom’s grass and just generally keeps an eye on her; the woman who comes by a few days a week to help with laundry and groceries and whatever else mom needs. Even though some people are paid, no one is doing it for the money or praise or thanks. They do it because someone in their community needed help, and they stepped in to offer that help. They do it because it’s the right thing to do. That, to me, is the heart of Burford.
On my last night in town, I go for a long walk to check out old haunts and maybe run into old friends. There’s my high school, now an elementary school. The arena where I was lucky enough to work for a man I loved and respected. The fairgrounds which, sadly, will be quiet this Thanksgiving. Of course many of the stores from my childhood are gone now. No more Dot and Dave’s, or Sprowl’s, or even the Burford Bakery. But new stores are in the old buildings, the fabric of the town changing but not changing, if that makes sense.
The weight of memories and seeing the village for maybe the last time was making me a bit sad. And then I met the most wonderful couple! I was heading down Maple Avenue and they were working in their front garden, just behind the stone dinosaur that has made me smile for years. We said hi to each other, as we do in Burford. That hello quickly turned into a longer conversation about mom, the history of their house, and living in a small town. Their quick smiles and easy laughter buoyed my spirits. This chance meeting also served to remind me that Burford is not made up of buildings and stores. It’s made up of people. Good people, people who stop working to talk to a stranger. That is Burford. The people of this town helped shape me into the man I’ve become. The values I have, my work ethic, my moral compass, were all formed and shaped, at least early on, by the people of this town. There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I’m that child. I am Burford.
Finally, a word to any of the young people who may be reading this, because it’s you that has inspired me to write this article. When I see you around town, talking in groups on the corners, driving endlessly up and down the same streets, I see myself and my friends a long time ago. I know from experience that growing up in a small town can sometimes suck. There’s often not much to do, and jobs can be hard to come by. Borrowing the family car to head into town on date night is kind of cool though, right? But beyond these things is a fantastic community of people. You won’t find that everywhere. I urge you to embrace that community, to leap into it. Learn everything you can from those around you – a skill, a hobby, history. You might be surprised by how much most people will share. Embrace your friendships and strive to make more. And if you do eventually move away, take Burford with you. It might not seem like it right now, but Burford is a pretty good place to grow up. Take it from Pam’s boy, Stew. I wouldn’t have grown up anywhere else.
By: Stewart Jeans