One summer evening when I was 15 years old, I was hitching to Wasaga Beach. As I was walking down the main street of Stayner towards the Hwy. 26 cutoff, I came across a kid about my age strumming a guitar on his front lawn. I stopped to listen.
A while later, his mother Peggy came outside and offered us tea. We sat around and talked, drank tea and traded a few tunes until it was pretty late. Peggy offered up the couch in their living room for the night. I gratefully accepted. That couch ended up being not just a bed, but my refuge, a second home and a place to land for more than 30 years.
Countless times, I’d arrive late at night and let myself in, to be wakened by the sounds (and smells) of Peggy cooking me up a real country-style breakfast. She made sure I never went hungry. Sunday evening meals were rituals where the good food was equaled only by the discussion, banter and storytelling around the table.
One thing that continued to amaze me for those many years was just what an event my arrival seemed to be for Peggy. It has to be one of the greatest compliments you can get that a person lights up when you come in the door. Peggy always treated me like a son come home for the holidays. There was never any doubt I was always well and truly welcome in that home at any time. Her famously grumpy husband, Lloyd, treated me with a kind of gentle regard he didn’t often bless his own children with.
It was a gift in my life to have a place where unconditional acceptance was the norm. My own family, while loving, had expectation levels it was often hard to meet. It was an enormous relief to land in a place where just being yourself, if only for a while, was always good enough.