Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why I Love Being a PFA - Our 2009 Trip to Canada

That's what islanders call folks who live there part-time, are seasonal or frequent visitors. It means you aren't a born and bred islander. The island I'm talking about of course, is Prince Edward Island, or PEI, Canada. Eh? In case you are stumped, a PFA is a "person from away". Okay, eh?

I love my life on the island and wish it lasted longer than just a couple of weeks a year. But with only two weeks vacation a year, sneaking extra time to escape to the farm can get tricky. Add two full days of travel (each way)and time on PEI becomes more and more precious. Tack on time spent cleaning, fixing, trimming and fuming over plumbing, and hours spent biking, sunning, eating ice cream and watching lobster boats becomes more than just precious; it is downright sacred.

We have spent the last two years dreaming and scheming about getting back to PEI and reminiscing about what life is like there. Or what our experiences of life on the island are like there. Keep in mind we've never set a frozen toe on the island in the middle of a long, cold March so our perspective is one of a warm, breezy, uber green land full of festivals, trips to the ocean, lobster suppers and bike rides. We haven't done the cold, bitter winter white, isolated island that sometimes requires a ride on a snow plow less than a mile down the road in order to get to work at all, never mind on time. That's a glimpse of winter courtesy of my wonderful friend and neighbor, Paula. That's right, she had to ride the snow plow to work one day last winter. Brrrr. Just the thought of it...

Anyhow we couldn't wait to get there this year, after having missed a trip in 2008. We were anxious to repeat our "magical" experiences from 2006 and 2007 and were a little worried that we might have imagined our time there as a time that was so completely freeing, it was "other" worldly. Kevin spent many nights during the past two years dreaming of our home. He would imagine hootenannys in our barn, celebrations with family on holidays and entire summers at the beach. As sweet as that sounds you have to imagine 729 days of listening to "Guess what? I dreamt about PEI last night." Got a wee bit tired after a while. But, I did appreciate his passion and enthusiasm.

Kev was so excited to go this year, he decided we should leave early, early. I'm talking 10 pm at night, let's drive straight through the middle of the night and early morning early. What could I say? I put the kids in their pjs, grabbed their pillows and blankets and loaded everyone in the car. All was well until Kev hit the tired wall somewhere around 1:30 am. He pulled off as we left NC and grabbed a super large coffee. I had forewarned him that I wasn't going to be doing any night driving and that he HAD to make it to daylight before I'd take the wheel. Somewhere around 5:30 am he announced he might have to pull over and throw up. I knew it was my turn.

I decided to stop for breakfast and hit Denny's for a grand slam. The kids were a little out of sorts after spending a fitful night sleeping in the car and Alfie was just glad to be out. Kev was cranky from too much coffee and driving and needed a few hours sleep. I was happy to provide it for him. Within the hour, we had eaten breakfast, visited the bathroom, walked the dog, filled up on gas and were back in the car. We had road stops down to a tee.

I don't know how I did it, but I managed to get the best leg of the trip. I was a little nervous about crossing through NYC since our last foray in the city was a complete disaster. Here's a summary of our last drive through the big apple -four hours in rush hour traffic in a stick shift car; pulling off the freeway so our boy can do his business; pulling over yet again but this time at a McDonalds in one of the worst hoods in the Bronx. I was so pissed, the poor homeless lady parked out front came and gave ME a pat on the back.

OK, back to the second drive through NYC. To make it through unscathed, you have to hit it at the exact right time. Mid-morning works just fine. Traffic was slow enough that we could glance out the window at the Chrysler Building, but not too slow to feel at all frustrated. Our GPS (or Messiah; see previous blog, end of 2008) took us an alternate route through CT, on highway 15. It was the most gorgeous drive, like a wooded drive through the forest, only one with pretty houses and quaint little gas stations along the way, oh, and no stop lights or traffic. Yeah me!

By about 2 pm, we were hungry and ready to stop. Our goal was to get all the way to Bangor, MA and spend the night there. Somehow we did it. We even lucked out and found a hotel that accepted dogs. Alfie didn't love being left in the hotel room when we swam and the management didn't appreciate it either. We decided that he would have to stay in the car while we went out for a lobster (and fish) dinner.

The next morning Kev took over driving duty and managed to get us to the island by 6 pm. After another quick lunch stop somewhere in an over crowded Timmies in New Brunswick, we continued our sunny drive and made it from Maine to the island in about seven hours. The thrill we felt when we got to the Confederate Bridge is indescribable. Anticipation, excitement, nerves, the works!

Our arrival was noticed within minutes as the kids' friends and our neighbors were over in no time. The kids took off to play with their friends as Kev and I struggled to find the power switch. OK, Kev struggled. After what seemed like hours, we took our friend Paula's advice and decided to spend the night there. We were exhausted and quite frankly, ready for their deadly home-brew island wine.

Poor Kev was a bit slow the next morning after nursing a wee hangover. Something about their wine does weird things to his head! We were anxious to get in the house, air it out, set it up and begin our island fantasy. (Or should that be fantasy island???) The house was dusty and a bit damp, but in much better shape than we thought. Yes the upstairs bathroom needs a rehab. Yes, the trees out front were completely overgrown and in need of some serious hacking. Of course we would have to upgrade the plumbing, replace the kitchen faucet, get a new water tank, replace the stairs to the basement, repaint the kitchen and do something about the decade old exterior paint. But it was ours free and clear and one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The next two weeks we spent mornings working on the house and afternoons sunning at the beach or exploring little towns. We hit an Oyster Festival, a local Ceilidh, a bunch of garage sales, a Museum, farmers market and as many shops in town as possible. We rode bikes whenever we could and never once considered bringing a lock. It's just that kinda place.

Living in a small town has its ups and downs. The quaintness and charm never seem to wear off. The people knowing your business just might but seeing as how we're only there two or three weeks a year, I'm not too worried about people talking. Mind you, we spent a few hours with a couple of local plumbers and I knew more about some businessmen in town than I cared to! Who pays the bills, who's going off to jail...definitely a lot of TMI.

One of the strangest phenomenons about small town life is that you always seem to run into the same people, or folks who know your neighbors etc. Kev and I bought a stove second hand from a guy who lives about 30 minutes outside of our town, via Craigslist. On our second day there we drove into this town to square up and met some of the nicest people ever. Turns out they used to live just down the street from our house and were good friends with our friends. How's that for small town? We met a couple at a cafe on the island, only to run into them again THAT NIGHT at the Dairy Bar on Hwy 2, eh. Yeah (imagine me inhaling and say yeah at the same time; total islander!) Well, standing in line at the Dairy Bar, I met another woman who was from Ontario and also spent summers on the island. She and I were laughing about running into the same families and she joked I would probably be seeing her again. Wouldn't you know it, her dad was performing at the St Mark's Ceilidh on Lot 7! She walked in that night and upon seeing me stuffed in the corner said "well hello stranger!" Oh how I love me some small town island!

Each day there got better. We found better beaches, ate yummier seafood, drank more Canadian beer, fixed up little projects around the house and soaked in more of the simple life. We had a bet on how many times Kev might say "I want to live here". He never did tell me how many times he said it in his head but I know I heard it out loud several times. As our vacation drew closer to the end, my mood got heavier. I was in love with my island life and sad at the thought of having to give it up.

Our last night was bittersweet. We had the kids' friends over for supper and made plans for the next year. With heavy hearts, we packed our clothes, put away the dishes and prepared for an early morning drive. We fretted over what to take back, what could be given away and what needed to be locked up. One by one our neighbors stopped in to wish us well and share invitations to dinner next year. It was almost too much.

Like always when I'm feeling horribly sad inside, I try and mask my feelings by saying as little as I possibly can and the next morning I had very little to say. I wanted to bawl but managed a scowl instead. At first I kept asking myself "why can't we just stay?" and sulked about having to leave. Kev was just as sad and even confused about his feelings for Canada, and maybe a little regretful about moving at all. Sheesh. We were a mess!

But, after hours (and hours and hours) of thinking about our time on the island, I realized that part of what makes it so special is that it is only for a short time and it must be savored. If life were sweet all the time, we would cease to know the difference between the everyday grind of life, and the sweet escape on foreign soil. That's why I love being a PFA.

See you next year, eh?

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