Almost everyone was at Mike Craddock's wedding last night. And I mean everyone. Everyone I grew up with, hung out with, vacationed with. Everyone that meant something to me as a kid. The Southcotts were there, and Steve and Lynn Davis (and their two daughters, who we went wilderness camping with, and to the cottage with) and Bobby Vorstanbosh (who lived behind the Craddocks on Catherine Street in Fort Erie, and who had a backyard teeter-totter-type contraption that spun around and almost killed me, repeatedly). I'm serious -- everybody was there. People I haven't seen in ten, fifteen years. My past -- the years from zero to, let's say, fourteen or fifteen -- suddenly, almost inexplicably, collided with my present. Last night, for one night, we were all there, together, in that place, at that wedding. It was epic in its intimacy.
Because my parents grew up in Fort Erie, Ontario - just across the border from Buffalo, New York, and about thirty, forty minutes from my hometown, St.Catharines -- I spent many weekends and summers and holidays hanging out in Fort Erie. Or going to the cottage with people from Fort Erie. If I had been born a rich American, Fort Erie would have been the Los Angeles to the New York that was my St.Catharines. (If that makes any sense.) And the people that I knew, in that town, formed the nucleus of my upbringing. For the first part of my life, they were, in a very real sense, most of my life. They composed it.
And then, they were gone. Or I was gone. I'm not sure what happened. High school took hold, then university, then Japan, and Cambodia, and the Philippines. Life sped up. One minute we were camping together, chilling together, laughing together; the next minute their solid presence had been reduced to mere vapors, second and third-hand information passed along by mothers and relatives. ("What's ______ up to right now? What about _______?") You know the deal.
It's rare in life that you get the chance to land smack-dab back in the middle of your past (updated), but last night was one of those nights. Abroad for so long, you tend to lose touch with who you were, who you knew. Last night meshed. Everybody I met had known me since I was five years old. You squint at them and see the years in their faces, and they look at you and wonder where the time goes. You catch up in two-minute spurts of dialogue in between the groom's speech and the band's first number. But the words themselves, not to mention the years between, almost don't matter. You are there, together. The music is playing. Everyone is animated. Almost shining. And time itself becomes a circle that links you back to who you were and perhaps still are.
Near the end of the night I helped an old family friend walk back to his cabin -- me holding him by the left side, his wife clutching him by the right side. (Let's just say he was feeling rather wobbly after a drink or two.) I hadn't seen him in eight, nine years. He had known me as a kid. (When I was eight I had asked him how old he was, and he told me that he was twenty-eight, an impossibly old age.) He was now chatting amiably and heartfully in the way that people who are drunk often do.
"Scotty," he said, "it's amazing how our families have all kept that bond. We don't see each other for years and years, but we come together, and..."
I knew what he meant. Precisely, exactly, definitively. We stumbled along in the dark. He rambled on. I listened intently. The air was cool. The moon was bright and silver and impossible to reach.
It is amazing, the more I think about it. When you have grown up with a group of kids, and have endured your childhood with them, and seen each other slowly, almost imperceptibly shift from child to teen, and the adults in your orbit have gently guided and shifted you along the way, in the way that family and friends so tolerantly do, it creates something. Perhaps 'bond' is too tiny a word. A link, perhaps, is a better way to put it. You become linked.
I realize, too, how rare this. How many people grow up surrounded by such good, loving people? If my parents had not maintained their links to their childhood friends, none of this would have been possible. And if their friends and their friends' friends had not been such fundamentally good, decent people, none of this would have been worthwhile.
But I'm lucky.
A night like last night probably won't happen again for another five, ten years. Or maybe never. But that's okay. Time moves on. We gathered together again, were condensed again, and now we expand outward. That's life. You can't hold on to the past, no, but you can sometimes allow it take a peep at who you are now, in the company of those you shared it with.
Before I went to sleep, exhausted, the slightly-distant sounds of the wedding band and the late-night revelers mixing together in discordant glee, I realized something: Everybody had called me 'Scotty'. Almost nobody calls me Scotty. Scotty is what you call a kid. (Or an intimate.) The thing is, everybody at the wedding had known me as a kid -- before I was a runner, or a writer, or a teacher, or a wanderer across the arc of Asia. Scotty is who I am, at my core. They all know that, instinctively, because they were there from the beginning, before I was me.
They made me up.