Home is where the heart is. So, you can go home again. Home lives forever in our hearts and memories. I am writing this on a bus on my return from visiting family just an hour away from Hemstock’s Mills (the family homestead) near Chatsworth, Ontario. My sister suddenly mentioned that maybe we should visit the farm as it had been around thirty years since we had seen it. It was time to go and see what was left, if anything, of our family home, saw and grist mill. Although my childhood was very traumatic ( and I certainly have no wish to repeat it ) Hemstock’s Mills (where I spent most of my summers and many holidays) holds nothing but the positive memories that I choose to retain. Therefore, it occupies a deep place within my heart, soul, and personal and familial mythology.
So, it was with a sense of daring that I said yes to her proposal. What if it was changed beyond recognition? What if the house, barn and mill had been demolished? Could I still maintain my memories untarnished by the visible physical evidence of the passage of time? However, as we turned down the county road it was clear that time was standing still. Leaving the farm and mill unchanged in a way that is almost eerie in 2014! The only change was the stone-faced house – no longer white – but cool gray. Other than this, nothing significant had changed.
As the new owner of Hemstock’s Mills (Todd) showed us around, I felt a deep sense of gratitude as my sister and I told him some family stories. They came tumbling out of us. So much to tell in such a small amount of time. He listened intently, keen to hear the stories of this place he purchased in January. He had a few of his own to tell including how the roof of the sawmill collapsed in 1996 – the year of the death of the last Hemstock to occupy the homestead. Of course we told him this came as no surprise to us as there has been a corresponding event to mark every Hemstock who passed away in that house. He nodded, knowingly. He was eager to hear all we could tell him of the place that has been described as “the Tim Horton’s of its day.” For, long ago and far away, Mennonites and others came to the mill & lingered around the pot-bellied stove talking to my grandfather. Sharing the local gossip. A post-office, voting station, blacksmith shop, store and more operated here at various times & a ‘local boy’ (our neighbour, Len Weeden, now 81) included a chapter called “Hemstock’s Mills” in his recent memoir entitled PICKIN’ STONES (gifted to me by my sister).
While we walked down memory lane telling our old stories of days gone by, visions of the past played across my mind and sounds from the old saw, now sitting up against the wall, filled the air. The rushing sound of water going over the dam united the past and present into ONE glorious, timeless, NOW. Visions of my grandfather walking up the hill from the mill covered in chop and sawdust. My brother, Blair, standing with his bow and arrow as a young teen, shooting fish in the water the way only indigenous people did. My sister, Gillian, at ten, dressed in a long dress and bonnet serving lemonade to the hired men who smiled gratefully as they slaked their thirst before re-entering the mill. So many memories. So sharp. So clear. Of course, I was not surprised that the past returns so vividly. Time is an illusion we accept as real. And, memories return easily once we make the decision to remember. It is a choice. As is everything. We can create our ‘new’ story from our acceptance and understanding of our ‘old’ story. It is what it is. Nothing is lost in the mind of Source, I have found. It is all there. All waiting to be un-covered, seen, re-claimed, processed, savoured and re-imagined in Divine Timing. All unchanged in one dimension and constantly changing in another.
As we prepared to leave, Todd gave us a gift that I will never forget. I told him that my grandfather thought Hemstock’s Mills was some kind of paradise and that the few times he left it to travel, his only desire was to return. Todd said, “after only six months here, I feel exactly the same way.” He said he would care for this place always & would only leave “the day he is carried out in a box.” Wow! Six months here and he knows & fully appreciates the spirit of this place. It’s o.k., Gramps. Hemstock’s Mills is in very good hands.