My aunt, who spends her summers at a cottage on Bruce Beach, asked me last year how I thought I'd like living up here once we had moved. I responded enthusiastically, extolling the virtues of small-town living and the slower pace of life up here. She smiled wisely and mentioned a letter to the editor she'd just read in the local paper. It was a sort of "in defence of small town living" letter, aimed at big city types who showed up each summer expecting things to be exactly the way they were in the city. The writer expressed keen annoyance with city folk who complained about the lack of certain amenities, or the fact that things took longer to get done in the country. "We take things easy up here," scolded the writer, "and if you don't like it, you should just go back to the city."
I chuckled and said I wasn’t about to bring my urban expectations with me when we moved. My aunt raised an eyebrow at me. "It's true, you know. They do things a bit differently up here. As long as you know that before you move here."
My car is a battered and fairly unreliable thing. My mechanic in Waterloo always shook his head when he saw me coming, but we developed a friendly rapport over the years. When a brake pad committed suicide in the driveway a month after moving up, I realized I had to find a new mechanic. I took my car to a nearby garage, fully expecting to hear from the mechanic at the end of the day like I did with mine in Waterloo. After three days passed with no word, I called. "Oh, we haven't even started working on it yet. But we'll probably get to it tomorrow."
I complained bitterly to my in-laws that night over supper about the situation. I couldn’t believe the garage hadn’t even called me to tell me about the delay. My in-laws listened patiently as I ranted, then told me that the garage had always been like that, but that the mechanics were excellent. I groused about it for a few more days before it finally dawned on me that I had never actually told the garage when I needed my car or when I wanted to hear from them. I was setting expectations based on my experiences with the garage I dealt with in the city, who had known me as a customer for several years. These guys had only met me for 3 minutes. How were they supposed know what I needed unless I told them?
When we experienced a slight issue with a piece of our inherited kitchen furniture (it fell out of the back of our truck en route from Waterloo and bounced across highway 86), I drove to see a local craftsman who had been recommended by my mother-in-law. His workshop was full of treasures - antique cash registers, mis-matched chairs, battered bureaus comfortably waiting their turn beside worn out pianos and leopard-skin covered fainting couches. I found my way into his back room and introduced myself.
This time, I was prepared. I carefully explained what had to be fixed, what I hoped it would look like once finished and that we were moving into our new place in three weeks. Could we have it by then? He thought so.
I coaxed my brother-in-law to help me deliver the furniture the next day. We lugged it into the front of the workshop.
“Let's set ‘er right here,” said my bro-in-law and lowered his end to the floor.
“Shouldn't we take it right into his workshop?” I wondered.
“Nope,” said bro. “We leave her right here, where he has to step around her every time he comes through.”
“But won't it be in the way?”
My bro flashed me a roguish grin and pointed at me. “Exactly.”
When the gentleman called to say our piece was ready a week before the end of the month, I was duly impressed, albeit mostly with myself: I had set clear expectations without being demanding, and now here was my table, ready a week early! I was really getting the hang of things.
“I really appreciate you putting us to the front of the line,” I said, barely hiding my self-congratulatory tone.
“Well,” he said, “it was kind of in the way. I kept tripping over the thing every time I went out of the shop, so I figured I'd just get it done.”
I suffered through several See-Kimmy-I-told-you-so lectures from my bro-in-law and husband, and a mildly uncomfortable discussion with their cousin from the city who threw up her hands when she heard the story. She’s had a piece of furniture there for two years. It’s still not finished.
So I learned a fundamental thing about country living from these experiences: listen to advice when it's given to you, no matter how well you think you can handle something on your own. After all, the folks around you have likely been here far longer than you have and they know how to “get ‘er done.” More importantly, I’ve been reminded that city expectations don’t always fly in the country, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. So things take a little longer sometimes – so what? It won’t kill me to learn to be a bit more patient. And the walk to the beach will probably do me good.