Given that Nova Scotia is as much a vacation mecca as a land of fishers, loggers and snow plow drivers, it’s an easy assumption that a lot of firsts happen right here: First taste of lobster, first clam dig, first kayak, first whale sighting. Definitely first kiss. (What? You missed out on that?)
Summer vacation has a way of encouraging an adventurous spirit and in the Maritimes, the call is irresistible. Especially if you are a city girl from Ontario spending the first two weeks of August on a farm along the Northumberland Strait.
The one and only daring thing I’ve ever done took place here in Cumberland County in 1985. It was slightly illegal but since it happened 28 years ago, it must be safe by now to tell this story.
This tale of adventure starts with a friend, whom I’ll call “Sue”, who put up with me tagging along behind her like some farm girl wannabe. It also involves Sue’s brother, let’s call him “Paul”, because he left his brand new sports car sitting in the driveway on that particular sunny August afternoon.
“Let’s go to the racetrack,” Sue said to me. “You can drive.”
I don’t know if this was yet another test for me to fail (a few years earlier, I wore pajamas to the sleepover in the hayloft while Sue slept in her jeans and T-shirt) but really, given my general lack of knowledge about life on the farm, there was no reason for Sue to think I could drive a bicycle, let alone this car.
Did I mention it was brand new?
Of course, as a farm kid, she’d been driving a tractor since she was eight. It must have seemed inconceivable to her, already 16, that a 15-year-old wouldn’t know how to drive a car.
The amazing thing is that I hopped into the driver’s seat fully prepared to drive that vehicle. Fully prepared in terms of nerve (and an uncharacteristic boldness) but fully unprepared in terms of actually knowing what to do once I’d snapped on the seatbelt.
I could turn on the ignition, I could put the car into gear (it was an automatic), and I knew to put both hands on the steering wheel.
After that, it was a crap shoot.
In Paul’s brand new sports car.
How we got out of the farm yard with no one seeing us is beyond me but off we cruised down the driveway and onto the quiet road in front of the farm. But this wasn’t the road to the racetrack. By no means. Let’s just say that our route to the racetrack meant driving several kilometres and through a place I’ll call “the village”.
You know how in every chase scene in the movies, the “bad guys” car careens through a major intersection on a red light, dodging dozens of cars? Well, this wasn’t that scene. Fortunately, the main intersection of “Church” and “Durham” rarely saw a dozen cars (back then) and certainly doesn’t need a stop light.
I couldn’t have stopped if it had.
Nearly 30 years later, I can still feel the sensation of cruising around that corner without even slowing down because I didn’t know how to take my right foot off the gas and apply it to the brake pedal.
My eyes may or may not have been open.
In this big brand-new sports car, I swung left around that corner without stopping, without looking, drove through the east end of “the village”, down and around a sharp corner, then swung left onto the road to the raceway and pulled up alongside the barn with a jolt, a laugh and the adrenaline rush of “Holy crap, we made it. And I drove a car!”
Every kid should get the chance to spend the summer in rural Nova Scotia. It’s the kind of place where you can be free and daring (even stupidly so: if “Paul” had seen us even touch a door handle...) and create memories that stay with you forever. Along with the kind of people who will not only let you do something daring and out-of-character but will suggest it in the first place.
Every one of us needs to have that feeling of exhilaration and disbelief, that “Holy crap, I did it!” moment to tuck away in the heart for the rest of life.
Summer vacation in Nova Scotia is the place to make that happen. As long as no one catches you.
(If they do, tell them “Sue” made you do it.)