My little brother got married this summer on the front lawn of the house where I grew up. It's a heck of a thing for an older sibling to go through-to realize with a jolt that the small and occasionally grubby person with whom you spent your childhood has grown up, seemingly overnight.
It would probably really annoy him if I said he'd blossomed into a beautiful human being, but again, I'm an older brother so some measure of annoyance must be dealt out from time to time. It's traditional.
Anyway, in between the ceremony and the reception, I wandered about my parents small acreage, wondering at the change of it all. It was a very different place when I was a small boy, full of trees and mucky swamps and frog-filled ponds. My dad has spent most of his life improving the land to the point where it's as pleasing to the eye as a park. Even so, I miss the old place; the land I once knew.
As I pass the woodshed, something perched atop a stack of drying firewood catches my eye: a toy car. Sized in the most-common 1/64th scale, it's a model of a Renault 5 Turbo, or rather it was. This one is packed with soil, dented and dinged, with cracked plastic windows and a missing wheel.
I turn it over in my hands -obviously Dad dug this up during one of his innumerable improvements and set it aside. The dirt around here is full of these artifacts of my childhood; we played outside a great deal, using the side of a hill as a sandbox.
Some of these toy cars will have survived and are probably packed up in a tupperware container somewhere in the house.
Others, like this Majorette, stud the soil, waiting to be turned up by the edge of a spade.
It reminds me of the first time I met the young man who, this day, takes one step further along the path. I, two months shy of my fourth birthday, washed my hands in strawberry-scented soap at Saint Paul's Hospital and was ushered into the room to meet my new playmate.
I'd spent the afternoon shopping with my dad and I was holding a present for the new arrival: a tiny toy dump truck. Imagine my surprise to find that my new brother was somewhat red-faced and noisy, and didn't appear to be really interested in toy cars. This would change.
Over the next few years, he grew up to join me in drawing highways in the dirt, setting up F1-tracks on the linoleum or ferrying cars across the pond on a short length of two by six. We each had our own collections, with more than a few models hotly contested, and the odd, less-popular ones stuck in a general use pile.
We used to trade them too, drawing up long contracts on foolscap. Three Matchboxes in exchange for the Majorette 288 GTO; a limo swapped for the lifted Toyota pickup truck. There were squabbles, sure, but mostly we played well together.
The cars zoomed across every flat surface inside the house and out, caroming off floorboards and launching down stairs. They smashed into each other and rolled over and over, accompanied by imaginative verbal explosions. They picked up dings and dents. Wheels went missing; axles got bent.
And then, one day, it all stopped. I had a Porsche 959 that I'd kept safe: that one stayed on a shelf, but the rest were shoved into a box, where they stayed. I started reading car magazines, got interested in fullsized machines, learned to drive, left home, bought my own car.
And now here I am back, holding something which was once supremely precious to a small boy. I can't remember which of us it belonged to or where or when we lost it.
On the way home from the wedding I happened to be driving a Porsche 911. What a hell of a car-I dropped the windows in the Cassiar Tunnel just to hear the exhaust bounce off the walls and back into the cabin. My wife, heavily pregnant, just rolled her eyes.
They say you can't go back home. They're right -home isn't just a place, it's a time, and in my case, that time has passed. These days I worry about fuel economy and depreciation and residual values and maintenance schedules and speeding tickets.
And then, a miracle. Once again I go into a room in St Paul's Hospital, this time with my wife. First there are two of us, and then there are three-a little girl, perfect in every way.
Fatherhood is hard, and yet oh so easy; waking up in the middle of the night is difficult the first few times, but you get the hang of it. I can now change a diaper quicker than an F1 pit crew can swap out tires.
She's still far too small to be interested in such things, but I buy her a toy. It's a little pink Lotus Europa, her first car.
Already a month has passed, she's bigger everyday. It won't be long before she outgrows this metal and plastic trinket. She might not share her father's obsession with cars, but certainly all the electronic distractions of the touchscreen age will soon have this car sitting on a shelf somewhere, or tucked away in an old cardboard box.
Still, I hope that one day, far off in the future, she stumbles across it while looking through old photos. I hope that she holds it in her hand and smiles, remembering a happy childhood. I hope she remembers the magic of being young. I hope she knows her father loves her.