The smell of tomato juice is in the air, a sure sign of the end of summer. Peter, our landlord who lives downstairs, is making up his special recipe in mason jars. It’s a fall tradition using tomatoes picked from the vines on his deck or sometimes bought at the Superette downtown.

The final days of summer remind me of other smells — notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils, brand new binders and lined paper. Not the textbooks handed on from other students with pencil markings and highlighting but brand new books when I was the first to hold them and open them to drink in their inky fragrance.

I don’t miss going to school but I miss community – seeing the same people every day as a I did at my last job for instance. I had a place there, contributed to a larger concern at the union-side labour law firm.

When one of my former co-workers was in town with her husband recently, Sarah and I suggested we lunch at Penny’s Pelapa, a Mexican cafe on a barge on Nanaimo’s waterfront. Flo still works at the same law firm although the location has changed since I made the five-minute walk from my apartment on Walmer Road to Cavalluzzo, Hayes, Shilton, McIntyre & Cornish on Madison Avenue in Toronto.

Flo caught me up on what lawyers are still at the firm and who has left. One lawyer who had left the firm has died. Another for whom I was assistant until I created an independent position doing the scheduling, has retired. The firm name has changed due to Liz McIntyre’s retirement and another partner, Jim Hayes, leaving the firm.

Some of the support staff remains after all these years. Talking about something makes it seem as if it was a few years ago – maybe ten but not twenty! I continued to dream about the firm after I left it as that was my community for nine years. I had other communities I was part of: the queer community, the adult literacy community where I volunteered, and the literary community.

Without a job to go to regularly, retirees also may find they miss community. As an entrepreneur creating my own work life at home, I have found that offering writing circles in my living room is a wonderful way to create community. Writers need solitude and they also need one another. In the writing circles, I often I read this passage from Starhawk (Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex & Politics):

Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak
with passion
without having the words catch in our throats.
Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us,
eyes will light up as we enter,
voices will celebrate with us
whenever we come into our own power.
Community means strength that joins our strength
to do the work that needs to be done.
Arms to hold us when we falter.
A circle of healing.
A circle of friends.
Someplace where we can be free.

I continue to offer women’s writing circles in my living room and one-day circles at Bethlehem Centre in Nanaimo. Joy and sorrow are companions in the circle and we find that we can set aside the daily to-do list and sit with how we’re actually feeling: “Someplace where we can be free.”

As for that tomato juice, it’s part of a community too – a family in our household was formed just because we rented from a home owner that happened to live downstairs. It’s been interesting to find ways to live together that don’t bypass differences but acknowledge the gifts.

Many years ago I wrote “Ode to the Tomato as it Ages.” As I seem to be on a tomato theme here, I’ll include it below.

Ode to the Tomato as it ages

The ripe tomato, plump,
taut with shiny red skin
lies firm,
in seemly slices on the plate.

The overripe tomato, soft,
when pressed, a thumb
could easily puncture
the sagging skin.

The aged tomato. a libertine,
scattered seeds in a pale red juice,
takes up the whole plate,
leaves a luscious trace.