By Peter Rukavina
Almost every Saturday morning, since the day he was born, I’ve gone with my son Oliver, who just turned 18 years old, to the Charlottetown Farmers' Market. It is an inextricable part of our weekly routine, and one of the places on earth where we most enjoy spending time.
When he was very young, Oliver was strapped to the front of me in a baby carrier during our Saturday visits; one fall day my friend Perry, filming a TV commercial for Vogue Optical, asked if I’d sing the company’s jingle. And so, because I like Perry, I did. As a result, we have one of Oliver's earliest visits to the market documented on video.
As Oliver grew up we began to establish a regular routine for our Saturday visits, a well-worn path around the market, with regular stops. Our first regular step arose when Oliver developed a taste for smoked salmon and we added a stop at Kim Dormaar’s booth for a smoked salmon bagel; one day the CBC program Land & Sea was filming a documentary about the market, and they captured Oliver, bagel in hand, with a smile on his face. And so another memory on video to remember the early days by.
While we were waiting for our smoked salmon bagels each week, we got to know Garth and Peggy at Taylor’s Taters, the booth next door, and they became another regular stop, for their excellent potatoes and carrots. And when we felt the need for something to wash down our smoked salmon bagels, we turned to the late Karin LaRonde’s booth for a glass of her iced tea. Karin, rare for Prince Edward Island at the time, made iced tea without sweetener, and we became regular customers of her booth too. And friends.
Our Saturday morning routine has been especially important for Oliver, who is autistic; it’s anchored his week, and allowed him to anticipate what’s coming next. Over 18 years, of course, things have changed at the market. Vendors have retired, new vendors have joined, booths have evolved. This slow evolution has been stressful at times for Oliver, but it’s been a good lesson in how life evolves, and has allowed him to get used to change in a comfortable environment.
The first really jarring change at the market that we experienced was when Karin closed her booth; we were left without a place to go for iced tea, and our routine was thrown into disarray. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before we found, in Lady Baker’s, an excellent replacement, and in recent years a stop for an iced tea has become as treasured a part of our Saturday routine as any other. Over those years we’ve gotten to know Katherine and her team, and have learned a lot about tea in the process.
We are year-round iced tea drinkers, something that occasionally seems absurd on a sub-zero snowy February morning, but Lady Baker’s has accommodated us, always having at least one variety of iced tea at the ready.
In the summer, the heart of iced tea season for everyone else, we’ll often find three or four types waiting. Oliver is partial to the tea lattes, and delights in trying whatever new latte concoction is available each week; I’m more a straight ahead tea drinker and prefer a good iced Dapple Apple, Island Strawberry, or Scottish Breakfast.
Our current Saturday morning routine looks like this: we arrive through the back entrance and join the line-up for Caledonia House coffee for my morning macchiato; from there it’s across the aisle to Mathew’s booth for a smoothie for Oliver. Our first round of drinks ready, we wade through the crowds to Gallant’s Seafood for a smoked salmon bagel (Gallant’s having taken the place of Ross Munro’s booth which, in turn, took the place of Kim Dormaar’s). We head out looking for a place to sit, enjoy our breakfast, and then prepare for the second round.
The second round starts with a stop at Katlin’s chocolate booth for a sea salt-caramel chocolate; from there we wash our out mugs and head to Lady Baker’s, always to the side counter so that there’s a little more room for Oliver’s service dog Ethan. We offer up our mugs, select our tea of choice from whatever is available, have a chat with Jen, Willow or Katherine, and then, iced tea in-hand, make our rounds: mushrooms and eggs from Paul Offer, a chat with John Macfarlane; a wave to Ray at his artist’s booth; veggie burgers from Margie and Dave; bread from Angel and perogies from Lori and Veronica.
By the time the second round is over, we’ve finished our iced tea, and are ready to start the rest of the day. We wash out our mugs, return them to their resting places, ready for next week, gather up our shopping bags, and emerge into the morning air, happy and well-catered to.
In the summer and early fall, the Charlottetown Farmers' Market is open on Wednesdays, and I will sometimes go there, by myself, for lunch. Doing so has allowed me to discover that our Saturday routine, “for Oliver’s sake,” is as much for my sake as his, and more often than not I find myself on the same well-worn path. I have a little more time on my hands on Wednesdays, and so I will sometimes take my sketchbook, sit under a tree on the bench that was placed there to allow us to remember Karin LaRonde after she died, make a little sketch, and realize that as much as Oliver’s grown up at the market, so have I.