About sixty years ago, my maternal grandparents bought a modest one and a half story house. I believe it was the first home they ever owned, which is understandable considering they survived the Great Depression and the Second World War and raised ten children on one civil servant’s salary.
When their children were grown and had families of their own, the extended family was much too large to accomodate everyone at once in the small house so the different families had to visit in shifts on Sundays and on holidays. It wasn’t uncommon for brothers to greet each other at the front door as one group was leaving and another was arriving.
Even as a little boy, I was aware that the house was of another time. My grandmother still had a sewing machine with the old-fashioned metal foot pedal and a washing machine with the wringer/rollers to squeeze out the excess water. The phone was still on a party line, milk was still delivered in glass bottles and I think there was still a coal chute for the furnace. And there was one of those old type swing sets in the back yard where you could drink your lemonade on a summer evening.
It was a house where some of my first memories were born. My grandfather would slip me some coins or some candy and my grandmother would insist on watching Lawrence Welk instead of Disney on the old black and white TV.
When my parents broke up when I was six and my mother, brother, and I moved back to Ottawa from Montreal, the three of us even lived there for a short while as my mother scrambled to find a job and us a place to live. And I know I’ve had cousins from out of town live there while they went to school in Ottawa.
At this time of year, with the short days and the long nights, I sometimes find it easy to re-visit some of these old memories, remembering things that I long ago thought I’d forgotten. The darkness can be illuminating.
But I don’t need to look too far back in my memories to see this old house clearly. You see, I need only turn my head slightly as I lay in my hospital bed to see my grandparents’ house through the window of my room. In fact, the window frame acts as a picture frame and the little house looks like an old photo to me.
Our lives are never perfect circles. Sometimes they look more like misshapen ovals and the beginning points and the end points don’t always meet. But sometimes they end up in the same neighbourhood.
And today I looked across a hundred yards of a neighbourhood that lay fifty years away.