Monday, 9 August 2010

Memories are like smoke

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John Reid, an august past-president of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO -- we members call it "Buh-FISS-Go") recently made an intriguing suggestion at his resourceful and informative blog Anglo-Celtic Connections. I have found it invariably worthwhile to follow his suggestions whether on his blog (a great resource if your family history lies in Great Britain, or even Canada), or from one of his fascinating presentations, so I'll taking a Google map walk around the tiny neighbourhood where I spent a fraction of my childhood (although the neighbourhood seemed huge at the time, and when I was six, a year seemed forever). In doing so, a host of memories have resurfaced, so, seeing as I'm doing this NaBloPoMo thing, I shall return to the stroll from time to time, whenever my ideas for posts run out (which is liable to be often).

I spent four years of my life at 12618 109A Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta, from the time I was four to the time I was eight. It was my last home in Edmonton before my mother took my sister and me to make a fresh start in British Columbia. The house is no longer there. Along with our neighbours' house on the west side and at least two houses behind us that fronted on 127 Street (including my future husband's grandparents' home and thereby hangs a strange and wonderful tale), it made way for the Alliance Villa which I think is a seniors' residence.
View Larger Map Across the lane to the east, the Hatley's house still stands, a similar vintage to our house, although our house was darker and narrower, I think; the Hatleys, after all, were a much larger family. The crab-apple tree in their front yard is gone, and were the bushes that low? They towered above me and completely obscured the building.

The tree in our front was a cottonwood which I remember as being enormous. It may not have been. I spent ages pulling down the green pods in the spring so I could split them to see the white fluff inside. It's gone, along with the narrow yard that ran alongside the west of the house where a long lilac bush became my secret "Wendy House". At the back, was the rickety swing-set, a sandbox full of cat poo (although I did not realize this until years later), and a toolshed where I hid from the noise of the firetruck.

I was playing in the front yard when an ineffectual seventeen-year-old live-in housekeeper my desperate parents had hired, fired (for having a boyfriend in her room and leaving us unattended), and rehired (when her sister pleaded for her) came running out onto the porch.

"My bedroom is on fire!" she sobbed and seeing the newspaper boy cycle up, screamed at him: "Go and tell the fire department!" The startled boy pedaled off. Fortunately for us, the fire department was around the block on 126 Street. Especially fortunate, as the young girl didn't have the presence of mind to get my sister, about four or five at the time, out of the house. All I could think of, at age seven, was how loud the sirens would be, so I ran to the back of the house and shut myself in the shed. The Hatleys eventually corralled us and took us into their kitchen. My mother received the news at work and never forgot Mrs Hatley's grim opening words: "The girls are all right."

Little Miss Not-sharpest-knife-in-the-drawer had been smoking in her room and thrown the butt in the waste basket. My father's only words to her were a quiet but deadly "Get out." I remember watching her lonely silhouette on the back balcony from my vantage point in the Hatleys' kitchen, as she gingerly picked belongings out of the burnt dresser with no mirror in the charred frame. Naturally, we never saw her again. The fire and water damage to the front bedroom and the ceiling below were considerable, and took many weeks to repair.


JoeinVegas said...

My growing up house is still there, back in New Jersey, but my wife's in Phoenix, Arizona is now a university parking lot.

Rob said...

To judge from Google, both my growing-up houses are still in existence. It must be strange when one goes: I feel odd when I pass the corner in Manchester where once stood the maternity hospital where I was born.