Saturday, 14 August 2010

Worlds apart and a block away (Part Three of a Google Map walk through a childhood neighbourhood)

The Resident Fan Boy and I had been an item for a matter of days when we made the astonishing discovery while waiting for a movie to begin at the students' cinema at UVic. It started when we realized we had been born in the same hospital (The Royal Alexandra, Edmonton, Alberta) eight months apart, then we stumbled upon the fact we'd had the same Grade One teacher, although not, obviously, at the same time.

Working out addresses, landmarks and neighbours, we figured out we'd been living about a block and a half from each other, from the time my family moved into 12618 109A Avenue when I was four (the RFB was five) to the time when the RFB and his family moved to Victoria when he was six going on seven. (I would have just turned six and been about to enter school --- where I would have the RFB's former Grade One teacher.) For two years there, we surely must have passed each other on the streets, a freckle-nosed girl with long flyaway braids and a dark-haired boy in conservative clothes with a lazy eye.
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The Resident Fan Boy was astounded to learn that there had been a Unitarian Church in the neighbourhood. Being the son of a very High Anglican rector, he would have been blissfully unaware of the community of heathens worshipping a mere two blocks from his front door. (His mother would have been horrified; that was certainly her reaction when she discovered her precious boy had fallen for a Unitarian years later in Victoria: "But....they deny Our Lord....")

So every Sunday, my sister and I made the trek up 126 Street to 110 Avenue where we went to Sunday School, learning Bible stories as folk tales. It's still there today, but the church sold it about five years ago to an architect who no doubt was intrigued by its Bauhauss style.

On our way, we passed the firehouse which had saved our own house from destruction, and some neighbours who were particular friends of my father's.

One evening, I was playing just outside our gate as the sun set. My father's car drove up and he invited me to hop in to pop around to see the neighbours on 126 Street. We were less than a block away, and I don't think he intended to stay long, but it was dark when we returned to the house.

As we entered the front door, I could see my mother from the back. She was sitting on the couch with her jacket on, being comforted by our housekeeper, a brisk grandmother from Saskatchewan named Mrs Leigh. My mother's hair, usually neatly swept back into a tidy chignon for work, was disheveled and she was weeping. Mrs Leigh darted to us and had a few quick words with my father. I didn't hear what she said, but I'd never heard her be angry with my father before. I didn't have much time to process this as I was swept into my mother's arms.

Later, I sat in the bath with eyes like saucers as my mother sat by the tub and told me what had happened. It was very uncharacteristic for me to wander off, so she had searched the street, asked the neighbours, then pelted off on a frantic run across the field to search the playground. "It got darker and darker, and I called and called," she said. "And then I thought my little girl was gone...."

Even though this incident was clearly my father's misjudgment and not my own, I never forgot it. During my sister's and my turbulent teens, I was the one who never failed to phone to say where I was. I had seen my mother's grief and terror. Once was enough.

(This is my continuation of the exercise suggested by John Reid at his blog Anglo-Celtic Connections.)


Brenda said...

Not to be a spoiler of the mood, but isn't it depressing when streets and avenues have numbers instead of names? SO utilitarian.

Persephone said...

Well, it does have the advantage of pinpointing where in the city an address is. I lived at 12618 109A Avenue, so anyone who knows North Edmonton knows I lived near the intersection of 109A Avenue and 126 Street, because avenues always went east-west and streets were always north-south. South Edmonton has street names, but it's much easier to get lost! It wasn't until I left Edmonton when I was about to turn nine, that I understood that most cities have street names.