Thursday, February 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Summer of '68

One of the things that I plan to do, this year, is to go back to the old neighbourhoods that I lived in, in Montreal, before my family moved to Ottawa. I haven't seen them since we left, though one of them, I've passed countless times as I've driven to Montreal, for family visits and vacations.

I was three when we left for the nation's capital, for our townhouse in Parkwood Hills, in Nepean. Before then, we lived in an apartment building, in Dorval, across Highway 20 from the airport. At the end of our street, where it ended at the highway, a giant held a muffler.

In the summer of 1968, I remember playing on the lawn outside our building, with my older sister, Holly, and her friends. One day, my folks set up an inflatable pool on that lawn, and Holly and I spread out our towels and lounged the afternoon away.

In the fall, she would be starting school for the first time, in our new city. The school was new, too.

Until then, there was the summer.

I wonder what that neighbourhood looks like now. This year, I plan to find out.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where My Education Began

It looked so much bigger, then.

It was only a couple of years old when I first attended, first lined up on the far end, where the roof lines sloped, where the kindergarten section, with its one floor but high ceilings were separate from the mainstream classrooms. I remember the door being so much bigger, the entrance wider, able to allow several people to enter at once.

Little people, perhaps.

We lined up along this wall on my first day. Through the door, turn to your right, and you were in kindergarten.
Opened for Canada's centennial, the hallways and gymnasium floor still showed fresh paint when I first walked its halls, in the fall of 1970.

Can you recognize me in this kindergarten photo?
I remember the classrooms, the gym, the library, the different doors that you went through, depending on your grade. I remember all of my teachers: Miss Ash, Mrs. Sainthill, Madame Archambault, Miss Summers and Miss Ryan, Mr. Meredith, Mr. Fulcher, Mr. Townsend.

I remember the librarian, Mrs. Redmond, who, when I returned for a visit, three and a half years after I left, remembered me as I walked down the hallway. "Ross Brown, long time, no see," she said, as I stepped into her domain. I was one of the few boys in my grade who liked going to the library, liked reading, would consume any book that she pulled out for me.

I remember the principal, Mr. Gordon, who was famous for quieting the students in the auditorium by placing his index finger to his lips and softly calling into a microphone, "Shh... shh... listening... listening... ." We would shush and we would listen.

I remember our vice-principal, Mr. Gouge, who was the enforcer, who disciplined those who misbehaved. I spent a week in detention, with Mr. Gouge, because my friends and I threw snowballs at a school bus, and when the driver came after us and my friends scattered, I was the one who got caught, but I wouldn't give up the names of my accomplices.

When I heard that Century Public School was slated to be closed at the end of this school year, many memories returned. Over the coming months, I hope to share those memories. I hope to talk to the principal, to explain that I'm an alumnus, and ask him if I could capture photographs of the hallways, stairwells, classrooms, library, and gymnasium, before the school shuts its doors.

I have a lot of history inside those doors. It's where my education began, where, by my final year, I had decided that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, even though I had written stories before then and had continued after I left.

In a way, it will be my coming full-circle on who I was, and who I have become.

It looked so much bigger, then. And in my mind, it's still an enormous place.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dreaming of an Old Friend and a Past Home

One of the people from my childhood days and I still keep in touch. She's one of my oldest friends, and every time I say that I feel as though I'm insulting her.

She's younger than me, by more than three months.

My oldest friend, who I've known for more than 20 years, is in his 60s. Yeah, he's old.

I saw my younger, oldest friend, last night, and even though we don't see her nearly as often as I'd like, we do still keep in touch and make an effort to get together whenever we can. She and her husband don't live in Ottawa, and so I only see her when she comes to visit her mother and sisters, who are still here, or my family and I make the rare trip to Guelph, when we can.

It's funny that my friend was in town this weekend. It was only a couple of weeks ago that she was on my mind, in a dream. Not one of those types of dreams: she's my friend, one of my oldest friends.

Despite it being winter in Ottawa, my dream took place in the summer, where the trees were in full growth, full of dense, green leaves. The roads were dry and people were out in droves.

My friend and I were cycling around Ottawa—the dream had us near the Portage Bridge and the Ottawa River Parkway. At the start of my dream, I wasn't as surprised by my friend's presence as I was wondering whose bike I was riding, and why I wasn't on my own.

My real-life bike was so much better.

As quickly as we had found ourselves on the western edge of the downtown core, we had somehow whisked ourselves to the east-end suburbs of New Edinburgh: specifically, on Douglas Avenue. We cycled down the road that I haven't been on since I lived there, in the summer of 1990, when I had a basement apartment in a three-story house that was owned by the sister of another friend, who I've known since journalism school.

(I keep friends for a very long time.)

As we cycled down Douglas, I didn't recognize the houses that lined the avenue. Many of the houses on that street were more than 50 years old, but the houses in my dream seemed more modern. As we approached the halfway point, between Beechwood and Putman Avenues, we rolled past a vacant lot and I realized that this was the spot where my old house lay. Instead of the three-story house, a rectangular lot, where the foundation had been filled with gravel, marked the once-grand structure. Only a recess, where steps led down to the basement door, was recognizable.

I tried explaining to my friend the layout of the basement, walking over the gravel to map out the corridor from the interior basement steps, past my bathroom, and down a hall to my bedroom.

It was at this point where the dream began to fade and I began to return to the real world, as my alarm woke me from my sleep.

The dream is foggier now. But what remains clear is my old friend, the bike ride, and the vacant lot.

An old friend, who is still very much a part of my life, and an old house, which lasted for only a brief time in my past and hasn't been thought of since.

Dream analysts: fill your boots.

Note: when I started writing this post, I consulted Google Maps to get a street view of my old home, where I lived in a basement apartment for about four months or so, in 1990. The house is gone, replaced by a modern structure, as have many of the houses down Douglas Avenue. I haven't seen that street in more than 25 years, but in my dream I somehow knew that everything had changed.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Photo Friday: Light Bright

I always think that historic buildings should be lit up at night. Sadly, not all of them are.

I pass this old school on Slack Road from time to time, and I often think that if I ever won millions of dollars, I might buy this building and turn it into a brewery. I'd call it Old School Brew House. I'd ask my good friend and brewer extraordinaire, Perry, to let his imagination soar.

Assuming he would be interested in working with me. (Oh, the arse jokes would fly!)

I have no idea who is using this building now, but I do feel it should be lit at night.

Until then, if I want to capture it, I'll have to rely on my car headlights. On a snowy night, they'll do in a pinch.

Happy Friday!