My childhood was rooted in a blue-collar, middle class lifestyle. I grew up in a small northern Ontario town. The main industry was mining. My father worked at the local mine as did the fathers of many of my friends. My parents never discussed money, however, from the various odd jobs my father did, ranging from carpentry work, to cleaning our church and a local car dealership, I knew money was a concern.
My mother was a professional house wife. Professional in the precision applied to maintaining a safe, clean and welcoming home. Hard won, the items in our the home were treasured. Fortunately we dodged having plastic on our furniture. Our carpet was not so fortunate, it was crisscrossed with plastic runners. Buying new furniture was an event, usually celebrated at Christmas, we would all look on eagerly as a new couch or chair was delivered. The delivery of a “stereo” system was a highlight of my teen years.
Standing proudly on a large lot, our home was the largest on our street. Over the seven or eight years I lived there it was transformed many times. Every transformation was a triumph of the labor it took. The bottom half had several iterations. I’m not sure how it started, however I remember the move from gray stucco to red brick. All the manual labor provided by my father, various friends and family members. On rare occasions “professionals” were hired. On occasion, I was recruited. I was the extra hand to hold lumber in place as it was measured, cut and nailed into place. During my teen years, some of my weekends were spent perched on scaffolding helping my father install aluminum siding on the top half of the house.
With the changing seasons our yard was transformed. Spring was marked with the chore of cutting channels in the ice at the edge of the driveway. Channels that quickly flooded with water from the melting snow. Spring also brought the glorious feeling of wearing shoes on freshly exposed streets, your feet feeling extremely light without the encumbrance of winter boots. Summer brought a rainbow of color. Each year my father would build a wood frame crossed with string to support Sweat Peas planted behind our storage shed. I cherish the memory of picking the bright blooms for a delicate vase that would be displayed on our dinning room table. Deep red Hollyhocks would sway in the summer breeze, attracting a steady stream of bees. Fall was defined by the abundances of apples provided by our tree. This was a harbinger of many hours spent with my mother making pies. I stood a little taller when I was entrusted with blending the flour and lard for the crusts. My internal challenge was to peel an apple in one long continuous strand. Just like my mother.
The bite of winter brought a different life to our yard. Our house was snuggled into the base of a large hill. A retaining wall about four feet high spanned the backyard and created a flat surface. Living in northern Ontario, we were provided plenty of snow. A resource not to be wasted. The surplus of snow provided by mother nature was carefully packed against the retaining wall. With careful planning and execution we were able to built a ramp. Many tobogganing competitions were held. The goal was to slide the furthest from the very top of the back yard, crossing the flat surface of our backyard, continuing into the dip at the side of our house. The cold days and long cold nights provided a different source for entertainment. Hour after hour we would watch, nosed pressed to the dining room window as my father flattened the snow in our yard with a lawn roller. Hour after hour, he would flood the flattened surface with water. We waited and watched eagerly. Finally the surface would be deemed ready. Excitedly we would don our skates keen to mar the pristine surface of our personal ice rink. The only downside was battling my brother and his friends for ice time. Too often their hockey games displaced my figure skating extravaganzas.
Sadly as my time in high school grew to a close, I felt the tug of city life. A life beyond the confines of a small northern town. I left eager to tackle the big city of Toronto and life as a university student. Hindsight has brought the realization that I had not outgrown my childhood home, I had simply out grown my childhood.