Sunday, February 1, 2009

Galbraith Street

Like the speaker in this song, I've lived in many homes on many streets, and said several sad good-byes. But Van Dusen Blvd: None compared to the good-byes I said there.

When I was nine years old, my parents purchased a much bigger house in a much more upscale neighbourhood and residing there, as I did, until I was twenty, Edgevalley drive of course felt like home, but when I think of my childhood, it is to the red brick home on that dead-end street that I immediately return.

225 Van Dusen Blvd. was the middle house on a dead-end street, nestled in between the Tracado's and the Chalk's homes and across the street from the Lundy's. Delta Tracado lived on the corner of another dead-end street, and when I crawled through the hole in the wooden picket fence that divided our properties I was only a few steps away from the mountain deposited by the snowplow, out of which we would make fortresses and ammunition. Behind the pile of snow and the imposing fence was a factory that we only imagined. The factory at the end of Van Dusen, alternately, was easily visible through the wire fence, and it clearly belonged to Canadian Tire. It must have been noisy living where we did, but I never recall the noise of trucks and work as a nuisance; more as the natural soundtrack to the chaos of childhood.

We had a backyard big enough for a small metal swing set and gymnastics routines and the forts that my brother Geoff and my neighbours and I would make out of found cardboard boxes, usually acquired from the forbidden factory property. Geoff and I have enduring memories of the acquisition of said boxes. I remember how Delta and I would taunt him relentlessly. I remember asking him to sneak through a hole in the fence to retrieve a cardboard box I had spotted, only to turn around and tell my mother that he was disobeying her by trespassing onto the factory property. One time, Delta and I hid him in her basement insisting that the cops were looking for him and the property he'd stolen. We made him be quiet and fearful for hours while we laughed at his expense. On one occasion I even made him wait up until the wee hours of the morning to attempt to retrieve the soccer ball he'd kicked over the fence in our backyard during the daylight hours. I told him that it was the only time of day during which the guards were on their breaks.

But often, Geoff and I were on the same team. Such was the case with the ball tree we planted in Sarah Lundy's yard. The tennis ball miraculously sprouted beach balls and soccer balls while she was asleep at night. We were all friends when we skated on the rink the Lundy's would make in their backyard. I remember pushing one another across the ice in big plastic garbage bins.

Delta's house always smelled exotic. Her parents had accents and the Portuguese food they cooked made her house smell different from my own. And they had plastic covering their furniture! I don't know how that fit into their perceived foreignness, but it certainly was different from my own home.

My father would take Geoff and I for walks, across Islington avenue, to the very end of Van Dusen Blvd. and to Mimico Creek. Often, he called these "quests," and he created characters we would encounter along the way. Or we would walk in the other direction, through the industrial landscape, often collecting bits of discarded plastic that we called "sparklies."

Cats were a big part of living there. Xerxes was my companion for my entire life up until that point, and he even made it to Edgevalley Drive with the rest of the family. But there was also Sparky, the stray cat who disappeared as mysteriously as he'd appeared. For years Geoff and I wrote letters to Sparky and threw them out onto the lawn, hoping he'd receive them and return to our home. Instead, several new strays would appear in Sparky's place. My mom had a particularly soft spot for the cat with one green eye and one blue eye, whom we alternately called both "Whitey" and "Dirt Pit."

The garage at the end of our gravel driveway was painted two very uncomplimentary shades of green. (When I walked by the house a couple of years ago I was shocked to see that the garage still retained that colour scheme!) Delta and I plugged my portable cassette player into the outlet there and we made up gymnastics routines to Madonna's Like A Virgin and performed these for my parents. I never mastered the back flip. I can still feel the pain of landing flat on my back on the hard ground.

I remember walking to Islington school across busy streets, holding my brother's hand, past the subway station and the Ship Centre, up the metal stairs to Cordova Ave. I felt an immeasurable sense of pride and responsibility. We walked past the insurance building that my father had made me fearful of by insisting that if I went on their property they would paint me green. (I'm sure you've forgotten, Dad, but I never did!) Past Kenway Park, where once a year the employees of the Bell telephone building would have a family party that the neighbourhood kids got to attend.

There are so many other things. There were so many other kids.

My brother Ted was too young to have any real memories of Van Dusen, but I'm so glad that Geoff can still recall some of them. That is the best thing about siblings - having someone with whom you can share that perspective. Nobody else will ever know me like that.

Galbraith Street - Ron Sexsmith

I woke up on Galbraith Street
Where the houses stood like twins
Oh and even though the door's been closed
I can find a way to get back in

For in daydreams my mind returns
Like a ghost upon the hill
As I knock upon old doors again
And find my friends all live there still

So many good times to speak of in a life
But none compared to the good times I had there

The world looks so much brighter when
You believe in every word
Now I'm holding on to all those years
Like a tear before it falls unheard

So many goodbyes to speak of in a life
But none compared to the goodbyes I said there

The sun went down on Galbraith Street
I saw it from my childhood bed
As the red and gold brick houses stood
Underneath a crimson sky that bled

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