by Brian G. Spare
I slumbered in bed for a while half asleep. The glint of sunshine through my bedroom window and its warm caress on my face was a wonderful feeling, and I sighed deeply nestling down into the covers. But gradually the sleep wore off, and with a yawn and stretch, found myself in my sleeping bag lying on a fold-up cot borrowed from Lawson’s next door. It was then I remembered dismantling my bed yesterday afternoon, and with that thought came the realization that today was moving day. What’s the time? I wondered reaching out to consult my wristwatch sitting on an overturned cardboard box makeshift bedside table. Nine thirty-five. I’ve overslept. I’d better get going the movers will be here in less than two hours.
Thinking of the few things left to be done before they come I probably had just enough time to get it all done. All the same it was great not having been woken up by that alarm. Then after pausing for a moment I advised myself, “Well maybe you should start by getting out of bed”. Unzipping the bag without delay I climbed out and proceeded to get myself ready. My last shower in this house would not be a leisurely one. After dressing I had some decisions to make. “First, sort out the few things to go in the car.” I muttered to myself, “OK then, number one, dismantle the computer and find some place for it in the there. Really there’s too much stuff in the car already. Right now a laptop would be much more convenient. No, hold on, first check my E-mail, then…”
There that didn’t take too long . I thought noting 35 minutes had passed consulting my watch as I closed the car trunk. Another hour and a bit to go. So now I need to check to see everything is packed and organized for the movers.
All was finished about twenty minutes before the movers were due to arrive. “Time to relax”, I said to myself with a sigh of relief as I sat down at the kitchen table just inside the side door leading directly out to the driveway, and began to recount the events of the last few days.
I’ve said my thank yous and good-byes to the neighbours and friends with a promise to all that I’d send my address once I was settled back in Kingston. My mind wandered to the heartfelt good-bye to everyone at work at the great going away party they had for me last night. I don’t think I’ve worked with a nicer group of people. That reminded me, the gifts were still in the car somewhere amongst all the other stuff packed in there. My favourite has to be that plastic beard scratcher Kelly gave me for the beard I shaved off last Christmas. She said I was always scratching it and I’ll need it if I grow another one. Who knows, maybe I will.
With that thought the doorbell rang announcing the arrival of the movers. Opening the door I invited in a tall, squarely built man standing there who introduced himself as Frank. We walked through the kitchen and stood at the top of hallway while I gave him a tour by pointing out the various rooms telling him what there was to be packed from each. Frank, with a moment’s thought, said it wouldn’t take more than an hour and then went out to the moving van backed into my driveway. He returned a minute later with two other men in tow. Frank’s partners, who were almost as big as he was, politely said hello as they walked past me standing just inside the door and proceeded to remove the living room furniture out through the kitchen and into the van.
When they’re through I suppose it will be time to say good-bye to the place and hit the road.
I guess being single and of course having no family to move (ie no wife and kids) I got the transfer. Still leaving my folks, my brothers and sister, and relatives behind was hard. They were now a two day drive away and not 20 minutes across town or just down the street. Sure there was the phone and Christmases, but some how I couldn’t see it would be the same, and I was right. … Now I’m heading back.
“Has it really been five years?” I asked myself. I suppose calendars don’t lie, but even though I can recall many things that happened during my time here, it really doesn’t seem that long. Boy time flies.
It was a sunny, warm day in late August with a hint of autumn in the air coming through the open door. I sat down at the kitchen table again and within moments began to reminisce about the day I first drove into Thunder Bay, almost oblivious to the movers going back and forth in front of me. The memories were still fresh in my head of looking this way and that at the buildings and street signs and nearly running a red light with all my sightseeing. It too was a warm and sunny day in late August with a hint of the sweet smell of fall in the breeze whispering its eminent arrival.
Eventually I pulled over into a grassy park with a short stone wall skirting the brow of a tall hill looking out onto the city and the harbour below. I reached over to the passenger seat to get the map I picked up at the Terry Fox monument tourist bureau a ways back.
A good thing about these tourist maps, I thought as I consulted it, is not only do they show you how to get around, they have ads to give you places to find like restaurants, motels and where to buy that perfect gift.
One motel advertised was fairly close by, so that’s where I headed hoping it had a restaurant. Having been on the road all day I was in need of a rest and a good meal. Unfortunately it didn’t, but a young gentleman named Dave, the clerk at the front desk who checked me in was not short of suggestions of which nearby restaurants I could visit. These came with his personal opinion of the food served. Obviously he had tried each of them … at least once.
“Now if you go out the front door here and turn left” he gestured pointing with his right hand, “go down two blocks, turn left again and half a block down, across the street on your right is Jake’s. Food’s pretty good, big portions, and a good price”.
“OK”, I nodded.
“Or if you like, there’s a bistro a just block down from that. Great food and a price to match”.
I nodded again.
“Or out the door and right there’s Chinese just two blocks down and around the corner”.
“Alright”, I said
Dave hesitated for a moment sensing I was too tired to take all this in. So he said in a quieter tone of voice “But if you only want a burger just go across the street and up half a block”.
I looked as Dave pointed out the window, and there looming ominously over everything around it were those golden arches.
“How did I miss those?”
Dave just shrugged his shoulders and smiled. I thanked him saying I was going to my room to put my feet up for awhile. As I picked my bags up and started to turn Dave added, “I don’t go for those combos. I just get a couple cheeseburgers, no pickles, and a coffee and that suits me fine”.
I thanked Dave again curious as to why he added that comment and proceeded to my room which was left down the hall and left again. Stopping outside the door I stared at the number wondering if Dave had given me directions to a restaurant or my room. At any rate I let myself in, poured a glass of water as cold as I could get it from the bathroom tap and stretched out on the bed with my hands behind my head.
After waking myself up a few times with a loud snort I got up. Nearly an hour had passed so I decided it was time to get something to eat. “Now its left out the door for two blocks and left again and then….or….?” I couldn’t quite remember not yet fully awake. “Or do I go a minute’s walk straight up the street?” The choice was easy, it would be McDinner my first night in town. Dave, who was on the phone as I walked by the front desk, waved giving me one of his big goofy grins that I had already become accustomed to. I smiled and waved back as I proceeded out the door.
After eating, on the way back to the motel I bought the local paper, The Chronicle as it’s referred to, with a mind to start looking for a house when I got back. Going in I saw a pretty young lady had replaced Dave. “Hello”, I said as I passed though the door. “I booked into 108 a couple hours ago.” She looked at the register briefly, looked up and asked “Jon?’
Hi, I’m Nancy. I’ll be here this evening. If you need anything just call.”
“Thanks.…uh….that Dave who booked me in,” I said scratching my forehead looking to exchange a few words with her, “seems to be very knowledgeable about the restaurants around here.”
She smiled sweetly and with a cheerful laugh replied, “Dave is knowledgeable about many things, but always take what he says with a grain of salt.”
“Ah,” I chuckled returning the smile, “Well, good night.”
Is she ever a sweetie! I thought as I returned to my room. Maybe I should ask …? … hold it big guy, there’ll be lots of time for that later. Taking a moment to gather myself together after sitting down at the desk in my room, I got down to studying the listings.
There were a few houses listed which seemed from their descriptions to be what I’d like and in my price range. However not knowing the city was going to be a problem I realized when I tried to find some of them on the map. Eventually the day’s travels caught with me again and I opted for the TV and calling a real estate agent in the morning. It wasn’t long though before I found myself in bed dozing off
Morning came again with sunshine and a hint of autumn. Waking about 7:30 I got ready and went to the continental breakfast served by the inn. Refreshed by the meal and a ten minute walk in the cool morning air, I went back to my room to go over the listings. One house caught my eye and I called the number given. A man named George answered and after a brief conversation agreed to meet me there at two that afternoon. I inquired about other houses listed, but these would wait for next day.
As I approached the house, I checked the address jotted onto a small scrap of paper grasped between my thumb and fore finger of my right hand as I held on to the top of the steering wheel with the other three. Yes this is it I observed and then proceeded to turn up a shallow incline into the driveway to what was really the back of the house where George met me as I got out of my car.
Before us stood an almost square two story house faced on all sides with dark red-brown brick. We first toured around the outside before going in. All of the front windows, two double hung and one picture window on the ground level were each adorned by a white metal awning. The second floor had two smaller double hung widows both front and back and a balcony which shaded the central front door with the upper half story sporting two dormers both front and back. Extending about 20 feet out from the house the front yard turned abruptly down into a steep slope to the street below.
“Does the front yard go all the way to the street down there?” I asked. George nodded.
“That must be at least 200 feet.”
“Yes”, George said looking at his notes, “226 to be exact.”
The house, as I learned later, was built near the brow of the same hill and not far away from the park I had stopped at yesterday; the park so aptly named Hillcrest.
A park built along the crest of a hill. Good name!
As George opened the back door, the smell of stale air greeted us as we entered.
This house has been vacant for some time was my first thought.
George and I proceeded over the threshold onto the landing and up the few steps into the kitchen. It was an older kitchen measuring about twelve feet by fourteen and looking very much like what I would have expected judging from my impression of the house from the outside. Plywood cabinets painted off white sporting black metal hardware skirted the sunshine yellow painted walls. White with black speckled arborite counter tops with metal edging into which was inserted a large rectangular white ceramic sink stood across the room from me. Linoleum with black and white alternating squares covered the floor and a three by four foot double hung window, bare of any dressing, looked out the side to the neighbouring house some 20 feet away. The fridge and stove were noticeably absent as I eyed the places where they had obviously once stood. Gone too were the table and chairs which would have sat under the window. Many meals were served at that table I thought as I imagined a family, Mom, Dad and kids, sitting around the kitchen table discussing the day’s events over dinner.
The nearly square, empty living room roughly ten by twelve feet, had a big picture window which looked out over the city and harbour. Standing at the window I pondered on how many times Mom or Dad or one of the kids had stopped here to watch the activity in the port or to simply admire the scenic view. How many times had they paused here at night to admire the glitter of the city lights? Had an anxious parent looked out through this window into the city below waiting for a child to return home? How many times had friends and family gathered here to meet and talk, share company or celebrate the holidays in this room?
We ascended the slightly narrow, and somewhat steep staircase which, after a step up onto a landing, turned ninety degrees and up straight along an outside wall to the second floor. At the top of the stairs was the bathroom, the only bathroom, which measured I’d say about eight feet by ten. It seemed large in comparison to those of the more modern houses I had seen. It had one of those luxuriously deep old fashioned white ceramic bathtubs that stood on four legs and stood adjacent to an outside wall with a window above it paned with frosted glass. I could imagine, besides myself, Mom or Dad having a much needed soak in the tub after a long day. To allow some privacy the tub had above it a two inch chromed rod circling it from which could be hung a shower curtain. I’ll bet this bit of privacy was useful on weekday mornings with one or both parents trying to get ready for work, kids to dress for school and just one place to do it. As I stood just inside the door I could picture in my mind the morning madness around the bathroom sink with washing of faces and brushing of teeth while someone behind leaned sideways for a piece of the vanity mirror to brush their hair. I could imagine the lineup outside the door through which could be heard a periodic knocking and calls. Are you done yet? You’ve been in there ten minutes already. Hurry up or we’ll be late. I chuckled as these thoughts took me for a moment back to my own childhood in the big old house I grew up in and the memories of similar events in my life growing up that I now remember so fondly.
George, sensing my nostalgia, waited a few moments before suggesting we should continue. As we wandered through this modest but somehow stately house I could see from its layout, its woodwork, windows and creaky floor boards that it was decades old. The colours of paint and the designs of wallpaper on the walls of the various rooms and hallways made it apparent to me that a family had lived here. One could see this room had been a young child’s room or a teenager’s, the master bedroom or for a guest. It was with these observations as I toured through that the feeling inside me grew to almost possess me that, what a shame it was once the family and all the furnishings that made this house their home were gone, it became just a house. If only the walls could talk. I thought to myself stopping just outside the kitchen as we finished our tour, quickly turning my head to look around again before leaving.
Yes the walls remained. Walls which had seen and heard many things happen over the years. Christmases and birthdays, events both good and bad that would shape that family’s life. Stories of times both happy and sad which the walls could tell us even if they could only just whisper.
But maybe if I could look long enough in silence and listen carefully, this house and its walls would reveal some of that family’s life in their home. I need only be attentive in my thoughts and imagination. I suppose eventually the children grew up and left home one by one to start lives of their own and the parents found themselves in a house that was too big for them and in turn moved away. And what could the walls tell us of the final chapters of the story of that family’s life in their home.
Upon leaving, George locked the door behind us, and we discussed my views of the house as we stood just outside the door.
“It’s a beautiful old house.” George said, and I had to agree. He knew I was impressed with it. Despite the fact I liked the house, I felt it was too big for just one person. George nodded understanding my concern and we agreed he would pick me up at the motel tomorrow at one o’clock to see some of the other houses that interested me.
Walking down the driveway to my car, I gazed out into the neighbourhood I had so casually driven through to get here. Its age was at least that of the house I had just seen and like the house it appeared to have been in some ways forgotten. But in that short time it had changed. Or had I? The houses I had recently driven by, which were not unlike the one I had just toured, now called to me each with their own story to tell of the home it had been. I saw streets paved with asphalt now warn and patched and curbs crumbing in places stained by the seasons of time. Tall trees as old as the streets lined them on both sides with their leafy branches stretching out to form a canopy and the trees too seemed to have tales to tell. Now the voices of generations past began to whisper in my ear.
As I opened my car door, a grey-blue sedan drove sedately past. I wondered if the man at the wheel was just casually driving down this street as any other not taking much notice of things as I had done coming here? Was the woman beside him? Or maybe they were a couple who one or both of them had grown up here with their drive down this street being a brief chance to see and recount childhood memories as they drove to their destination.
My eyes scanned down the street and back again. Houses, a small building which could have been a corner store now vacant, a young woman walking up the sidewalk carrying a bag of groceries and children playing in a front yard came into view. Even though a generation had grown up in this neighbourhood and seemingly gone its way, there were the signs of a new generation gradually taking its place.
* * * *
I gasped, my daydreams suddenly shattered as I watched Lawson’s cot walk past me and out the door.
“The cot! I forgot the cot.”
Jumping to my feet I ran out the door hands waving in the air yelling “Hey guys, guys, whoa!”
Reaching the back of the truck, Frank and one of the other men were standing there one either side of the cot.
“… this doesn’t go … I mean … I meant to return … uh … excuse me.” I blurted as I picked it up and scurried across my front lawn. Arriving at Lawson’s front door I rang the bell at the same time trying to settle down and look calm and collected. Janet Lawson answered smiling as she saw me with the cot.
“Hi Janet, here it is. Thanks so much.” I was determined not to say anything about where her cot nearly ended up, but somehow I think she knew.
“No problem at all Jon, do you want to come in for a bit?”
“Gee thanks but I really have to get back and get going as soon as they’re finished” I explained as I pointed to the moving van.
“I understand.” she said, “Thanks for the sofa table, it goes well in our living room.
“I’m glad you like it, I know it’s gone to a good home.”
Janet smiled and laughed. We talked about some of the events of the last few years.
“You certainly had a cosy home,” she said, “we always enjoyed dropping in
This time it my turn to smile.
“Michael and Mary will miss not having a second home next door.”
“I’ll miss them coming over.” Two great kids.
We paused and I gestured that I should go.
“Please say hello and thanks to Roy and the kids for me and I’ll be in touch when I get settled”
We each exchanged good-bye as I descended the front steps and proceeded across the lawn back to my place.
Yes – It’s still my place for a while longer.
When I got back, the movers were almost done. I went to resume my seat at the kitchen table only to find it had been taken and packed away. In fact there was nothing around to sit on at all. So I stood and watched the remaining contents of my home proceed out the door. Frank came back in with a clipboard in hand. He placed it on the kitchen counter, it being the only flat surface left besides the floor, and I signed the forms. Frank asked me if Wednesday would be OK to deliver the furniture.
“I’ll be leaving shortly after you’re gone and yes Wednesday would be fine”
He said thanks as he turned to leave and I watched as they drove away.
“Well I guess there’s not much left to do here now.”
Walking around the place one last time and seeing that all the rooms were indeed empty, I unhurriedly walked out the door and, with a pause, locked it behind me. Strolling down the driveway to my car parked on the street out front I stopped to reflect. No I hadn’t bought the house that caught my imagination when I first came here. Buying this newer, smaller house closer to work was a wiser choice.
Still I returned many times during my five years here to look at the house, as came to call it, and the neighbourhood where it stood. Eventually a family bought it and watched as it became their home. I saw the kids playing in the yard, Dad mowing the grass and the glow it acquired that only the touch of a mother’s love can give. During my tenure in Thunder Bay, I witnessed gladly other houses nearby take on that same air of home and the neighbourhood too which they were all a part come to life once more. Once again I knew life would take its course.
With a sigh, I looked once more at my home of the last five years, and then up and down the street which was so familiar to me now.
Even though I didn’t want to come here, now that it’s time to go back I’m kind of sorry to leave. This place has kind of grown on me.
I slowly got into my car and as I started it the curious thought of going to see the house one last time crossed my mind. After a moment’s reflection I decided no I had said good-bye when I was there just yesterday. So at length, I put my car in gear, looked straight ahead and drove away.