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Saturday, March 11, 2006

A SUNNY STROLL AROUND MY OLD STOMPING GROUNDS

SATURDAY, March 11

The sun is shining again today. The mountains are glorious, the peaks covered with a fresh snow-fall. I didn't want to spend the entire day indoors, so I went on a stroll up the Drive to mail the manuscripts I'd editing this morning for my class. As usual, there were teams of people on the Drive, a lot of them sitting at the outdoor coffee shops enjoying the sunshine.
But there's a lot of construction going on too, heavy traffic on the road as a result, and in some places the sidewalks are blocked off, so I decided, on my return home, to take a different route.

From Commercial Drive, I turned down First Avenue to the corner of Salisbury Dr. where my Dad's old church is located. A lot of memories surface whenever I'm by this church. I sometimes go there but not often because things are different now and it just doesn't seem the same anymore. Besides, the church is full of such precious family memories and I find it to be an emotional journey to return. My Dad preached there for 13 years when we moved here after the war. I was married there, so was my sister and my cousin Grace. My mother's funeral was held there, so was the funeral of my friend Doreen. When he was little, my son went to Sunday School there and so did I when I was a teenager. My friends Ruth and Junie and I sang in the choir and had a trio that was often asked to perform. I also sang solos once in awhile. When I was first married we belonged to a young couple's club at the Church and I'm still friends with a couple of the women. My friend Doreen's daughter is a good friend of mine too.

At the next corner, is a park where the Italian guys play bocce. There was a gang of them there today and a lot of shouting going on. Adjacent to the park is a big old house where a lady named Mrs Grey used to live. I stayed there with her one time when my Mom and sister had scarlet fever. I used to go to the high school just down the Drive where I pass by on my way up to the shops. That park was a place where my friends and I sometimes hung out at nights with the boys. My friends Junie and Ruth (the friend I'm going to Malaysia with) lived in the area and Saturday nights after we'd gone (like good girls) to the Youth for Christ meetings, we'd often spend the night at Junie's. I remember more than once sneaking out in the night and going down to the park to meet boys. I remember, too, that sometimes we'd find a car that was unlocked and sit inside to neck. Nowdays you'd never leave a car unlocked, not for a minute!
Back then I think people even left their houses unlocked!

Down along Salisbury, I passed the very first apartment building my husband and I lived in when we first got married. I wonder if the same multi-coloured tiles are still on the floors and in the bathroom. I think the builder used up left-over scraps when he built it. Still, it was brand new when we moved in there back in '57 and it still looks the same from the outside.
We lived there until I was pregnant with my son and then we moved into the basement suite at my parent's house in a different part of town away from the Drive.

There's a lot of beautiful heritage houses in this area. It was one of the early residential areas of the city. On one corner is a magnificent mansion, now a designated heritage site though it's used a seniors rest home now. That house and another one up the street were built by two Australian brothers who made a fortune in real estate at the turn of the last century then lost it in the 1913 crash. Both houses are named after plants found on their parent's sheep farms. The two mansions were restored within the last ten years and are classified as heritage buidings.

I turned up to Victoria Drive and passed within eye-shot of my old junior high school. I don't often go by there because I really don't have the same warm and fuzzy feelings about that school as I do for the highschool. I was a shy girl, new in town and this was the biggest junior high in western Canada. A lot of rough kids went there. By then the East End was mainly a working-class neighbourhood and full of immigrants, mostly Italian and Ukranian or Polish.
I was always fascinated by the Italians and I've written a couple of memoirs about those days when I was fourteen/sixteen years old. Ruth and I used to know all the words (in Italian) to the opera arias that Mario Lanza sang and we were completely entranced by these gangs of good-looking dark-haired Italian boys who used to hang out at every street corner.

Farther along Victoria Drive I passed the place where there used to be an old run-down frame tenament building where we spent a lot of time visiting a woman called "Ma Dale"
Her son Frankie was a buddy of my boyfriend Jimmy and we loved hanging out there playing cards, talking and just being teen-agers in a way our strict Baptist parents wouldn't allow us to be. We probably even drank beer there, if I remember correctly. Our parents were horrified when they found out where we were spending all our time because Ma Dale was just the kind of woman you'd imagine...sort of a Bonny & Clyde character. We found her fascinating!

Very near by, practically around the corner, is where I live now. And on this sunny day I have a magnificent view of the snow-capped mountains and the city skyline downtown. It's mainly apartment buildings on this street, but there's a beautiful old Victorian style house a couple of doors down. They've used it for filming movies in the past.

I enjoyed my stroll, a change of scene from the bustling Commercial Drive. Sometimes it's fun to take short-cuts and different routes. You never know what memories you'll conjur up or what interesting things you'll run across.

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