Saturday, June 08, 2013

Walking To School

Memories are a funny thing. They can come to you in a foggy, blurry recollection or present themselves in vivid colours and sharp edges as if the event just happened a few moments ago. I experienced both of these yesterday, June 7th, 2013. I was chauffeur for my daughter who was modelling for Pennington's Style Study with Susan Moses. She had to be at a Scarborough location in the morning by 8:00am and the event started at 10:30. I would have two and a half hours to kill and I had prepared myself for waiting with my knitting bag and my daughters IPAD, I was sure that the time would pass by quickly.

Neither of those items were utilized, instead I decided to look up my old school. My first school to be exact. Churchill Heights Public School in Scarborough. I attended for 1/2 of my Kindergarten year before we moved. It was one of the most exciting times of my life. I had yearned to go to school with my older sister. I cried everyday that she left begging for my Father to let me go with her and I couldn't understand why I was left behind. My sister is two years older and when you are young, two years is a huge difference. I looked up to her as a wise, all knowing individual who protected me and tormented me all at the same time.

I had no idea where the school was located but thankfully, my trusty Poyntz application on my BlackBerry showed me that it was only 4 miles away. I was just as anxious to see our old apartment building as I was to see the school, but I couldn't remember the name or crossroads of where the apartment building was located, so if I could find the school, I knew I would find my way home.

The map told me to go to Markham road and head north. Between Lawrence and Ellesmere I would be turning East and following a road with a curve and my destination was just at the end of the bend in the road. I vaguely remembered a curve, but it was pretty foggy.

Before I knew it, the apartment buildings appeared on the right. I quickly turned onto Brimorton Dr. and entered the driveway to our old apartment building, Meadowglen Place #2, my first home that I can remember. I was just under two years old when we moved there and we left when I was 5 (halfway through the school year).

I drove slowly along the drive, looking for the sandbox that I fell asleep in, but it wasn't there. The swing set was, most likely a newer model and our balcony was now completely covered by the tops of a tree. I don't remember a tree growing there, most likely there wasn't. My mother told me that when we moved in, the buildings were brand new, owned by Ontario Housing and she and my father were very elated to be selected for a unit. I remember picking the still soft putty off the first floor windows of the adjacent building, thinking that it was a form of silly putty. I do believe that is what my sister told me. It wasn't long before the building superintendent yelled and chased me away, while my sister giggled uncontrollably and then promptly ran upstairs to tell on me.

The stairs leading to the parking lot at the side of the building are not nearly as high as I remember. A horrific memory quickly surfaced - Debbie and I coming out that door, each of us pushing our carriages and babies to show them to our friends. I was instructed to stay at the top until my sister could help me. I stood and watched in horror as she tumbled down head over heels, her carriage and baby bouncing along beside her. I was sure that she was dead. Frozen at the top with my carriage I didn't know what to do so I did what any other level headed 4 year old would do, I started to yell and cry at the top of my lungs. Then I ran upstairs to get my mom who helped us bring in our carriages and fix Debbie's scrapes and bruises.

I was overwhelmed by the memories and nostalgic feelings. It was too much and I needed time to take it all in, so I parked in the visitors parking behind the building and watched as tenants went about their day - many of them climbing the stairs from the parking lot to make their way to the street (Markham Rd) and perhaps to the corner Mac's milk. Still there after so many years. I'm not certain that it was a Mac's Milk when we lived there 1963 to 1966 but I know that I walked to that same location to buy milk, bread and cigarettes for my Father. Yes, back then it was not uncommon for young children to run to the corner store with just enough money in their hand for the purchase and sometimes, if you were lucky, a penny candy. People left babies unattended in carriages outside stores, while they shopped inside. Children waited in cars for their parents instead of trailing beside them in and out of stores. Normally, my sister would go to the store with me, but when she started school and I was left at home, my father would often send me out on an errand. My instructions were always the same, take the stairs, stay off the elevator, don't speak to anyone, go right to the store and come right back, only buy the bread or milk and nothing else, bring home the change, I'm timing you so don't dilly dally.

For the most part I was obedient and followed the rules, but one day I decided to break them all. I'm not sure why, but I started out by taking the elevator instead of the stairs, and while on the elevator, I talked to an older man who was already there when the doors opened on my floor. I answered all of his questions, giving my name, address, where I was going etc. As we walked out of the building, he offered to give me a ride. I politely declined just as I had been taught, I was already fretting about taking the elevator and speaking to a stranger, so I'm not quite sure why I got in the car, but I did. He promised that he would take me right to the store and home again. He did stick to his promise. He drove directly to the store, which in hindsight is ridiculous because of its close proximity to the building, its almost obscene to drive a car there. Once in the store, I started to panic. Worrying about the trouble I was going to be in when my parents found out that I had disobeyed them; I checked to see where the man was, quickly grabbed the bread, ran to the cashier, paid and hightailed it out of the store running all the way home and taking the stairs. Once safely inside the apartment I started to cry and blurted out all the things that I did wrong on the way to the store. Of course I was in big trouble, but not nearly as much as my Dad was when my mom found out. She was the cautious one of the two. My Dad was Mr. Carefree, don't worry, be happy, kind of guy that trusted that everything would be OK.

I decided to leave my car in the visitors parking at the building and walk to my old school. It would be fun to see if my mind would remember those steps I had taken 46 years earlier. At the end of the driveway I turned left on Brimorton. Continued until I felt compelled to cross the street. Could this be the spot that my Father had instructed me to stop, look both ways, listen, look both ways again and when it's all clear, cross. Not sure, but I decided to follow my instinct. I debated at the next corner on whether I should turn right or go straight. In my foggy memory, I should turn, but something kept telling me I was wrong. I turned anyway, and walked, and walked. This couldn't be right. What kind of parents did I have anyway, to send a 7 and 5 year old out into the streets to walk this distance to school. My own child never walked to or from school until she was pretty much a teenager and even then it was a big deal.

The sidewalk took me in a half circle and I came back out onto Brimorton directly across from my old apartment building - right where I started. An example of the mind not being as sharp as it once was. Worried that someone would have my car towed away, I decided to get back in it and drive to the school. It was on Brimorton, around the right hand curve in the road (maybe that was my juvenile mind turning a corner). It sits back from the road, but the walkway to the front doors is not quite as long as it was as a five year old. The property is massive for a school yard. I marveled at the large green yard with pretty trees, this I did not remember at all. Probably because as a child in Kindergarten, I was not permitted to run on the grass. We were quarantined to the pavement, to play hopscotch or just stand there staring at the big kids running around wildly.

The school itself looked vaguely familiar. I remembered exiting the side door to the playground but other than that - I had no idea if it was the same size that it was back in the 60's or if it had been enhanced at some point since.

It was time to leave, but not before I drove back towards the apartment building and turned right at Clementine Street to see if I could figure out what house belonged to my parents good friends, Pete and Marg. We spent many a Saturday night at Pete and Marg's, my parents dancing and me sleeping on the bed with the coats. House parties were the norm and the children went along for the ride, saving the parents from hiring a babysitter. I spotted it right away - it still looked the same. White brick and a nice black driveway. Fourth from the corner.

I looked at the clock on my dash the second time past Pete and Marg's old house and was shocked to see that I only had 25 minutes until show time at the Pennington's store, so leaving my memories behind, I drove back to reality.

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