Life on Salem
June 25, 2019
My mother and step-father lived for years on Salem Avenue in Toronto. That was the first house my baby brother ever knew. It was a neighbourhood that was predominantly Portuguese and Italian with one German family who proudly raised their flag every day at the end of the block. My first brother and I would spend the better part of a month there every summer before our little brother was even born, and the adventures were memorable.
This was a street not unlike the cul-de-sac I called home in Thunder Bay. The street was a playground, a meeting site, where families feuded, and an occasional car would pass and everyone would be angry in unison. The houses were all different from the outside, but the insides were mostly the same. Except for the German and my parents, that is.
Chickens, Widows, and Pianos, Oh My
The neighbours owned chickens. I’m not sure if it was legal to own chickens in the city at the time, but no one seemed to be phased by them. I came from small town Thunder Bay and knew no one who owned chickens so this was novel. They didn’t always own chickens either, they just appeared one year in a coup that may or may not have been there the whole time. Possibly it was a dog run or a childminder at one point before it became the chicken coup. I’m not going anywhere with this, but it was an interesting factoid I wanted to share.
You were only allowed to wear black on this street. Or so it seemed. The majority of the women on Salem were widows. I wondered if there was something in the water and whether my step-father needed to protect himself. Luckily, he got out alive because my mother likes to wear colour.
In their tiny home, my parents had a full grand piano. My step-father being a concert pianist was sort of insistent. The funny thing was the house was built with more of a portable kiddie keyboard in mind. If you brought groceries in through the front door, you had to hoist them above the piano and side-step to the kitchen.
My step-father changed the oil in his own car. It was a Datsun of an indistinct year and I think it was a navy but it was hard to tell through the giraffe spots of rust. There were no parking spots for the houses, so this activity (as all activities), happened on the street. He would park himself under the car with his supplies and a cardboard box nearby. He would finish the job and drop something (I mean every time drop something) into that box. It was a box of Datsun parts. It seems that each time a repair was done to the family car, the Datsun company had provided too many bolts and the spares went in the box. I want to call it the Flintstone car, but that might have been overselling it. Whatever I wanted to call it, it was not called safe to drive.
Pogo Stick Challenge
One summer, one of the kids got a pogo stick. There was very little to do on Salem except hang around complaining about nothing to do. The Pogo Stick, therefore, was an exciting addition to the daily routine. One day I decided to set the world record for Pogo Sticking. Of course, now that I have actually attempted a world record, I know that I was not going to get the record by jumping on Salem for the day, but that didn’t deter me. I jumped the entire day and into the late afternoon until I was finally called in for dinner. My legs were chafed and raw and the street had disbanded cheering me on hours earlier, but I persisted. I don’t know what the record is or was, but my goal was 1000 jumps in a row for the day and I recall getting there but, it was like getting a hole-in-one with no one looking. There was no one left watching I could have bought a soda for to celebrate.
Learning to Run
Next to my parents lived an Italian boy 2 years younger than me. I could tell he had a crush on me and it seemed adorable that he wanted to join me on my run. I was on the grade 9 cross-country running team at school (there is a separate story there sometime too). I would spend the angsty teenage summer days trying to get away from my parents running the streets of Toronto with no one knowing where I was or even asking where I was headed. See why I wanted to get away?
The neighbour, let’s call him Luigi, was a little round boy in grade seven. The street is on a hill. I normally chose to run down the hill first, but because I liked to run alone, I chose to run up the hill towards the corner store that day because the entire neighbourhood insisted I take Luigi with me even though I knew it would not end well. I knew because I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do so I would ensure it did not go well. Luigi didn’t make it further than the corner store on the same block. That made me happy.
The following summer, Luigi asked me to go for a run. He had been training the whole year and had slimmed down and could run 5k with ease. I had dropped the activity and said, “No thank you.” Poor kid. I was such a bitch.
I Guess I Owe You $20, Kid
I love a challenge. So when Luigi’s younger brother informed me he couldn’t tie his own shoes (and he was plenty old enough to know), I made it my mission to teach him. He was allergic to the sun, so we used a neighbour’s porch as our classroom and I would show him how the rabbit went through the hole for hours a day. His father yelled at me from his stoop one morning. “You are wasting your time, kid. Even if you teach him, he will forget. If he still knows how to tie his shoes when you leave, I’ll give you twenty bucks.” He laughed like a hyena and might as well have handed the money over then. I would forgo any activity for the month to teach that man a lesson on not believing in his son. Plus, $20 is a veritable fortune to a kid in grade ten in the eighties.
I taught him for a week then went about being a kid for the remainder of the month because my protegee had, in fact, learned the skill and retained it. I waited for my acknowledgement, but for three weeks I heard nothing of my impending windfall.
As we were loading the car to head to the airport from home, the father reappeared on the stoop. “I guess I owe you $20, kid.” “I guess you do,” is what I thought. “I was happy to help,” is what I actually said. He handed me that $20 like it was his last. I’d like to say I was gracious and handed it back, but I didn’t because I had earned it and he should have known better than to challenge me, anyway.
All GIFs from Giphy.com
I thought I would introduce you to some of my fellow 30 Day Writing Challenge friends. Today, check out Linsday Gee. Lindsay is a fitness professional but don’t let that discourage a visit. She is also a thoughtful writer and she won’t pressure you to eat vegan–so she is one of the good ones.