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To condo or not: when a house is a home

Yesterday as I sat savouring a chocolate almond croissant in the window of Petit Thuet, I was spied by old friends. We gesticulated through the window pane until I finally invited them into the tiny space between the cash register and the window. We quickly caught up on kids, travel, old friends and then R. said,” We’ve moved into the Ports Condo.” My mouth dropped open as I loved their former house, spacious with a big yard in North Toronto.  

 I nodded that I knew The Ports and recalled my epicurean initiation with my aunt and uncle, both now dead, who introduced me to gastronomical treats at The Ports of Call when I was barely out of adolescence I recalled valet parking at a huge location at Summerhill -divided into four or five dining rooms, each suggesting a different cultural food offering venue. I seem to remember vermilion silk curtain, suggesting perhaps an invitation to Far East experience, but I’m not completely sure. It was a hopping night scene, most unusual for staid Toronto 50 or so years ago. I conjured even then that this might be a replica of New York or LA’s dining scene. I had no actual factual knowledge but gleaned it was a place where the rich, glamorous and elegantly dressed would dine, especially on Saturday nights.  

My Aunt Marion always felt she should extend my education, particularly in matters of art and taste. I would make my first travel trip outside of Canada and the US with them: touring Scandinavia, Finland, Amsterdam and London the summer I turned 18. We visited hospitals and mixed age homes, all with a view their socialist leanings. We wandered through ramshackle synagogues barely subsisting. My aunt would lapse into a kind of perfect Yiddish and exude a warmth reserved for me, but not my parents at home.We dined in fantastic restaurants and to this day I recall the scrambled eggs at Madame C- something in London which must have been so expensive to make my aunt gulp; and humungous strawberries eaten with a Voice of the Women advocate in Oslo. We wandered in Vigeland Park in Norway, pausing to seriously discuss the sculptures, and we noted how Rotterdam was modern and industrial as opposed to quaint Amsterdam.  

But the subject with the old friends was condos. They had a particularly long closing, their house snapped up almost immediately and now they were praising the ease with which they walked out and down town. I think you do live in your neighbourhood and certainly when I left the College of Teachers, located on Bloor, I almost begrudged dragging myself back to St. Mikes for my hearing aids or my shopping through Hazelton Lanes once within easy lunchtime walking distance. Now it seems I hardly trek downtown anymore, preferring not to pay for parking or become delayed or entangled in the rhythms of trafficStill vestiges remain- of relationships, rituals and certain services, so I do return. 

But running into this couple did trigger thoughts of location. At present we are committed to staying where we are until we cannot manage our two cluttered stories. It’s convenient when grandkids come to play, me introducing them to our space with treasure hunts that cause them to discover our dark unfinished basement, peruse my cluttered art room, or investigate beneath the table in the extra bedroom. There is room to hide and be alone and store all those unnecessary books, memorabilia I cannot bear to part with such as the X-rays of my daughter’s fractured arm when she was in Grade 8, my notes from Peter Melon’s art history class in second year university, the animated books created by my students in that Postcolonial class and my portfolios from international presentations when I worked at the College. I keep them because as Jean Paul Sartre taught: they are pieces of ourselves and we shared a relationship with them, intuiting that those now forlorn pieces helped us to know ourselves, to grow and evolve. To those who would downsize, I say bravo…but of course I know that eventually we will have no choice but to toss those dusty mementos and move on. But for now, they provide comfort, an expanded sense of our own trajectory and evolution. They are like the extra layers that keep us warm, arming our souls. Perhaps they are psychically necessary, or others might conjure, just crutches.  

For the time being, I cast my eyes at the bird feeder loaded with Muskokoa birdseed that has attracted cardinals, goldfinches,blue Jays and a woodpecker with a huge wingspan.Although the garden never replicated Virginia Woolf’s Sisinghurst all in white: that was my intent. If I squint a little I can even relive the tents and all female musical assemble that held my friends and colleagues one perfect spring night to celebrate my doctorate in 1996. I think of the surprise( and not )garden parties to mark birthdays and marriages and my elder girl’s wedding in our living room, intimate and cosy on a snowy day in January. Even my scowling mother at her 80th , angry at me for now a forgotten reason is part of the tapestry held within these walls. As an extension of one self, I think of the monochromatic colour scheme of our den and my own paintings based on our trips to China and Peru that add to a presence and make a house a home.  

ith our place in San Diego, it too is being layered with items of love, designing a space that speaks of us and to us when we excitedly burst in. But its size us small, a condo, and likely a forerunner of a place we may retire to – if or when we do depart this sanctuary where our children were raised and formed into extraordinary humans. Littered with toys, music, and the need of growing children, our kitchen table in our nook was/is the centre of discussion, and coming together as a family.  

I guess that is it and as John Polyani might agree- as I write this I discover what I did not know I knew- my attachment to my house resembles another family member, more than a space, it symbolizes who we were and are as a family. Its four walls more than restricting have embraced us, kept us and our secrets safe, connected us,entwining us with love and shared memories. When we leave we take all that with us, our house gently removing itself from us physically . 

But not yet and hopefully not for some time to come.

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