Category Archives: Childhood

Rent or Buy

There was a rule in our house about movies: you could only rent or buy movies you hadn’t seen. Renting or buying movie you’d already seen was a wanton waste of money, precious resource that it was, stupid.

So, what happened? Nothing but the inevitable: we watched the rented movies that we liked as much as possible before returning them (ostensibly forever; never to see them again), and we bought a lot of movies we only watched maybe once, maybe twice.

There is a sense here of wasting time as well as money. Yet, my parents remained firm. If you saw something once you never needed to see it again, did you? It’s been spent, over and done with. Rent or buy.

(There was no room here – no accounting for taste).

It was like they wanted to eat their cake and have it too, but also not have it to eat it.

Actually, it feels like it was a kind of test, which we failed, miserably.

Or maybe not.

Maybe we surpassed all expectation, if only because there was really no accounting for taste, no reason for or against it.

Waste not, want not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Entertainment, Family, Movies, THE PAST, Time

Big, Little

The hedge encircling our house was a world onto itself, a network of tunnels and hidden places we scurried and hid in like rabbits. It was a refuge, a hideout, our shared headquarters. It went on and on, right around the house and into forever.

That was years ago. Years and years, the kind you can put into groups of five or ten and count on off. Our house, a squat three bedroom bungalow, was at the bottom of a hill, right at the dead end street behind which the train tracks that ran. Not exactly prime real estate, but then I never minded the trains (freight, never passenger), and missed them after we moved away.

Next door was our neighbour the hunter, and his pack of three walker/beagle hounds. Across the street was the family whose kids we feuded with on and off and whose grandmother had a pug. We also feuded (again, on and off) with the next door neighbour’s kids, three girls (but not one for each dog, as I’d assumed. The dogs were their father’s dogs and his alone).

Later, the next door neighbour acquired a chihuahua, which had puppies after he “accidentally” let it out loose in the neighbourhood with my aunt’s chihuahua. There were three or four of them, I could never keep track.

He named one of the tiny dogs Rambo. He never offered my aunt any of the puppies. As mad as she was about it, she still let her dog roam the neighbourhood untethered after the fact so it’s hard to feel indignant on her behalf.

***

I check in from time to time, on the old house, the old neighbourhood, despite myself.

The hedge has been removed, pulled out from the ground, roots and all, and replaced by a sagging wire fence (maybe it wasn’t always sagging…I have just only ever seen it sagging). The space the fence occupies, once enormous, seems so small now as to have been frankly impossible. Perhaps it shrank? Or maybe it just atrophied in memory.

The bungalow – somehow even squattier now and dingy in spots (the once white brick, the once gleaming windows) where I remember it had been pristine – has been split into two (of all things, lengthwise), and has been remade into a rental property with faded patio furniture in the driveway (at last glance, three off-white plastic chairs and an overturned table).

Other things, too, have changed.

The houses up the street have been bought up by the city and are in various stages of being torn down so that the street can be widened and a new, modernized transit system can be put into place – in this case, a light rail transit system and not, as I’d initially assumed, a monorail. Pity.

Some years ago, our next door neighbour died (in his basement), as did the man across the street (in his sleep), although that one is more recent. A coma and then a recovery and then that singular twist of fate that took him out of the picture.

The dogs, naturally, are all dead too. Rambo included.

My aunt gave away her dog soon after she had children. Be it shame or indifference or something more or light banal or benign, she never mentions him. It is as if he never existed, as if none of it ever happened.

Like none of us were ever there at all.

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, Childhood, Death, Dogs, People, THE PAST

The Crow

FLASH MEMORY: my grandpa had a crow!

At least that’s what I remember, I think. I think I’m sure I do.

I remember being 5 or 6 years old. Coming in from a hot summer’s day, running up the red porch steps of his house and past the broken screen door with the holes in the mesh and into the kitchen to find it there, large and black and so alive, staring out from its wire cage which had been placed on top of the counter by the sink.

I remember its giant wings. Its sharp beak and the way its back sloped smoothly down toward its ragged tail feathers. Its sacred black eyes, blacker than black. My grandpa standing next to it, watching it with his one remaining eye.

Why did my grandfather have a crow? How long had he had it? What was he going to do with it?

Answers elude. Companionship? Husbandry? Admiration?

Or something else.

A day? A week? A month?

I can’t say.

And what indeed.

Grandma was there too, standing at the stove across from the sink, the crow, my grandpa. Standing with her back to me making soup, giant daikon sectioned neatly on her cutting-board.

Grandpa, Grandma, Crow. Sink, Stove. Wire Cage, Cutting-board. I stared at all three – at everything – burning the scene into my mind. No one said a word.

The crow beat its wings inside the cage.

***

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this memory, only its intensity, or what I like to think of as its tactile veracity. The truth behind the facts.

I don’t want to know if it is real or not. I want neither to confirm or deny but rather to indulge, let the image sit as it sits and shine or fall, fade or endure as it will.

My grandpa had a crow, with giant wings and eyes blacker than black. There was soup on the stove and sliced daikon arranged in neat piles on the cutting-board.

I can’t remember what my grandma looks like, not from memory.

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Childhood, Family, Food, Hobbies, Pets, THE PAST

Elementary Logic

One of the first people to influence my love of books was my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Oliver.

(I’m not sure if that’s her real name, it was certainly something that sounded like “Oliver.”)

Tall, straw-haired, soft-spoken Mrs. Oliver. Quick to help you find the books you’re looking for and to suggest other books you might enjoy, sometimes very much and often for different reasons. Knowledgable and stalwart, friendly yet adamant, Mrs. Oliver.

She was very good at her job. She was, in every way that counted, perfection.

Our library was small but serviceable, the books arranged according to grade level as well as alphabetically. Lower grades (kindergarten to grade 3) on the lower shelves. Higher grades (4 to 6) on the higher shelves. Easy peasy. A very workable, easy-to-understand system.

I read widely and largely ignored this system. The “fact books” (i.e. “Facts on Dogs,” “Facts on Trucks,” “Facts on Trees,” “Facts on The Breeze”… your basic all-purpose non-fiction for beginners) located on the fourth shelf from the bottom – the shelf meant for the older students and not second-graders like me – were a particular favourite. I read them often, even checked a few out using our self-check-out system (back then, a sign-out sheet with matching card placed in an envelope glued to the inside jacket of the books).

I did this for weeks. I did it for months and months.

***

This is a true story:

One day, as I reached for the fourth level self, Mrs. Oliver appeared and, gently but firmly, stopped me.

“You can’t take those books out, I’m afraid. They’re for the older students only.” She pulled the book from my hands and put it back in its place on its shelf. From then on, she watched me whenever I was in the library, making sure I would not access books above my grade. Making sure the system, the whole system, in its entirely, worked, and was therefore perfect.

She was always still and in every other respect, the one and only Mrs. Oliver.

By the time I reached the fifth grade, and was therefore able to take out almost any book I wished, Mrs. Oliver was gone, replaced by someone whose name and face I definitely do not remember.

But I do remember thinking, the day she took the book away from my small hands: “Oh, Mrs. Oliver. You just did it, didn’t you?

You made an enemy for life.”

Let me repeat.

For life, Mrs. Oliver.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Education, People, School, THE PAST, Words

Much Alike

My sister and I look very much alike. Her friends and mine confused us for each other all the time. Still do.

My parents always wanted me to be more like my cousin – poised, prim and perfect – but I look nothing like her.

My relatives say that I look like my mom. But she’s had some nips and tucks and doesn’t quite look like herself anymore (which, of course, is the point).

I must look what she used to look like, even though she never looked like my sister and bares no resemblance to my cousin.

Don’t believe me?

Just ask my sister’s friends. They’ll tell you. After all, they’re right about half the time, if not even more than that.

Looks can be deceiving, but not all the time and certainly not for everyone.

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Family, Friends, Relationships, THE PAST

Bad Eggs

My grandma died, and then my mom got rid of all the eggs in our house. For years, no eggs. Not for breakfast, not even for cooking.

No eggs. Not one egg among us. None.

Ours was not a household in which questions from the children were encouraged or treated seriously.

Grandma died, and then no more eggs. 

Grandma died, so no more eggs.

No more eggs because grandma died.

No sense asking why.

It was a mystery among mysteries (another reason we as children did not question it – it was merely one among so many exhausting many).

Later – much, much later – I learned that my grandma died of a heart attack (my mom initially told me she died because she had “a hole in her heart,” once again allowing her penchant for tasteless euphemisms to cloud event and circumstance and circumvent understanding). The belief was that high cholesterol was the cause of the heart attack (caused her heart attack). And because my family believed that eggs caused high cholesterol they, all of them, each and every last egg, had to go.

I don’t remember exactly when eggs were reintroduced into our home. But come back they did.

One mystery solved, only to be replaced by another.

At least no one had to die to cement this one, to hold it in place for us all.

At least, I don’t think so.

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Death, Family, Food, THE PAST

Lay of the Land

Some people are landscapes, and I catch myself staring at them so that I can take them in; their vistas, outlines and curves and bends. Each and every one of their distinguishing (and distinguished, depending, frankly, on the face) features.

It’s something I’ve done since as long as I can remember.

(And I remember getting into more than one schoolyard fight for “staring hard” at other kids and, once, as a first grader, getting into it deep a sixth grader whose prominent brow, delicate nose and permanently puckered mouth was like staring into the very depths of a suddenly de-randomized, nearly cogent universe…I feel like I was very close to something then, even if that something ended up chasing me back to the little kids’ side of the schoolyard, fists like cinder blocks raised in semi-righteous anger, puckered mouth ruining itself like a torn suture as they raged on at me).

It’s true, though: sometimes they catch me, the people do, staring at them. Taking them in. My options then are very limited. 1) Ignore and break away, or 2) Keep right on staring. Very little needs to be said in the moment.

Look. It’s not personal. You just have an interesting smile, a striking pose, an odd jawline, great limbs, a kind expression (or a monstrous one).

These are not compliments or criticisms or facts.

Just me, taking in the lay of the land and then moving on so we can both get on with the rest of our lives.

Now doesn’t that sound nice – isn’t that OK – if not totally one hundred percent reasonable?

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Hobbies, Mind and Body, People, School, THE PAST

$50

I constantly ask myself: “Is this at least $10 worth of fun?”

That seems to be the limit. Any more than that and it just doesn’t seem quite worth it.

 

1. Let’s Go To The Motherfu*kin’ Movies

My best friend got $50 from her parents for her birthday, which was a lot of money, especially for a fifth grader. It was the most money I’d ever seen a kid our age have. It was more money than I’d ever had.

“Shouldn’t’ you save some?” I kept asking.

“Why? We’re already here,” she kept saying back. Here was a movie theatre attached to the mall where we’d already spent a good portion of that $50 on junk food and other things I can’t even remember what.

We saw an animated film that was a bit young for us, but which was the only thing playing at the time. It had odd musical numbers that ultimately proved memorable only because they were slightly less worse than the film itself.

Movie tickets back then were under $10.

The next week and we were broke again, and would remain that way for weeks to come. For weeks on end.

It was almost worth it.

Anyway, it was the best we could do. It was everything that we, between us, could have done.

 

2. Wholesale $50

My dad found $50 on the ground next to the wholesaler’s where we went to every two weeks to pick up vegetables for our small grocery.

“Don’t tell mom.” That was the first thing he said. “Let’s go for pho!” was the second.

We ordered pho dac biet, the special. It came with everything. Usually, we’d get fast food or something else, something cheaper, but a wholesale $50 is a wholesale $50.

“Here, you can have what’s left,” said my dad. He gave me the change from the bill. But the difference between what he gave me and the cost of the meal did not add up and I told him so, thinking perhaps we’d been shortchanged by the server.

“I took $5 for lottery tickets,” he said.

Was it a confession? To this day, I’m still not sure.

 

3. Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

Stephen and I once found a crisp $50 bill at the foot of a frozen waterfall during a hike in the snow. It shone red against the white of the forest floor; a beacon on a cold winter’s day. A sign, if there ever was one.

$50? Think of the possibilities. An easy $50, free and clear!

But. We were living a new life in a new city and were still in the process of settling in. Extra money therefore meant extra responsibility, or at least the sinking feeling that we should act extra responsibly with it.

We used the $50 to buy groceries. Also, toilet paper. The good kind.

No lie. It was everything.

Double ply, double happiness.

Fun notwithstanding.

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Family, Food, People, THE PAST, Thrift