Our Move to the Burbs

…One day, and I’m not too sure what day actually, I found myself riding in the back of a large truck.  It was huge and dark and noisy and full of furniture. I was with an older cousin I think. This was so cool. Jerking and bouncing round the chairs, cushions and tables in the back of that truck as we plundered along the pock marked, pot holed roads of the west end of the city.  I do believe it was February, a Saturday, 1956, a mild winter – part of the other hottest year on record.  Where were we going?  Not really sure at the time but I do believe that my parents hit their Shangri-La: a house in the burbs. We were moving out and away from the downtown core with all of its excitement, excrement and hot, humid, heavy smelly summer air to the fresh, healthy and quiet wide open spaces of suburbia.  Houses galore! All looking about the same. Design features of a post Second World War housing boom: two story houses with a large dormer in the back only accentuated on the street by those narrow and long, single story, brick built bungalows.  Street upon street, row upon boring row, with the requisite single maple or elm tree in the front yard. Wow! We had arrived.

What a house that was.  A two story big red brick monster, as all houses are big to a 5 year old.  It sat on a fairly large suburban lot. The front yard had the requisite decorative tree in place with a back yard that was really huge.  I had to curtail my excitement though because under all of the dirty, brown-grey melting snow of February was grass. And grass grew and I could not pretend to believe that while my dad watched his ball games Saturday afternoons in the late spring and summer months that my mom would be content to be out cutting the grass.  That little bit of suburbia, an urban Rockwellian scene of nostalgia, of Dad watching sports on TV with mom out in the yard working with the suburban plow, would not continue forever for I was getting bigger.  I was getting stronger and sooner or later it would be me out pushing that World War I era push mower.  And like those ugly, scary, out-worldly war machines our push mower cut grass about as well as those first tanks careened and mowed across no-mans land.

The backyard was fantastic.  Great for a kid.  It had two distinct areas. The upper yard, close to the backdoor, came equipped with a state of the art sandbox complete with fine coarse sand, four wooden sides with triangular corner seats for heavens sake. Seats!  It was bordered on one side by the paved single wide driveway and a very large and separate two car garage.  In 1956 this was unheard of for a working class home.  Why was this important? A paved driveway? Snow of course! And snow had to be shoveled.  I couldn’t depend on my mom forever here. Sooner or later I would be obliged to take up the shovel and well, shovel.

The other side of the yard was fenced to separate our abode from that of the neighbour.  The double car garage was so wide that the upper part of the backyard was about 20 yards narrower than the lower portion with less grass to cut.  The lower part of the yard, the back forty, dipped down about 3 feet and was separated from the upper yard by a tiered terrace. The back forty had large garden beds laid out in a square pattern with raspberry bush accents around the perimeter.  But all I could think about then was the potential for a backyard rink for when snow melts during a winter thaw water runs down the path of least resistance and pools, in this case, from the upper reaches of our yard to the lower back forty.  And when the water freezes as it invariably would we had a ready made skating rink.  Dad would never have to leave his TV and construct a backyard rink for us kids.  I was so excited and so was he!

My sister had other issues. Not my oldest teeter-totter sister, but my second oldest sister, the penultimate one.   In the winter time she saw the snow covered upper portion of the backyard as her blank and open canvass…a blank canvass in urban snow-house design.  She really wanted the whole of the back forty to lay out a “planned city” of urban snow but I had to put my galoshes down and stop her in her tracks.  As a compromise I agreed to help her in her lay out of her snow walls, her snow rooms and the snow halls of her snow designs, but only in the upper portion of the yard.  The lower back forty of the yard was my territory..

We always did this at night. I don’t know why but at night, when it was really, really cold and frosty out; so cold that each breath took your breath away, the snow glistens like it was imbedded with a thousand specks of diamonds, especially under a clear, moonlit, star embedded sky. And if we were really lucky, the green hues of the dark winter’s northern sky shimmered and danced and wove a pattern that was frighteningly beautiful and soothingly fresh; paradoxically frigid yet illuminated by such a warm glow. And oh so quiet. For two little kids we felt sure that we were all alone in the whole wide world. This was pure magic. To a 5 year old kid life was indeed magical and good…