Today is my birthday.
I laughed out loud this morning when my teenage daughter called from university to tell me I now qualify as a “senior” and advised that my husband and I should rush out to an early bird restaurant to see what birthday goodie they might have for me as a special treat for my special day.
I chose to stay home and think instead, and my thoughts went to 2147 Gallagher Avenue in Winnipeg. This was my parents’ first home, and we lived there until 1968. By then there were six of us in the family: My parents, Carl and Mary, Margaret, me, Christopher and Joey. Kathy would make her appearance in the summer of 1969, a year after we moved to our new home on Stardust Avenue, in what was then Old Kildonan.
I don’t mean to make this overly sentimental, but now that I truly am a “senior” according to certain stores that offer deals on Tuesdays, I feel fully entitled to indulge in some pleasant thoughts of years past.
Plainly put, I had a terrific childhood. We were very fortunate. We didn’t have a lot when we were growing up but we didn’t know it. We had everything we needed. We were never hungry, always warm and I don’t ever remember being bored. Our childhood friends whispered that we must be rich. It wasn’t because our home was fancy, but by the fact that my mom always offered up a plate of freshly baked cookies and a pitcher of Koolaid (with lots of sugar) to our friends who came to call on us or play in our yard, and probably because word got around that my dad owned a business. In later years, I came to appreciate how my parents quietly watched for someone in need and found small ways to help. It might have been with a sandwich or a pair of mittens, or occasionally with a word about a job availability. Never extravagant, but always thoughtful, and always in the most discreet manner.
Our Weston neighbourhood was filled with many languages and large families spilling out of tiny houses set on 25 foot lots, each a little different from the next, some in need of paint, others splashed with hollyhocks or fronted with feathery bushes with those weird little seed pods that look like beans. All of these homes were filled with kids who loved to be outside, winter and summer.
We lived on Gallagher Avenue in Winnipeg, within window rattling distance of the railroad tracks and just a block away from Cantor’s grocery store. Mom didn’t drive then. In the winter, when she needed to go shopping, she used to stuff me and my older sister Margaret into a sleigh with wooden slats and metal runners and haul us down the block over the icy sidewalk. The groceries rode home on top of us if she had a small load, or if it was a couple of boxes worth, they arrived at the kitchen door on the side of the house, delivered by Cantors.
In winter, we built snow forts and ran along the tops of snow banks left when the plow came through our street. The sound of the winter of my childhood is the sound of snow crunching underfoot and the thunk of hockey pucks, three homes over, slapping against boards in a backyard rink.
My sister and I didn’t play hockey, but we did go skating. We’d tie our skates together and sling them around our necks and head to the public rink across Logan Avenue. There was a shack next to the rink and with numb fingers we’d lace up our skates and pretend we were actually good skaters. We’d stay out at the rink until either our feet were frozen with pain or our wrists were numb from the balls of ice that inevitably formed in the woolen cuffs. Ah, winter in Winnipeg.
The ice rink was always full of kids. Even if you had no skates, you could always curl. All you needed was boots. The “equipment” was supplied. Once in a while there may have been brooms, but we didn’t need them to have a game. Big and small we all had a chance to play. The “rocks” were not what you’d see at one of the “real” curling rinks, but none of us had ever seen a real one of those, so the ones we had served us fine. And there was always a plentiful supply. Our rocks were jam cans filled with water and left overnight with a hook to freeze in place. Sometimes it would take two kids to heave one can down the ice. That was okay. It was all okay. He who shouted loudest made the rules. This was how kids became leaders and lawyers in that day.
Summer was skipping ropes, hopscotch, and sandboxes; drinking from water hoses and sitting in washtubs in the backyard. We wandered around from one yard to the next playing games like Tippy Sticks, Hide-and-Seek, and Red Rover. We sang outrageous songs that we didn’t know were outrageous and no one caught a “Tiger” by the toe.
We’d play outside until our mothers called us in for supper. No one ever called it dinner. If they did, they were English and it meant lunch. After supper, as quickly as we could, we would run outside again and continue our games. The evening went all too fast. The light would start to fade and we’d rush to get just one more play in before we had to go home. Everyone had the same signal. As soon as the streetlights came on we had to call it quits. The second the lights appeared, the backdoors of those little houses would open and mothers would shout out the names of the stragglers. Sometimes they were even their own kids.
Now how good is that for a childhood?
Gawd A’mighty. I sound like I’m a century old.