House Proud

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I grew up at 3862 West 11th Avenue. If you are little and need to know your address, that rhymes which makes it easy to remember especially if you sing it. If you walked to the top of my hill on West 11th, turned right, crossed over West 10th, then down Crown Crescent, through the Army Camp (that’s what we called it in those days, surely there is a politically correct title for it now but I don’t care) you would emerge out onto Jericho Beach. The walk home after a day there always seemed incongruent to the journey down, as your legs lethargically carried your sunburnt sandy body past the little army houses which seemed doll-like and institutional, your wet towel slung around your neck, a cracked crab shell in your hand, feeling as though summer wanted you to come back–to the ocean, to french fries on your tongue, the cool touch of lotion, and towels snapping in the air.

I shared a room with my sister. She was much older than I so we had differing opinions on space. As in, any space that I was in. Who could blame her? I wasn’t meant to be born after all–who has a baby at the age of 48? Until then, she’d been the star girl amidst a sea of boys. She was better to me than likely I would have been had the tables been turned. There were some perks to an older sister, however, from my 7-year-old view, as in her Italian shoes I would strap on and clunk up and down the hall in, hearing their leather heel hit the floor with a satisfying sound that I could not get enough of. Or her barrettes from London, clasped against my forehead that made me feel like a movie star as I preened in the upstairs bathroom mirror during a long summer afternoon with no one around.

Inevitably, my sister moved out and for the first time in my life I had my own room. My room overlooked West 12th, with its enormous Oak trees exploding in colours and lining the street for as far as you could see. I slept with my window open all summer and loved to listen to the sounds of the city far below me, the party down the street, laughter and sirens, and the smell of the ocean here and there mixed in with barbecue and perfume from Mrs. Geggy’s lilac tree next door.

I lived for parties on West 11th. The dining room had a lovely view of English Bay and because of the size of our family, held a giant oak table that you could install extra leaves into so that with everyone circled around it was a large but intimate seating arrangement. I adored my parent’s parties and more so when they went out and my older siblings had parties, even when I had to share my bed with drunken girls hiding out in my room, hoping to avoid my dad’s wrath. As I became a teenager, and with my mother tiring of cooking, I started to host dinner parties, which, being a teenager, just became enormous parties, with our antique lead windows shivering to the bass sounds of Queen, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen, as people poured into back and front yards, smoked joints on the roof, made love in the basement, and inevitably ran from the cops. But my favourite memories around our dining room table were of my family telling stories, drinking wine, and my mother convulsing in laughter at the head of the table.

Our house was large, 7 bedrooms, and had been bought for 14,000 dollars by my parents in the 40’s. Can you imagine? In Point Grey, on a hill overlooking English Bay? But the day came when my mother had to say goodbye to the house on West 11th–there just weren’t enough hands anymore to care for it and in the glut of the 80’s she sold it for a terrible price and we moved into a small, cramped apartment. We both cried for months. My mom said to me, ‘I think you are taking this harder than I am and I’ve been in that house over forty years’. I did take it hard. I was proud of that address. I loved living there and never, ever wanted to move.

I have since lived in a few places I liked to entertain in, but none that made me feel special like West 11th. I had a boyfriend who had often picked me up in front of 3862 and met me many years later at my tiny bachelor suite on Hemlock and 14th. I apologized for the small table we were eating on and he said ‘Margaret, you won’t be happy until you are back in Point Grey’. I waved, and told him he was ridiculous but a part of me knew that he was a little bit right.



Filed under Memoir

4 responses to “House Proud

  1. Monica

    I love the slide show! And I loved my recent visit back to Vancouver – I saw all my the old neighborhood, except funny enough – not 3862 West 11th Avenue. I think brothers Kevin and Alan and I had an unspoken agreement that to go back and see the house changed would be too heart wrenching. We all want to remember it the way you describe it, and the way we will always see it in our beloved memories.

    • Oh, I’m kind of longing to spend the day at Jericho at this point….though no more oil on my skin, more like SPF100! These memories are small treasures we all share, West 11th will always be immortalized in us.

  2. Martin–It’s so rewarding as a writer, particularly a memoir writer, to know it has inspired someone else’s memories too. That is what it is all about–storytelling is a shared experience! Merci mon ami as ever.

  3. Josh

    Fantastic story, Margaret. Your text snapped the house right into view again.

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