In my Grade six year, spring break arrived in fresh green lawns and far-too-bright blue skies. Maybe this was the first time that I ever noticed that the world sometimes was too damned bright for me to stand it. A normal amount of spring or summer sunshine would have me squinting painfully, and barely able to keep my eyes more than just a tiny bit open as they teared-up like mad. It was painful and every so often as I got older, I endured it without understanding the cause. Sunglasses helped a little, but not enough.
In my recent adulthood, I’ve been told that this light sensitivity is actually a form of migraine. I would learn later that our Mum also got migraines.
I remember an especially bright sunny day when Dad drove me and Kim south up Arlington Street, away from Kingsway and away from the Peacock Court Motel. Dad wanted us to have a look at the new townhouse that he’d rented for us. We were finally going to move out of the dumpy old motel and into a newer, bigger and better place!
(Once again, I cannot remember my Mother being with us on this trip. Where was she? At home in the motel or somewhere else? I recognize now that in some memories, I seem to have completely excluded the presence of certain people. I have no explanation for my selective recall. Mum could have been right there next to me the whole time, although I doubt it.)
After almost two years of damp and uncertain motel living, Park Place was like being on another planet. Goodbye moldy doors and drafty floors. No more rats scooting around in the ceiling, or mice living under the stove, or slugs crawling up the inside of the front door. No more discarded furniture in the back lane, no more dodgy strangers, and most of all, no more cramped living quarters, and no more sharing beds with our parents.
The moment I stepped through the front door and smelled the new paint smell, any thoughts of the motels were gone from my mind. It had only been a couple of years since we’d been on unemployment or welfare, packed together in Poppy’s house in Victoria. Park Place felt like Boardwalk to me. It was a full reset for our family.
The townhouse development was only a few years old and was named Park Place for its proximity to Burnaby’s large Central Park which was less than a block away on the municipal boundary with Burnaby. We were almost as far east as you can get in East Vancouver.
Park Place was a vast improvement on the scuzzy old motels we’d been living in over the past couple of years. It was so bright, clean-smelling, dry, and modern! It was built around 1973, and our unit was a new-looking three bedroom townhouse that had previously been occupied by a lady named Kathy Kronk, whom Dad informed us was a police officer. I’d noticed that Dad liked female cops, or more particularly, strong women who were strenaight-forward in their opinions and took no crap. Occasionally, some mail addressed to Kathy Kronk came through our door slot.
Our unit was number 121, located near the back of the complex and shielded by rows of trees. It was so much quieter and greener than our last home. It felt lush, fresh, and peaceful.
The moment that Dad opened the front door, Kim and I raced upstairs to claim our very own bedrooms. We hadn’t had our own rooms for over three years – not since the trailer on the transmitter site out in Langley. It all smelled freshly cleaned and painted, and it was by far the nicest and newest place I’d ever lived in.
The ground floor of our new place contained the living room and kitchen/dining area. All the walls were painted white, except for the wall at the end of the living room, which was covered in a gold metallic wallpaper patterned with felt white fleur-de-lis. The living room floor was a low-pile Lego-green carpet, and in the kitchen all the appliances were in harvest gold. On the upstairs level were three bedrooms and a bathroom – same green carpet and wall colour. There was a large unfinished basement as well.
Looking back, I guess this was our equivalent to row-housing, like I’d seen when watching “Coronation Street” with my grandfather Poppy, years earlier. We were lower-middle-class, but it all felt pretty rich to me.
After we moved in, we had a full basement, so a lot of things finally came out of storage. Here’s the inventory in our basement:
- A hardwood dining table big enough for eight. (We never used it.)
- A large oil painting (at least six feet wide) of a rough-faced man wearing a captain’s hat and a Cowichan sweater. (I never knew who the man was, but I think he’d been an acquaintance of my Mum, and maybe someone whom Dad didn’t appreciate.)
- A large dresser with 5 foot high mirror.
- Poppy’s tall four-drawer dresser, and wooden foot locker, filled inches deep with unsorted photographs, rolls of film, envelopes, and fifty-year-old cameras and other equipment. (I inherited the dresser later. It’s gotta be at least from the ’20s or ’30s.)
- A blue brass and steel captain’s chest with a broken lock, containing carefully-folded old clothes, photos and envelopes. (Everything in it smelled dusty or musty.)
- 50 cardboard boxes of varying sizes, piled up against the cement wall. All of these must have come from Poppy’s basement to ours. In the 7 years we lived there, we never unpacked one of them, and to this day I have no idea what was in any of them. I also have no idea what happened to them when we moved out, but I assume everything was sold off or junked.
- Various end-tables or tall floor lamps, which we probably also inherited from Poppy’s house.
- A dusty pile of laundry about three feet high that never got washed and never got smaller. (Our cat Velvet laid in it when he was feeling sick, not long before Dad had him put down.)
- An old chrome-trimmed kitchen table in the corner, which I used to build some model airplanes and a model truck.
- Poppy’s apartment-sized washer and dryer, with which we would occasionally do laundry.