When I was young, I lived in Toronto
. It was a pleasant existance, on a medium length street in the northern end of the city, wilth lots of trees and lots of children. It was a middle-class
island between oceans of upper-class both north and south.
A short walk from my home--a single, detached 2 floor house--was my school--Bedfored Park Public School--where I was when Kennedy was shot.
There was the library, the Lawrence Park Library, further away, the admittance to whose adult section was a hard won accomplishment for one only in grade 8, only to be lost when the moving began. I remember walking to the library along Lawrence Avenue one summer afternoon--it was hot--for what seemed hours and hours, carrying so many books, all overdue; I had dreams, or nightmares of this trek for years.
In those days, Toronto was not such as it has become; it was a rather pleasant city for a young boy to walk to school, and go to piano and swimming lessons, and the Royal Ontario Museum, on public transit, the TTC, all on his own--a public transit hostage even at the tender age of 13.
I grew up with what we then called a gang of neighbourhood kids--though I hesitate to use that term today; we had no notion of the extreme negative connotations that would attach to it after years of exposure to American media. We just played together; we grew up together, learning what people are.
My father worked at the CBC from the mid-1950's until the early 1960's, about midway through our time living in that house. When he left, his colleagues gave him, and us, a barbeque. Rather primitive compared to what today's standards--no gas, no lid, no fancy things; it was simply one of those round metal, elevated pits for charcoal, with a round grill. We spent several summers, before the moving began, cooking our suppers there. My father got to be quite good: hot dogs and hamburgers, of course--I got to do those--and steaks, but also corn on the cob, fish, and more complicated things.
After, we didn't just throw out everything; we separated our leavings, and deposited the organic stuff in my mother's compost heap in the backyard, behind the garage. You must remember, this was about 1964, long before environmental concerns really began.
It was a wooden box. I never much liked going there; the stuff was yechy!. But my mother was an avid gardener, then, and spent many hours working on the colourful beds, turning the black stuff at the bottom of the compost heap to good use.
Across the back of the garage from the compost heap, we had a plum tree. I know, this sounds weird: in the middle of a middle-class neighbourhood in the city of Toronto--a plum tree. Well, we did.
I don't know what kind it was; the plums were dark, sometimes greenish, if memory serves. They were not pleasant for me; I didn't like them. But for several years, we got decent crops. I think I remember one year we gave a basket full to someone who made preserves, or maybe a wine or liquor out of them.
The plum tree did not flourish for many years. It declined; it gave no more fruit.
It was explained to us--take it for what its worth--that this species of fruit reproduced sexually: for some years our tree must have had a mate, somewhere in the neighbourhood, though we never found it or knew of its existence, except for the munificence of our tree; there were parks not far away, and some undeveloped bush. But the mate died, or was cut down; this we never knew for certain either, except our tree withered away.
That was the last time we spent more than a couple of years in one place; my father worked for the Canadian government, and was posted to Ottawa, and San Francisco. It was also the last time my parents' marriage worked; if there was a beginning to its end, it was then.
After that, I went to the University of Toronto--New College--and lived the student's unsettled life. Uprooted from my native soil, I have flourished in some intellectual life, drawing sustenance from memories, and reflections upon them.
That plum tree is planted in me. And with the curious inversion that often occurs in these things, it is growing still, bearing fruit, not sweet, but ripe for preserves, or spirits.