Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Growing Old To Get Back To

Whilst in the midst of my evening washing-up, I was suddenly struck by the most poignant and ethereal memory. For merest fraction of a second I recalled with complete clarity the downstairs bathroom at my Grandmother's home in Don Mills. An odd room to remember so vividly, one might ask? Perhaps, but it is a room imbued with much memory. It wasn't always a bathroom. I believe in my very youngest days it was some sort of closet, or perhaps a pantry, I am not sure. Indeed, it may have always been a bathroom, and my memories are merely engaged in their constant habit of lying to me. When I was quite small, my grandparents decided to renovate their kitchen and dining room, a process that would, as I aged, be extended throughout the entire house until, when we sold it a few years ago, very, very little of the original sixties decor remained. I remember only seeing the white coverings over the kitchen hallway, and of visiting with my grandparents in the always chilly basement, where for the first and last time in my life had what I think were Ladies Fingers, a type of long confectionary cookie that have been an unrequited desire for the last seventeen odd years since I tried them. In addition to the kitchen redecorating (which would create a rather bizarre placement of electric ranges at an odd angle to a wall mounted oven, something I never understood), the little pantry or what-have-you was rebuilt into a small bathroom. Simple furnishings, just a sink, mirror and a toilet, with not even a counter or shelves. The mirror was oval (I think), functional if nothing to write home about, the sink a tad spindly and the toilet an unremarkable example of its species. The wallpaper was green, bright but not lurid, multi-hued but not overbearing, pseudo floral without ever merging into a precise geometric shape. A little white wicker wastepaper basket stood between the sink and the toilet, and there was a toilet brush behind. The toilet paper dispenser equally white and functional. The floor tile was the same as the hallway and the kitchen and dinning room, large six inch tiles of alternating terracotta and pale brown, with grey mortar in between. In fact, I think it was the only original furnishing still extant on the ground floor, the heavy stonework on the fireplace not withstanding.

Why is this little water closet so enshrined in my memory? Well, it largely has to do with its location, which I shall attempt to illustrate with some simple ASCII art:

,,,,, __ [->
->] ^

Those three lines are three doors. Following the arrows from left to right, you would go OUT from the the bathroom into the hallway, up and IN through the door to the kitchen, and the THROUGH to the living room via the door on the right. Make sense? Capital. That little bathroom was therefore at the almost intersection of the two most important rooms in the house. And that little rest room was quite pivotal. The always lovely smell of the soap (my grandmother never bought anything less then the nicest of soaps) would mix with the smell of roasted French chicken as you would stop to wash your hands before sitting down to dine. The agony of having to leave a fascinating conversation or witty story behind in the leaving room as you darted to the washroom because you urgently needed to pee. It was also a temperature affair. With the fireplace on, the living-room would get quite hot, and when dinner was under construction, the kitchen would be equally warm. That green sea of sweet smelling soap was then a place of refuge from the heat, a moment of cooling the senses before returning into the social fray. I would often dart out to that little loo and then stay in the relative coolness of the hallway; thinking back on it now I would venture to say that this may have been an incipient symptom of what I have decided to euphemistically call my “Screaming Child Early Warning System”. Those gathering could get quite noisy, and spending time in the cool and quiet bathroom and hallway was a way to disengage from all that noise.

I miss the house. I grieve for it, to be blunt, and miss it with a longing that fills me with such sorrow. I don't feel this way for many people. For me, what that house represented was serenity, a refuge from the chaos that was the world. It was in the economically troubled and oft-times emotionally turbulent house in Creemore, and in my less cash-strapped home in Guelph, that I spent most of my growing up, but my grandparent's home was the bulwark against turbulent change and uncertainty. With my grandparents death, and the loss of that house, I have at times felt anchoress. With no Grey Havens to find my way too, my feelings of being adrift seem only to have intensified.

When I was younger and in some ways dumber then I am now, one of my recurring fantasies was that was the home I wanted to settle down with my partner, perhaps renting from my grandmother, and start a family after attending some no-doubt prestigious Toronto university.

In various ways, all those elements are now long gone, and mostly to my detriment, although I note with a touch of deep humility that I am astonished to find myself in a relationship far more healthy, stable, loving and noteworthy then those that preceded it. I must then ask myself a question, and that is this. If such dream-elements can become true again, then may it might not be a sign that I am finally coming out of the sea of uncertainty that I have found myself lost in over the past few years? If this postulate is true, then one can only wish that I will find another serene harbour for a second home.

I can only hope it has nice bathrooms.


Dolly Verstraeten said...

Your most vunerable work yet. Check grammer/spelling on "less crash-strapped..." it's near the end when you're describing how it was the house away from Creemore and Guelph or something.

Loved it dear.

Chelsinator said...

I miss that house too. Reading this made me realize just how much...

Jerry Prager said...

It was always a 'wash closet'.
Yes, they were a refuge, the two of them, and the created sanctuary around them.

The jutting out bits in the kitchen were a consequence of having what was essentially a pantry kitchen at the back ended of an otherwise large house, the counters/appliances framed the passageway to the big pine eating table.

The hall coat closet formed the rest of the space at the top of the basement stairs with the wash closet.

Good writing though.

Dolly Verstraeten said...

Wish I could have seen it. But reading this gave me a sliver of it.