YOU REALLY CAN’T GO HOME!!

Robert Grant PhD

 

Someone once wrote ”You can’t go home again” and I thought “How foolish….of course you can!”

And then I revisited, after many years, Toronto the city of my youth and Port Carling the town of my early summers and, in the process, discovered the underlying truth of that maxim “Don’t be surprised if you can’t find it!”

 

Change when viewed from up close and over time is gradual and insidious. That same accumulated change, when experienced abruptly, is jolting and harsh. And that is what 50 years does to memories and certainties.

 

Traveling up Jameson Avenue, now a major north/south traffic artery, took me past row upon row of high rise apartments where once stood stately Victorian houses. The Fifth Dimension’s plaintive “They’re pouring concrete on a part of me” suddenly became existentially real and gut wrenching.

The streets where as a 10 year old I delivered newspapers, the sidewalk where I fell and smashed my nose, the street where the old bewhiskered Jewish merchant drove his horse drawn wagon in search of junk, the street where the ice and bread came from the back of a truck….all gone. But, I reasoned, some things like schools and major institutions resist change and should convey at least some sense of permanence. But, no, the familiar façade of Parkdale Collegiate is gone and so is the wide expanse of grass that graced its approach and the ball field to the left and the empty field to the right. All gone, and in their place an inexplicable hodge podge of architectural diarrhea utterly without grace or beauty and all crowding impatiently up to the edge of the street. But I played there …on the grass…and my first puppy Chummy died right there at the curb after being struck by a car…..all gone as though they never existed!

 Up the street where, after World War Two, women opened beauty parlors in their front rooms to make a living, I would, as a child, walk to Webbers Tobacco Store on the north side of Queen Street where I would sit by the hour reading their comic books and they would repeatedly rebuke me…. nothing looked familiar. The storefront dimensions dictated by the original builders are all of a kind, but the facades and the people of yesteryear are all gone. Gone too is Doakes Drugstore at the corner of Lansdowne and Queen with its cool, high, tin covered  ceiling and  pre air conditioned interior, and its unique ice cream creations called Mellow Rolls that required you to settle the column of ice cream (only strawberry, vanilla and chocolate) on the cone and then carefully unwrap the column and finally, once the ice-cream was naked, snatch off the cardboard top and only then begin to enjoy it. One school was not enough so on I went to search for Queen Victoria Public School where I spent 9 years with never an absence or lateness, a 10 minute walk through a strange and unfamiliar neighborhood, down formerly cobblestone paving and only to discover that the same malady that struck Parkdale had worked its havoc on Queen Victoria as well.

 I had such a clear memory of  how it looked in 1943 when I was enrolled in kindergarten there in the south end of that long hallway with rooms off each side progressing from the 1st grade room next door where spinster, be-corseted Miss Clark wrapped the knuckles of unminding charges, to the room at the other end of the hall where, as an 8th grader I was intimidated by the demanding teacher who also doubled as the senior sports coach.

The building I saw now had not evolved but had somehow vomited in all directions into an ugly mess. I could not determine if the old that I knew and remembered had become encapsulated in the midst of the new or been obliterated and replaced. If I walked through those unfamiliar and unwelcoming doors would I find some vestige of that original building with its long hallway awaiting rediscovery? I did not have the heart to look.

 

Driving through downtown Toronto proved no less disconcerting. Nothing, save major buildings like the Old City Hall and the Museum  looked familiar it seemed and everywhere people of every ethnic group imaginable scrambled past each other and bounced off each other in a mad pursuit  of what I could not divine.  I drove down major arteries like Yonge St and Queen and Danforth and nothing was familiar. And to my astonishment things that had not changed, that I had known well in my youth like the house  I lived in on Poplar Plains Rd, were just as unfamiliar to me now as those abused by time.

 

Conclusion: History tends to treat most cavalierly and with disinterest unless they are extremely virtuous, dramatically creative, or infamous rogues . The pebble hits the water…the ripples go out for an oh so brief time…. and then, it is as if they never existed. And so it has ever been ….and so it is.

So if you must go home, don’t be surprised to find that it does not exist.

by Dr Robert Grant The  Holy Land Guru

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