An open let­ter …

On where the heart is

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­

Life for me is lived out in the sub­urb of my child­hood. My house, my chil­dren’s school, many of my most loved ones: all are here, in this in­ner-city vil­lage, equal parts gen­tle penin­sula, rush­ing thor­ough­fares, or­derly streets. Gone is the cor­ner dairy with the an­cient lean-to rein­vented as the hum­blest of spa­cies ar­cades. But, look, there is the cafe with its pa­leo bowls and kom­bucha. Gone, al­most, are the pen­sion­ers with their ro­tary wash­ing lines and bor­ders of aga­pan­thus. But, look, there are the af­flu­ent young fam­i­lies wan­der­ing through their de­ceased es­tates (“You’d just bowl it.”). It hurts, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. I miss the mul­ti­plic­ity of peoples. More and more we look the same. Richer, whiter. We drive big cars and turn our houses into fortresses with se­cu­rity codes. I miss the low fences and the un­locked doors. The fainter as­pi­ra­tions.

Some things, how­ever, do not change. As I did, my chil­dren still seek the poor man’s rhodo­den­dron, hopes eter­nally raised that un­der this leaf will be the mother of all seed pods, ripe for the pop­ping. There is still that house with the lit­tle stand out front: wilt­ing bunches of sweet peas, tomato plants and an hon­esty box. On a Sun­day night we still some­times go up to the Chi­nese take­away with the slop­ing floor for vege chow mein (no cau­li­flower, ex­tra cashews) and $5 chips. And while the new dairy has no spa­cies, it’s cleaner, brighter and the own­ers give away lol­lies at Hal­loween. I would be ly­ing if I did not ac­knowl­edge there is a lot to like about this brasher ver­sion of my old stomp­ing ground: good pizza, a glass of pros­ecco, last-minute gifts, all just a short walk away. And that, in spite of my fears, the sense of com­mu­nity has not di­min­ished, has, if any­thing, grown stronger. So it’s not that I would put things back to how they were. In fact I think, per­haps, I hold it as dear as I ever have. Lately, though, I have been toy­ing with the idea of leav­ing. I han­ker af­ter a garage, a pool, an­other room so that we are not all on top of one an­other. And to af­ford these things it would re­quire mov­ing fur­ther out, away. Can I do it, I ask my­self, scanning the prop­erty pages. Could I aban­don the sub­urb of both my child- and adult­hoods? Yes, I had started to think. Yes, you like change, change is good.

Then, last week, my daugh­ter came home with a home­work as­sign­ment. They are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the con­cept of be­long­ing, ev­ery child to share with the class some­thing sig­nif­i­cant show­ing where they be­long. We have had many dis­cus­sions about what she might choose. I sug­gested fam­ily heir­looms — an an­tique clock, a sil­ver teapot — photos of us hol­i­day­ing — on trop­i­cal beaches, at the snow. She dis­missed them all. It needs to be some­thing about our park, she said. The park, I said, but that’s not special to you, all the kids in your class go there. And then, drop­ping her off at school a few days later, I read some­thing in one of her ex­er­cise books. I love our park, she had writ­ten. Be­cause I walk my dog there and my grand­par­ents live near and I play with my friends there and there’s a pony I love who lives in a pad­dock close by. And I re­alised she had un­der­stood how the land we in­habit, both which we are born upon or may come to as im­mi­grants, takes up res­i­dence in our souls in ways I had failed to com­pre­hend. In ways my avari­cious­ness had tem­po­rar­ily blinded me to.


Diane said hav­ing just moved her fa­ther and his wife out of their home, which was packed to the gun­nels with stuff, my col­umn on the need to cull more and gather less through­out our lives struck a chord. “They had nine months be­fore the ac­tual move and you know how much sort­ing and pack­ing they did? Noth­ing! As they, ‘Liked their things around them’. Hav­ing moved house our­selves 11 years ago and hav­ing a mag­nif­i­cent de­clut­ter, I tried to en­cour­age and re­as­sure them how lib­er­at­ing it would be just to take the truly im­por­tant items, but other than some re­dun­dant fur­ni­ture, they let noth­ing go. As fast as we filled the St. John’s do­na­tion box, they took items out again. I and two sis­ters took time off work and spent 10 solid days pack­ing them.”

I have been toy­ing with the idea of leav­ing. I han­ker af­ter a garage, a pool, an­other room . . .

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