[Disclaimer: I’m writing today with a terrible head cold and hoping it all makes sense.]
Now that summer has finally arrived and I’m planning my holidays, I’ve been thinking about my childhood summer vacations with my family in the 1970s and ‘80s. Every few years, we’d drive from our home in Ottawa, Ontario, to Vancouver, BC, to visit my grandmother – a cross-country trip of 2,991 miles that took us through the forests of Ontario, the wide-open prairies, and finally the magnificent Rocky Mountains before we reached the west coast.
My grandmother’s house was built by my grandfather in 1949 on the gorgeous University of British Columbia endowment lands. My mom and her brother and sister grew up there. Grandpa died in 1969, and Grandma passed away fifteen years ago. She was a wonderful person, and I remember her home with a great deal of affection. Unfortunately, the house was demolished after it was sold.
The house may be gone, but the details still exist in my memory. The rippled texture of the wall paneling. The marbled vinyl floor tiles. The 1940s-style kitchen cupboards. I remember the particular echo of the rooms, and the warmth from the sunlight pouring through the windows. Upstairs, an old console radio stood next to the door leading to a stuffy attic that was cluttered with dusty treasures (vintage dolls, an old wool bathing suit, Grandpa’s glass eye!). An heirloom family portrait from about 1900 hung over the fireplace in the den, and the bookcase held a collection of antique books with ancestral signatures scrawled inside the covers. Some of those books are now on my bookshelf, the portrait hangs in my parents’ hallway, and Grandma’s table and chairs are in my living room.
My favourite memories of our summertime visits are mundane ones. Trying on my mother’s old clothes (and cat-eye glasses). Playing croquet on the back lawn with my sister and cousins. Lying on the grass and staring up at the blue sky, completely relaxed and absorbed in the sun-streaked clouds. The almost hypnotic procedure of collecting huckleberries off the bushes beside the driveway. Wandering the neighbourhood and admiring the extravagant gardens. A short walk took you to the UBC campus where my parents met in 1964. The ocean shoreline and coastal mountains were a few minutes’ drive away.
I wish I could take my kids to my grandmother’s house, but we’ll find different adventures, and they’ll have magical memories of their own to keep with them as they grow older.
[The painting above was done by my grandfather – my dad’s father – based on a photograph that was taken during an unusually snowy winter in Vancouver.]