Monday 4 October 2021

Dad's Birthday Party

Prior to events described.

I'm in a nostalgic mood, perhaps because the leaves are falling and also because I haven't been to Canada since January 1, 2020. Every time I think about Christmas 2019, I thank God Benedict Ambrose was finally well enough for transatlantic air travel. That Christmas was the first time ever all my brothers and sisters and their children and my parents and B.A. and I were all together for the holiday. 

For Christians, Christmas is always special, no matter what year it is, but some stand out more in the memory than others. The same goes with birthdays, especially other people's birthdays. The one family birthday I remember more than any other was my father's 40th because my mother organized an old-fashioned men's dinner party, the food cooked by her and served by my 8 year old brother and 9 year old me. But I also remembered it because it was the first time I was seized by fear for my dad because he was so old. Time having sailed onwards, I am older now than he was then. 

I like to write about the house we lived in then, in part because it now exists only in memory. My parents have lived in their current house since the mid-1980s, so perhaps for them (and my two youngest siblings) that is truly home. However, when I think (and dream) about home, what comes to mind is a little white house, bumpy with harling, a lamp post on the small and sloping front lawn, a gravel driveway, and a green milk box by the side door. (That was where, before my time, the Lansing/Willowdale milkmen left milk orders. My neighbouring grandmother had one, too.) 

It was an eccentrically ordered house in that the top floor had been built, or converted, to contain a home for the builder's adult child. This became, I now realise, the general nursery. There was one private room, on the west side of the landing (the house faced south towards the CN Tower and Lake Ontario), and the rest of the rooms created an L:  a former sitting-room, a former kitchen (with a sink), a four foot corridor, with closets on either side, the former adult's bedroom. Until I started high school and requested the private room, I lived in the former sitting-room, my sister in the kitchen, and my brother in the bedroom.When the fourth baby, who got the private room, was dethroned by the fifth baby, his older brother had to share his room. The boys and their middle sister got a modicum of privacy by flinging open the closet doors; sadly, my sister and each other had no privacy from each other, and we both had tempers that would try the patience of a saint, let alone each other. 

However, it could not be helped, for the only door leading to the stairs, the bathroom, the kitchen and freedom belonged to me, the ogre at the gate. When my parents (whose bedroom was on the main floor, under the baby's room) decided their family had outgrown their house, I was delighted at the idea of everyone having "their own room."  And when I was taken to see the top contender for New House, I was utterly beglamoured by the outdoor swimming pool. 

I say "outdoor" swimming pool for a house on the other side of the park had an indoor swimming pool, which even now seems impossibly luxurious. As a child, an outdoor swimming pool was luxury enow. It became one of my father's hobbies: not the swimming, but the covering, uncovering, cleaning, and tinkering with the mysterious machines in the pool shed. 

The pool shed became the new place of imaginary punishment: where a fractious child would theoretically be sent if he or she did not stop kicking his/her brother/sister and finish his/her dinner. The old place of punishment was the basement stairs of the Old House, and as the basement was deep and dank and the stairs rickety, this threat carried much fruit.  However, I don't think anyone could be frightened of the pool shed, even though it is dark, for it is so full of memories, both recent and historical, of my father working cheerfully away in it. It's also a cheerful thought that I associate my father with a clear, blue, rectangular pool of water.  

This year I will not be at my father's birthday party. This will not be unusual, for my annual visit is usually in February. This year, however, I am particularly sorry not to be there, for I have never been way for this long, and never imagined I would go a year, let alone 21 months, without sitting at the dining-room table. Fortunately, one of my sisters and one of my brothers will be there, and my mother will make one of her traditional birthday cakes. And Thanksgiving is coming, and the whole family--minus B.A. and me--will be together again next weekend, which is also a (mostly) happy thought. 

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