Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Year I Didn't Understand

Apparently ostracism and estrangement are common features of Slavic families. I've met many children of Slavic families whose families have engaged in years-long feuds. Because of one of these feuds, my father did not talk to any of his family, with the grudging exception of his brother Jack, for close to twenty-five years. After a few years of rapprochement, he was on the outs again, and that was the end of that.

So I find that part of my family tree almost irresistibly fascinating. Today's blog is about my aunt Toni and her house, both major features of my life until I was eight. On my eighth birthday, everything changed.

This is my aunt Toni and her husband, my uncle Larry, on their wedding day in March 1957. Since I don't know much about her, I don't know how old she was when she got married, but I am guessing she was seventeen or eighteen. (Incidentally, on the left side of this picture are my paternal grandparents. My paternal grandfather died just a few months after this wedding — a fact I learned only a few weeks ago. On the right side of the picture are my uncle's mother and step-father.)

If I've ever talked to you about my aunt Toni (and it's pretty rare that I do), you will know that I think she's gorgeous. Truly: in my opinion, she's a knockout, absolutely stunning. This scan does not do justice to her, but I like the picture.

This is the living room my memory goes to often at Christmas. This is my aunt and uncle's house at 7711 - 149A Avenue; we are viewing the west wall of the house. Other features of this picture: my two grandmothers sitting side by side in front of the piano (maternal grandmother on the left, paternal grandmother on the right). The piano is the piano I learned to play on when I was three or four. Cut off on the left-hand side of the picture is Toni's dining room, where we would eat Christmas dinner and other family meals. For whatever reason, that house was magical to me, and I can still walk through it clearly in my head. The perfect Christmas nostalgia scenario involves cracking nuts and listening to Nana Mouskouri's Christmas record.

This picture is another in a set — earlier I posted a picture of me from the same event. My father is at the right of the image, smoking. To his left is my uncle Greg, and going into the shed is my uncle Larry. The head in the centre of the image is my mother's. All I see in this picture is the sky and the patio lanterns. I have no idea was year this might be, but I would guess it's July (possibly Canada Day) and either 1973 or 1974.

For the second half of grade two, I walked to Toni's house every morning and at the end of each school day. (She lived across the street from my school and down one street and across the school field diagonally from my family house.) She was my babysitter while my mother went to work with my father and his brother Jack in a short-lived and highly regrettable business venture. (My brother was in daycare.) Things began to break down in the family that summer, until my grandmother posed an impossible ultimatum. My father was then left effectively an orphan, not merely from his mother (who lived until just a few years ago) but from all of his blood relatives. Though he puts on a brave face, he has never recovered from that, nor from his father's early death. I remember wonderful things from this time, like details of my aunt's kitchen and my learning to read Enid Blyton, Thorton W. Burgess, and Laura Ingalls Wilder because of my cousin Wendy. What shocked me about this time was the discovery that other people didn't drink Labatt's Blue for breakfast — and that anyone would have any interest in my beautiful auntie's doing so.

So. There.

No comments: