A couple of years ago my husband and I decided that we had outgrown our little 7th floor condo at King and Spadina. Sure it was literally 1 block from our firm’s office, but it was getting too loud and chaotic. The appeal of being ‘central’ was being eclipsed by club-goers, vocal lushes, and frustrated drivers leaning on their horns in post-Jays-game gridlock. Plus I was pregnant, and though we tried as hard as possible to remain unaffected by the flood of nesting hormones, we soon got swept up in house hunts, backyards, and of course, commuting.
Hubs is a small town boy at heart. He grew up in Ingersoll – a nice, homey, place in Southern Ontario. I on the other hand grew up in the Annex. At the time, ‘The Annex’ only meant a few blocks along a stretch of Bloor Street in Toronto. Far from the healthy chunk of territory it seems to cover now, I remember its borders being Huron Street over to Honest Ed’s. There were lots of rooming houses, fraternities, students, and immigrants of the Hungarian and Polish variety. The stretch from Spadina to Bathurst was known as Little Hungary and it’s where my super-Magyar family and I rolled. South of Harbord St. you started getting into China Town. The landscape was crammed, colourful, and generated a comforting buzz.
While Hubs was climbing trees and frolicking with the horses in his backyard (no joke), I was a latch-key kid trading matchbox cars in neighbourhood back alleys. Hubs spent his summers outside – he’d leave his house in the morning and come back at nightfall. I on the other hand rang in summer with the grating, nasal pitch of the Cicadas piercing their way through the din of traffic. My sister and I would sit out in the sun eating cherries from Kensington Market as they sweat into a plastic bag. We’d listen to the radio and smell the spicy, hot tar from our (at that time) unfinished roof patio. The schoolyard across the street was concrete and rife with potholes. After a rainfall it would gather puddles that we used as a splash pad, drenching each other in the rooster-tails that resulted from barreling through with our GI Joe low-riders and 10 Speeds. A running sprinkler on any front lawn was an open invitation, and the strange acrid smell of hot garbage was an olfactory delight signifying three months of freedom from school.
Hubs and his sisters would play together outside in the backyard of their picturesque rural home, enjoying their pool and the smell of lilacs; and I would be with my Grandma in the stifling heat of a Kensington Market fabric shop, listening to her haggle over price per yard with some ancient Jewish lady who (didn’t I know) was Mr. Gwartzman’s mother’s friend’s sister. It was a strange and beautiful world, and it still makes me smile.
Yes, I realize that my childhood now sounds particularly ghetto, but that wasn’t the case. These were just the simple pleasures of a real kid in the big city. These are my fondest memories of summer. More importantly, it’s all I know.
These images are burned in my brain. Sure, we had other, more Rockwell-esque times at a cottage, or beach or summer camp, but nothing quite defines both my Toronto and my youth like a good, old-fashioned, stinky, clangy, boisterous, and sticky city summer.
Enter Veronica Bailey.
The reason we moved out of the downtown core was not just because we were expanding. It was also because our pending parenthood populated our brains with scenic valleys, apple trees, and fields of flowers that our new daughter might run through in slow motion. (Think the closing credit sequence of Little House on the Prairie.)
My child made me want to provide her with a ‘wholesome’, ‘great outdoors’ experience. All of a sudden the prospect of concrete and sweltering urban trash in the summer was just plain wrong. Vee with her angelic nature, turned me into a pusher of rosy cheeks and bright eyes. When we found our lakeside Etobicoke house, we thought it was perfect. Twenty minutes from downtown, but an entire world away. Still between mountains of kid gear and never-ending renovations, it seemed like we wouldn’t be far away from outgrowing our first house.
How would we manage that tiny space with 2 or even 3 kids?
We needed more house, didn’t we? More parking and less traffic. More suburb and less subculture. We started doing fantasy home searches in what we called ‘The Radius” – basically a 50 km area around the downtown core – to see if our next move would be one that took us even further from a Toronto life.
We examined what-if scenarios about schools, and work. We waffled on issues like property values, taxes, and even went 10 rounds on how commuting really isn’t that bad. But it all came down to one deciding factor.
Even though I dream in the sweet language of rural escape, I kinda, sorta.. like the city too much to want to move. And even though Hubs had a childhood that sounds like it would make Melissa Gilbert vomit, he loves the boutique culture of Queen West, the glinting heights of the financial district, and the whole wheels of craft parmesan from the Market. He loves working in the core and living by the lake, even if the Lakeshore versus Gardener Express Way battle makes him foam at the mouth while driving.
We like our stinky summers.
We like the cacophonous bellow of angry taxi drivers leaning on their horns.
We like the smatter of culture and evening hubbub.
We like the aimless pedestrians that get in your way when you’re in a rush.
We like the smell of garbage, the Subway, and our own special Starbucks nestled in the lobby of our amazing downtown office.
We. Are. Citified.
So while our little bungalow by the lake is a far cry from my makeshift splash-pad in pre-yuppy Annex all those years ago, it’s not quite the pastel smears of corn fields and farm acres that I dream about sometimes as the ultimate family escape. More importantly, it will give Vee the best of both world, and for now at least, it’s where we’re going to stay.