When we moved into this house, Christopher, now 25, was just 4.
It was his grandparents’ house, so he was of course familiar with it, but the idea that we were moving here for keeps was a very big deal. It was a big deal for another little boy, as well.
Across the street, a 5-year-old name Michael watched the trucks. I’ll never forget what his mother told me later.
“They have a kid!” Michael had yelled.
It is the siren call of children everywhere whenever a house changes hands.
Michael had a little sister, Sarah; Christopher, of course, had a little brother, Ari. Those four are still fast friends and have been from the day we moved in. There were years they pretended not to know each other in the school corridors, but the gravitational pull of the kid next door or across the street is always strong. Ages and interests may blur the lines of interaction, but geography is strong.
I was talking to my sister, Roz, about it the other day. Our family moved here in late 1963, just before I was born the following year. She was turning 5.
“You want to know my first memory?” asked Roz. “We turned into the court, and there was a huge pile of snow beside the driveway. Mom and Dad pointed out our new house, and perched on top was a little girl in a red snowsuit. It was Lynnie Eichenberg. And to this day I remember whispering to myself, ‘oh yay.'”
We grew up with the Eichenberg kids, five of them and four of us. Mark would be born a few weeks after Roz spied his sister on that snowbank, and I was born just a week after him. Gilly and Annie came along a couple of years later, just a month or so apart, the rest of the kids slotting in like the knuckles on a hinge.
Our mothers fed lunch to whomever was at their tables, and I remember many occasions sharing breakfast at the big horseshoe booth in the Eichenberg kitchen. Our mothers would just count heads and put out the plates, knowing this is the essence of neighbourhood math. Children rambled in and out of the houses at will, toys spread across the properties, bikes and roller skates tangled in piles.
My dad would give gardening lessons to any kids that showed up to his tutorials, and come and rescue birds that had stunned themselves flying into windows. We’d bring him every wounded creature we found, and watch as he carefully decided what could be saved. We’d have solemn funerals for what couldn’t, learning that all lives have a meaning, but also a cycle.
Christer and Ari and Michael and Sarah have also shared their moms; Ari once showed up on Jayne’s doorstop holding some ripened bananas, asking if she’d make him a banana cake. She did and I was glad because I can’t make banana cake, and every kid should have banana cake. He would take his tattered knees to her because she would kiss the Band-Aid she applied, leaving behind a lipstick smooch, which we all know speeds the healing.
Whoever buys this house will have no idea how many generations of hamsters and fish and birds are interred in these hallowed grounds. I hope they’ll see the hockey nets and the skateboard ramps and the baseball diamond that sports the sewer cover as home plate.
I hope they’ll see, and maybe add to, the generations of children who have flourished here.
Here’s to the new kids, discovering the joy of their new best friend sitting on a pile of snow, buried in a pile of leaves or dancing through the sprinkler.