It turns out you CAN go home again

Friday, August 14, 2015

I’m back in Winnipeg, where I lived for twelve years, and where I bought my first house, and where the preponderance of My Stuff still remains.  In a former life I had a house full of belongings that I loved.  Books, housewares, yard equipment, tools, furniture… all the trappings of modern existence.  Then I sold that house and downsized from 850 square feet of living space to a 75 square foot storage space and a single carry-on sized bag.  I sold some things and I gave some things away, and the remaining stuff - stuff that felt significant or useful (for what I was assuming would be a continuation of my previous lifestyle in some other Canadian city) - got carefully packed and put in a storage space that I’ve now been renting for six years.  I did have a few boxes sent to London (for an outrageous sum) and also managed to cram everything else into a slightly smaller storage locker down the hall in 2010.  But otherwise that life has remained suspended in time with only occasional visits to fetch hockey skates and winter boots.

So when I knew I’d be back this summer I finally decided enough is enough.  Hanging on to stuff I may not use for a decade (or ever) is silly.  And paying $78.75 per month, every month, simply for the privilege of owning a complete set of David Eddings mass market paperbacks and an olive pitter is even sillier.  And now I've also got a tiny storage space in London and hence was paying for storage space on both sides of the Atlantic which is, frankly, too silly to bear.  So I rented a van and opened up the under-used and unsurprisingly recalcitrant padlock on the rolling shutter and girded myself for a dive into the past.

Thankfully, friends who were on vacation offered their house as a sorting zone, so I spent a couple of days unpacking and repacking boxes and sending occasional photo text messages to my sister with pictures of treasured old kids books and other mementos, including a vintage pair of Star Wars pillow cases and a particularly evocative old tin of broken crayons. (It's the smell. The smell of crayons.  It is the smell of childhood.)  I think I was pretty sensible, and purged about six boxes.  Though Karen, who’s had to clear out two family homes in the last year, is utterly heartless about these things.  I suspect she would have advocated for simply handing the padlock key to a truck driver from Value Village and saying “Have at ‘er!” I've ended up with about 14 boxes of stuff to save which will, I think, be a profound disappointment to her.

This is the first load, off to be sorted.

Happily, some friends of friends came over by chance and hauled away a good number of books, CDs, bits of furniture and kitchen gear (“Welcome to Discount Pam’s Crazy House of Random Stuff!  Every book comes with a shelf to put it on!”).  I guess they’ve got grown kids who are just starting out in their own places, so my old two cup food processor and mis-matched coffee mugs and bike lock will have a good and happy home.

Anything unclaimed is going to a charity shop.  I do have small twinges, especially about giving away the bits of furniture I actually built with my own hands.  But then I remember that I now live on a very small boat very far away.  And I genuinely don’t know when I’ll live somewhere “normal” again.  And even when/if I do live somewhere normal I don’t know what continent that normal place will be on.  So as much as it tugged at my heartstrings, it just feels like someone else can use these things more than I can.  Why keep stuff locked away, weighing me down, using up space and money and mental energy, when they can be useful to someone else right now?  And really, 15 or 20 years on from when I built it, I’d like to think I’ll be in a position to build or splash out on a brand new coffee table.  Or perhaps I'll be in the right place at the right time to receive the cast-offs of someone like me, who's decided they can live without an old coffee table but not without a sense of moving forward.


And on the subject of going forward, let's talk about going backward a bit!  I’ve also been back in my home town Saskatoon on this trip and had a chance to reconnect with a few locations from the dim reaches of my childhood.  Back in the mists of time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth (around 1975) I was a kid growing up in Saskatoon.  And in that magical time the Kinsmen operated a very very small amusement park near the riverbank and across from the city's art gallery, the Mendel.  Both the park and the gallery were relatively important landmarks in the city at the time, and both are undergoing some significant change right now. So what better excuse for a quick jog through the past?

Kinsmen Park is a small bit of green space whose chief attractions to a 6-year old in 1975 were the merry-go-round and miniature railway.  (And here I am obliged to mention that my niece, who is now 9-going-on-16, used to have a great love for merry-go-rounds, which she referred to as the "Horsey-up-and-down”.  Which of course makes perfect sense.) So Kinsmen Park had a Horsey-up-and-down that you could ride on and a miniature railway that would take you on a very short tour of the park and, later on, even added an exceedingly small ferris wheel.

City of Saskatoon offers free rides (normally $1 per ride) on th
The old train

My great-grandmother used to take me and my sister to the park and sometimes buy us ice cream and also give us dimes to pay for the rides, because that's what they cost back then. (Now they're two bucks each.  Sigh.)  I'm sure my parents took us too, but what I really remember is Nanny... Dimes... Rides.  The rides closed down some time ago, so imagine my joy when I learned the park had been refurbished.  (Well, perhaps joy is a strong word.  Mild interest might be more accurate).  Conveniently, it was slated to open while I'd be in town, and it's a short walk from my Mom's house.  So with nothing else on the agenda, I walked over to check it out on Opening Day.

The Ferris Wheel is new, and much bigger than the old one, which I'm pretty sure had just six seats.  I suspect a high angle rescue from the top seats on that ferris wheel would have required standing on a chair or, at worst, a short step ladder.

Better, though, was the newly refurbished merry-go-round.  All of the cast aluminum animals had been removed, stripped and completely repainted in correct heritage colours, then reinstalled on the original structure.  This means all the quirky animals I remember are back, including the red-nosed reindeer, dog, elephant and, of course, the chickens.  Because of course no Merry-go-round is complete without chickens, right?  Or is that just a prairie thing?

Chickeny-up-and-down.  (Or I guess one of those is a Roostery-up-and-down.)  There is also a Rabbity-up-and-down and a Goaty-up-and-downs and even a Black Labrador Retriever-y-up-and-down...

The new miniature train is (oddly) quite big and impressive and lives overnight in a purpose built Train House (that’s what they’re called, right?) with sides that open right up to reveal the platform.  I didn’t ride the train (or anything, for that matter) mostly because the line ups were long.  Perhaps if the stars align and my niece decides she actually is 9-going-on-6 maybe I’ll hit it next time we're both there.

I can’t help but feel it lacks some of the charm of the original, but perhaps I'm just being curmudgeonly.

There’s also a new adventure playground and water park and even a zip line, which is all very modern and fun looking, if a bit wet.  I wandered around long enough to take a lot of photos and even had my own photo taken so as not to disappoint the lovely RobH.

Me at the train crossing

And then I headed across the street to the site of the aforementioned Mendel Art Gallery.  The Mendel is Saskatoon’s major public art gallery, and opened in 1964.  However, the building closed last year and they're now in the process of building a much bigger new gallery in an up-and-coming part of the south downtown area.  The existing building is slated to turn into a children's museum, though designs are still up in the air.  More significantly, though, is the fact that the Civic Conservatory that's always been part of the same complex, is still there and will remain after the revamp.  Yay!

The outside of the Conservatory.

Kinsmen Park and the Conservatory occupy the same "Childhood Outing with Nanny" part of my brain, so it seemed natural to walk through there after I'd had my fill across the street. The Conservatory is a large greenhouse stocked with both exotic and seasonal plants and is open year round to delight Saskatonians (yes, that's what we're called) with cacti and palm trees and other things that seem frankly impossible and slightly magical in January in Saskatchewan.

The cacti

As with so many things from childhood, the Conservatory seemed smaller than I remembered. Maybe it's because I've now seen the Victorian glasshouses at Kew Gardens and Amsterdam's Hortus Botanicus and probably a half dozen other grand greenhouses around the world.  Or maybe it's because I'm now 5' 10" instead of 3' 2".  Or maybe, just maybe, it's because the Saskatoon Civic Conservatory is actually genuinely quite small.  A mere 68 steps took me on a complete circuit of the collection.

Nevertheless, it was great.  The smell on entering was just as evocative as opening that 40 year old tin of crayons.  Humid and warm and lush and green and very very UN-prairie. Walking into the Conservatory in the middle of a Saskatchewan winter, when the glass walls would be coated on the inside with thick ice from the frozen exhalations of plants and people was a genuine treat.  Now the adult in me wonders how much they spend in heating the place through the winter.  So instead of begging pennies from Nanny to throw into the fountain for luck, I got the café to break a fiver and tossed in a bit more cash to help cover the heating bill. And I made a wish (not telling).

The fountain.  It was always the aim to land your coin on that little tongue that the water flows over.  It turns out this is much easier when your arms and legs are long enough that you can lean over the railing and basically place it where you want.

And that's my summer so far.  Actually quite nostalgic: horsey-up-and-downs and coins-in-a-fountain and dusty boxes full of one or two forgotten treasures and a high percentage of what-did-I-keep-this-for?s and a reasonably gratifying amount of oh-yeah-I-miss-thats.

Now does anyone need an olive pitter?


Anonymous said...

Hi Pam! Sent you an email.


Jill said...

I too grew up in Sask and had the exact same memories of Kinsmen Park, although it was usually a family outing and not my grandma. We never got ice cream though cause that was too expensive!. A great post and reminder of times past long ago, but so glad they have refurbished it for the next gen.

Kathryn said...

Are you still home? How long are you home?

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