SavortheFolly wondered what it was like, growing up in a small town. She seems, sadly, to have left the blogosphere. We can only hope that things turn out well for her and she returns at some future time. For her, and for the rest of my readers who don’t doze off, I present this little trip back in time, to see what shaped little Archon into what he is today.
The road to “different” and “loner” probably started on the property, and, in the house where I was born. When I was born, there was no hospital in my town. I was astounded to discover that, because, diagonally across the corner from my house, was a hospital. I was born at home, because at that time, the “hospital” was a summer tourist lodge. It failed, financially, when I was a couple of years old, and the town seized it for back-taxes and converted it.
Three years after I was born, my mother went to a birthing home in the next town, a week before her due date, to give birth to my brother. She said it was actually a horrible experience. There were no TVs and no radios. The drapes were always drawn, and the expectant mothers were expected to remain quiet and in bed. You could cut the boredom with a butter-knife. Immediately after giving birth, women who hadn’t moved a muscle for a week or more, were expected to get up and go home. If Dad hadn’t held her up, she said she’d have collapsed on the floor.
Ours was an older neighborhood. I was the only non-teen child for two blocks in any direction. My ten-year-older half-sister managed to fit in, but I learned how to play by myself.
Our property consisted of three building lots, two on the main road and one across the back, on the side street. When I got old enough to help, there was a vegetable garden, a flower garden in front of it, and a huge lawn to mow with a manual push mower. Our property was unique in the town, and possibly in all of Ontario, in that, of home properties with trees, ours was the only one without a single maple tree.
We had two poplar trees. We had three mountain ash, two elm trees, two lilacs, planted before I was born and grown to almost tree size, and a horse-chestnut. I don’t know how we got the horse-chestnut. It’s native to southern Asia. All those great big nuts, and they were bitter and poisonous. At least we could throw them at each other and mount them on strings, to play conkers.
Dad sold the lot on the side street. Years before, it had been a farm orchard with apple and pear trees. All of those were dug out except two pear trees at the back edge of our lot. Eventually these too, died. Dad cut off all the branches, leaving two trunks about six feet tall. He strung a steel cable between them for an auxiliary clothesline. No dryers, back then, or Laundromats, you washed clothes at home and hung them outside, to dry.
We had tax records of “barn and sheds” from 1848, and “house and sheds” from 1852. The house was built somewhere in those four years. We were only four blocks off the retail district, but this had been a farm. The foundation of the house was three feet thick, built with the stones taken from the tilled fields. The basement beams that held the house up, were roughly squared elm trees that had been cut down to clear fields. The bark was still on some sections of them.
When piping was installed for the kitchen sink, it was put right up against the stone foundation, to reach the sink, mounted on the outside wall. If we had a particularly cold winter, sometimes the pipe, (cold water only at that point) would freeze, and Dad would have to go down to the basement with a blowtorch or real torch, made of an old shirt on a stick soaked in lighter fluid, and thaw it out.
There was a full? basement under only half the house, and it was only about five feet tall, to the bottom of the beams. The floor was bricks. We were up on a hill, thirty feet above a large pond a block away, and fifty feet above Lake Huron, but, apparently the water-table was high. We lifted a few bricks, and the holes started filling with water.
The ceilings in all the rooms were twelve feet high, almost impossible to heat. One room at a time my father and a friend put in false ceilings to the top of the windows, only eight foot-six. We punched a hole in the upper wall of the attic stairway, and my brother and I crawled out on the new ceiling and broke holes between the studs on the outside wall, and poured in loose fibreglass insulation. The first room we did was during a hot summer, so we wore only shorts and sleeveless shirts….and ITCHED for days. As we did each successive room, we learned to wear long clothing.
When I was about eight, Dad had installed a propane water heater. Till then, water for laundry or baths was boiled in a couple of huge copper pails, on a wood-burning stove, even in the summer. A couple of years later Dad had a propane furnace installed. We’d had the wood-stove in the kitchen and a coal-fired “furnace” in the living room. One year we had a thaw and then a refreeze. When it thawed the second time, water poured in through the stone foundation and burned out the new furnace. We still had the wood stove, but it was a cold couple of days till we got the water pumped out and the new furnace repaired.
In the winter, it was cold enough in the mornings to see my breath, in my bedroom. I would often grab my clothes and run into the living-room and stand beside the now red-hot furnace and hold my clothes up to warm them, before I put them on. One day, I shucked off my pyjama bottom and went to put on my undershorts, and caught my toe and fell sideways. I left the skin from one ass-cheek on the furnace.
There are portions of my childhood that I wish were still available to me, but there are as many, or more, that I’m just as glad are long gone. Vive technology.