Monthly Archives: August 2017

On Mathilda Jane Thompson

Sometimes, I think about the woman who used to live in this house.

We don’t know much about her. We do know that she was the daughter of a wealthy local railway man who built a house that remains one of the heritage homes in the city. We do know that, at some point in her life, her father built a large duplex right across the street from his still-larger home, one side for her brother and his wife, the other side for her and her husband. We do know that her husband was a banker. We do not know for sure if they had children, though I assume it likely.

When it comes to knowing about someone, this is oh, so very little. A woman’s life is not contained in her relationship to her father, or in her relationship to her brother, or her husband. It is not even contained in her relationship to her children.

So, sometimes, I look around this old house and I wonder.

Where did she spend her days? Did she use the room off the kitchen for an every day sitting room and save the more ornate living room and dining room for guests? Did she have female friends who called on her during the day, bringing their children to play – quietly – while they sat around the fire and drank tea (or, perhaps, something stronger)? Did they ever have a party, filling the grand living room and dining room with luxurious fashion and laughing faces? Did she and her husband share a room, or did he take the first master – the one with the fireplace – and she the second, a room with the exact same dimensions, but no fireplace and a slightly smaller closet? Did she spend evenings sipping tea in the comfort of the sunroom, or was this the room strewn with toys and her children’s hobbies? In which room did she rock her children to sleep?

In which room did she give birth?

I wonder what the kitchen looked like at the time. Today, it’s cheap and modernized, with a wall that is far from original separating the counters and cupboards from the laundry room and powder room in behind it. Then, did it contain large cabinets? A heavy island meant for kneading bread, chopping vegetables, and mixing copious amounts of baked goods? Did she have hired help? A maid, a cook, a housekeeper?

What did her furniture look like? Did she pick each item with great care without considering the cost, concerned only with current styles, and trends, and timelessness? Or, was much of her furniture handed down, overflow from her mother’s opulent taste in the great house across the street? Did she choose artwork to display on the walls? Things she liked? Artists she wanted to support? Did she wallpaper? Did she embroider her own pillowcases and knit her children’s wardrobe?

Would she have been an Instagram mom, had Instagram existed in 1870? Were her friends jealous of her perfect life in her perfect house with her perfect children?

Or, perhaps she used the house very little. Perhaps she spent her evenings here, going through the motions of raising proper Victorian children, but every morning, after a simple breakfast of bread and cheese, she gathered up her children and, hand-in-hand, they crossed the street to her parent’s home where they settled in to a much grander atmosphere, her children with their cousin and a governess. Here, perhaps, she pulled out her embroidery, and drifted into the stereotypical, quiet life of a wealthy Victorian woman.

But maybe she hated it. Maybe, every evening, alone in her own room, she sat in the bay window and peered down the street, wondering what it would be like to walk past her neighbours, away from the rows of red brick houses, over one bridge, and maybe another, into the Canadian wilderness in search of something else, something less buttoned, something less full of detail, and symmetry, and perfection. Maybe she thought about the wild that was beyond the city limits and wondered what it would be like to experience the vastness of a forest that never really ends until it hits the water, the overwhelming picturesque nature of the unsettled countryside. Maybe she wanted more than these 10 rooms, but couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was for which she yearned.

I have no idea. But sometimes, I look around and I wonder what other life this house has held.

Was she so different from me?

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On Turning Life Upside Down

It has now been just over a year since my husband and I made the decision to uproot our little family and move out of the big city and into a smaller one. A lot has happened in that year: Mark’s partnership with his brother; Eden’s birth; my new job. Big, stressful things. Sometimes, it feels a little bit like we’re still uprooted.

We recently welcomed friends from our old life into our new home. They miss us. I miss them. And yet, it threw me off just a little bit when they asked, “Do you want to come back? Or are you here forever?”

The question was phrased differently than I’ve heard it before. “Do you want to come back?” is not the same question as, “Do you like it here?” It’s not the same as “Are you happy here?” It’s not the same as, “Do you miss Toronto?” It’s just not the same. I was shocked to realize that my gut reaction was a resounding, “Yes!” Looking at my friend, a friend I hadn’t seen except through the glossy screens of social media for nearly six months, for the first time, I thought, “Yes, I want to come back!”

Except, I don’t. Not really. I do like it here. I am happy here. I really have no desire to leave this little city we have decided to call home.

But, at the same time, I do miss Toronto.

I miss the hum that I didn’t notice was there until we moved here. I miss the proximity, everyone going through life side by side. I miss the parks, filled to the brim with children and their caregivers, the streets vibrant with foot traffic at all hours of the day, the subways rumbling beneath our feet. I miss street after street of houses, none the same, each filled with their own small drama. I miss the people, the faces that didn’t look anything like my own, the chatter of language I didn’t understand, the comfortable anonymity of crowds.

Isabel’s first word was “bus”. Eden? I don’t even know when her first ride will be.

Toronto was so good to us. We built a life there, content in the little world we created for our family. We had a church. We had a neighbourhood. We had friends. It took six years to build, and yes, some days, I crave stepping back into it. Rebuilding in a new place is hard.

And yet… Do I really want to go back?

No.

No. No. No.

I won’t say never, because I can’t say where life is going to take us. But this year has been so good to us, that even on the bad days, I know this place is home. Here, there is quiet – most of the time. (We do have a few unruly neighbours, but they tend to quiet down before 11pm rolls around.) Occasionally, late at night, I can hear the train rumbling through town down by the bay, and I think of standing by the park fence with Isabel in awe, watching the very same train pass in the middle of the day. Downtown is not nearly so vibrant, but it is close, and it is growing, sprouting friendly coffee shops, farmers markets, and some of the best thrift and vintage stores I’ve ever seen. The library is a 5 minute walk, and my doctor’s office right next to it. There may not be as many parks as what I was used to, but the ones we have are good, well-built and fun for my high energy three year old. I don’t get to make use of them much anymore, now that I’m working, but we’ve got drop-in centres and kids programs galore.

And, most importantly, perhaps, we have space.

This perk goes beyond our house, though I won’t lie – this massive Victorian duplex has gone a long way to help make me feel at home. We have spare rooms, and rooms we can use just for storage, and maybe we don’t need all this space, but I love it nonetheless.

Sure, we have a spacious house, but our world, in general, feels more spacious. Here, the country is a mere 5 minute drive. It’s easy to find miles of fields, or a place to hike through the bush. Back roads bring you through beautiful countrysides, and into tiny towns of people who meet your eyes as you pass. When the road ends, you find water and beach and nature. When we first moved to Toronto, losing this sense of connection to a country landscape was the hardest adjustment I went through. Now that I have it back, I never want to lose it again.

Toronto holds friendships, connections that can never be replaced. Here, we are building new ones. It will take us time – that’s just our personalities – but one day, I know my gut reaction to Toronto will be merely nostalgia and love for a city I used to call my own.

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