Fun growing up in downtown Toronto

In some ways it was great for me to grow up in downtown Toronto. As the youngest in the family, I was simply completely unaware of just about everything that did not involve, playing, climbing, and running around.

 We had lots of fun. My brother and I used old centres from the bolts of cloth from our father’s store to break the wooden frames and make them into swords.  We also used my father’s curved ruler as a scimitar but he was not too happy with us.  My elder brother usually got the slap on the bottom because he was held to be responsible.  See what I mean about some of the advantages of being younger?  Same thing when we used our couch like a trampoline.

 On the other hand, when we were pirates and climbed all over the old table in the living room.  I usually had to keep below decks under the table while my older brother sat on top and piloted our vessel.  He was also, of course, the captain, but allowed me to be first mate when no one else was there.

 I moved my body over and under the cross rungs in the wooden chair as if I was moving through a machine being transformed into a monster from outer space.  My mother was not impressed and simply kept on grinding the meat or fish with the metal hand grinder attached to the other end of the chair with a vise.

 I loved going through all the back alleys and wandering through the garages on Saint Joseph, Irwin and Wellesley.  The smell of grease and oil was somehow warm and comforting.   Besides, it was easy to steal their empty pop bottles and turn them in at the store for 2 cents each.

 We never bought new clothes but I had my brother’s and first cousin’s to choose from.   And my father, being a tailor used to make us new winter coats and hats every winter.  We were poor but I barely noticed.

 Of course, many around us were poor too.  Some of these kids had parents who were alcoholics and came to school in torn shirts and ragged shoes as well as with what seemed permanently smudged or dirty faces.  And if we were over at their place and they were getting beaten, well really, it was just an extensions of the occasional slap on the bottom we received at home.

 After my bar mitzvah, my older brother took away my innocence.  He opened my eyes to our lack of money.   He felt it especially keenly since he had no car to drive girls around in.  He also made me more aware of the seaminess of our surroundings, the pool hall and the Rainbow Room where all the alcoholic parents hung out, our friend’s mother who was always in bed with some other guy every Saturday. 

I was thus expelled from Eden and when I returned recently to the neighbourhood, everything had changed, including me.  The passage of time had transformed itself into flaming seraphs and would not let me back in without my fully adult understanding.

But when I sit down and remember, I can relive how it felt to think my mother was the world’s best cook, how much fun it was to grow up unawares on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto.


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