I was in a moving subway, somewhere between Bathurst and Ossington stations,
when the Tall One brought up the topic of nostalgia. I tried to describe the
lurching feeling in your stomach of finding tangible evidence of some half-remembered afternoon,
a relative who died before you were five, or the place where you grew up. As you
get older, your memory of a moment is bound to change, but the changed version
is still what you feel is true. Given enough time, your internal view of the
past diverges from the canonical past, though if there is no record of the
moment, your truth is the only one there is.
Nostalgia comes in bouts for me. Or in waves, like the smell of bread from a
bakery that draws you in and reminds you what hunger is all about. Join me as I
step in the shop for a moment, won't you?
In December 1971, a photograph was taken of me in our old apartment at 1055
Don Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario.
Much of what you can see here is long gone, and for years, I have not given
it more than a second's thought. But seeing the things in this photo bring back
the most unexpected (yet banal) memories. Let me share a couple:
This is me, aged 5. I have never known what to do with my hands when posing
for a photo, and I remember thinking I would look somewhat more casual if I
had my hand in my pocket. Whoever was taking the picture told me to take it
out, but I was having none of that. I smiled, and they took the picture
#2. The Record Player
I went through at least 2 record players before I turned 10. The needle
was, very likely, a needle. When it played, it dragged along a comet tril of
dust and lint which it had scraped out of the record.
#3. A Print From...
For the last week, I thought I could tell you the book this print is from,
but as box after box got emptied into the middle of the floor, my mental
picture of it receded farther and father away. I've given it up for
#4. A Record Holder
This was more a musical instrument than a record holder. It was made of
about 50 pie-shaped gold wire wedges, each welded to a frame. It held one
record between two adjacent wires. However, if you took the records out, and
ran your thumb along its length, it made a buzzing, tinkling noise as each
wire vibrated and beat with the note of the wire next to it .
The record on tip is "Mr. Dressup". Other titles include
"The Little Engine That Could" (in the green cover), and "The
Friendly Giant" (at far left, I think).
There are two vehicles under the record player stand (which I think was
made by a relative -- my father, one of my grandfathers, or perhaps one of my
uncles.) I think Uncle Ken gave me the red car. I don't remember the white
truck beside it. These cars and I were never very close.
#6. Slippers, Parquet floor
I wore slippers around the house from the time I could walk until I left
for University. Many were styled like these. The toes always wore out first.
If you look up, you can see the knees of my trousers have become threadbare. I
spent a lot of time on my knees, playing with #7, books, or #9.
That's a real parquet floor made from real strips of wood from which cleave
real slivers. It was always covered in a thick coat of wax which you could
scrape up using your thumbnail. Our old floor buffer was compact, yet weighed
a ton. It had a light in front which meant you could buff in the dark (a
dubious feature), but the best thing about it was the quiet whirr of the
electric motor and the faint smell of ozone.
#7. Plastic Meccano
This is a windmill, made from plastic Meccano. In a couple of years, I
would graduate to real (metal) Meccano, and eventually would complete a degree
in engineering. I gave away the plastic Meccano while in public school. I
still have the metal version. And my degree.
#8. Badminton Rackets
I don't remember these at all.
#9. Maze-a-matic and Road Runner Book
The Maze-a-matic (spelling optional) was a battery-operated car which you
could program by cutting the edges off of cardboard strips. You could make the
car turn left, right, or back up. One of the program strips is in this
picture, on the shelf in the record player stand, just above the red car. The
Maze-a-matic seldom worked properly for me, and it took all the skill of my
father (also an engineer) and me to get it to do much at all. To this day, it
strikes me as a tremendous (if flawed) toy.
The Road Runner book is still lurking around the offices of The Front Page.
This was my crib mattress with a snazzy cover my mother made. The fabric
sports a yellow lion with glasses reading a blue book. Though the mattress
would eventually go when I grew out of it, the pillow would stick around for
another 10 years.
There. Ten things about this picture that no one but me really cares
about. I've left out all sorts of details -- like the elasticized band between
the front and back parts of my slippers, and how I liked to snap it, and how
much that annoyed my parents. Or like the eventual indifference to many of these
cherished things I've described. The record holder eventually become bent and
rusty, so when my last record player eventually bit the dust, the musical
holder went with it. It's in a landfill somewhere, amidst the old newspapers and
used diapers on which we build subdivisions, and I guess, our future as a culture.
This is what nostalgia is made of. Things once loved, now taken from us, or
abandoned through inattention.