I’ve lived a lot of my life in the grimness of suburbia. You know – the large lawns, the well-spaced houses, located around schools and playing fields. The places from which you must drive to get anywhere exciting – or you can walk around your suburban block and watch other’s lawns grow, admire their gardens, comment on the lack of maintenance or the amazing maintenance, dodge lawn sprinklers and skateboards and bored teenagers with cars.
Some of them were nice suburbs – my home town of Winchester, Ma, for example, but I never really lived there. I lived in my house and yard and went downtown as a treat – it was a long walk and my parents were too watchful for me to go down there much (though I was allowed to go skating on an unmonitored lake whenever I wanted – I think my mother was afraid I’d take to drinking or smoking or hanging out with the fast crowd. As if they’d have me.) The bad kids in my crowd would go to the drug store, for heaven’s sake, and hang around buying makeup, or stealing it. We were even in the part of town that missed D’Agostino’s and the fun had by hanging out there. We were in the ultra suburb. We had one Jewish family in town. No black children until we bused them in from Boston.
Not a natural environment for the curious.
I’ve even lived in a suburb without an urb – the town of Shilo, Manitoba – a cluster of suburban roundabouts and 1950’s homes on a military base, in the middle of the short grass prairie, equally inconvenient to anywhere in North America as it was smack dab in the middle of the continent. When I first moved there, I slipped into a time warp, started wearing an apron, and cooked five batches of chocolate chips in the first week to share with the local kids before my natural anti-50’s soul rebelled. Still, I spent a heck of a lot of time house-cleaning there, my brain slowly leaking out with every bucket of pine-sol laden water poured out of the bucket. I wasn’t allowed to speak to men there, as every woman was pre-supposed to be on the hunt for a better husband (higher in rank). I also was reproved for speaking to the other ranks’ wives. I bought TUPPERWARE. In my defence, I had to, because the CO’s wife sold it. I still have it, 25 years later, a cautionary tale about being forced to conform.
I wasn’t brave then. I was unsure of who to be – I didn’t fit into the military wife drink and gossip gang, and there were so few kindred spirits and I was afraid to reveal myself to them. I was half my age now when I lived there, and my husband was establishing himself at the same time and it was rough for both of us to squeeze into the military mode. He stuck it out longer than I did, but then he had my support. I didn’t have his.
So suburbs, suburbs, suburbs. And now I’m making a change. I’m moving on down, as the Jefferson’s might have sung, truly – from my deluxe apartment in the sky, to a smaller, darker, less glamorous one in the nest of the downtown. Yes, Dartmouth rather than Halifax, but I remember so well the words of a couple I met when I first moved here – “We lived in Halifax and looked at Dartmouth – if we’d been smart, we would have done the opposite!”
(My house! (to the right))
I found a place right in the heart of everything. I look out at the downtown main street – I’ve often dreamed of living above a shop and I have that now, though it’s a holistic health centre (fewer food smells). The local bars are clustered across the street, as is the library. Little shops and dental offices and restaurants and theatres and music are within a few steps. The street noise is a wonderful melange of people talking, fog horns, train bells, ship calls, and the occasional “I have no balls so I am going to pull out the muffler on my motorcycle” jerks. Poor and wealthy walk by my windows, commuters stride by to catch the ferry, buses gasp as they make the turn. I can step across the street and inhale the harbour, get fresh fish and chips, go to the farmer’s market, grab an ungodly rich croissant.
I’m thinking of selling my car, trusting to legs and bus and ferry and car share and rentals when I want to go afield. I CAN DO THAT! I did that before, in cold as hell and hot as hades Ottawa, and gave in after winter. I’m in a better climate now, and I know this place. The prospect excites me.
I’m going to be an urbanite! It feels like a new cloak, a new identity. Onwards, ever onwards.
If I hate it? Well, there’s always the country….