16 August 2016

Growing Up Happy - Part 1

My Childhood
That hair!
My childhood was wholly unremearkable. Please don't try to misconstrue that in any way other than positive. I was lucky and privileged enough to be born in a time when one parent could stay home and manage the household on a single salary. My father worked at Stelco, the local steel mill, and my mother was the one who stayed with us, being on call for 4 kids whenever we needed her. Not wealthy, but decidedly middle class, we grew up never wanting for the basics and occasionally splurging on luxuries. Growing up in a large family and being the oldest meant I knew responsibility early and was always on the lookout for my brothers and sister.

So young and over 40 years later, still beautiful.
My earliest memories play around the edges of real or nostalgia. All day bike rides with our only connection to home being that it was our neighbourhood and the people who lived there looked out for one another. We had to be home for dinner, but lunch would often be some sandwiches and a precious can of pop tucked into your backpack. Out again as soon as the dishes were done, we would pause only when the streetlights came on and begrudgingly head home, with promises to meet up with our friends the next day.
Pictures were a luxury, as you had no idea if they turned out and getting the film produced cost money that would be better spent on groceries or the ever growing kids in our family. Yet we have album after album of smiling faces, family events and road trips that brought so much joy to our lives. We may have thousands of pictures on our computers now, but none of them compare to those dusty photos of 4 kids and their parents having fun. Smiling faces and happy eyes make me see just how much my parents gave us.
That time we met Gordie Howe!
Summer meant vacation and for my mom, that meant no rest from the demands of 4 busy kids. She always kept us moving, taking us on day trips, making sure we ate and engaging our obsessions, which would change from day to day as we found new and exciting things happening in the world. Our house was often the focal point for all of our friends as its joyful demeanour was a respite from their own chaotic lives. The pool was always full and one of the first outdoor responsibilities that we learned after gardening was if you wanted to have your friends over, you had to vacuum the pool. It prepared me for the many parties I would host over the decades. Always make the house ready and you can enjoy your time with friends. No one was ever turned away from that house on Glassco, the door swung open at all hours and even though I was a kid, I knew my parents were constantly helping those who needed it.
Still cute together and always up for an adventure
Occasionally and with great anticipation, we would go away for a vacation. I can't even begin to imagine the logistics of packing 4 kids, sometimes a dog and all their perceived needs into a car and either going camping or in later years to my Aunt Jennette's cottage in Wasaga Beach. These trips were extra special because it meant that Dad didn't have to work and we could spend some time with him away from the stress of his job. Like most kids whose mother stayed home and father worked, I didn't understand how hard they both worked and it is only with the wisdom of age that I see what they did. A vacation for us kids meant beaches, swimming and other sunny adventures. For my mom, it meant taking care of the 5 of us in another place with more dirt and less amenities. But we never knew or felt that. She always smiled and made sure we were taken care of first. I don't think she ate a hot meal for most of our trips and always put our enjoyment first. It was selfless then and I can't help but marvel at how we never knew she was working so hard to make our lives so much fun. 
Dad always manned the BBQ and of course the Pie - Irons (essentially a cast iron sandwich maker that you use in the hot coals of the fire). Perhaps a beer in hand, he loved to grill up whatever mom had brought and if you were lucky, he'd let you have a little taste of what was cooking. I know now how hard he worked to provide us with everything we needed and the skills he taught me have made me the man I am today. While I inherited his quick temper, I also heeded his wisdom on how to contain it. We were always the focus of his attention, the jokes, stories and he was an involved presence at everything we did. Being a father in the late 70's and early 80's was far different than it is now and his very attentive and sympathetic way of listening and offering advice was years ahead of its time.Our later conflicts brought on more by our similarities than our differences, but the bond forged in my childhood never let me doubt his love.
The boys are forever best friends.
We may not see each other often, but the love is always there.
 All of these memories come from that warm place inside my heart. I can feel the love I was given and the safe embrace of home still resonates today. The things we did as a family and the happiness it created are what saved me when I was at my lowest years later. I always joke that any mistakes I made in life are no ones fault but my own because I had such an easy going childhood and a set of parents who supported me even when I didn't deserve it. All of this happened in a simple house, on a suburban street with two people who gave everything they had to make sure their kids grew up with a sense of family and joy at being part of something bigger than yourself.
Thank you Mom and Dad for always making us your priority, then and now.
 Your dedication to your family is a big part of why I smile when I think back to those days on Glassco and the glory of my youth.
The family has grown and the love has multiplied.

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