“It was all I had in the way of a home. In it was everything that was mine, that had any association with me, any past, anything that took the place of a family. Not much; a few books, pictures, radio, chessmen, old letters, stuff like that. Nothing. Such as they were they had all my memories.”
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
For what was a popular house design -there must be a dozen iterations in my immediate neighbourhood- there’s little information that’s readily available.
The Vancouver Heritage Foundation broadly categorizes it as a “Mid-Century Vernacular Bungalow” -simple side gables or hipped roof, two or three bedrooms on one main floor and a partially sunken basement; a generally rectangular, asymmetrical front façade with one large “picture window” and no attached garage. (No mention is made of a signature component: a window adorning the front vestibule, alternatively round, octagonal, square, or rectangular.)
The Foundation dates these houses from the 1950s, but the one I live in was first occupied in 1948.
It’s a modest abode, but sturdy, well built and functional: a few cozy rooms, some nice finishes, and a kitchen that hasn’t changed much since c. 1967.
The grapes were planted almost 50 years ago. From a tree-like trunk the trailed vines produce a thick canopy and an oasis for unprogrammed hot summer afternoons. The grapes are edible, if you like mouth-puckering tart, thick skins and big seeds. My octogenarian neighbour Vincenzo taught me to prune it, and I’ve learned enough to do this for others that find themselves too superannuated to negotiate a ladder. On Sunday afternoons in February or March I feel vines for vitality and pass quick judgment, with shears.
There’s a fig tree, a fecund beast whose harvesting takes over my life for 10 days every summer -picking, canning, and eating until I can’t stand the sight of them except for maybe one more.
The garden plots yield rotating successes and disappointments, seemingly independent of my coaxing. Vincenzo wanders over, nods in approval, or shakes his head in dismay. He has radicchio seedlings for me, wrapped in a few pages of The Courier.
My mother-in-law lives a few blocks away. Before I’ve crossed the threshold, coffee is on the stove and food is on table.
My immediate neighbours are a mix of long-term residents and relatively new arrivals from Ontario, Quebec, the States, Hong Kong, and numerous other parts. With a goodly number we break bread, sample and consider the qualities of fermented beverages, play board games, shoot the shit, shuck and jive.
All in all, not much -just everything.
My wife’s family assumed ownership of this house in 1964. It has served as an asset for the many children to build a nest egg and purchase their own. Unfortunately, our timing is poor: current market conditions have rendered that beautiful formula obsolete.
The asset is now subject to a new and complicated algorithm that encompasses a kaleidoscope of needs, wants, generosity and more than a little greed, social capital and cold calculations, faith, trust, and inheritances current and future. The equation is nestled within a much larger one composed of international capital movements, ineffectual/incompetent/corrupt governance, and widespread social disruption.
Somewhere in that swirling vortex of complexity and uncertainty lies the thing that was missing, that I didn’t know was missing, that I unconsciously sought for years and years, the feeling that dawned on me not so long ago on a quiet and rainy afternoon in a museum of a kitchen in the arms of my love: I’m home.