Bert’s ghost haunts our home and reminds us of those things that really matter.
Last night Andrew, Tess and I, dog in tow, were out for an evening stroll when our neighbour waved us down. I spoke with him several weeks ago regarding the origins of our home: it was built by his grandfather’s brother, Bert, probably over a hundred years ago. He explained that photos of our neighbourhood had been passed down through the generations and among them was a picture of our home. Last night he emerged with a copy of the photo for us and I was immediately transported back to a very different time.
I was immediately struck by the absence of our driveway and it occurred to me that paved driveways were irrelevant in a time without cars. Imagine a place where streets are primarily for socializing. Where you can cross at a leisurely pace. Where children can play without fear of death or dismemberment. How lovely it must have been to stroll down the sidewalk without the need to dodge the neighbours’ vehicles as they rushed onto the street.
Next I saw that there were no hydro wires dangling from our roof. No dishwashers, washing machines or microwaves. No flat screen televisions or iPads. How liberating it must have been to lie down for sleep without the nagging suspicion that you forgot to charge your Blackberry. To have a conversation with your children without MTV blaring in the background.
Our house was built before access to running water. Before garbage collection. Before the major highway a few kilometres away where transport trucks regularly commute from Buffalo to Toronto, perhaps carrying garlic grown in China or plastic toys from Taiwan.
The history of my home is a testament to the simple life, a lifestyle that is ardently guarded by the ghosts of days gone by. Good luck putting in a swimming pool with all of those gorgeous maple trees in the way. We let go of our second car partly because our driveway wasn’t designed for any vehicles, let alone multiples. And certainly the ghosts are in the yard late at night tending to our vegetable garden… how else could it be possible for us to enjoy bountiful harvests each season with next to little knowledge of modern agriculture?
One hundred years after my house was constructed we are beginning to understand that we can learn much from the way that our predecessors built homes, neighbourhoods and entire communities. These places were built to accommodate people. From their safe streets to their community centric institutions, these places were premised on raising families, familiarity with neighbours, and a firm grasp of the line between necessity and luxury. These communities respected themselves, each other and the resources on which the relied.
I am honoured to be a part of the legacy on Main Street. And late last night, once the rest of the family was asleep, I made a promise to Bert and his contemporaries that I would heed what they had built.