Dear 637 Placid Ave, SSM


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Dear HOME,
YOU MUST REMEMBER ME. I WAS YOUR FIRST BABY. MY family your first inhabitants.

At the end of the block, before the woods…there you stood.

It was the 70’s in small town Sault Ste Marie in Northern Ontario. Developers were beginning to plow through the bushes to build new subdivisions. Ours was called the “P patch” (all of the roads began with the letter P) and in that patch I lived on Placid.

Those woods to me, as a young child, were a place to frolic and become lost. Through the trees we would traverse to the top of a great hill called “Finn Hill”. Trampling in the winter with crazy carpets and toboggans in tote, this great white northern hill was our winter. Year after year, trick after trick, frostbite after frostbite…you would always find us on that hill. And as I grew older, the party changed. The hill is where I first learned to ski, had my first skidoo ride, where I first got high and where I met my best friend night after night to talk about our “homework” or borrow a “crayon” (i.e. Have a cigarette)

Dear old home on Placid Avenue, things were never really placid when we lived there, were they? Inside your small semi-detached abode lived our big fat Italian family. Being the youngest of seven and only a baby, I spent a fair bit of time crashing in my parent’s room. But where did the other 6 sleep? Indeed it was tight under your roof, but I always felt like I had enough space. Year after year the older ones ran off to college or married, leaving me with my own bedroom.

Yes we were crammed.

So what did we do?

We made you bigger and better in the great Italian fashion. Starting with the basement of course.
You had an unfinished basement when we moved in, but when my dad and uncles were through, your floors were beautiful albeit cold ceramic tiles. Next they proceeded to put a kitchen in that basement next to the laundry and added a cantina to store the homemade wine, meats, cheeses and all of our groceries.

In the backyard my dad built a shed plus two large vegetable gardens.

Of all of these additions, I loved that shed the most. In the winter, my neighbourhood friends and I would jump off the roof into a fluffy white bed of snow. And repeat until it was time for dinner. Inside that little shack of a shed, my dad kept all of his trinkets and hand made tools and projects. I loved snooping around in there. I’d shut the door and bask in the smell of the wood and the old metals. This old shack meant nothing to my 6 siblings. To me, it was my hideaway. I felt closer to my dad there… While he was still alive and even after he was gone. He built anything he could out of wood and metals in that there shed. Did you happen to discover any of these handmade relics? My mother may have left something after her move.

I wish I could smell the inside of that shed right now.

During my last visit to the Sault, I was relieved to see that the shed is still standing.
But gone are the two huge gardens that, for so many years, my parents of the old country would cultivate their sacred tomatoes amongst many other Italian staples. Nothing to raid. Perennially gone.

Worse then that, when I saw you last I noticed that your milk-box had been nailed shut. I mean who would do that to you? While yes, having a small portal on the side of your house did pose security issues, it was super cool. I used that open box many times to break into my house if I forgot my keys. All you do is open the milk-box door, put your arm through it and reach around to unlock the door from the inside of the house. Not just for emergencies, the best part of having that milk-box would be opening it to find surprises left from friends.

I do miss you house. I had many happy memories growing up there. And whenever I go to the Sault, I am compelled to do a drive-by. For me, it is like being able to see my dad again when I look at you. Tell me…. do you ever see him or feel him? Is he still there with you now???

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Dear Fifty-Six Forty-Nine Carson, Burnaby


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I lived in you longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. From the age of 2 untli I was 23. I moved away to live in North Burnaby to finish my last couple of years at SFU. Mom and Dad are dead now – they both died 10 years ago – in fact, Mom died 10 years ago, yesterday. I lived in you with my parents and three sisters, Susan, Jean and Marian.  Marian has two kids now and I brought my niece, Madi, to see you last summer while we were out for a drive and she was preparing to get her driver’s licence. I have to remind you of a few secrets you hold: in the walls of the downstairs bathroom, there’s a time capsule – when Dad made that bathroom larger for Susan and Jean we put newspaper and magazines from the early 70s inside the bathroom walls – did anyone find those? There’s more of that in the wall between the kitchen and dining room too – when Dad cut the big opening in the wall between the kitchen and diningroom in the late seventies, we put more artifacts in that wall too. I noticed that the people who lived there after us also added a bigger enclosed porch in the back – it looks good. I haven’t lived in you since 1986 – so more years have passed now than the whole time I lived there. I’ve lived in 18 other places since leaving you – but I still like you best. I’ve never been happy living in a place without a view – your great expansive view of “the flats” and the Fraser River, White Rock, Point Roberts and Mount Baker were the best view ever – - we were always able to tell the coming changes in the weather by seeing that huge sky. My first bedroom was the middle room upstairs – it wasn’t so great because it just looked into the bedroom of the house next door – a reveresed copy of you. When I was twelve I moved to the big room in the basement – it was so great! Half of that L-shaped room was my bedroom and the other half was my own living room where I had my desk that I bought with some scholarshihp money when I was 18 and furnished with the old sofas that were the first furniture Mom and Dad had bought when they moved to Victoria from up-island. We moved in to you in late September or early October 1965 shortly after Mari was born. I’ve attached a photo of Susan holding Marian. Though I was only two and a half, I think I remember that photo being taken as we first arrived at the house when we were moving in…. perhaps that’s not true – but that’s how I remember it. I’ve also attached a photo of me and our dog, Lady, on your back porch. A few years ago I bought some converse runners, and put on some black jeans and a white tshirt and dressed the same way as in that photo! I still have a scar on my head from when I fell against your glass stucco walls when I was just three or something – maybe around the time that picture was taken… I don’t remember the fall – but I can still feel the scar on my head.

I apologize to for not being willing to help dad put on your new roof – - I was only about 10 or 11 at the time – but hated being up on the roof – Now I work for WorkSafeBC – and I shudder each time I think of working up on your roof with no fall protection – that was just crazy! But Dad manage to reshingle you without any mishaps – phew! Well, that’s it for now – it feels good to drop you a line again after all this time.

Habitation: 1965 – 1986

Purchase For: $21,000

Sold For: $89,000

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Four Leaf Clovers


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Dear 286 Saint John St.

I can honestly say that I don’t really miss you… that’s for sure.  No offense but you really weren’t that great to us.  We didn’t own you.  My single mother with her two boys was renting you at the time and we waz po!

My brother had his first paper route there. That xmas he made over a hundred dollars in tips! My mum made him not only share the money with me… but I’m pretty sure she took a healthy cut for herself as well.

I think I’ll first start by asking you about the little back yard.
I remember when I was just a little boy playing back there with my mother and brother… I’m not sure who exactly it was… but we came across a four leaf clover!
I remember learning about how rare this was, and how special it was… well… they couldn’t be that special… because there wasn’t just one back there, there was a whole patch of four leaf clovers! We even found five leaf clovers and six leaf clovers there! Mum saved several of them in the dictionary.

Well… this is where the irony kicks in.

Xmas 84 my brother got a chemistry set. We had it in the back room of the house, the one with the stairs that went down to the back yard. Anyways, we were trying to find the cure for the common cold and ended up burning the house down. We left on the god damn bunsen burner and went out for a bike ride… Really it was just a candle with a holder… but it was still enough flame to ignite whatever the hell was in that early 80s xmas chemistry set.

I remember we were actually at a friends house and mum came there on her bike to tell us about the fire.

Shit, now that I think about it… perhaps I should really apologize for that. Or perhaps I can yell at you for being such a shit house and letting a little candle ass bunsen burner destroy all of our belongings?

Either way.

Are you still a rental unit?

Have you found the lucky clovers?

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Warmest Thanks!


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We have recently experienced a surge of interest for Letters Home and I want to deeply thank those who have taken the time to spread the word on our behalf.

We have more posts coming – just follow me on twitter to keep up to date.

During these early days of building the site I want to encourage those interested in writing to take the plunge. Contact me if you have a story to share but find the process confusing or cumbersome. I’m very happy to facilitate. An empty mailbox is a sad mailbox.

Leave lots of comments and let us know what you think.

Thank you for your visit, come back anytime,

Julietta

Posted in Letter for YOU, the reader | 1 Comment

Hard Won Freedom


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Very soon, the house in which I grew up, will be for sale.  This house has not seen a for sale sign in over 50 years so this could be viewed as an historic event.  I lived in this house from my first day of birth until 4 months and 6 days after my 19th birthday.  I moved out then and I never moved back.  Boys hang around home far too long.  Girls get out as soon as possible.  This is not a “letter home” of nostalgia or yearning or romanticism.  The house will be sold soon and I feel nothing because I have never felt an attachment to it.  The house held so much pain for such a long time that I can’t honestly say I liked living there.  As soon as I could, I fled.  There were rules in place under the roof of that house and those rules were based on religious dogma.  Those rules only made my resolve to leave stronger.  Control is a terrible thing.  Control left me feeling nothing for the house I grew up in.

The house was old and creaky, out of date and out of style.  Freezing cold in the winter, searing hot in the summer.  My mother knew very little about interior decorating.  (How can you when you are raised Amish Mennonite?)  Nothing made sense to me – not the colours, the wallpaper, the paint, the furniture.  I didn’t like how anything looked.  My bed was half the size of a single bed.  I’m lucky I was small.  I never had my own room or my own space.  I never had privacy.  My phone conversations were listened to by my mother.  I was monitored and questioned.  Freedom was a foreign concept that I yearned to someday have.  I was forbidden from doing anything that a normal kid wanted to do.  Some Mennonite sects have a tradition whereby at the age of 2, they begin to break the will of the child.  The child grows up with no willpower, but rather a sense of serving the community.  I can admire that commitment to community.  But my mother failed to break my will.  Those 19 years and 4 months and 6 days were a constant battle of the wills.  When I was 11 years old, my mother and I were fighting: I was fighting for freedom and she was fighting for control.  My mother wanted to know how many days I had not liked living at home.  I scribbled on paper: 11 years X 365 days = 4,015 days.  Kids are so cruel.  My mother was devastated when I showed her my calculation.  It shocks me today that I could write such a thing, but it’s absolutely how I felt. 

And now that house is going to be sold soon & I don’t feel anything.  It’s in such a state of disrepair.  My mother moved out 2 years ago.  I have not seen it since she left and I don’t want to. My brother lives there and he is too selfish to care about its maintenance.  It’s now a house inhabited by a mad man.  I can’t wait for it to be sold.  Everything changes. I left and then 26 years later, my mother left too.  I got an email from her today. (At 82, she emails me.  Of course, the day I left was the day everything started to get better between us.  She lost her control and I gained my freedom and it’s as it should be.)  She told me that she loves living in her apartment. She said it’s one of the best places on earth and it feels like a millionaire’s home to her.  Since I left that house, I have liked most houses  that I’ve lived in – some I have even loved.  But that first one, it didn’t work out so well.

Habitation: 1964 – 1983

Purchase For: $9000

Sold For: TBD

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Walkerton, ON


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** Click on this link to read the lettter: Letter Home-Olmstead

Habitation: 1974 – 1978

Purchased for: $45,000

Sold for: $65,000

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Yonge & Eglington


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Period of Habitation: 1996 – 2000

Rent: $771

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2223 Marentette


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Dear Occupants,

This was my childhood house. We moved here from a big white farmhouse in Leamington, a home I barely remember save for the black and gold striped tile that lined the bathroom vanity. My mom liked the 2’s in the address; she said it was a lucky number. They bought it for around $18,000 dollars in 1970, and it looked a lot like the farmhouse, with its white clapboard siding and L-shaped porch. But it was a more manageable size, three instead of six bedrooms, and only one tree in the back, a singular apricot, and not an acre of rotting apples.

We moved here so my dad could start working in factories. Farming was hard and uneven, money-wise, and my dad used to like to drink beer early with his friends, coming home late, his truck parked askew in the grass. In the city, my mother felt he’d be findable with a regular job working eight hours a day. He’d be too tired to drink beer.

Shortly after we moved to this house, my dad did got a job at the Chrysler plant, eventually my mother at an answering service, taking messages for doctors, soaking her earpiece in a small glass of rubbing alcohol every night. We were left with a series of distracted, sullen babysitters with long, dark 70s hair parted in the middle. They came from the brown brick bungalows in the neighbourhood where clapboard mini-farmhouses were becoming increasingly scarce. Sometimes I could hear these girls murmuring on the front porch with a boyfriend who’d stop by and smoke cigarettes with them in the dark.

We were instructed to wear shoes all the time. Even in our own yard.

We grew up to be city kids, savvy and unsmiling.

My dad only lasted a year in a factory. He preferred hanging drywall, landing a contract at the new Devonshire mall. We brought him McDonalds on weekends. We sat on the empty beer cases and watched him eat.

Around that time my parent began to fight a lot, the house becoming percussive with yelling. Sometimes they took it outside. I suppose that’s why we needed more room. It was my dad who tore down the wall along the side porch to put in the dining room. He also built the family room off the back. He couldn’t do anything to increase the size of my mine and my sister’s room; ours was the small one to the left of the landing, all pink with the sloped ceiling that I used to hit my head on when I was eight.  He also built the shed with a little window in the back, that I swore I could be happy in if they just put a bed in the corner. We all hated the apricot tree, but we loved the apricots. That might leave you thinking we were the kind of people who enjoyed the fruits of labour, not the labour, but that wouldn’t be true. The thing just stank in summer.

Almost five years in, the house now wrapped in green aluminum siding, the L-shaped porch swallowed up by renovations, my parents began to talk about separating, about moving, about someone leaving, about things being better if they didn’t live together.  Maybe like tired boxers, they needed to be separated and contained in two different houses. We were sad, afraid, thinking, where would the other house be? Who would live there? And here? What about the dog? And the kitten? She just got here.

But almost as soon as the tears dried and our imaginations became exhausted by all our future configurations, my mother said they weren’t separating, but we were moving, back out to farm country, where my dad was building us a brand new house, a much bigger one, with more yard space and a carport. The neighbours here were awful, she said, they were nosy, they knew too much, said bad things, made living here a total nightmare. In fact, my dad’s un-permitted renovations left our bathroom window lining up with the neighbour’s bathroom next door. We did that, but my mother was convinced that they were doing something worse to us. They were noticing us too much, asking after us kids too often. Today I imagine it’s because they were worried. But back then other people’s children were nobody’s business, even if they were flinty and looked a little haunted.

The new house was a half hour away, in Emeryville, a low slung, triangular split-level, with a depressed willow and dark cedar siding. Visits out to see it made my mother hate the city house more, its smallness, its relative lack of style, its utter proximity to those awful, awful people. She couldn’t wait to leave. The day I see this goddamn house in the rear view mirror, she said, will be the happiest day of my life. During the new house’s construction, my parents seemed to get along again, as though a serious glimpse over the cliff of divorce jolted them back to normal. A kind of politeness crept in, peppered with small doses of affection. I associated this lightness with moving, (and would for the rest of my restless life).

By the time we sold the house ($30,000 in 1977) I, too, was convinced it was the house that nearly did us in with its selfish inability to fix us even as we obsessively tried to fix it. And by the time we pulled up to the new house at 222 Caruhel (+$40k and poised to be lost in a couple years when the recession jacked interests rates to 30%, so much for 2’s being good luck), I’m sure I had already begun to grant it untold powers to finish the repairs it seemed to have begun on my parents. But I couldn’t have known that it was yet another dispassionate container, like every school, every job, every home, every man into which I’d pour similar powers. Because this house didn’t care who or what we were—it just wanted people in it. And I couldn’t have known that that was a good thing, and that, depending entirely on what you filled it with, there was nothing wrong with being an empty vessel that just wants to be full again.

Habitation: 1970 – 1977

House bought for: $18,000

House sold for: $30,000

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My Home, My Muse


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Habitation: 1984 – 1987

Initial rent: $900

Final rent: $1200

Note from Admin: Cecil Castellucci, also known as Cecil Seaskull (born in New York City), is a young adult novelist, indie rocker, and director. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Her latest novel “Rose Sees Red” was inspired by this home. Check it out here: http://amzn.to/afl2WG

For more info on Cecil, go to www.misscecil.com

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High Park, Toronto


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Dear Old House,

I think of you often. I can close my eyes and run my fingers along the smooth dark wood of your rumbling pocket doors. I can walk up your stairs, all three flights, and hear the squeals and groans that would accompany my ascent. So many late nights – I would still know where to place my feet silently. I wonder, is my name still inscribed in the layers of paint on your newel post on the third floor, my third floor? If I could have a piece of you, it might be your leaded-glass windows, or the rainbow-trapping crystal knobs that so fascinated me (grasped how many times, by whose hands?), or maybe the window seat in my 3rd floor bedroom. With the wood of that seat biting my knees, and screened from the street by the tall maples that flanked our yard, I watched Wright Ave and felt completely, invisibly safe.

I do still keep one of your skeleton keys – I alone could unlock your upstairs bathroom door.

I came by last summer, but I doubt you noticed me. I had to steal myself for the visit, fearing to look into the two familiar eyes of your bay windows without seeing my Dad looking back. But he is long gone now, and I found you so changed that the visit wasn’t as wrenching as I expected. You and all of your kin still face resolutely south as you have for nearly 100 years and while your bones are familiar, your face-lift is jarring. The people who claim you now – who mow your lawns, and dress you with tiles and paint – are not the humble multi-hued group I remember. Gone are the wobbly windows, rusting station-wagons, peeling paint, and unkempt gardens. It’s as if you are dressed for a party – something stiff, formal and exclusive. I paused for just a moment to wonder, would I like to be invited, to laugh and play and live here again? I knew my answer and walked on, a little sad but content. Gathering-up my memories, I looked away, through the arching maples of Wright Ave, to the green of High Park.

Habitation: 1976 – 1996

House bought for $76,000

House sold for: $350,000

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