Growing up our house was, well a house. It wasn’t the biggest house. It wasn’t the nicest house. You couldn’t drink the tap water. There were mice. There were bugs. But it was our house. Well not ours. It belonged to the old rich couple that lived in the mansion on the other side of the estate. They had the big house. I guess from outside it was nice. The inside, from what I remember, was old and dusty. In the 14 years we lived in one of two servant’s houses on the estate I think I only ever in the main house once or twice. But I remember feeling like it was one of those mansions you see in a horror movie. The family moves in, all happy and smiles, and before you know it all hell breaks loose and they’re running for their lives. That’s how that big old house felt. Cold and foreboding. Especially after Mr. Angus died falling off his horse while riding one of the trails up the road. He never seemed like a nice person. His wife was nice enough I guess but after he died she seemed to become a recluse. Rarely venturing outside, certainly never far from the large ominous house at the end of the gravel drive.
In comparison, with all it’s problems our house was warm. Like emotionally warm, not physically warm. I seem to remember it being cold often. And the power always going out during a storm. For such a run down place it was pretty big. I mean I shared a room with my brother who was 9 years older than me so that was interesting. My sister had her own room of course. We had cats and we got the only dog we ever owned when I was 10. The best part of that house was what was around it. It sat on a huge property, there were horse stables and abandoned riding barns. There was a long dirt road that made it’s way down to the lake and a stream that ran parallel to that. To me, from when I was little to when we moved when I was 14 it was a fantasy world. I could do anything and go anywhere without leaving the grounds. There was always something to explore. Every tree I climbed, every time I made my way down that dirt road, built a dam in the stream it was a new adventure. I retreated into my imagination there. I would wear costumes and run around pretending to be a super hero, take my bow and arrow (yes a real one. It was the 80’s) and play Robin Hood. This was probably the single most amazing place to grow up.
My parents almost moved to a town house half a block away from where I live right now, but as my dad says it was in worse condition than where we ended up. And so they found this house in the middle of probably the richest neighborhood in Montreal. Even back then it was insanely cheap, which is probably why my dad would have to empty the bathtub by taking buckets of water and throwing out the bathroom window because it wouldn’t drain properly during the winter. We couldn’t take showers because the pipes were rusted shut. We couldn’t drink the tap water because it came from a well and tasted awful. More often than not we would find a mouse the cat had caught and left in the middle of the floor with it entrails all over the place. But these are the character of my childhood home. These are the things that give me those memories. They aren’t the “woe is me. i grew up in a hovel” type memories. It was a damn sight better than a hovel.
Yes most of the kids I knew lived in houses with bathtubs that drained on their own. Sometimes multiple properly draining bathtubs. But I’m guessing they rarely used the tubs since their showers worked. But they didn’t have forests, and streams and lakes, and abandoned buildings to lose themselves in. And that made the house I grew up in better than theirs. Because our house had character. Even though I was pretty sure it was haunted. But that’s a story for another day.