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facts & arguments

A walk down memory block

My parents are moving after 30 years in the same house, leaving behind the anchor to the life I came from, Sidura Ludwig writes

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If Jews are meant to be a wandering people, then someone forgot to give my mother the memo.

I'm getting ready to fly home to Winnipeg to help my parents set up their new condo. They recently sold the house they have lived in for more than 30 years. It's time to downsize, they decided, while they are well enough to be in control and do this on their own terms. The condo is not far from where they live now. Maybe a seven-minute drive one neighbourhood south. But it's not on Oak Street, where my mother has spent 50 of her 67 years, on the same block.

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Besides the house they have just sold, 701, my mother grew up about 10 houses away. Her youngest brother, when he got married, bought the house next door. And then, when my aunt and uncle grew out of that home, they moved directly across the street from us. My mother's three brothers, my uncle's four children and my youngest sister were all born on this block.

Like I said, never got the wandering memo.

I am dreading this trip. I moved out of the house when I was 18 to go to university in Toronto. I have lived many places, bought my own home in a Toronto suburb and had three kids of my own. But Oak Street has always been my anchor, the home-free I could tag once or twice a year when I needed a break from my "now" life, a trip back to the life from which I came. There are raspberry bushes that line the walk from the garage to the back door. If we came too late in August, we'd miss the crop. One year, my daughter threw up red juice all over my mother's floor from gorging on those berries early in the morning. But it was still the first thing she'd reach for when we came in the summer, pulling back the branches to uncover little ruby gems.

Perhaps when my people were wandering in the desert for 40 years, they kept circling back to the same spots over and over again. When I come home with my kids, I take them to the same park I played at growing up. It's the same park my mother played at too. My best friend from South Africa can't understand that kind of permanence. In her family, not one generation stayed on the same continent. They understand what it means to wander.

I suppose, if I'm honest, in my generation, so do we. Of the four of us children, not one of us currently lives in Winnipeg. There's Toronto, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Australia. When we come home, it's the nostalgia we lap up – toboggan slides, the steam train at the zoo, coffee on Corydon Avenue and a blue plastic wading pool for the kids in the backyard.

In preparation for the move, my mother has been emptying everything out. She's questioning every plate she owns. In the basement, she discovered a case of unused jam jars. The last time I was in to visit, she sat at the dining room table, held her head in her hands and said to me, "What am I supposed to do with them?" Any other year, she'd be looking ahead to making raspberry jam.

I said, "I think I need to look into planting raspberry bushes in my backyard."

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She sighed, "You can try." But she didn't sound hopeful. My yard isn't south facing.

When she would call me in Toronto, she would ask three, four times about my boxes with my synchronized swimming medals, report cards and writing assignments from junior high.

"Mum, I don't want to see it. If I see it, I won't be able to throw it out."

But maybe that's what she was asking me not to do. She wanted me to hold on to this stuff. Show it to my kids. Make it matter. She asks me now if I will take her grandfather's extension table. It folds out, from the size of a small desk, to seat 10 people. This is what she would use every year to expand her dining room table at Passover. It won't fit in their new place. She'll ship it to me, she says. For my seders. It's like passing a baton. When I agree to take it, I feel her relief. It's as if I've agreed that every memory attached to it matters.

When I take my family to Winnipeg in August for our summer visit, someone else will be living in 701 and it won't be appropriate for us to descend on their raspberry bushes. I want something planted by my house that will become part of the anchor for my kids when they grow up and wander away. After all, it's the memory of experiences they will crave when they come home for a rest from their adult lives. No matter my age, I always felt 12 years old when I walked down Oak Street. I found myself stepping carefully over the same cracks. The screen door to 701 creaked open, whining. My mother stood in the kitchen with her back to me, looking out the backyard window for squirrels and blue jays, surveying her lilac bushes, the dog chasing rabbits.

I'm thinking I'll give those raspberry bushes a try in my backyard anyway. See if they take root.

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Sidura Ludwig lives in Thornhill, Ont.


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