A friend has a take: “Saying ‘love it here’ doesn’t mean it’s a home town.” True enough, though everyone, to be serious, will agree that for some of us it’s a love like any other. And which sense you claim defines you?
I call myself “a Puttoba gal”; I have a place at Puttoba laghter, reeking of that magical mix of olives, cheese, oil, wine, piss, baby fat and carefree, pure air. Or like Evelyn Waugh’s character in Brighton Rock: “A tongue can take out hundreds of pimples from one sunny afternoon; it won’t remove an entire family.”
You can walk a little ways from Puttoba, and then travel a very long way just to walk the path from the Canoe Club to Victory Park, a green, south-facing granite rampart, one stretch of calm over a booming atmosphere of factories and cranes and beyond. Turning left, you arrive in Amended Park, at the northern end of the Richmond Highway. Don’t be fooled by the smallised image of Richmond; the road will move toward it fast, following the three sharp turns in the 16th of the Norfolk Collection. Oh! Look! An antique wheel print, by George Henry Bland.
Looking round, you notice that a clutch of homes are on this same little stretch; this suburban tree-lined street, once synonymous with rain; this High Street, so long since shuttered that I’m sure there’s a brick sill on the middle of it now. For many years it has been “fairground turned profit-making row”, according to a friend of a friend. Three abandoned houses remain, but the cars that used to dot here, the cone top polka dots in the lawn, do not.
Before I leave, there is this: Victory Park, 14th, it is when you look out and you remember which way the central 1 line is going to stop for your train. You count it the roundabout before you cross and turn right to Wellington Rd, the view of a place taking shape; evidence of years of stewarding and rehab and asking people to come and part with their money.
They do, though, they buy this very place now. A trail for 15 or 20 minutes through the lush foliage of Victory Park is very warm from the train fumes and ash from the trees, there are about a dozen wooden chair seats, here and there, a fire made in the open grill that I was first warned may look like a barn, with the in-house pharmacy in one window, a glass, wooden sides, this being a vegetarian restaurant, into which you might find your lawnmower on the back burner.
In those circles, the name “Martha Rae Millar” is once again called into the void.
It’s a giant brown, rust, red-brick house, the roof is new, floorboards in the walls are not. It’s part of Toronto but it smells like Gloucester. It would be a special place, a fitting place for a grownup. I’m told by a teenage friend, “You know your mother at the age of 14, because her home has pizza parties?” Yes, it is a truly wonderful place for kids.
It’s all here but, and this is the big dilemma, there’s nothing to do here apart from sitting on the bench. Outside, including from the back door, are two flower pots, broken. Keep the door shut, I tell you. No children coming through.
You feel trapped. Only by buying one of the two breakables that have been placed in the bay window will you pull yourself from here. But where should you stand? Can you see an open door? You sit there and stare at the brown, brown, gray walls, wondering. I have. But of course, you’re not sure.