As of mid-April, my Aunt Pat’s house in Lethbridge will be no more…at least how the Price/Rodzinyak clans know of it.
That is when new ownership of the house, which is near the Sandman Inn, takes over. My aunt passed away from a stroke last year, and to say she and my Uncle Andy were an integral part of my childhood and later adulthood would be an understatement.
My cousins were doing some last-minute cleaning of the house when I decided to visit my aunt’s abode one last time. I had not been in the house since that fateful Sunday when I went to visit my aunt where a mere few days later she suffered the stroke. She would hold on for days so that family from across the province could have one last moment with her until she slipped over to the Other Side.
I took a deep breath as I approached the house as the memories flooded back instantly even from the street outside her house. There was the cul-de-sac that Aunt Pat would always tease me about parking crookedly on when I came for a weekend visit. That very distinctive 70/80s’ themed chimed doorbell. The blanket/sheet that I saw stuffed below the crack of the door as you entered from outside, making sure no heat escaped.
Making a short left turn into the living room, there my usual spot on the couch where as a teenager I thought I knew it all (and at times even today still think I do), where I’d go toe-to-toe with my Uncle Andy on the issues of the day. Forming my backbone in the bigger picture, perhaps that couch is where my eventual love of punk music was born, from the notion that what is right is not always easy. That backbone has served me well in the newspaper gig in looking at things with a critical eye. I’d like to think the saying which I take to heart of ‘don’t piss on my boots and tell me it’s raining’ came from Uncle Andy showing me it’s OK to rock the boat every once in awhile if the boat’s crew proved untrue. That living room is where I shared many a conversation involving my work, my family, my friends and my love life with my Aunt Pat where I always felt save seeking guidance, even if it was guidance for my own good that I didn’t want to hear at the time.
Then there was the old tube TV, where I would sit down with cousin Tom to watch baseball in the living room where we’d argue which team was better, my beloved Dodgers or his Yankees. The chair in the corner where I would sit down to rub the bellies of many of Aunt Pat’s dogs over the years.
Making my way to the kitchen, there was the smell of Aunt Pat’s chili simmering in the air, a treat I would always get on numerous birthdays with her and my cousins, or if my aunt knew I was visiting on a particular evening. My Italian mother is an expert cook, making dishes more delicious than the last, but it always bugged her a little bit that I would go on record saying I preferred Aunt Pat’s chili to her own.
Stepping into the back yard, there were the games of baseball my cousin and I played with only a tennis ball and fish bat and four designated areas for the bases. Being young and reckless, of course the only way to get an out would be to retrieve the batted tennis ball and hurl it at the runner to ‘tag’ them for the out. The concept led to many bruises and a couple of broken windows, but that did not dampen the fun factor.
Making my way downstairs, there was the infamous ‘creak’ step I would try to avoid so as to not wake up my aunt, as I would often stay at the house on weekends as I enjoyed late-night revelry with friends in Lethbridge in my 20s and 30s. Then there was the room downstairs that I called my own where I spent one semester in high school so that I could graduate with my friends after my parents moved to Nanaimo, B.C. during my Grade 12 year. I remember that Sega Genesis game during my lunch break while I attended Lethbridge Collegiate Institute, in which high school chum Cam Mertz scored the winning touchdown on a kick return in the dying seconds.
That bedroom was also the place of some memories I’d like to forget. It was a place I’d retreat to with a plate of food in my hand out of fear of my grandfather’s decent into Alzheimer’s Disease. As a teenager I stayed away for fear of looking into my grandfather’s eyes and see that he had forgotten me. It is time I wish to this day I had back.
Tears of laughter and tears of sorrow were shed in that house with everything in-between with all the family gatherings I had there. Memories I will always cherish.
It’s funny, if a complete stranger walked into that house now and saw the absolute disrepair it is in, they’d probably think ‘good riddance,’ but then they would be missing the point. I guess you could safely define my Uncle Andy and Aunt Pat as working poor where they did not have the funds to do continuous upkeep on the house.
But if in the end that is such a big deal, why did I have so many cherished memories in the place?
It was because it was a place for people and not things. Of course in a perfect world, everyone would have beautiful houses to go with beautiful memories, but if I’m forced to pick between the two, I will take the latter every single time.
What good is that spacious kitchen with the marble counters, if the family is hardly ever sitting down together at the dinner table because the parents are chasing the almighty dollar?
That 70-inch big-screen TV is nice, but then there was also those fish bat baseball games a child should participate in outside as well.
When you get right down to it, should one be spending more time maintaining their house or their relationships with family and friends?
As I entered every single room of that house one last time, even more memories too numerous to write in this column washed over me in which my eyes began to swell in tears.
Maybe it’s that realization that I would be making no more memories in that house. Maybe it’s that innate arrogance we as human beings have at times thinking life will always go on as usual with decades of familiarity.
Whatever the realization was, I gave a big hug to my cousin Wendy, maybe wanting to hold onto the moment for a fraction of a second longer before I left that house.
I sat there in my car and turned on the ignition and looked at that house one last time. Thank you old house for helping me remember those old memories once again.
Wherever the house is now, I will continue to strive to make positive memories in it with the people I care about.
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