Big City Sidewalk

I’ve got a fun guest post up today at the always interesting You Are Here Stories — a site for stories centered around Place, around those places that have been important to us, to our communities. Please click on the last words of the excerpt to join me over there, even if all you want to see is a photo of me at age 12 (sweetly earnest and awkward).

 In my forty-seven years, I’ve been all over the world, but all it takes are a few cues to haul me back to my childhood.

A certain sharp and damp and lumber-ish smell brings me to my grandparents’ farmhouse in Michigan (a smell it retains years after their deaths and despite my cousin’s attempts to eradicate it). Outcrops of red, grey, and black veins of Great Canadian Shield rock bring me back to camping trips and weeks at the cottage.

But the capital-P Place where I feel the instant settling of my spirit that says “home” is the big city sidewalk.

Settling the spirit might be an odd response to a place that’s loud and busy and can be crowded and chaotic, but that’s where I grew up: in the middle of the great city of Toronto, Canada. Truly in the middle: one block from the main north-south thoroughfare of Yonge Street, and two-thirds of the way up our subway line.

I was taking the subway by myself…

Voice: 12-year-old me

What did you love more than anything on earth when you were twelve?

Here are some things I loved when I was twelve: horses, Jesus, my friend Elizabeth’s older brother Dan, sitting on my window sill and reading L.M. Montgomery, pretending I was a baton twirler with a broomstick in the basement.

I loved my period. Somewhere, there’s a journal entry that waxed rhapsodic about how it was a wonderful gift from God. I keep looking for it in my papers, but I think I threw it away in my teenage years in a fit of eye rolling over my childhood earnestness.

I loved my phone, which I’d gotten by keeping my room spotlessly neat and clean for six weeks. My parents had read that doing something for six weeks made it a habit. Not so much. I got the phone and quickly went back to my extreme slobbish ways.

I loved my independence. By 12, I’d been riding the subway to and from school by myself for over two years. It was my job to take a first-grader along on that trip and I was starting to babysit in the neighborhood, so I had my own money. My mother hated clothes shopping with me, so she gave me a clothing budget of $12.50 a month and let me take charge of my own wardrobe. I’d been in charge of doing my own hair for a few years, which resulted in periodic rat’s nests in the back, but I made them (through neglect) so I fixed them. My friends and I roamed the city on our own, hanging out in the beautiful Mt. Pleasant cemetery, freaking ourselves out, or going from corner store to corner store buying candy and chips.

This independence wasn’t always great. I was only 9 or 10 the first time an adult approached me and made comments about my looks and asked whether I’d have sex with him. Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident. With all the hundreds of people out on the streets in Toronto, a lone, very blonde girl was an easy target for harassment.

That experience makes it difficult for me to give my daughter independence out on the street. I didn’t let her go to her best friend’s house on her own until the summer after she turned 10, and I’ll only let her go by bike, not on foot — my reasoning being that a kid on a bike is faster and more difficult to bother. And I took that privilege away quickly (but briefly), after she and said best friend wandered way farther than approved at a public event. I know I’m going to have to increase her independence, but it’s hard. I don’t trust people on the street.

What did you love when you were twelve?