Saturday, December 14, 2019


In a couple of weeks, this decade will have ended.  So much has happened in the last ten years, I hardly know where to begin in trying to turn it into a narrative.  First, I had to remember where I lived in 2009.

During Ivaan's final illness, we bought a house that we never intended to live in. We had quite a lot of money lying around, the proceeds of the sale of our much-loved house on Portland Street.
Our house on Portland Street

I never loved another house like I loved Portland.
We lived in a condo near Bay and Bloor, very close to my university classes. While I was at school, Ivaan was at home with caregivers to look after him. He spent a lot of time on the computer, looking at used cameras for sale on eBay. He already had a massive collection of cameras, but as he had no inventory, he could never remember what he already owned. So he'd buy more. The cameras were always a disappointment, and he'd swear he was never buying another used camera off the internet.  By the next day, the thrill of the chase had exorcized the previous day's disappointment.  Packages were always arriving in the mail, followed by his inevitable disappointment.

So I persuaded Ivaan that we should buy a house from the Arts and Crafts era (1920s) and have it restored. It was a fantastic era for houses.  They were very solidly built, often with heavy oak panelling inside. The trick was to find a house that had not been ruined by a renovation.  We found just such a house near Dufferin and St. Clair and we bought it. It had been occupied by an Italian family for 50 years and it looked like they'd cleaned it every single day. But they'd updated nothing, so it was perfect for our purposes. The project kept Ivaan's mind off cameras, and it kept our money tied up in real estate, rather than wasted on....more cameras.

Ivaan persuaded me that we should hire a couple he knew to do the restoration.  The guy was an electrician, and rewiring the house was essential. I should have been more alert: the guy was skilled at his trade, yet this couple was perennially broke.  But Ivaan felt sorry for them and thought that this might help them get on their feet financially.  "No good deed goes unpunished", goes the saying.  By the time we fired them, we'd wasted a lot of time and money.  I still feel really sad that Ivaan went to his grave knowing that Roman and Malgorzata took advantage of his kind heart.

After Ivaan's death, I decided to move into the house once the restoration was completed.  It was a beautiful house, but a few weeks after I moved in, the house was broken into.  A great deal of Ivaan's jewellery was stolen, along with my nephew's handmade violin.  I didn't feel violated, as people often do following a break-in.  I just felt angry and disgusted, even after the thief was caught, convicted and sent to prison for four years.
Our Arts and Crafts House
I miss that animal print sofa.

I put the house up for sale, and when the buyer wanted to take ownership almost immediately, I moved to a new condo in a church conversion, to see how I liked living in the west end of Toronto.  I didn't. It wasn't just the condo, it was everything.  My father was fast approaching the end of his life, one of Ivaan's relatives had gotten herself into a perilous financial state and - probably channelling Ivaan's kind heart - I decided I would do what I could to turn things around for her.  Again, "no good deed goes unpunished".  My lawyer advised me that it was the wiser course to let her reap the consequences of her actions. I chose not to follow his advice.  It's a decision I still regret.  I wasted so much time I would rather have spent with my Dad.  He died on New Year's Day, 2012.

The following month, a tiny commercial/residential building on Dupont Street came up for sale and this time my heart and my head were in complete alignment.  I could think of nothing else but how much I wanted to buy this building.  So I did, and I spent seven mostly happy years there.  In the ensuing years, much of my time was devoted to settling my father's Estate.  I have siblings who were also executors, but it's pretty well accepted that I have the organizational instincts of a border collie, so my siblings largely got out of my way.  Dad had left his Estate in good order, but whenever real estate is involved, there's going to be work.  First there was the summer house, Croydon, which sat on 92 acres of scrub land in eastern Ontario.  My sister and I put our shoulders to the wheel and in five weeks we'd transformed Croydon into a bit of a dream home - at least the interior.  My sister wanted us to try to sell it privately by placing a weekend ad in The Globe and Mail Personals. It turned out to be the right decision: the very first people who came to see the property bought it immediately for our asking price.
The loft, Croydon

The living room, Croydon
Then there was my Dad's family home, known to all as "84".  One of our brothers lived there with his wife and occasionally their young adult sons. One excellent day, an apartment in a handsome heritage building near Casa Loma came up for sale.  I saw it first and emailed my brother.  He and his wife saw the apartment almost immediately and it was exactly the "coup de foudre" I'd experienced when I first saw my building on Dupont.   They loved it and bought it on the spot. It really is a beautiful apartment and they've done an admirable job of making it into a comfortable, stylish home.  I'm extremely envious every time I go there.

But that left 84 empty. My siblings agreed to let me loose in there for five weeks.  Our family had owned that house since 1966 and it was a lot of work turning it into the "blank canvas" that appeals to potential buyers.  A lot of emotion was involved, too, and I spent quite a few hours crying to my sister on the phone.  In the end, almost all the members of the family contributed some brute labour to the project.  Our niece Justine's partner, Lorne, came over just in time to prevent me from sawing through a live electrical wire in the kitchen that would have killed me.  My youngest brother, Dave, transformed the sunroom.  My nephew Ivor painted the basement and he and his friend Omar loaded up several dumpsters with demolition waste.  In doing so, I think all of us put to rest the many conflicting emotions we had about giving up the house that had been our refuge over the years.
No shortage of space at 84.

Walt Whitman dined at this table, though not recently.

As with Croydon, the perfect buyers were the first to see 84.  The Ginsbergs were everything we wanted in new owners.  "They're just like us, only younger, richer and nicer!" I told my siblings.

I now recognize that my decision to leave Dupont Street was made long before I was ready to acknowledge it, but my decision to close my store was made in a split second last November.  I'd been sleeping in the basement on Dupont Street to take advantage of the absolute darkness.  I woke up one Saturday morning and felt a twinge of annoyance that it was Saturday and thus a working day.  That was it.  I decided on the spot to close the store and put the building up for sale.

That left me for the first time absolutely free to make any decision I wanted.  I could either go and live in an even more urban environment, or I could head the other way entirely, and live a rural life.  I am positive that - at least for now - I have made the right decision.  When I wake up on New Year's Day of 2020, I'm going to be so glad to find myself here, in the centre of my universe.

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