I’ve written before about my idyllic childhood growing up in Leaside amidst the tall leafy trees, the lovely houses, a big park just down the street, and nary a care in the world (except worrying that we’d been spotted during that ill-advised late night streaking incident I wrote about in this space a couple of years ago). My twin brother Tim and I were luckier than many. We escaped the heat of the city to the family cottage on weekends and spent three weeks every July on a 20-acre island in the remote southwest arm of Lake Temagami, at Camp White Bear (another experience I’ve written about here).
When Tim and I were happily exiled at Camp White Bear, my parents and our younger sister and brother would usually spend the whole time at the cottage. I mean, it was a win-win for them. They got three weeks off at the cottage with our angelic siblings but without the mayhem that typically trailed Tim and me wherever we went. Then after our three-week stint at camp, we’d join the rest of the family for a final week at the cottage. In hindsight, I can’t quite figure out how our dad could take a whole month off in the summer. It’s likely that for some of that time, he’d work during the week and join the rest of the family on weekends. Anyway, the whole clan would return to Leaside at the end of July, just in time for the furnace-like heat wave that would invariably settle on Toronto. There is a multitude of reasons to commend the classic Leaside home. Effective air-conditioning isn’t one of them. (Neither are spacious closets, but that’s another story.) Man, it was hot.
But one of my most vivid memories of the family’s return to Leaside from the north every summer has nothing to do with heat. It has to do with my nose. Summer after summer this happened. Some suggest that our sense of smell is the most evocative of the five. A particular aroma can immediately transport you to a different time and place. Well, after being away from our Leaside home for nearly the entire month of July, I always anticipated our triumphant return to the neighbourhood. I’d always try to be the first into the house, long before the tailgate on our Ford Country Squire station wagon was opened for the great unloading. My mother would open the front door and I’d slip into the front hall. And there it was. Some of you may be able to relate to this, others may think I’ve taken leave of my senses (except my sense of smell). The house always had a particular scent after it had been family-free for four or five weeks. Not a foul smell per se, but just a distinctive yet fleeting odour of stale, undisturbed air that I’ve never picked up anywhere else or any time since. Like that very brief scent of summer rain on warm pavement, the stale air smell in the house didn’t last long, likely only an hour or so, yet I still remember it so well.
Tim and I would always be really excited to be back in the hood. We’d hop on our bikes and ride around looking for our friends who we were sure had missed us terribly. As often as not, our search would prove futile with most of our gang away at their cottages or summer camp. That’s when the boredom of a scorched August in the city would set in and we’d have to figure out how to fill our days. It was not exactly a hardship. We’d hack around in the park, much of the grass dry and brown from the heat. We learned that sliding down the parched hills on a sheet of cardboard was just as fast and fun as tobogganing but without the frostbite. Many of our afternoons were spent at the pool at Leaside Memorial Community Gardens, or just tooling around on our bikes to try to stay cool. Those were the days. I remember – and smell – them well.