The following is one of dozens of stories contained in “Foundry Street”, which includes memories of growing up in Lachute in the 1950s and 1960s. Author Léonard Lafleur will be in Vankleek Hill on Friday, August 7, to sign and sell copies of his book. He will be set up safely outdoors on the verandah at Vankleek Cottage, located at 105 Main Street East in Vankleek Hill. You can come to meet Léonard between noon and 3 p.m.
If you cannot make it that day, you can email: [email protected] to order your book and organize safe pick-up at The Review.
And now: Our Back Yard
The old house on the corner of Bethany and Foundry (now Lafleur Street) certainly had character due to its Victorian heritage, having been erected at the turn of the previous century by great-granddad Odilon Biroleau dit Lafleur for the princely sum of $2500.
Our home had numerous nooks and crannies, two towers, a tall tin roof, high ceilings, beautiful wood floors and banisters. The location might have been great in the early part of the 20th century, sadly, encroaching commercialism and receding family housing had left it stranded, a beautiful orphan.
Our family settled into our home over a period of decades. As we grew and – ahem! multiplied, the house stretched here, grew there, accommodated our needs in ways that would have made great-granddad Odile proud.
The backyard was a square, about 75 by 80 feet (figure it out, young meter lovers!). A tin-roofed garage stood on the border with the Cousineaus, our neighbours to the east. A three-foot-high fence closed off the yard on three sides, while our neighbour and saintly friend Mrs. Picken (surely a saint for tolerating the Doctor’s and Mrs. Lafleur’s 10 little hell raisers for all those years) had a five-foot-high chain link fence bordering our property. I suppose she had the purest reasons as her backyard and garden were pure perfection. Ours, to say the least, was not.
The Picken fence gradually acquired an alarming curvature, as our frequent forays for lost balls, or arrows, or whatever, caused a dip at the centre post.
The hardest used feature in our backyard was the see-saw, built to last for centuries by oncle Paul-Emile. It actually survived most of 10 summers of Lafleur abuse. Two large elm trees were shared with our neighbours the Cousineaus and gave us shade and adventure over the years. We got stranded at various heights on those trees, depending on our sense of adventure…or lack of…
Imagine a war zone, strewn with bicycles, tricycles, pails, shovels, sticks, a dog house, the see-saw, a lilac tree older than the house and large enough to climb, a rosebush nearly as large, what-nots and want-nots, two big elm trees, and a holed garbage can used to burn stuff right smack in the middle of it all. No effete, high-falutin’ manicured place was our yard. Nope. This was a working backyard, with crabgrass, bare spots, bald spots, doggie poo and mushy cookies. Kids played here, got immunized against every disease known to man, day in, day out, winter, spring, summer and fall.
The garbage pail-cum-incinerator served a useful purpose, as Dad’s medical practice called for him to dispose of the new-fangled one-shot syringes, ergo the garbage incinerator pail…All but a few, that is, for I well remember the time we cornered our dog Mickey and tried one on him…That was the one and only time Mickey ever bit (nibbled, actually) one of us. Dad got us over such pranks in a hurry, as our tender hides took note of his pointed comments.
My sister Patricia, a drama queen beyond compare, was the world’s biggest chicken when it came to descending trees. She could climb all right, but getting her down was an event all the neighbourhood watched. Dogs barked, cats ran about, kids yelled encouragement, Mom cried, Dad scratched his head while Patricia hung on for dear life, doing what girls did when they played tomboy, i.e. crying her little heart out. She was convinced this was her final day on earth as she would shortly plummet to the ground at least six feet away, and, and, none of us would miss her, so there!
That’s when my brother Christian asked her if he could keep her Kodak camera when she died… she immediately made it down in a flash. Nobody, but nobody touched her Kodak Instamatic!
The greatest of times in our yard were when we had friends in to play with us. Ten, fifteen, twenty kids went about the serious business of play, some bouncing balls off the scarred tar-paper of the garage, some swinging on the seesaw, others crouched around a hapless grasshopper…
Our backyard was ugly, usually messy, always littered with toys and playthings. As I look back on those times, I can affectionately say our backyard was part of the family, just like Mickey our dog. The hours we spent within its boundaries were happy ones. If there is a backyard heaven up there somewhere, ours surely made it to the top!