A few years back Arcade Fire had a great online video for We Used to Wait. It asked you for the address of your childhood home and it used some HTML 5 magic to instantly transport you to your childhood memory.
I’ve always remembered the address 187 Chelsea Rd. It’s the first home I remember. The place our family lived in the 70s before I turned 10. Typing that old address into the search bar for the Arcade Fire video was the first time I’d thought of using Google Maps to relive the first neighborhood I remember and today I did it for real.
I’m in Picton for a wedding, so I took the day to visit Kingston, Ontario – just an hour away and the first house I can remember living in. I was born in Cornwall, Ontario, but lived in Kingston from 2-10 years old, so this is the furthest back I can recall.Coming into town, I went east down Bath Rd and turned south on Days Rd. The gas station on the corner isn’t the same, but there is still one there with the price much higher than the 35c a litre I remember my parents filling up our big green van at. A half block down was Our Lady of Lourdes, the church where I had my communion and I was an altar boy.
Then, on the left, a big empty field. In the distance you can see a penitentiary that looks like Disneyland, in between there used to be a drive-in theatre where we would watch the films out the rear window as we drove down Days Rd coming home from family nights out.
We turned right on Hyde St and a block down I saw my dad’s old bus stop. Then a left turn onto Chelsea Rd. The road was more narrow than I remember. The road bends at the intersection with Hyde and my first memory is riding my bike down this block singing We Are The Champions on my way home from soccer practice.
187 Chelsea Rd is a dozen houses down. Wow. That was my house. I take a picture of the outside, then my wife takes a picture of me. The extra room on the right wasn’t always there, it used to be a carport where we kept our tent, where I hung a target for pitching practice.
I decided to go around back, there was no fence. And then it comes, the yard I used to run in, a tree is missing, the view of our back neighbors, where the shed was – and then a man comes into the back and asks me what I’m doing.
I used to live here, I tell him. And he shrugs, “I figured.” I tell him all about my first house and then the back door opens. The new owner, who looks a lot like Greg Kinnear, pops his head out.
I lived here when I was 8, I beamed and asked to be let in.
There’s the basement door. The door I was afraid to open without a light on. There’s the kitchen, now renovated and missing a wall, but much smaller still than I remember. There’s the dining room, there’s the living room where my dad told me his mother had died. There’s the fireplace where I first laid out snacks for Santa.
Then upstairs. There’s the room I shared with my brother. The worn parkay floor and railing where I tossed a bag of used eye patches downstairs threatening to runaway. There was my first room on my own, now an office. There was my parents bedroom where I remember watching the results of the 1980 Quebec Referendum. There’s the ensuite where I watched my dad shave.
Then to the basement. The door I was afraid to open, the panelling my dad put up. The corner where I would fall asleep sometime during the first period of Hockey Night in Canada. The wall I practiced my slap shots up against a camping mattress. The workshop where I, at the age of 9, asked my mother how she could vote for Flora MacDonald and betray Pierre Trudeau.
I told the Greg Kinnear lookalike all of it. He smiled, played along and asked questions about the colour of the wallpaper and the history of flooding in the basement.
I was beaming as I walked back to my car. I wanted to cry, I wanted to laugh.
There was the corner I first played “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” with the neighbor. There was the driveway across the street we used to skateboard because it was asphalt. There’s Ed’s house with a For Sale sign on it, the old neighbor who gave the entire 1974-75 hockey card set and used to take me bass fishing early in the morning.
Then we drove the 4 blocks I walked to my elementary school. The route I used to take with Stacey Connelly, my elementary school love. There’s the corner store where I first shoplifted gum. There was where Ms Majoros‘ portable used to be. There’s where I broke my arm, there’s where I got my tongue stuck licking an icy pole. Across the street, there’s where I used to play hockey.
And it went on and on and on. You don’t know how much you remember until you try to remember.
Go ahead, play with the Arcade Fire video. Type in the address of your childhood home into Google Maps and if you’re lucky the Street View cars will have visited and you can do that route to school.
Better still – go there, ring the doorbell and step inside your memory.