From the Braver Institute
While driving back home to my parents house recently, I couldn’t help but think of that line from the song as I approached my old neighborhood.
No, the place isn’t filthy, not even close. The area I grew up in is just ugly. I don’t know who in their right mind would ever decide that this was a nice place to live. I think the original families who lived there (mine being one of them) just kind of settled for it, sort of like everything in the good looking places was already taken, so this place will have to do.
I was three years old when my family moved there, and while I do have vague memories of the first house I lived in, I have to echo another sentiment of “Tobacco Road”—“but it’s home; the only life I’ve ever known.”
When we moved there, the entire area was nothing but sand and scrubby jackpine. The only other vegetation was the occasional fern, and a lot of blueberry bushes. Blueberry bushes are great for growing blueberries, but they aren’t long on looks.
In time, the neighborhood changed, and people made improvements to their yards. They planted lawns and trees. Their efforts over the decades have done much to transform the area from a sandy, jackpine wasteland, to an area covered in patches of barely-growing grass and stunted, decorative trees which resembled a community-wide bonsai project— surrounded by a sandy, jackpine wasteland.
While this is how I see the place in retrospect, I didn’t see it that way when I was growing up. We didn’t care that the area was filled with ugly, twisted, tortured souls of trees. Those trees with their gnarly branches, were great for climbing. The sand of the area, which provided little in the way of nutrition for vegetation, was perfect for digging in. Give a young boy a shovel and he will dig a hole, and that is what we did— lots of them—for no other reason beyond the fact that we could easily do it. Entertainment came cheap in those days.
Home was also within walking distance of three wonderful lakes.
Lake Superior was a breath away, and we would spend the summer swimming there. We didn’t realize just how cold that water really was, because we had never swam anywhere else. We did know that it was crystal clear, and the bottom was hard-packed sand. Lake Superior was like a giant swimming pool, unlike the murky, mush-bottomed inland lakes. To this day I dislike swimming in the waters of inland lakes.
Lake Levasseur was a flooding project that provided us with all of the fishing we could ever want to do. It too was ugly, with its flooding project border of dead, ghostly white, sun-bleached trees, but we weren’t there for scenery, we were there for fish.
Lake Kawbawgam was our scenery lake. It wasn’t much for fishing, and it would have been terrible for swimming, but it was a great place to just hang out.
There was also a chain of ponds scattered across a swamp that covered several square miles. We explored the whole area at a young age, and we even named the ponds: First Pond, Second Pond, Third Pond ... original, I know. We also named the two-rut roads that led to the ponds. I will let you guess what those names were.
It was a rare instance indeed when we would find ourselves faced with boredom. It almost never happened. Rain may have been the only thing that could bring about boredom, because it sometimes forced indoors. Rain is why we learned to play poker.
This ugly place that I call home will be that for only a little while longer. At the end of this summer Ma Braver will be moving out of the house of my childhood. The residents of my old neighborhood have not known a time when there wasn’t the Braver house. My family has lived there longer than any other, and I have memories of the place that are old enough to draw a pension.
Ma Braver asked me if it would bother me not to be coming to this house anymore. I told her that it would not bother me. My memories are not in a house, nor are they in the ugliness of the neighborhood. My memories reside in my mind, and in my mind that neighborhood is as I saw it then, and not as I see it now.
— — —