We can only approach the past from distance, writes Alice Monro in her book, The View from Castle Rock. She can revisit the area where she was born almost daily if she wants. It is only twenty miles away from where she lives now in Ontario and although the area has changed and the house of her childhood has been pulled down and a car wrecking yard stands in its place, she can still revisit the area if she wants, but she does not. She has no such desire. Perhaps were the house still standing she might.
I think she is right. You can only approach the past from a distance. Only then can you get a broad enough perspective to capture the essence of your experience. I look back on my own childhood and my memory looks different from what I see today when I drive along Canterbury Road and up Wentworth Avenue.
I was five when we first lived in the house at 2 Wentworth Avenue in Canterbury. The house still stands, though seriously renovated, the back gutted to make way for a clean open living area and an elevated study that looks out onto a small neat garden. They have sacrificed some of the old back yard for rooms inside. I know this because a number of years ago the house came up for sale and one of my brothers and one of my sisters and I went to have a look when it was open for inspection. As we came in through the side front door, the whole place looked so different, no longer the worn carpet, no longer the dark stained wood paneled doors. The distance between the front door and the hallway and first line of bedrooms had shrunk so much I needed only a few footsteps to cross it. We used to pay marbles in that stretch of ground and the piano stood in the corner there pressed against the wall with plenty of room for the stool and a person playing the piano, room enough for people to walk up and down behind. But now the hallway too has shrunk into a narrow corridor that is no longer dark. A skylight in the ceiling sends a shaft of light that converts the hallway, changing it from a long and tedious stretch of land that I had to cross daily, many times to get from my bedroom past the lounge room into the kitchen and from there out to the back yard, into a small enough area to conquer in two or three steps.
I know this is the price we pay for growing up: that all the vast spaces of our childhood shrink to a fraction of their original size. I wish it were not so. I wish that my memories, at least the ones that relate to space and distance could be met today as they were then. But that is not to be and, although I say I wished it were so, I’m not so sure of that on further reflection. On further reflection, I revel in the surprise and sense of discovery I have when I revisit a landscape from my childhood and compare its dimensions now with those from the past.
Here’s a picture from Google Earth of my old home.