Thuja plicata: Nestboxes

We must first look for simplicity in houses with many rooms.
— Gaston Bachelard

When I was growing up, my family moved every two years. My father was a radar technician in the navy and he would be transferred from Victoria to Halifax, from Halifax to Victoria, from Victoria to the radar base on Matsqui prairie, back to Victoria. We never owned a house. We’d stay in motels for the first part of most transfers; having outgrown the family housing offered by the navy, my parents drove to possible rental houses with my three brothers and myself in the back seat of the station wagon. Our black Labrador, Star, accompanied us, in the very back, drooling as she hung over our seat.

Moving was exciting. For weeks, my mother made lists and tried to organize what we owned. My brothers and I chose favourite things to take with us on the journey — a book, a stuffed animal, baseball gloves for games of catch in campsites, binoculars. Then a moving truck would pull up in our driveway and teams of men packed up our belongings, wrapping breakables in creamy paper and fitting them into large wooden tea-chests, wrapping padded blankets around the furniture, then loading everything into the truck. The house echoed with the loss of our possessions and my mother did a last-minute sweeping of the floors, polished the windows with newspapers and vinegar.

…I’d lie in my bed at night and try to orient myself by remembering my old room. Closing my eyes, I pointed my finger in the darkness to the window. Waking, I was surprised for weeks by the unfamiliar light.

That same truck eventually pulled up in the driveway of the new house and everything was unloaded. My mother cried to discover that cherished plates had been broken or a lampshade crushed. The furniture was arranged in the rooms and I’d lie in my bed at night and try to orient myself by remembering my old room. Closing my eyes, I pointed my finger in the darkness to the window. Waking, I was surprised for weeks by the unfamiliar light.

There was always a moment I waited for, the moment when my mother replied, —Yes, I think so, to the question I posed daily after one of these moves: — Are we settled yet? Settled meant that we knew where things were — light switches, the spaghetti pot, a hammer to bang in nails for our pictures, our winter jackets. New friends knew where to find us. Letters arrived in our mailbox.

The last family move was in 1969 when I was fourteen. My father retired from the navy and we moved from Matsqui to Victoria where a job waited for him at the dockyard in Esquimalt. A house had been purchased, the first and only house my parents owned. The sale had been accomplished on a weekend trip to Victoria a month or so before we moved. There were a few requirements — enough bedrooms, a paddock for my horse (in Matsqui we rented a house on a farm and my life-long wish for a horse had been fulfilled), close to schools. There were also a few hopes — my mother wanted a dining room and a fireplace and two bathrooms. I had fond memories of a house we had lived in when I was in grades one and two, a house with a pagoda roof and an attic room accessible by ladder, a house with doors that opened with crystal knobs and a bark-burning stove in the kitchen, a greying cedar trellis in the leafy back yard, a small neighbourhood park right across the road; I imagined that such elements might be a part of the new house. None of these were to come true.

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