Giving the family home one last hurrah


National Post - Wednesday July 27th, 2011

 Barbara Kay, National Post · Jul. 27, 2011 | Last Updated: Jul. 27, 2011 3:12 AM ET

Tonight will be our last night in the big Edwardian pile of a house my husband Ronny and I have called home for 32 years. The movers come tomorrow morning.

Months ago we bought a downsizer, a bright, modern, no-nonsense box of a house with just enough room for us and two visiting grandchildren. It needed, and got, a full renovation, and now it is perfect.

I have always lived in big cities and can't even imagine living in the 'burbs or a town. And yet, in all the ways that matter emotionally and psychologically, I need to live in a "village." So I didn't even bother house-hunting beyond a very small radius, because I knew I couldn't be happy anywhere else but my particular 'hood. The new house is only about 140 metres from where we are - literally around the block.

My daughter and her family live three blocks away from us, only a few blocks from where her husband grew up. To add to the coziness of our lives, my son-in-law's parents (they've become good friends of ours) live four blocks away and my granddaughters' school is half a block up the street from us. None of this is coincidence. Generations living cheek by jowl, as if in a little village, but surrounded by a big city, is my idea of real-estate heaven.

Plus, I hate driving. In lower Westmount, one can walk in minutes to two community parks with well-stocked playgrounds, a superb library, a community centre that offers all manner of cultural activities, richly diverse shopping and restaurants, numerous coffee bars, a mall with a Cineplex, a plethora of public and private schools, a bowling green (!) and two transit lines. Best of all, you can walk to the heart of downtown in 25 minutes. I'm rarely in my car. It has to be Canada's perfect neighbourhood.

We got our house for a song in 1978. I won't tell you what we paid, because you will cry. It wasn't only because of the area's pre-gentrification air of shabby gentility. The Parti Québécois had won its first victory only two years before. The PQ's charismatic leader, René Lévesque, had promised to hold a referendum on Quebec sovereignty. Head offices and terrified anglophones were streaming out of the province. The reverse gold rush was an unsettling time for everyone.

There was an "à vendre" sign in front of every other house in Westmount, it seemed. To say it was a buyer's market is an understatement. So, thanks to René Lévesque, we were able to afford a house that in any politically stable city of such importance would have been way out of our financial grasp. Which is why I can never really hate the separatists. They were a real-estate godsend to any number of young anglophone families willing to take a bit of a risk - a risk that paid off big time.

We haven't listed our old house for sale yet. My Montreal daughter and her husband are in the throes of converting the duplex they own (where a series of upstairs tenants over eight years have helped them pay off their mortgage) into a single family home. For so many years an empty nest, it is enjoying its last big-house hurrah, sheltering my daughter's temporarily dispossessed family while their place is under renovation.

Like a placid old warhorse who stamps the ground in readiness at the sound of the bugles, our disused third floor is demonstrating it still has the old mojo. My grandchildren are sleeping in my daughter's old bedroom and doing their art work in my son's old bedroom. My daughter made her office in our au pair's old bedroom, and she and her husband sleep in the old playroom.

I'm an old warhorse too, making day-camp lunches and kissing scraped knees. Last night I read the kids a bedtime story - Mouse House - a beloved tale I bought for their mother, and read to her all those years ago, cuddled up in the same way with my six-year old and threeyear old granddaughters, in the very same bedroom.

It takes a city to raise a happy journalist. It takes a village to raise a happy grandparent.

bkay@videotron.ca