I recently related the story of how Ross, my husband, and I met -he lived next door to me in a rented apartment here in New Westminster. I was utterly amazed at the sense of nostalgia that washed over me. That apartment gets shoved to the back of my mind most of the time due to preoccupying baby needs, mortgage payments, strata complexes, and all the other trappings of “adult” life. So I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how fond I am of the old apartment.
It was one of two low, brown, three level stucco apartment buildings on one of the busiest roads in New Westminster. It was directly across from City Hall and its lovely, lush green lawn that we refered to as front row seating to various community events: fireworks displays, cenotaph ceremonies, and an amazing display of bulbs in the spring. I lived there for four years and had three different roommates during that time, and an assortment of different neighbours (only one of which I married :)). It was also while living at this apartment that I discovered what I consider to be one of New Westminster’s jewels, the Friendship Gardens. If you didn’t live there, you probably know someone who did or currently is. While I lived there I had three rent increases and yet my rent was ridiculously cheap. I remember my landlady, a sweet middle aged woman of Eastern European lineage, apologizing profusely one year when my rent went up $10. I laughed.
The apartment had some amazing architectural and design features. It had original hardwood floors complete with inlaid detail and single pane weighted windows. Hallways and rooms had arched corners, slightly vaulted ceilings (I think that’s what they are called) I remember there was a phone nook in the hall, which was too small for today’s cordless phones. The bathroom was tiny and did not have modern conveniences like an exhaust fan, but it did have porcelain tile floors. I feel bad for the tenant after me – we painted that bathroom two or three times and of course we chose colours like dark blue and bright orange. The living room and eating area had a fabulous view of the mighty Fraser.There is a new development on the corner of Carnarvon and 6th that I suspect ruins the view now.
There was a fabulous little fireplace with mantle that had been boarded up at some point in its existence, and electrical outlets were installed. I remember being so excited to find a fake fireplace at a thrift store that fit perfectly. The front doors had tiny, grated trap doors in them rather than the usual bland “peephole” – ours never stayed shut and served as a bit of a spy hole for goings on in the hall. There were also had milk doors – throwbacks to the days of milk delivery. Hallways had non functioning garbage chutes and the shared laundry area had two pay washers and two pay dryers – both were pretty easy to fool and get a free cycle. The garages in the back were frighteningly rickety – I noticed recently while cutting through the alley on a walk that they have since torn down some of the garages in favour of more parking.
When I moved in with my college grad assortment of cobbled together Ikea furniture and castoffs from former apartments and world-travelling past roommates, one of the most important features of the apartment was its close proximity to a nightclub. We liked to say it was “stumbling distance” from our door. It was the original safe ride home – no need to take a cab or use transit. Our house became the constant after-party on club nights.
I remember being woken up one night at about 3AM by flashing blue and red lights – someone had fallen asleep at the wheel and wrapped his Dodge Neon around the telephone pole in the middle of the road (he walked away unharmed). Debris from the wreckage was swept up the following day by one of my neighbours. Tow trucks were common in rush hour. My car suffered at the hands of a passerby once as well – someone decided that my unassuming VW Rabbit was offensive and kicked in the windshield. I never did figure that one out.
My cat was welcome in the old apartment, and later, when Bevan passed away quite suddenly, I was permitted to have a small dog so long as it was “the same size as a cat”. It was with my little dog on the steps into the apartment that I met the business end a skunk for the first (and hopefully only) time. If you need the recipe for skunk wash, just let me know. That’s not something you ever forget once you’ve had to go to an all night pharmacy to pick up the ingredients.
Looking back, that apartment saw me through a lot of things – good and bad. We celebrated triumps and worked our way through life challenges there. I was a recent college graduate and single for the first time in a long time. It was from that apartment that I went to my first I-bought-and-paid-for-the-ticket Canucks game. I first started baking as a hobby in that apartment, and I experimented for the first time with painting and photography. I got my first digital camera while living there. I bought and sold three different cars. I fell in love with gardening and to this day, I still have houseplants I potted on the living room floor of the old apartment. One of my roommates met a guy while living there and next summer I am the maid of honor at their wedding. And, most importantly, I fell in love.
The places we live in make up far more of the fabric of our lives than I think we give them credit for. At the time it was just a place to hang my hat, so to speak, and it IS just a place. Its what it stands for and its the life I led in its poorly painted hallways that make the old apartment so special.