All posts by lp

An email exchange with my brother

In case you don’t know us well enough, there are a few things to keep in mind while reading this email exchange between myself and my brother. (Email addresses removed)
1. He was leaving for 2 weeks at the cottage.
2. I wasn’t packing for anything (other than an overnight for a dear friend’s wedding up north)
3. My mother’s brothers died long ago
4. My niece’s first and last name is the same as mine, but for one letter

From: Luisa
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2010 12:58 PM
To: Tony ; Valerie
Subject: Have a nice vacation

Hi there,

I didn’t get a chance to call you guys last night (had company over until late), but wanted to say – hope you have a great couple of weeks! I hope it’s relaxing for both of you (I know you want to accomplish a lot), but rest is important, too. Especially for those who have to work weekends (Val!) Easy on that back, Tony!


From: Tony
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2010 1:11 PM
To: Luisa
Cc: Valerie
Subject: RE: Have a nice vacation

Thanks my dear

Have fun with your packing. No stress please. Mom tells me we will be driving up on 30th – looking forward to the break.

I’m hoping to do very little. Hope I don’t bother mom.

By the way – we plan to leave tomorrow, so are available tonight other than a short visit to nonna & nonno.

From: Luisa
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2010 1:16 PM
To: Tony
Cc: Valerie
Subject: RE: Have a nice vacation

That’s too rich. this is your sister, dear, not your daughter.

Confused the heck out of me – trying to remember what I was packing for.

Thanks for the chuckle!!


(It’s your fault for naming her Lisa, even though it’s a very nice name)

From: Tony
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2010 1:21 PM
To: Luisa
Subject: RE: Have a nice vacation


Good bye Thorold house

Today was the closing on the sale of my parents’ home in Thorold.

There are mixed feelings about my old home. My brother, sister-in-law and I went to the house for the last time yesterday, and I’m glad I wasn’t there on my own. I’d probably be there for far too long, mooning over various bits of it and getting too emotional. That house dripped with my father’s personality and sense of style. It wasn’t a pretty house, but it was very solid. It was a house designed around function. Function trumped beauty always. (Hmm. I’m somewhat like that myself.)

DP 1959
Dad’s initials in the
driveway DP 1959

This is a story I often tell about hurting my dad’s feelings when I was young (and you may have heard it if you know me well). One day as a teenager, my dad asked me: “What would you do with this house if I gave it to you when you were older”. And I replied, “Tear it down and build another one”. I remember now the look of shock on his face, but thought nothing of it at the time. Sorry dad.

My dad bought the house in the early 50s, and he added another room to it when I was born. My bedroom was off the kitchen. My parents’ bedroom was off the living room. Although I don’t see many houses like this in Toronto, I know of many of them in Thorold. Must have been a style back then. But let me tell you, it’s not fun having your bedroom off the kitchen. Even though it’s a typical Italian house in Canada, with the actual, functioning kitchen in the basement, living next to the kitchen made it hard to go to sleep when company was over. And it’s awful waking up in the morning to find company in the kitchen, and you have to walk past them to get to the bathroom to comb your hair.

The house had a few quirky things, which we were positive would make it hard to sell: The open sewer in the basement (with a wood cover). The asbestos covered furnace piping (didn’t even know it was asbestos until the agent told us!). The weird contraption attached to the basement wood stove that brought the stove heat up to the basement ceiling, across the length of the house to the other side, where it exhausted in my parents’ bedroom. The resulting soot covered walls in my parents’ bedroom. The grapevine trellis across the front yard. And when I say grapevine trellis, don’t think it was a pretty wooden thing, think of 3 rows of serious 3 inch pipes sunk into cement, with more of the same piping laying across them supporting thick wires for the grapes to grow on. The wooden shed out back which was so obviously a chicken/pigeon coop. But – it sold in much less time than we thought. And I wish the owners good luck – I would never consider owning a house requiring the maintenance those grapes will will require. Nor would I relish removing the pipes to cut it all down. When my dad built things, he build them to last as long as a Roman age. If one nail would do, he’d use 3.

But I will miss lots of things about that house:
– the way the pear tree looked out the bathroom window
– sitting out front on lawn chairs in the summer, under the grape vines. Even better in fall when the grapes started to smell
– picking cherries (especially if my brother was around and I could shoot pits at him)
– The unexpected room you’d find in the basement, which was the wine cellar. And the smell of the vinegar barrel
– The crazy room beyond the wine cellar that my dad built, under our veranda, which was our fruit cellar. I think it was 5′ 7″ high. Reid’s favourite room. (Fruit cellars are way cool, and I often dream of having one at my own house)
– Sitting in the back yard, on the laundry line steps, drinking a cup of tea and watching the garden grow
– The breezeway. Somewhat like a covered porch between the garage and house proper. I have memories of my grandfather sitting in there, passing the time, in summer. And then my father did it too.

My parents have moved on to a retirement home in Toronto. My dad’s memory is failing, which is the only reason they were able to move on. So much of his identity was tied to that house. But I’m glad to say they are very comfortable in their new apartment. And having them so close is amazing. I can pop over there any time. And now that my brother, sister-in-law and I don’t have to go to Thorold every weekend (first to help them move, then to finish cleaning out the house to get ready for the closing), perhaps I can spend more than a quick hour or so with them on a weeknight here and there.


My brother Tony turns 60 on September 23rd. While I thought of him as much older when I was very young, it’s been a long time now that he doesn’t seem all that much older. I’m not 50 yet, but it means 60 is not that far away.

As most of those reading my blog know, my brother is 13 years older than I, and I have no other siblings. I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about him. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have him as a brother. We get along very well with only a rare squabble that is soon forgotten.

He grew up in a very different home atmosphere than I did. My parents were understandably stressed when they first moved to Canada, worried that they wouldn’t have enough money to get by. Life in Italy was so very difficult for them. They struggled hard to ensure life would be better in this country. By the time I came along, my parents were more settled and easy going (as far is it’s possible for them to be). So – I got a bike, and he never did. I got one or two games, and he got, well, nothing. I got a happier, more easy going father than he did. He never held a grudge about that.

Tony and Me
Tony and me

I hate to admit that I have no early memories of him when I was a very young child, but I have no doubt we were very close. My earliest memories are of him are of weekend homecomings. He went to university when I was 7, and bless him, he came home every single Friday. I would watch and wait for him. When he arrived, he’d eat the dinner my mother kept warm for him and I’d stand nearby, hopping from foot to foot wracking my brain, trying to remember any interesting little thing that happened during the week so I could tell him.

My mother would always be happier when he was around. When she’d get upset at him, she’d yell but then dissolve in laughter. I think he would give her a look, and she’d realize she had no real influence. She’d go as far as to get a broom and threaten to hit him, but end up giggling. I was amazed. What was this power he had over her? It certainly didn’t work for me!

He was a great influence on my life. I can’t imagine what I would have been like without him. One day, when I was quite young, he took me to the library and got me my first library card. Our cool town library was in an old building, and the basement was devoted to children’s books. I started taking books out (I seem to remember Curious George), and I’m sure that when my first books were due, I asked him to take me back to return them. And I’m pretty sure of his answer… you can get there on your own. And so began my frequent trips to the library on my bike.

As most young children, I always wanted a pet. I would beg my parents – to no avail. I used to have serious allergies as a very small child, and my parents used that as an excuse. They said I would be allergic to any cat, dog, bird or small rodent. One day, my brother showed up with a 15 gallon aquarium and fish. I wasn’t allergic to fish!!! He helped me set it up. Yay!!! After a few months, it started to get covered in algae, and so I asked him to help me clean it. And he said… you can figure out how to do that yourself. And I did. (And I went to the library to learn how to keep algae at bay. He didn’t abandon me, he just encouraged me to look for myself first.)

You can see a pattern… whenever I didn’t know what a word meant, he’d tell me to look it up in a dictionary. (I never did.)

When the TV was out of alignment (he put together the Heathkit TV himself), he’d tell me how to fix it and ensure I did it myself from then on.

I loved helping him in his projects. As I mentioned above, he put together the TV himself, and a stereo before that. He’d ask me to hold something while he soldered. He would help build things here and there (he built the bar in my parents’ basement) and I enjoyed helping him. He has a habit of concentrating on the next thing he has to do, and forgetting a tool here and there. I liked to try and guess what he would need next and try to have it close by.

I liked listening to his 60’s and 70’s albums. I dreamed that he was actually Cat Stevens when away from home because they looked similar, and even had the same blemish on their foreheads. In grade 3 or 4, my teacher asked us to bring in our favourite album. I brought in the Beatles’ White Album. I remember how shocked she looked. When she asked what song I wanted to play, I said Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, and then she looked relieved. I had never heard of Charles Manson or Helter Skelter, which I assume was still fresh in people’s minds back then. (I learned of that later because Tony, of course, had the novel.) Should have told her my favourite song was “Number 9”. That would have been fun. At that time, I never listened to that side of the album. But I digress…

When I was in grade 8, I had to pick my courses for high school. I had some advice from a family friend… and made my choices. My brother came home one weekend and asked to see my forms. He flipped. I had signed up for the easiest English and Math courses that wouldn’t take me beyond grade 11. He asked me… don’t you want to go to university or college??? And I remember saying… “Um, I dunno”. I hadn’t even thought of that. He told me to take academic courses. I argued that my English teacher told me to take practical English (very bad advice, I realize now). He told me to take the academic courses, and aim for university or at least college. If the courses were too hard, I could drop down a level. Going up a level would be too difficult. Where would I have been without him?

And I wonder… who on earth was there for him? No one. Perhaps a father who constantly told him (and me) how very important a good education was. But I don’t think that was it, I think he was just smart. Smarter than me, for sure.

He got me out of reading children’s books (I remember he shoved “The Plot”, by Irving Wallace, at me and told me to read it). In grade 9, he shoved Lord of the Rings at me, and mentioned not to bother reading the forward, it’s what kept him from getting to it for years. That’s still one of my favourite books. He let me use his Camaro when I was learning how to drive. He taught me to drive stick shift (I was in my 20s, he was in the passenger seat, opened the window and grabbed on to the door frame. Then told me how to ease up on the clutch and give it some gas. I asked him why he was holding the side of the door like that. He said: nothing… just do it. And the car lurched and hopped all over the place.)

When I went to university, my father insisted I live with my brother. (As a girl, I wouldn’t have been allowed to live on my own.) He was recently married, and they always made me feel welcome. I was wracked with guilt, moving into their home while they were newlyweds (just 4 months married), and each year, I would beg my dad to let me move out. I don’t think they ever knew that. They do now. I always worried I was in their way. By 2nd year, after I had made the coolest friends on the planet, I actually tried to stay away and give them as much space as I could. (OK, so I liked hanging out with my friends, too.)

I still call him every time I need advice, particularly if it involves fixing something (Tony, I put a shovel through the electrical wire that feeds the pool, what do I do now? Tony, I just discovered the previous owner sawed through the two-by-four behind the wall, what do I do now? Tony, the guys who renovated my basement screwed up the wiring, what do I do now? Tony, one of my fence posts is broken and my fence is blowing in the wind, what do I do now?)

What would I have done without him over the years? I don’t like to imagine it. I’m just lucky to have such a brother. Even though he always tells everyone that he’s the pretty one.

Little toddler Tony

61st Anniversary – and Big Changes

Donato and Annunziata
My parents, some years ago

This Wednesday, Sept. 9, my parents will have been married 61 years. Woo!! Last year, we took them out for dinner. It’ll be fairly quiet this year. We have other plans on the go.

My parents will be moving out of their house, the same one they’ve been in since the 50s, to move to a retirement home not far from where I live in Toronto. They still live in the first house my father bought, when he came to Canada. (He came on his own for a few years, worked in Montreal and Sept Ilses, bought a home in the Niagara region, and called his wife and son to join him.) Since my dad has dementia, and a host of medical problems, we’re all started to get worried about the amount of stress on my mother. Since she can’t handle the house, garden, frequent trips to doctors and winter(!) on her own, they can no longer stay in the house. And since they have to move anyway, it makes perfect sense to move to Toronto to be closer to myself and my brother.

I find I’m both excited by them moving closer, and worried about the upheaval (particularly the effect it will have on my dad). The move is scheduled for early October. And, if all goes well, it looks like they’ve just sold their house, too!