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A Vancouver Neighbourhood

“The syrup of blackberry scent and sweet peas”

17th and Laurel Street, Vancouver, where Jennifer and I lived (house left), and fiery Phil and family’s house (right). (Jen and I had no fence or palm trees in the front yard. The new owners changed our front garden soon after they moved in. The front walkway though is the same one I built.)

Sandy Shreve’s beautiful poem, “Neighbours (on Marshall Street),” puts me right back to the Vancouver neighbourhoods I lived in during the late 1970s and 1990s. She describes the random nature of being thrown together with people on the same street. Those you’d otherwise never have met nor have an interest in meeting. unless they became your neighbours.

You’re in their orbit for a short while and then move on. And become part of the lore. And the lore becomes part of you.

Strangers until they come together

Sandy’s poem draws on a neighbourhood’s past and present continuity. Marshall Street (near Vancouver’s Trout Lake) was once the hayfield of a dairy farm, then subdivided into city lots. People moved into houses, then moved out, and owners changed several times until those living there now arrived. All strangers until they came together in this one suburban street. And how, when they moved on, they’d just as quickly lose touch with each other.

It’s a magical poem, not sentimental, and urges you to rediscover an old neighbourhood you might have lived in. Or to experience one for the first time.

Here’s Sandy’s poem. Read it out loud to yourself or to others.

Neighbours (on Marshall Street)
By Sandy Shreve

We discover each other slowly, through
summer afternoons renovating our houses,
hear histories between hammer strokes —
whose place used to be whose,
the school behind the transit line
once a dairy farm,
our urban lots the hayfield
until it burned.

Newcomers and old timers are introduced,
grow comfortable with people
who never would have cared to meet
if they hadn’t chanced on the same block.

We say the same
about most relatives, co-workers.
If not for blood or job ties
we’d have nothing in common,
let the comment pass as if it’s a given,
as if proof exists in how easily we lose touch
when we move on —
though they change us forever,
and we, them.

A citied-in street slows
the hurry-home from errands
with the syrup of blackberry scent and sweet peas
urging us back toward something
of the country town,
a craving for everyone to know everyone,
what we’ve been up to.

Fences eventually become supports to lean words on,
porches a reason to pause,
as we become neighbours for a season,
stitching together the remnants of a village
before winter sets in.
Sandy Shreve

Sandy needs little introduction on Pender Island, a long-time resident, a visual artist and a poet with a dozen titles to her credit, mostly poetry. Her website has a great selection of her visual art, poetry titles and other writing. Her paintings and photo art have been shown in galleries on Pender and elsewhere.

I first found this poem in A Verse Map of Vancouver (Anvil Press, 2009), edited by George McWhirter. “Neighbours (on Marshall Street)” first appeared in Sandy’s poetry collection, Bewildered Rituals (Polestar Press, 1992). It’s published here with Sandy Shreve’s permission. 1

Talking over the fence

I’ve always loved the randomness of the people I meet in neighbourhoods, “people who never would have cared to meet if they hadn’t chanced on the same block.” They turn into old friends over time by proximity, living on the same block, talking over the fence, raking leaves, catching a can of beer tossed off the deck, overhearing an argument in the kitchen.

The Douglas Park neighbourhood. Green space at bottom is the park itself.

Douglas Park, between Oak and Cambie Streets at 21st Avenue, was that kind of rich neighbourhood. Rich in the sense that it teemed with shared lives. Jennifer and I, too, went through renovations and garden projects and kept a sideways watch on the kids playing on the street. We smelled dinners cooking and shared freshly-baked cookies.

A next-door neighbour once brought me a cup of tea when I was digging a new tomato patch plot next to our fence. It was warm that spring day and hard work. She must have seen me labouring and thought I needed a break. I was touched by her generosity and conversation.

Quiet and true

Her name was Karen. She was quiet and true, practiced yoga and worked as an executive for a data company. She and her husband Phil had two rambunctious sons, Matt and Jon, who were 10 and eight. I never saw her ruffled.

Phil was a stay-at-home dad working on a Master’s degree in psychology. He ruled by volume and yelled at the kids a lot. A disciplinarian, believed kids needed structure. He was really a great dad, but the yelling never worked. And he knew it. The kids pushed back. They gave as good as they got!

It was noisy and often hilarious living next door!

After school, Phil would give the kids a snack. He’d sit them down at the kitchen table and make them do Kumon homework for half an hour before they could go out and play.2

Fun on the street

One day, Phil must have been distracted by something else. Matt and Jon came home from school but never went inside. They got involved with some skateboarders on the street, working out tricks, laughing and yelling. I was painting our front steps, enjoying the raucous gathering on the sidewalk and street.

Phil suddenly burst out of his front door and started wailing at the two boys that they’d better get inside immediately or they’d be grounded!

The younger one, Jon, slumped into the house, but Matt wasn’t going anywhere. He was having too much fun.

I kept my attention on my stair painting but looked up just as Matt walked up the stairs.

“You’re in big trouble, bud!” Phil fumed.

A conspiratorial wink

Matt saw me watching. Right in front of his dad, he flashed a big smile, gave me a conspiratorial wink and disappeared inside.

Lots of arguing ensued … Just another day in the neighbourhood.

Jennifer and I thought a lot of that family: fiery Phil, the Sphinx-like Karen, and their two spirited boys.

Yet when we moved a year later, we never saw them again. Nor heard from them. They’d touched our lives but vanished as quickly as we met them. I felt a little sad that we never reached out.

Moving on

They showed up on a quick Internet search, though, when I went looking the other day. Seems they left Vancouver soon after Jennifer and I left the neighbourhood, finding work in the U.S. mid-west. The two boys are handsome young men now, and Phil works as a professional clinical counselor.

And Karen? Sadly, she passed away “unexpectedly” in 2017. No further explanation in her obituary. She was 49 years old. “We will always remember her warm smile, beautiful flowing chestnut hair, impeccable form and grace, and loving embrace,” the family wrote.

Our friendship was a chance encounter, living at 17th and Laurel in houses next door. And soon to be forgotten:

… as if proof exists in how easily we lose touch
 when we move on —
 though they change us forever,
 and we, them.

And I’m grateful for that “citied-in street” and the shimmering “syrup of blackberry scent and sweet peas” that brought us together and held us close for a short while.

…urging us back toward something
 of the country town,
 a craving for everyone to know everyone,
 what we’ve been up to.

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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #olives #olivebread #olivesourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

Just rockin’ the Olive Sourdough at 4:30 a.m. in the morning. Into Mildrith’s fire they go!
.
.
.
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.
.
 
#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #olives #olivebread #olivesourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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This is a sure-fire classic and a boon to Serious Home Bakers. Detailed and so precise, you can’t fail! Great for Christmas! Congratulations, @maurizio !!

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#homebaking #breadmaking #artisanbread #breadbaking #bakingbread #breadporn #bakingathome #bakinglife #bakingaddiction #sourdoughbaking #breadlovers #breadlife #breadbaker #bakingofinstagram #breadloaf #bakingwithlove❤️ #bakinglovers #joyofbaking #instagrambooks #breadofinstagram #rusticbread

This is a sure-fire classic and a boon to Serious Home Bakers. Detailed and so precise, you can’t fail! Great for Christmas! Congratulations, @maurizio !!

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.

#homebaking #breadmaking #artisanbread #breadbaking #bakingbread #breadporn #bakingathome #bakinglife #bakingaddiction #sourdoughbaking #breadlovers #breadlife #breadbaker #bakingofinstagram #breadloaf #bakingwithlove❤️ #bakinglovers #joyofbaking #instagrambooks #breadofinstagram #rusticbread
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Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard! ...

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It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly.

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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
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Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
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.
#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc
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  1. Thank you Sandy!

  2. Kumon is an “afterschool” math and reading practice program for preschool kids through grade 12)

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