ParkTales Classic

ParkTales Classic

Spring in my neighbourhood

By Frances Sedgwick
True North Perspective

Frances Sedgwick's keen eye and ear for the human condition reveals the heart and soul of Parkdale in southwest Toronto, one of the country's most turbulent urban areas where the best traditions of human kindness prevail against powerful forces that would grind them down. True North Perspective proudly presents a column by writer Frances Sedgwick. Her critical observation combined with a tender sense of humour will provide you with something to think about ... and something to talk about. This item originally appeared in True North Perspective's May 28, 2010 edition.

It's been years now since my husband Paul had a stroke.

When I was looking after him at home I used to take him for walks in the neighbourhood and we would end up sitting on a bench in front of Parkdale Collegiate, and enjoy watching and talking with the children.

Many students remembered Paul as the man who had helped save their school.

As I walk by the schoolyard now, I see the basketball players have returned. In this case mostly Tibetan. There is a large community from Tibet in Parkdale.

One young man from Tibet gave me a refresher course in driving and much to his dismay, and to my delight, I failed both tests.

Such a gentle young man. He would tell me his problems while I was driving.

"You know Fran, what should I do? My girlfriend used my cell phone to phone Tibet!!"

I looked at him, thinking that in my day we sure never had problems like that. We didn't even have a phone let alone a cell phone. I smiled and said the obvious, "Don't let her use it."

On this walk, as I looked at Parkdale Collegiate, I thought to myself, this school may not have been here but for the will of the people in the community.

I recalled attending a meeting to save the school. There had been government cutbacks and they were trying to save money by closing schools. I remember the principal saying that there were over 127 nationalities represented at the school and 57 different languages spoken.

I marvelled at this at the time and still do, as I look at the school today seeing the sign "Registration Starts May 1."

At the meeting to save the school, many graduates returned to speak in support. Former students from many nationalities told of what they had become after graduating from Parkdale Collegiate — social workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers ...

My husband Paul spoke at that meeting. He urged them to continue their fight to protect their school. The principal was so impressed he asked Paul to come back and speak to the students.

So when my husband sat in front of that school now not being able to speak because of the stroke but enjoying the children it had a special meaning when they stopped to say hello.

Today, I waved at the kids, so glad to see them. They remembered me from the summer when I sat my husband down there to watch them play basketball.

They all knew his name and took time to talk to him. Their cultures respect the elderly. I smiled as the memories came back of summer and young Vietnamese girls singing us songs.

The very same girls learning to ride their first bike, what fun that was. Of the girl from Jamaica braiding all the boys hair as we sat on the benches.

I recalled I said it seemed like a small village in Jamaica. She smiled and said, "Exactly".

Then I thought of the sad part. She was helping her boyfriend sell drugs. She did it quite openly in front of me, although a little sheepishly. She showed me pictures of her three children by three different fathers. So proud she was.

I thought who am I to judge? The children looked healthy and happy. Cultural differences exist. Being in a different country does not change this. Only time and education will.

I felt tears coming to my eyes today, so proud of my community and it's multiculturalism. One of the most diverse in the world. Yes, in the world.

Next I stopped in at my East Indian corner store for some grapefruit. What an array of different fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs.

I love the variety since I grew up in old conservative Victoria, British Columbia, which at that time was mostly Anglo Saxon. There was not this diversity. I asked a customer to explain the produce to me.

"What do you do with this? It looks like a cucumber but has prickles?"

"Oh," came the response, "it is called bitter melon and in India is used to lower your cholesterol." I did try it.

I passed by the Roti Shop and said "Hi". Here two women from Guiana had set up a successful small shop serving curried chicken and rotis.

I passed by the burger place where a black man from Africa had a small shop that sold fish and chips and burgers to the school kids.

He was so great. He would say to me "I only use the best oil, and fresh, and the best ingredients. After all I am serving our children, our future."

We talked politics and discovered mutual territory. He wanted to lend me a book by Chomsky about destructive capitalism. I thanked him. What an intelligent person he was, and self-taught.

He said when he had a few hours off he went to book stores to see what was new. I thought, I am so lucky to be in this neighbourhood. People outside looking in don't see what I see.

Maybe because they have prejudices they need to overcome. It's their loss. Such a rich assembly of people, cultures, and achievements.

My Parkdale.

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