Thursday, March 11, 2010

story: the vacant apartment

It was a warm spring day and I was a boisterous 4 year old. It was 1969: the TV news was full of unrest, protesters wanted to make love instead of war and society hid racial tensions under a very thin veil.

We lived in an apartment building at 16th and Main. I was always staring at the tall brick clock tower across the street that was the RCMP station. It was my second favorite place, right after the magical Dairy Queen.

Our apartment was on the ground floor looking out on 16th Avenue. We were lucky and paid a reduced rent as we took care of the building management. We would clean the drains, mow the token front lawn, vacuum the halls and take care of finding new tenants whenever we had a vacancy.

On this particular day we had a 'Suite for Rent' sign standing tall on our front lawn. I was playing and making a mess as my mom chased my pudgy little brother, crawling around in his diaper. A young lady came to our front door and buzzed our suite. I remember my mother answering the door and the voices mixing together. I tried to see who it was from behind my mother’s leg. She wanted to look at the suite upstairs.

We formed a little parade and I led the way up the stairs as my mother carried my brother and this new lady took up the rear. My mother acted as guide as I snooped through the cupboards and played in the closets. At the end of the five minute tour my mother smiled and asked what the lady thought of the suite. With a pretty glow she agreed it would be perfect and that she loved it. My mother, trusting her instincts, wanted to arrange for a move-in date.

The young lady’s smile faded as she tentatively advised us of a few possible concerns. She had a young daughter and wanted to ensure that children were allowed. A grin and a quick question about her daughter’s age told us that she was also four and, “Wouldn’t it be nice that she could play with Tony.”

The lady smiled at this but the joy quickly disappeared as she went on to quietly admit, “I should also tell you that my husband is black and comes from Jamaica.”

“Oh.” My mother said with a smirk in her voice. “Is he cute?”

The tears mixed with laughter as she explained, over a cup of coffee, that she and her family had been denied over twenty apartments due to either having a child or her mixed marriage.

During the next few years we kids played, the parents laughed and the cute Jamaican dad from upstairs made a great Jerk Chicken. When we left in 1972 they were still there and both moms cried when we finally said goodbye.

by Tony Syskakis


Anonymous said...

Great story. Mixed Marriages huh... Vancouver has come a long way

Always wondering said...

Yes, times has changed for the better, thank goodness.
What a good story, and your mother sounds like a good woman.