While the first few years of my life were spent bumbling around different parts of the city (Cowan Heights, the centre part of town, Maxse Street) I grew up in an area called Virginia Park. It's in the east end of town and is fairly unremarkable except for two minor claims to fame.
First, it was right next to the Janeway Hospital so you tended to see an above average number of sick kids attending my elementary school (Virginia Park Elementary) because it was convenient for parents with chronically ill children to live some place close to the hospital.
Secondly, it was built on the old Fort Pepperrell dump. Yes, my home was built on top of American garbage. I leave it to you to look for the symbolism in that. But it did occasionally provide amusement as somebody digging a deep hole in their backyard occasional came upon a 1940s fridge or some such thing.
The Park always was a strange idea. About one-third of the area was townhouses. Not everyone who lives in those townhouses were on social assistance or were lower income. In fact, you find a few people who have moved into those homes and have fixed them up quite nice. But let's not hedge our bets here – there were a lot of poor families residing in those houses. Some of them were nice people trying to get by. Some were scum.
The other two-thirds of the Park was filled with fairly solid middle-class homes. None of the houses were too flashy, for the most part (that went to neighbouring Bally Hally estates, which was the snooty area of town until King William went up). It was such an odd mix. I doubt there were many other subdivisions created with this kind of mix.
From ages five to seven I lived in the townhouses. Then we moved to the more middle class area of The Park. I'm not 100 per cent sure why, although I have my suspicions. Part of it was to be closer to the school. I recall my parents getting into a racket with the principal about how far I had to walk home for lunch. Part of it also had to do with the fact that even at age seven, and in a new subdivision, I think my parents were getting concerned about some of the kids on the street I was hanging out with. They were a rough crowd.
But there have always been rough crowds in Virginia Park. The school, a mismatched series of temporary buildings that have now been there for more than 30 years was routinely broken into, vandalized and set on fire more than once. There were "gangs" that operated and certainly you had to watch your step. I remember there used to be a small wood that separated my house and the school and The Plaza – which contained the library, a convenience store, a Mary Browns and a few other places.
The woods were mostly cut down by the late 70s. Partly to make room for a softball field and other recreational facilities (the field and playground was built. The rumoured swimming pool and tennis courts never appeared), but also because of all the drinking and drugs that were being done in the woods. There were also rumours of a sexual assault.
I never had any problems living there, which I attribute to dumb luck and whatever bizarre invisibility field that's protected me from serious harm throughout my life. Perhaps it might have had a touch to do with my parents, who were widely liked. My mom sold cosmetics and, as anyone who has ever met her will testify to, is a charmer. My dad was the mail man in the area, widely respected and liked (skip the joke about what happened to me. You will not even be the 10,000th person to make it in my life). The fact that he had a convertible since 1988 and nobody has ever fucked with it is proof of that. Dad just thinks he's lucky. I think he underestimates his influence.
But I walked out of the Park unscathed. Never was beaten up, never had any lasting psychological damage. It's a rough place, but there are certain rougher in St. John's.
So why this long winded discussion on where I grew up? Because I was chatting with one of my cousins out in Calgary the other night. He also grew up in the Park, but was six years younger than me. His mom, my aunt, still lives there. To call 2006 a terrible year for her would be an understatement. Health problems kept her in hospital for the better part of four months and we wondered sometimes if she was going to make it.
But she did and she's been doing a lot better recently and I know we're all relieved. However, I found out that in the last couple of days someone stole her car, did a little joyride in it, and then left in the Plaza parking lot where they promptly set it on fire. It wasn't destroyed, but did suffer a lot of interior damage.
So this set up is all basically so you can understand why, right now, I was to burn down swaths of the Park in fiery vengeance for this bit of fuckery. I'm not saying that anybody really deserves to have their car stolen and set on fire. And obviously the assholes that did it didn't know, and probably could care less, about the crap year she had. And yes, there are lots of nice, good, hard working people who live in the Park.
But you'll just have to pardon me for wanting to set these assholes on fire right now.