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Finding family, finding community

Steep, curved, metal-railed staircases fronting flat-faced, three-storey brick apartment buildings characterize Montreal’s working class…

Steep, curved, metal-railed staircases fronting flat-faced, three-storey brick apartment buildings characterize Montreal’s working class neighbourhoods for me.

Long solid walls of these are punctuated only by occasional laneways and cross streets.

They line block after block in districts like the Plateau or Maisonneuve-Hochelaga.

Two or three metres of fenced-in grass, tiny gardens or maybe a tree separate them from the perpetually car occupied curbs in front of them.

Backyards are slightly now more generous since city regulations made landlords tear down the old metal-sided sheds that used to rise up to the full height of the structures.

These held the fuel tanks for the oil stoves that heated the apartments prior to the coming of natural gas and cheap hydroelectricity.

Many a fire ran up the rickety wooded back stairs in these add-ons.

Every June for the last eight or nine years I have had to gingerly carry chairs, tables, ladders and whatever else down the precipitous, twisting decline at a friend’s place in Verdun.

Over each winter, Gerry accumulates cast off furniture and other repairable detritus from back lanes and front curbs on garbage day and hauled them up to his third-storey flat.

He converted his front room into a workshop and patiently repaired his finds.

This municipal largess annually becomes the core of a garage sale.

Gerry spreads out his finds along hedge and sidewalk in front of a friend’s home on a busier local street several blocks away.

The proceeds of his sale support the work of a centre that advocates for nonviolent social change.

I first met Gerry back in the early 1970s. He worked at a hospitality house set up on the Catholic Worker model in the Griffintown area just south of the downtown core of Montreal.

There the marginalized could always find a warm meal and a welcoming place to sit for a while in what could be a cold, big city.

Over the years of our friendship, gradually I learned more of Gerry’s personal story. Abandoned by his mother, a childhood of foster homes hurt but did not destroy him.

He eventually found a place in society where he cared for others with the kindness and gentleness that he himself had lacked when growing up.

Last summer Gerry, now in his 70s, told me that a sister whom he had never known existed had somehow found him.

He planned to fly out to Alberta last fall and meet her for the first time.

In a Christmas call I heard that this visit had gone well and how he intended to meet his aged mother this coming summer.

Last Saturday I heard that this visit will never take place. His mother died a couple of months ago.

His new-found family, though, will not let go of him now.

Gerry has been invited to a family wedding this summer where he will be welcomed by an extended clan of brothers and sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces.

He has a family.

We all know that family is incredibly important.

When a child’s care is fragmented and unpredictable emotional and often even physiological problems can emerge.

Encouraging, listening, helping and just simply nurturing lay a strong foundation for healthy growth.

Do our social programs really foster and support families in need? Do our schools provide the nurturing environment and opportunities for fostering healthy attachments that our youth crave?

Assisting our families is not only good for our communities here in the Yukon but for all of society. This is a task that we all have a share in.

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