The following submission appeared in “We Are Newton: A Neighbourhood Anthology.” See here for more information about the project.
By: David Dalley
My daughter, Valerie, was born in the month of July. She taught me to be curious and pay attention to the little things in our neighbourhood.
The fall after she was born she and I used to spend evenings at the Newton Bus Loop. Our favourite bench faced the entrance of the bus loop, where the buses peeled in from 72nd Avenue. She sat on my lap facing out with her baby-bent legs barely the length of my lap and her wobbly, wispy-haired head balanced against my upper arm.
With the sound of each approaching bus, she would sit as upright as she could manage. As the spectacle of headlights and flashing turn lights whizzed past us against the dark sky, I would feel the small tremble of a giggle. When a few buses came in together the giggles would build on one another until I could feel her little body shake with laughter against mine.
Colourful people ebbed and flowed around us, and the lineup for the 321 bus would often snake past our bench. There were construction workers in reflective vests and women in brightly coloured saris. There were students exchanging lively gossip and the gentle banter of Punjabi men.
Valerie would sputter and squawk trying to get their attention, and she would always succeed!
After a time, her eyelids would grow heavy and I would bundle her up in the blue fabric baby carrier, hold her close against my chest and work our way out of the bus loop. We would walk home, past the pungent smell of aging fruit wafting from the local fruit store to our apartment at Villa Umberto on 137th Street.
She would often be fast asleep by the time we arrived home. Often, my wife was fast asleep too, getting a few extra minutes of sleep.
Some days when I arrived home from work during Valerie’s first months, my wife would greet me at the door with the baby carrier in her hands and an exhausted look in her eyes. She would buckle Valerie into the baby carrier, offering extra booties and a blanket if the air was chilly, and usher us out the door.
On those days we would often walk for miles before passing through the bus loop on our way home.
Sometimes we would head north and west along 76th Avenue. I remember once when a group of bikers heading north on King George Boulevard pulled to a rumbling stop just as our crossing light came on. As we crossed the street in front of them, Valerie strained to see over the baby carrier and caught the eye of one of the large leather-clad riders. “Cute kid!” he hollered and, to my daughter’s delight, revved the throttle of his Harley.
We often walked all the way to 132nd Street and doubled back through the Newton industrial area awash in interesting combinations of smells on the shifting breeze. Mid-week, the smells of industry and the fish processing plant were common. On weekends, we were treated to the rich smells of curry and South Asian cooking. The last leg of our walk was always rewarded by the smells of whatever was on the menu at the Old Surrey Restaurant.
Sometimes we would head south through Hazelnut Meadows Park, stopping to watch and listen to the older children playing on the playground, then walking through the trails in the wooded area. In the first few months, we used to stop at the bench at the north end of the clearing. I would cradle her on her back facing up and watch her eyes dart back and forth as she followed the dark silhouettes of crows streaming across the fall evening sky.
Later, as her vision matured and the fall chill emptied the forest of summer leaves, she was able to spot the darting shapes of squirrels and small birds on the leafless branches of the Bigleaf Maples.
Sometimes we would head north on 137th Street and walk east along the trails south of Frank Hurt Secondary School. This was an especially exciting route in the evenings leading up to Halloween and Diwali when the pop and screech of fireworks lit up the dark sky! If a firework went off too close to us she would cuddle down safely in the baby carrier until she felt brave enough to poke her head out again.
Two years later, my son Matthew arrived and he and I spent more evenings wandering around taking in the sights and sounds of Newton.
Many of my most memorable images of my neighbourhood were formed on these walks with my new babies. Seeing my community through their eyes gave me an excuse to go places I wouldn’t normally go, notice things I wouldn’t normally notice and be curious about everything I saw.
My children are both over 10 years old now and continue to inspire me with their curiosity. As I have gotten to know more of my neighbours, I find that I am drawn to people who are also curious about our neighbourhood and who see it not only for what it is, but also for what it could be.
I believe that communities begin to change when people find ways to be curious together. I am grateful to my children and neighbours who have taught me to be curious. I am hopeful that this anthology will play some small role in bringing together the curious people in our neighbourhood.