Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 07.30.05
Stanstead, Quebec


Handprints on the walls of time

Handprints. There were handprints everywhere - marks left by grubby fingers on walls, cupboards, and doorframes. Saturday morning, I found myself wandering the house with a sponge, scrubbing away the grime.

We had guests coming. Not just any guests but friends we hadn't seen in years. And not just any friends but my university roommate and his wife, who was one of Deb's closest friends at school. In fact, they got together after we did, so we feel kind of responsible.

Almost twenty years have passed and, while we never completely lost touch, we certainly haven't been diligent in corresponding. We hadn't seen them for at least ten years.

And now they have kids, respectable jobs, a real house, wrinkles - just like us.

But do they have grimy walls?

Our house is clean and tidy. But we have clutter. Our plans to paint have remained unchanged since we moved in.

And we have nothing nice. Not really. There's no point. It would be spilled on, torn, chewed, or likewise violated by children and/or pets.

I couldn't do much about the abused furniture, painting wasn't an option and de-cluttering would take militaristic coordination. So I concentrated on wiping down. Why? I guess I wanted to show that I no longer lived in a House of Brock.

The House of Brock was our off-campus apartment, an acronym for the residents: Bruce, Ross, and Kim. (I'm not sure what the "C" was for, except maybe "contaminated.")

We occupied the second floor of a house, the owners the first. Out front were a couple of abandoned cars and repairs-in-progress. Attached to one of the bumpers on a short but thankfully heavy chain was a grey matted thing that was probably a dog. His name was Sparky.

Allow me to summarize our lives in the House of Brock: One day we discovered that something had chewed a hole through the kitchen wall to dig into a garbage bag leaning there. We set a mousetrap and one morning heard a snap. In the trap we found a stunned but very much alive, very large rat. We drew straws. Bruce lost and finished off the rat with a hockey stick.

I loved that apartment.

But we're grownups now. I no longer want to give the impression that I live in a place that's conducive to rats.

And so I found myself wiping walls and setting up lifestyle product placements: Which CD to leave casually lying around to convey that my musical tastes have evolved past Supertramp? What kind of beer to buy to suggest I'm not a slave to commercialism?

Should I be embarrassed about having all ten seasons of "Friends" on DVD?

Our friends arrived late afternoon with their two girls. There was that quick adjustment as we traveled the time portal between memory and the present. And then we were chatting.

As it turned out, we barely went in the house. Instead, we sat in the sun, catching up, reminiscing, remembering things I had completely forgotten about, like that guy none of us really knew who lived (literally) on the House of Brock sofa for about a month.

Our kids were charming and adorable (although when mine started quoting from "Friends," I quickly changed the subject).

I learned my old friend and I still share similar views and intolerances. I learned we're both pretty content with where life has dragged us. I learned we can still make each other laugh. I learned their lives are about as busy as ours and that they likewise don't have any nice things. With kids, what's the point?

We stayed up late, sitting around a campfire, talking and eating marshmallows - a couple of refugees from the House of Brock outnumbered by kids with sticky fingers. Cool.

After they left, Deb asked our kids, "So did you like them?"

"Yes," said our oldest and wisest. "What's wrong with you people? Why don't you stay in touch with them?"

Well, lives are busy. But I guess we should try to find time to get together more often. The handprints can wait.