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Thursday, November 29, 2012

No red barn, no maple tree

Today I met Eric Lorenzen, that remarkable physics teacher at Trenton High School, who was behind the alchemy which brought into being the Purdy library at Al's old school, Trenton High School (fortunately for today's students, it's a different building).

I contacted Eric a while back. I wanted to know if 134 Front Street, Al's childhood home, was still standing. It's gone. But Eric, as is his wont, was aware that the plain old house was vulnerable, and had been watching this space.

Eric took photos, preserving a memory of the last three residences in this area of Front Street. He even came back after the demolition team left, and collected a few old red clay bricks. One's now in a showcase at THS along with an impressive collection of Purdy memorabilia and signed books.

Today 134 Front is an empty lot just south of the parking lot for the new LCBO. Al might have had something to say about that.

134 Front Street, Trenton (middle house)
But even without the old brick building, the house exists still in Al's work. Trenton features prominently in Purdy's autobiography Reaching for the Beaufort Sea and is a main character in A Splinter in the Heart, a novel of growing up in gritty 1920's Trenton, that parallels Purdy's own life. Campbell Monuments, the blacksmith shop, Reddick's Sash and Door, the creosote streaked river and an alarming number of places associated with childhood mischief live on in Al's writing.

Sincere thanks to Eric for the use of his photos - his thought to record the building was a most prescient one. His photos of the Quinte Hotel, burned recently have also become 'keepers'. He's still trying to figure out how to obtain a relic of that storied watering hole.

An expression used often by my parents suggests itself. "Al Purdy will never be dead as long as Eric Lorenzen lives." With so many places associated with the poet living only in photos, we turn to folks like Eric Lorenzen and the staff at THS to help us link the work and life of this Al Purdy with the landscape around us.

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