Finding His Way Home

Vladimir’s House

Vladimir was a good neighbour. A stout short man with a full, round jovial face covered in a beard and bushy eyebrows that framed his bright blue-green eyes. Vladimir was born and raised in a small town in Finland. He immigrated to Canada as a young man where he married and raised two daughters. By the time we knew him, he was living alone in retirement after an amicable divorce. Occasionally we would see him walking his ex-wife’s dog.

A master gardener by trade, he had worked as a groundskeeper for the former Scarborough Board of Education (now the Toronto District School Board) and he took great pride in his own garden. Every time he stopped for a chat, he offered us good advice on how we could take care of ours. We even hired him once, to create a new flower bed in our front garden.

In summer, while my partner and I weeded the front garden, we looked forward to seeing him walk up the street, stop in front of our house for a greeting and a brief conversation about the weather, the state of our garden, or to admonish Stephen about not becoming a school administrator.

One day, Vladimir was involved in a car accident while turning onto our street which ended his ability to drive; but he was an avid walker and we would see him most days walking to and fro to the bus, always clutching a bag containing gardening tools. Eventually the bag was replaced by a cane after two knee replacements made walking more difficult.

In recent years, we began to see him less often and his greetings eventually became vague as if he wasn’t sure who we were. I remember the day when Stephen came home, troubled by a strange encounter he’d had with Vladimir who had asked Stephen what towns were east of here and then inquired if this was the way to Vantaa.

Confused but sensing something was off, Stephen replied, “No. We are in Toronto and the towns east of us are called Pickering, Whitby and Oshawa.” And then it occurred to Stephen that Vladimir might be lost in memory. He asked him if Vantaa was a town in Finland, to which Vladimir said, “Yes. It’s where I’m from and I’m trying to get there.”

We learned a few months later that Vladimir had Alzheimer’s Disease and his daughters had moved him into an assisted living facility.

I was quite moved by this story of Vladimir’s search for a way back home, just when his mind stopped living in the present. Although he had his house and family here, in a country he made home, his memory clung to the faraway place of childhood where he had lived.

I hope Vladimir finds his way home.

The Train Station in Helsinki, Finland

I am grateful to Stephen for telling me the story of his encounter with Vladimir. It touched me as much as if I had been the one who had spoken to him that last time on our street.

About thetorzorean

The musings of a torontonian azorean on identity and belonging. You can find me at
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7 Responses to Finding His Way Home

  1. Wish I could have seen his garden work. Public institutions invested so much more in gardens and landscaping back in the day. Can’t help but wonder how much better off we would all be if that had continued. Hope Vladimir finds his way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stephen Dow says:

      When I began working for the Scarborough Board of Education back in 1990, the groundskeepers took excellent care of the school properties. They were always so well-maintained AND the grounds of the Board Office at the Scarborough Civic Centre were immaculate! Vladimir was part of this team of groundskeepers who took great pride in their work. I had the privilege of visiting his native Finland in September, 2019. I, too, hope Vladimir finds his way home!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Carol Wells-Gordon says:

    What a sweet, touching story. I know that house on your street and I remember Stephen telling me about your neighbour. I wonder what it is like to be living in the moment, in the present time, without memory of your current context or your past history. Disorienting and quite confusing I imagine. I hope your neighbour is receiving all the love and care he needs to truly find his way home. Thank you for posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ilda says:

    Hi Emanuel, it’s a lovely and sad story of loss on so many levels… Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. dulcedelgado says:

    Entre esquecimentos…o caminho e o lugar onde nasceu serão lembrados. Até tudo voar…
    Obrigada por partilhar esta história de vida e de amizade.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love your foray into creative non fiction. You also have a great way of depicting the aged. Many writers won’t tread there…abrassoo !

    Liked by 1 person

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