Saturday, November 1, 2008


The first awakening of consciousness was in a little house on Linden Street, 16 Linden Street in Lynn. In the kitchen there is a large stove that also serves as a heater. The sink has our toothbrushes next to it, because the bathroom upstairs has just a toilet and a bathtub, no sink. There are two rooms, which we call the living room and the kids' room, though the kids' room was meant to be a dining room. But we don't dine. We eat in the kitchen. There is a large heating grate, I think 30" square, that is positioned in the doorway between these two rooms. All the heat for the rest of the house simply rises up through this grate from the oil heater in the cellar. If you come in the kitchen door, you turn left into the kids' room and then left again into the living room. Facing the front door, you will see the stairs to the second floor.

Upstairs, there are 2 rooms. At first, Eddie and I share one of these rooms, and Mummy and Daddy the other one. (Later, after Richie is born, Mummy and Daddy sleep on a sofa bed downstairs, and the boys get their room and I have a room to myself.) The ceilings slope down, and there are eaves, little closet doors that open into the space at the edge of the roof, behind which things like Christmas ornaments are stored. There is no heat upstairs, except what rises naturally from downstairs, or what is imparted by the sun on the roof, so we have an electric heater in the bathroom, which warms the room for bathtime.

What are my earliest memories in this house?

I don't remember my mother being pregnant with Richie, specifically. I don't think I remember his birth. But I have memories of his surgery for pyloric stenosis, when he was about 3 weeks old. I think I woke up one morning to find that Aunt Bette was there and Mummy was at the hospital. I remember seeing his stomach glued shut rather than stitched. I have vague memories of my mother rocking me in a chair in the kids' room and being sad about Liz, who died before I was born.

I remember that Daddy worked for the city in the Parks Department, cutting down trees after a hurricane, and I remember worried talk about Civil Service tests, and his inability to pass it. He worked for a while for the Health Department as a Health Inspector, and he told us about evicting a family of gypsies who were living in a store-front where they also told fortunes. He had his own memories of being evicted from his home as a child--the sheriff putting furniture out on the street--and his job was insecure and he could imagine all too well being unable to keep his little house, so it can't have been easy to put that gypsy family out. I imagine dark-eyed children hiding behind their mother's skirts.

Mummy worried too, to the point where she could hardly leave the house. I was sent to Mike's grocery store on the corner with coins in my mitten to ask the Polish grocer for a pound of hamburger. I waited and waited while he spoke in Polish to old ladies. To my, Polish sounded like it had no individual words, just long continuous streams of sounds. My mother used the expression that he "chewed the fat" with those old ladies. That seemed about right. When you ordered a pound of hamburger, he put meat into a meat grinder and it came out in little curls.

In the back yard on Linden Street, there were a pear tree and an apple tree. The smell of the yard in the late summer was of rotted fruit. Sometimes the apples hid little worms. I played in the yard most of the time. Once our dog Suzie got out of the chain-link fence and got into a fight with a neighborhood dog, and ended up with a deep cut on her neck. The vet said it couldn't be stitched because it would get infected, and it had to heal from the inside out.

It is from this house that I first went to school--Saint Patrick's. We lived there until perhaps the middle of second grade, when we moved to Cottage Street.

124 Cottage Street. There was something amusing about the numbering of our homes. The first house we lived in in Lynn, before my memories begin, was 124 Wyman Street. There were rats in that 3rd floor apartment, and my mother was so happy to have her own home, 16 Linden Street. Then we bought a second house, 124 Cottage Street, and later, we moved to 16 Willis Court. No one could explain the significance of 124/16/124/16, but surely it must have had some meaning!

The little house on Linden Street, with its dirt cellar and one heating vent and no sink in the bathroom, had been bought with a down payment of $500 that was Daddy's separation money from the Coast Guard, I think. It seems to me that the house cost $5200, but I could be mistaken about that. The new house on Cottage Street was far more grand. It had a cellar that had a door opening to the street and a wooden floor, and we were told that a bootlegger had run a shop there during Prohibition. There was a safe in the cellar hallway, and Daddy spent a lot of time and effort drilling into it, hoping to find some treasure, but when it was finally opened, what a disappointment! There was a huge hole in the back, and nothing but plaster dust was left inside.

Upstairs, there was not only a kitchen, pantry, living room and dining room, but a lovely sunroom on the front of the house. That room was unheated, and so could not be used in the cold months. Upstairs, there were 3 bedrooms and a bathroom. And off the back of the house, there was "the spare room," another unheated space that was actually an extra bedroom, but we used it for storage. The floors were hardwood, and the overall feel was that we had really moved up in the world. The yard was large and had room for a little grove of lilac trees, a swingset, a picnic table, a garden which also served as an ice-skating rink in the winter, and we were the proud owners of a double garage. You could rent out a garage stall in the winter for some extra cash.

Not long after we moved in, however, I remember that there began to be worries and anxieties about being able to pay the mortgage. We had bitten off more than we could chew. Talk was of Milk Wars, with the two milk companies under-cutting each other's prices, and I remember my father coming home with a pay envelope that held only $43, and my mother saying Oh Eddie!

A few weeks into 5th grade, we moved for the last time of my childhood, to 16 Willis Court. This house was a 2-family house, and the rent income from renting out the top floor would help make the mortgage payments much easier. Who lived upstairs when we first moved in? I am not sure, maybe it was empty, but early on, we rented it to the Sciarappa family, who also had 5 kids, as we did by that time. There were really only 2 bedrooms, and 7 people, but we made the front room a bedroom for the boys, and the back bedroom a bedroom for me and later Karen, and the side bedroom was Mummy and Daddy's. Eventually, we asked the Sciarappa's to leave, and as their parting shot they let their washing machine flood the house, and our ceiling collapsed. After that, Grammy, Pappy, and Nanny lived upstairs.

We bought a lot of land next door to the house, which somehow alienated all the neighbors right off the bat. It had been a kind of communal property, and no one was happy when we put a fence up to mark it as our own. There were lilac trees in that yard too, and a garden, and later a lean-to greenhouse.