Jerome – Aunty
Aunty lived on top of a mountain, down a long long road named Atkins street. It was a short drive from home on Kennedy drive to aunty’s house where she lived with her husband and daughter. It was a white house that sat on a banking hill and had many levels.
Aunty was a great woman, one of Jerome’s great protectors. Back in the day when they were still family, before the great schism, this is where they would all meet and spend time together. The house had huge rooms and big furniture. BIG furniture. The main family room, never used but for holidays and Christmas had a huge fireplace on one wall and against the front windows was a wooden console cabinet which had a record player on one side and a radio on the other. His cousin Sandy was a dancer and they would attend many dance recitals over those years.
Downstairs was a huge rec room that was specially built from the garage that once was there. The room had a pot belly stove that piped up through the bedrooms and heated the house after its building.
His memory is strong when it comes to this house because he spent many years under its roof. This was forest country as was said before, this was prior to the need to deforest entire areas of trees and forest in the name of consumerism and business.
The back yard was sloped down to a pond that was fed by a running stream that followed the mountain from one end to the other. There were many weeping willow trees on the property not to mention pine and spruce trees.
The best part of aunties house was the pool that his uncle had built into the side of the hill. This is where he learned to swim and where the family would congregate on summer holidays. There was a huge redwood deck that he built next to the pool so that one could suntan next to the pool. It was an amazing space. Times then were simple. He would spend hours skimming the pool because of the weeping willow trees and the bugs that were plenty then.
The kitchen was a nexus point of the house, his aunts and grandmothers and mother would gather in that kitchen and cook fantastical meals for the many family gathered there during summer vacations. They would sit at the king Edwardian table that seated twelve people at once, as was said, everything was BIG then, it seemed to him.
His uncle had a big CB tower on the roof of the house, as he was a trucker, and they would sit and talk to people from all over – over the radio. That was a fad back then, cb radio’s – their family used to make the drive north and south up and down I-95 with their cb radio in the cars they would drive.
There was a field that Sam would grow vegetables in each year and they would pick berries in the fall. Sam was a farmer who lived across the street from aunty’s house. Sam was an apple farmer and owned acres and acres of land covered by apple trees up and down the mountain side. He remembers when Sam would take him up the mountain on his tractor during picking time. It was a most fantastical fall event in their lives.
He remembers one particular fall, getting off the airliner at the airport and being driven up the mountain during the most spectacular fall days he had ever seen. The trees were burning yellows and oranges and the rain was slightly falling, making everything wet and weepy.
The pot belly stove was burning and he remembers the scent of burning wood and the smell of home. He would sit for hours at the poker table [that’s what it was] in the rec room and color in his books with his deluxe crayon set.
There was something specific about this visit that he can’t quite put his finger on suffice to say, after that visit there doesn’t seem to be any further visits to this particular home.
His mother had issues with her siblings as did his father, and after one wedding and the bruising of egos and words spoken, he was separated from all that protected him, and aunty became persona non grata to his family.
As he grew up he could see past the schism of family and he would attempt, throughout his life, to maintain some connection to all the was, alas adults failed to rise to the call of family and he would find himself on the end of a dead phone line…
Jerome – Culdesac
It was a green house they lived in, on a culdesac named Kennedy drive. The house was a split ranch with three bedrooms, an unfinished basement and a huge backyard with a sand pit and a swing set.
Jerome’s best friends lived across the street named Jimmy and Steven. They were a polish immigrant family who were good friends with his parents. It was the most special time of his life, those years before the great move south.
Even at this young age, kids were safe to walk to school following the same path day in and day out. Down the keyhole and up past the old house where the German shepherd lived. This dog was the demon they had to pass every day in order to get to school. Jerome did not escape this demon for he was attacked once as a small boy.
They would walk through the neighborhood up to New Britain Avenue to cross on the way to the covered bus stop where they would survey their lunch boxes and trade treats with each other. Many memories exist in his head about the seasons as they changed from year to year.
Within walking distance of home were the houses of his grandmothers which was great because he could get from here to there within a few minutes of each other. Their goal was Smith School where they all went to school. It was an imposing brick structure complete with a gymnasium, auditorium and art hall.
They would climb the staircase that rose up the side of the great hill where the school sat. Basketball and tennis courts sat at the foot of the hill. During the winters, they would sled and toboggan down the hill on weekends.
Kindergarten was in a small room to the center of the building where two classrooms sat back to back with a common mud room between them. His classroom had a toy kitchen in it where they would play house with little plastic pots and pans and wooden milk bottles in the little aluminum carry rack, which was how real milk was delivered at home.
Mrs. Hesslin was his first grade teacher, she was very popular. There was a further connection to this instructor because his father played softball with her son in those years. Interesting that he still retains these memories where his parents have long forgotten them.
At lunch time he would be asked to go visit the milk lady to get milk for the class in little cardboard containers with a friend. It was a trek through the school to the door which led down to the refrigerators in the basement cafeteria, they would carry the carrier up to the class each day and return it after lunch.
Art was something that was interesting to him then, the room was located to the front of the school, one entire wall was windows that looked out over the hill and to the neighborhood below.
He remembers the distinctive ‘smell of paint,’ the gritty feeling of it in his hands, in reds, blues, yellows, oranges and greens. They would paint on large paper spread out over the desk tables, and sometimes he would even finger paint, it was all quite a messy affair.
There are a few other odd memories which come to mind like the music room that was located in a portable building off to the side of the building near the kindergarten area. They would play instruments like the bells, the guitar and little drums.
It would come to pass at some time, that a production of the Wizard of Oz would be put on by the class and he would eventually get the part of the cowardly lion. How prophetic the film was to his adult life. You never know how little things will impact you later on in life.
After school they would all walk together, the whole lot of them. you would see entire neighborhoods of kids walking down the sidewalk to the crossing guards that would ferry them safely from one side of a busy intersection to another.
On the way they would stop again at the covered bus stop to share goodies from their lunches that were intentionally not eaten at lunch. It was ritual to stop and finish lunch goodies at the end of the day.
Most neighborhoods on the way to school were brick tenement buildings with more than one family living in them and as well, large apartment buildings next door and down the hill from Smith School. That is where his Memere lived for many years. The entire area that was the “neighborhood” was built up on the crest of a great big hill that was terraced below surrounded by lane ways, highways and train tracks.
One particular summer Jerome would get his first bicycle. It was a sparkle blue bicycle with big handlebars, and a white banana seat that had training wheels on it. Soon he would learn to ride without them, and on his birthday in July, his father removed the training wheels from his bike and for the first time, he would free wheel down the street, never being allowed to leave the culdesac. It was that night that he unintentionally ran over one of the kids in the neighborhood with his bicycle, they all thought it was funny…
During the fall the trees would burn with color this was all before the transformation of great green spaces into cement concourses throughout the neighborhood. There was a great respect for nature and of green spaces then. The small town they lived in had not yet been totally industrialized although major industry plants were located not far away.
He remembers winter and falling snow. Walking outside in his snowsuit he watched his father put Christmas lights on the house for decorations. Things were so simple then, a fireplace for heat, an aluminum Christmas tree with the spinning color wheel behind it and common big bulb strings of Christmas lights. One year it snowed so much that they were able to build great big snow igloos in the back yard. Holidays were simple, family was important and friends were the lifeblood of the neighborhood.
One year they would travel to Smith School to sled down the huge white mountain, his brother fell off his sled once and had to get stitches in his head because he was cut by ice. That was a fiasco, he remembers his mother grilling the doctor on call that day hoping that her second son was not butchered by the same doctor who had hurt her father in surgery many years prior. “You better sew my child up correctly and not leave a mark, so help me God…”
They would have Christmas dinner at grammy’s house and so we close with this familiar visual once written about before:
The windows are frosted over, snow is on the ground. The house is hushed with the expectation of guests for a dinner to fit a king. In the grand living room a roaring fire is set. The Christmas tree is alive with colored lights and a thousand ornaments all hand made and delicate. The room is comfy, cozy and warm.
Soon the guests would arrive, entering tonight through the front door, it is a grand occasion, the kitchen is rearranged for the holiday and the mud hut is unaccessible. The glow of the tree, against the frosted windows along with the roaring fire make for a wonderful holiday greeting card.
The table is set with the finest china, and the crystal glasses. There are platters of food, desserts that are fantastical. There are tons of gifts under the tree, and for one last holiday the entire family would be present for holiday dinner. It would be the last one in my minds memory…