UM: If Walls Could Talk

Born to two teenagers, the first place of my life was in a small, duplex rent on Victory Drive (which is now the fringe of the ghetto in New Haven); I have no recollections of this home, as we fled before I turned two, but my associations of it are fear and a sense of bewilderment.

From there, we moved to a house on Augur Street at the lower end of Hamden (the Putnam Avenue district), also a rent, occupying the bottom floor for about four years. Consequently, my first memories are of this house. Light-hearted, fun-loving, innocent years when it didn’t matter that our furniture was a mish-mosh of unmatched, hand-me-downs, or that my two siblings and I shared the same bedroom, practically sleeping atop of one another, or that we’d walk to and from school in even the harshest conditions (because we only owned one car) and supervised by an adult the year that the pedophile loomed. Mary was my first friend. I peered across the street watching her and her siblings running wild in their yard from behind the chain link fence that enclosed mine. A big Irish family, warm and welcoming, I recall my own mother regarding theirs as a mother-figure to her too, for mine was young and still finding her way. When I look back on Augur Street, I regard us as a family of five children playing house, growing and learning together.

New Road quite literally marked a turning point for our family. It was the first home we’d own and the place where the realities of life and growing up caught up to us. While upon the first introduction, which seemed like a castle or a haunted house– big and dark and mysterious, we ran through the uncut grass that was above our knees and made a club house of the abandoned, chicken coop in the back yard. Hardly noticing, our parents, tearing down walls and making repairs to a house that had been neglected, in order to make it a home for us, we took in stride all of the changes in our lives: a big enough home, perhaps over-big, rooms of our own, even a playroom in the basement (instead of the corner of the living room, which we’d been used to). Unaware that the space would be a metaphor for the events that would come to separate us in the following years.

But, at first, it was a home– the first real home we’d had. Together, my parents planted lovely gardens to pretty our yard with dahlias, irises, lilies, and daisies; inside, they installed a Franklin, wood-burning stove to keep us warm. The smells of cheesecake tarts, French toast, sloppy joes and grilled cheese wafted through the open layout of the first floor where a sheen of newness could be found within the four corners of every room. Upstairs, my sister and I shared a room, under a dormered roof adorned in rainbows. Although our beds were on opposite sides of the room, we began our time here, crawling into each other’s as we’d been accustomed to. Sometimes, our brother, from across the hall, would be found sleeping at the bottom of one of our beds when we awakened in the morning. This is how we’d begun, but it wasn’t how our time, here, ended.

I would consider Hamden High School one of my homes because it is the place I sought solace when home became stressful. Unaware of the moment, if there is a moment, that we began to unravel, I felt each of us on an island. Suddenly, my sister was different, my brother was difficult, and my parents ceased to be friends. Latching onto my friends and eventually my boyfriend became a necessary coping strategy leading up to my parents’ divorce when I was seventeen, an event that would turn my life topsy turvy.

Guilt made me succumb to leaving w/ my mother and sister to move into an apartment on Highland Avenue in Cheshire at the beginning of my senior year of high school. The agreement was that I’d continue attending HamdenHigh School, driving my mother to work and my sister to HamdenMiddle School on a daily basis because we could only afford one car. When that became too much, I’d return home to live with my father and brother on New Road. Only this time, instead of living under the roof of rules and curfews and do’s and don’ts, to which I’d become accustomed, my father’s state of mind prevented him from instituting any guidelines at all. My brother and I were free to do as we’d pleased, and, for any teenager, that’s like opening Pandora’s box. It’s exhilaratingly exciting at first until you come to realize exactly what it means.

After narrowly escaping my father’s home w/ the new wicked Stepmonster, Maryann, and her demon children, Debbie and Mark (who only managed to bring me strife, but it wasn’t their fault; they’d had a tumultuous upbringing) I moved into Fitch/Warner, a college apartment complex on Fitch Street where other S.C.S.U. students resided. My roommate, Patty, was a girl from Cheshire, just a town away from me– someone who was randomly assigned to me because I hadn’t come in w/ a roommate. While we were from neighboring towns, we could not have been more different. Patty and I flip flopped from being bosom buddies to strangers for the entire year we’d live together. We’d had some interesting experiences, primarily in the midst drinking and pot smoking– more me drinking & Patty pot smoking. I tried to calm down her wild side, while she tried to release mine.

After a rollercoaster of a year, or three, I chose to find solace living at my grandparents’ home on Gilbert Avenue, only a 5 minute drive from college. This would mark another turning point for me– one in which I’d decided to become grounded. I needed peace, quiet, security and stability, and that’s exactly what I found. After living there for a year and a half, it came as a shock to me when I returned ‘home’ to find my grandfather had put their home on the market because it had become too much for him to take care of. While I was angry and somewhat confused (the sign and the pending sale of their home had come as much of a shock to me as to my grandmother), it enabled me to make amends with my mother, who had, in the past three years, moved on, married a wonderful man with whom she’d bought a house; they lived on Sharon Drive w/ my sister and brother, so the three of us were together again– and in a much better place (physically and mentally). I took the spare room in the basement which allowed me some independence and privacy, something I’d grown accustomed to since I’d last lived with my family.

I purchased my first official home, along with my then-fiancé, at age 23, months prior to our wedding. It was a new construction, town house condominium in Waterbury, just on the Cheshire/Waterbury line; ironically, while I had begun my life living in the city, I began my married life doing the same. Hitchcock Road would be the beginning of a whole new life for me, one I’d anticipated for seven years. It was there I would have my first two children and establish the foundation of our married life. Since it was new construction, we had choices in the model and its contents; we had the opportunity to see it’s flourishing from breaking ground to move-in day. It immediately felt like home, which it would be for the next five years. While I was sad to move, it had become small for our family of four. We longed to have a yard for our dog and our boys to play and space enough for our family to grow.

While, at first, we looked in Hamden, initially hoping to return to our roots, it was in Cheshire — a lily white suburban community with child-friendly neighborhoods of sidewalks and cul-de-sacs and a good school system– we would find our family home. And so we found this place, a block away from the elementary school my children would attend, nestled in a cluster of streets that housed young families. While the house had all of the amenities we hoped for– a farmhouse colonial, four bedrooms, 2 & 1/2 baths, a finished basement, a two-car garage, good-sized yard with an in-ground pool– it was certainly NOT in move-in condition. It had been a foreclosure our realtor wanted to check out before it ‘officially’ went on the market. We arrived and could hardly see the front of the house, with all of the overgrowth hiding it, and, when we walked inside, the musty smell gave way to a kitchen of unhinged cabinet doors and mouse droppings, a 70’s rust, shag carpet in the too-small family room, and bathrooms with floors that had rotted from water damage. My husband and I tip-toed, room by room, taking it all in. My father is a carpenter and his a handy-man, so as we took in the imperfections, we verbally noted the possibilities aloud, almost in unison. While our realtor waited in the kitchen, on the phone to his next client, we looked at one another, sharing each other’s thoughts. We’d concluded that if the bank would stop the re-furbish they were planning and would come down on the price, we were eager to place a bid. The realtor replied, “Wow, you two have vision.” And we did. After closing on the house, it would be nearly two months of gutting and renovating, mostly on our own, with the help of our fathers– in order to make it in move-in condition. It felt foreign the first night we’d slept here, as if we were in someone else’s home and I’ve often wondered what they’d think of the transformation. As the unfamiliarity of our surroundings waned, almost immediately, we felt a belonging, as we befriended our neighbors whose children befriended one another and we became a chosen family.

This is where the memories of my family have been made, one additional child later, and so many life experiences in between. With in these walls mark the growth of my own family and the lessons we have learned.

Often, I wonder, if walls could talk, what stories would come from them.

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