I like to think I had a good childhood. I would imagine most people would like to look back and find pleasurable memories of growing up. We are all so different, yet the same. One part of the world to another. Over 6 billion stories. This is mine.
My great grandfather on my mother’s side immigrated from the Lombardy region of Northern Italy in February of 1908. He was a stonemason. He crossed the Atlantic on a boat that would later be sunk by the Germans in WWI. My great grandfather passed through Ellis Island. Over 40 percent of us in the United States are related to someone who did. From Ellis Island, he made his way to Boston where he found work and in 1909 his wife, also an Italian of recent migration. They had a few children. One of which was my grandfather in 1914. He was born in Boston.
Times became very tough in the city as the great depression had arrived late in 1929. By the early 1930’s my great grandfather purchased a house in a very rural town 25 miles west of Boston. This was not typical for that time period or demographic. Yet he did this, and by late 1930’s my grandfather, who by this time was in his 20’s, moved to that town in the large house. The house was and is still a two family, three story house built in the 1880s. The posts in the cellar for supports are still the original U.S. Army surplus used in the construction nearly 130 years ago. Along with the large rocks used as foundations, one could almost see a root cellar in here.
World War II came for Massachusetts on a sunny, blue sky windless day with temperatures around 30 degrees on December 7, 1941. My great grandfather stayed, too old now to fight, stayed behind while his son went on to England, France and finally Germany by the end of the war in 1945. My grandfather was very proud of the effort he gave defending this country’s ideals and existence.
Shortly after the war, in Feb of 1946, my grandfather met, and very quickly married my grandmother. She was from Framingham, Massachusetts. She was the third of four daughters of Italian Immigrants. After they married, they settled on to the first floor of the familiar two family, three story house.
They had two children. My uncle and my mother. They were raised in this house with their grandparents, who by 1961 had both passed away. My uncle lived there until 1966 when he joined the Army. My mother, after graduating high school, worked in a local factory while living in the family house until 1973 when she met my dad. He was a mechanic from West Palm Beach, Florida. His family was primarily Irish with a few English relatives of origin 30 miles outside Manchester, England. He came to Massachusetts in 1965 after his time in the Air Force. He missed the real Vietnam. Thank God.
I consider myself lucky. I have concrete reasons. I was raised until I was four years old in Framingham, Massachusetts then moved to what was now the family house where my grandparents lived. I remember the day like it was yesterday. That sunny Saturday of a promising Labor Day weekend in 1981. It was the greatest decision my parents ever made, as we moved into the Second and Third floors. It was home. It always had been.
My time growing up was spent with my grandparents during many hours of the week. It was watching the Boston Celtics on TV with my grandfather. Nobody could beat Larry Bird. It was Sunday nights drinking coffee with my grandfather as he would tell stories of World War II. It was my grandmother, the nicest woman I think I have ever met. She welcomed anyone into her home. She never looked down on anyone and never even swore, which is nearly unheard of in a family made of primarily of Italians. She prided herself with her homemade pasta. It was the best. She would watch my friends and I play basketball from her porch on those first pleasant spring days until the winds of winter were whispering over the land. Even in those dark winter days, I can still imagine myself quietly going down the back stairs. The outside a cold kind of quiet. My feet touching the softness of the rug as the aroma of a Sunday evening dinner foretold me of the future. One that was always pleasant. My grandparents brought a flavor to my life that was vital in who I am now. My grandmother passes away on a cold, damp November 8th, 1994. My grandfather passed on June 19, 1997. It was the first time I saw that a Sunny day could be the most painful kind. They both lived well into their 80’s and did not suffer. What did live on was the infinite amount of wisdom and life experience they had bestowed.
I never met my father’s parents. My father’s dad died in 1949 and my dad’s mom died in September of 1989. My dad came from a different culture. A different world. One in which he didn’t have electricity until he was seven, living on the outskirts of West Palm Beach, Florida. Remember, this is 1949 Florida. My dad was a hardworking mechanic for forty years. He knew just about everyone there was to know in a 2 mile radius of the spring shop he managed. He was a Southerner, but he did not act like one when it came to winter. He loved it. Yes, he loved car racing and fishing (so do I). Here was a man who grew rarely seeing a frost, let alone snow. He came North, bought a good truck, and a Fisher Plow. He plowed for a few towns in the area but primarily he plowed for public and private businesses. When he saw my interest in Weather/Meteorology by the time I was four years old, he helped it. When I was seven until April 1997 I would routinely go out with him. Plowing all night in Heavy Snow, stopping for coffee, meeting his friends. They were all characters. Folks from Boston Edison, police, and other town workers. I learned quickly that I was comfortable meeting people at a fairly young age. My dad was a great guy. I say was, because he died of Lung Cancer on November 29, 2010. A week after his Sixty-Eighth Birthday. It was more than hard. It still is.
I grew up, college took me away, then I came back, only a few years later to move away from that special house. However, not that far at all. Yesterday I was talking in person, to my three year old nephew. My sister and I were explaining to him (yeah…explaining to a three year old) that he was the Fifth Generation to have lived in this house. He smiled. He said “Great Great Grampy?”. It was adorable. I can remember very well when I was three. I am told my memory is a bit scary in terms of how well I remember dates, times, places, people, etc. There are some things we should never forget, That one thing is family. My mom owns the house now. She lives there still, on the Second and Third floors and whenever I go back, just to say “Hello” I see so many memories… I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a town that was safe. We played outside all the time. There were about ten kids in the neighborhood. Those long summers of the 1980’s lasted forever. My best friend, and STILL best friend, grew up across the street from me. I don’t know how much of that still goes on. The more, the better.
The echos, the emotions, the laughter of voices long since extinguished by time still live in those memories of who were there. I can descend into the unfinished cellar. Unfinished by decorative standards, but quite content and complete with memories. The distant footsteps or muffled voice of my grandparents who I love, upstairs. If I listen quietly, I might as well be back in time. The door closed the same. The light I turn on is as bright. The light flutter of frozen, crystallized water, the snowflakes…….sound the same as they hit the windows at night in a bitter gust of wind in a Nor’easter. The furnace kicks in with a distant rumble, and I am awakened back to 2014.
They sound as they did when I was four. I am one person, reflecting on my stored memories of people gone, in a place where they seem to still live. I am sure, I am quite ordinary in that sense. No matter the season, no matter the reason, If I find myself on this road, I thank thee who came before. Thankful there are loved ones still, behind this door.
A few photos….
My Grandfather in a family photograph in 1924 with his father, mother, and sister. His sister would die in a tragic horse riding accident in 1944, at the height of World War Two, My grandfather did not get to see her be buried. He did however, name my mom after her.
My grandmother, on the right around 1930 with her brother Larry in the front and her three sisters.
This last picture jumps ahead to yesterday. Just a quiet, cold late winter day. The cars have changed. Trees die. Trees grow. Pavement crumbles, It is rebuilt. Time never erodes the memories I have. The winter chill feels the same. It never.. has felt cold here when in the warmth of loved ones. Perhaps it is why I love winter.
One last bit. In the garage, there are names carved in the wooden walls. These names were carved some nearly 50 years ago now by by my Uncle’s friends when they would also play basketball in the driveway. A few of the names are teachers I would have in High School. In fact, about 75 percent of the teachers I had and the staff at the school, my Mom and Uncle had. Timing on this was kind of amusing but looking back, I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. All of it.
As always, Thank you for reading.