Sometimes in my dreams, I visit the house in which Eric and I grew up; the house that we moved to in the early 80s in Haverhill when Eric was just a couple of months old. I wake up with deep nostalgia and a settled feeling just below my chest bone, the place I know is where my soul resides. It’s warm, it’s cozy, and it’s where I spent the first third of my life creating lasting memories.
Our backyard abutted 7 other backyards, so we had direct access to everyone on three different streets, making it easy to be in contact with our neighbors. Even those whose backyards did not touch ours, were visible from where we were. When I was around 4, I could see a little girl through the back fence, a few yards down from ours. She and I would wave and say hi and often talk through the fences separating us from one another. She and her mom would go for walks and pass by our house. Our moms would talk each time they saw each other, and eventually my mom invited her mom inside our gate. A friendship was born, and all of us kids grew together for many years following.
Around the corner from South Webster was Elmwood Avenue, where most of the kids in our neighborhood lived. Eric and I would hop on our Big Wheels and ride with our friends up and down the sidewalks, thinking that this was the best mode of transportation ever! We’d rush as fast as our little legs would take us to meet our friends, and then rush back just as quickly, racing one another through the quiet neighborhood streets. Our wheels bellowed out our rally cries, and our laughter, the triumph over the adults, watching carefully over us. We didn’t care. We all had each other!
We had the best garden in our backyard, from which we ate lots of fresh vegetables in summer. I distinctly remember trying spaghetti squash for the first time, direct from our yard, and my mom telling both Eric and I how great it was because it was just like spaghetti, only it came from this odd vegetable. We were sold. It didn’t take much for my mom to trick us into eating healthy foods, and I’m pretty sure we liked it regardless. I, for one, became a life-long lover of spaghetti squash all thanks to progressive parents and a bit of trickery!
Our backyard was the center of my universe. Before my dad rebuilt the back deck, I’d dig under the porch, finding all sorts of hidden gems that I convinced myself were ancient Indian artifacts! I’d find pieces of clay pots (or at least that’s what I thought they were), large rocks, and other buried “treasure”. Then later when I was done digging, I’d place all of the items back, only to rediscover them later!
Once we got the pool, we had pool parties and cookouts with friends both in the neighborhood and outside the neighborhood. I loved those hot and humid nights when even after most people should have gone home, our neighbors didn’t. Our parents would linger outside on the deck, chatting away, while us kids, still damp from a late night swim, would be curled up in beach towels watching TV or playing games. I never wanted those nights to end, and even now, I think back on them fondly, smiling at the simplicity of it all.
Our neighborhood always had something going on. The kids would often gather and play long games of Kick-the-Can. I absolutely hated being “it”, as I never was any good at catching anyone that was off hiding. I’d count, starting at 109, all the while praying I’d see someone once I finished so I could go “over the can” with so-and-so. But back then, I wasn’t all that competitive, nor had I tapped into my inner athlete, so being “it” for me took the entire game! Once I got to hand over the privilege of this not-so-coveted position, I took my place amongst the hiding. I had a few spots I loved and could rely on, so I often found myself curled up on a neighbor’s porch, listening to all of the others who mistakenly gave up their hiding spot. I did not. Nope, this I was good at! Maybe too good. I didn’t often try to change spots for fear of being caught, and again getting into the vicious cycle of being “it”!
My mom always had a fun sense of style, and it was completely reflected in our house. My parents, during the many updates they did to our house, put in a bathroom on the second floor where a closet once was. Back in the 80s, wallpaper was all the rage, and my mom found the cutest cartoon hippo wallpaper with each in a different cartoon bathroom scenario. I remember staring at each hippo like they were going to come to life, memorizing each individual scene as if I were studying for a test. I loved the playfulness of each character, and wished that we could have taken that wallpaper with us… I know my mom misses those hippos, too.
I loved our neighborhood. I loved our house. I loved everything that happened there – the good and bad – because it was the first place that was our home. Sure it wasn’t much to look at when my parents first bought it, but over many years, they overhauled, updated, added on, fixed, and beautified every square inch of that place so that it represented our life there together. They made it ours, and the stories I have about our life together there, are endless.
South Webster Street wasn’t just a street, it was part of a great neighborhood, with lots of close friends who gathered together for cookouts, birthday parties, pool parties, games of Kick-the-Can and Muskrat, sleepovers, bike rides, Halloween parties… you name it, we did it. And we did it together. I couldn’t have imagined growing up anywhere else. We were safe, we were happy, and we all looked out for each other. There is nothing that I would change about my home.