Before I begin Chapter 2, I wanted to include this disclaimer regarding the book:
The stories in this book reflect the author’s recollection of events. Some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the privacy of those depicted. Dialogue has been re-created from memory.
“My childhood is streets upon streets upon streets upon streets. Streets to define you and streets to confine you, with no sign of motorway, freeway or highway.” ― Morrissey
Sanford Street sat just one block in from River Street that ran east from the Dedham town line all way through Cleary Square in Hyde Park, then continued over to Mattapan Square and beyond before it ended, all the way over in Dorchester. From Ma’s living room window, you could see Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s smallish ranch style house with its old fashioned awnings over the windows facing the street, as it sat almost kitty cornered from hers. It was his childhood home where he still spent some of his time, so the Boston police cruiser that provided a security detail was parked by the curb in its usual spot. It was common practice for the Mayor to issue a high volume of reverse 911 calls to Boston residents letting them know things like, there would be a change to the garbage pick-up day, or reminding the elderly to lock their doors at all times with the growing crime rate. Ma would actually think it was the Mayor calling her personally and she took great pride in their relationship.
I knew Sanford Street well, as it seemed I did most of the others across the entire city of Boston. Our family had, of course, already done a couple of tours in Readville and Hyde Park over the years, so I was particularly familiar with this neighborhood. Back in the early seventies, we had lived just about a mile down the street in what was then a brand new duplex in Edson Terrace. It was a small cul-de-sac, and my friends and I would spend hours playing street hockey after dark under its only street lamp until neighbors starting yelling at us to stop making such a racket. There was a lady who lived across the court from us who was so heavy we could hear the bottom of her rusted out El Dorado squeal as the convertible scraped the ramp of her driveway, the screeching sound indicating to all within earshot that she’d returned home.
Ma had lived in the house on Sanford Street for almost ten years now after moving there with Henry from their first home in Braintree. When Henry had died he left her the house along with his veteran’s pension. Her time living on Sanford Street was a record for her—maybe for any Boudreau, including myself, even though I had lived in the same place in San Antonio for almost five years, and of course over ten years now in my home in Tyngsboro since Jody and I got married. Once Ma married Georgie and the kids started coming, she of course became an instrumental part of that constant parade of packing and re-packing as they moved us around like a wandering tribe.
I was born in 1956, and doing the quick math I figured by the time I’d reached my eighteenth birthday and enlisted in the Air Force, we’d easily moved over seventy-five times. For most people the idea of moving around like that might seem a bit strange. But then again my family isn’t most people. What would have been most strange to my seven brothers and sisters and I would have been something like finding ourselves actually finishing any one particular grade, in any one particular school, in any one particular year, in or around the city of Boston.
No, ours was a nomadic childhood featured by an endless drill of packing and unpacking. These moves were most often done surreptitiously to avoid the unsuspecting about to be abandoned landlord, and they took place like clockwork whenever the rent went into arrears for say a month or two and the landlord’s demands got too urgent. For us kids, all of these moves were marked by a blur of maladjustments and attempts at readjustments through just about every neighborhood and associated school within the greater Boston radius. One day in the late sixties I was playing street hockey in the working class streets of Roslindale, Poplar Street I think, dodging cars with my newest friends, and the next week found myself sprinting home from my new school, sometimes being chased, through the maze of red brick buildings, chain link fences and sooty incinerators of the Mission Hill projects in Roxbury.
Some months later I was catching the bus from Forest Hills to our new flat in Cleary Square and then six months after that I was helping to lug a U-Haul full of our busted up furniture and plastic trash bags full of clothes with their hitchhiking cockroaches up three flights to our next “new house” in that Readville duplex in Edson Terrace. Whenever we moved, we’d all race through the empty and echoing apartment or house scavenging through the closets, basement, or attic to find any booty that might have been left behind by the previous occupants. I first headed right for the high top shelves of closets because they often yielded the best treasure, like an old baseball card, or a couple of dusty coins. Attic beams were good too, where stuff may have been hidden and long-forgotten for decades.
Even much later, coming back to Boston on military leave from the Air Force in the wee hours of a crisp November morning in 1976, I was reminded that I could never be sure where “home” would be. I remember smiling as the cabbie dumped me on the sidewalk in front of the triple decker on Central Street in Hyde Park, not far from the William Barton Rogers Junior High School at two o’clock in the morning into a whipping and freezing wind. Pleased with myself, I walked up the creaky porch steps and approached the first floor apartment, as “Mighty Mike” was about to pull off a surprise visit from my base in Brindisi, Italy.
The doorbell was hanging by the wire, so just as I went to rap my knuckles on the door I glanced to my right into a curtain less and empty living room, barely visible in the light offered by the bright moon, but well enough to see that it was empty. I guess the surprise was on me. Ah, so great to see the uncertainty of it all continued! Turned out in their last letter to me a couple of months before that they’d forgotten to let me know about their latest eviction. That was a word we kids used to hate hearing it all too often growing up and we’d whisper it to each other the way we heard adults say cancer.
Chapter 2, to be continued….