Note to readers: Closing in on final publishing, and working on final book cover and photos to include…will keep all posted, and many thanks to all for reading to date!
Sometimes Joe would toss us a package of M&M’s or some other candy so we didn’t always mind. She’d made plenty of other such stops elsewhere over the years. And there was also a guy who’d stop by sometimes after Dad had gone to work and we’d not yet left for school who also worked at an Esso gas station, this one in Dedham. His name was also embroidered over the pocket of his work shirt and read “Phil.” He’d knock on the door and one of us would let him in. Ma would yell from her bedroom to let him come on down where she’d be lying on the bed in her pajamas and robe. Ma would yell for one of us to make Phil a “cup of Sanka” and he would sit at the edge of her bed and they too would talk in whispers until we’d all left the house. She’d explained to us when Phil first started coming around that he was her “special friend” that everyone needed. In my nine year old mind, I supposed gas station attendants made the best listeners?
We all knew Phil from that Esso station on the Dedham-Readville line that my father always stopped into and we’d be stuck in the back seat there as well as they yukked it up together and sometimes traded porn magazines. We weren’t sure if my father knew about Phil’s morning stops to our apartment for coffee with Ma, but he knew of Ma and Joe being chummy though, because one Saturday afternoon he came to visit us when we lived on Walworth Street in Roslindale, and the three of them locked themselves in the living room barricading the door with the long stereo cabinet and turning it up loud after telling all of us to go outside and play. Playing detective, Karen and I snuck back into the house and put our ears to the door although all we could hear was very loud Frank Sinatra songs over occasional laughter and muffled voices and wonder what the hell were they doing?
We’d moved to Walworth Street from that roach-infested apartment in the Mission Hill Projects and in that move it was as though we’d found sudden sanctuary from the constant threat of an environment that had required us kids to keep constant watch over our shoulders and some days literally run from building to building to ensure safety. Nonetheless, I always associated our stint on Walworth Street with locked doors, whispers, and as a time of family secrets, and not only because Joe wasn’t the only man to visit my mother and father behind a shut door. It was while living there that my mother gave birth to my youngest sister, Susan, and as was typical, all of us kids got farmed out to stay with relatives for a few days while she was in the hospital. That is, all of us except for Diane this time as we were told she’d be staying home alone with my father.
I didn’t think much of it as I grabbed my brown grocery bag stuffed with a few days change of clothes and headed to the car where Dad and the others were waiting so he could shuttle us from relative to relative’s house, all either in Jamaica Plain or Roxbury, to be dropped off and to wait for the news of our newest brother or sister and when we’d get to come home. It was April, and we were pulled out of school as we always were if school was in session when Ma was having another one of us. I couldn’t wait as I knew Nana would always make something special for dinner like spaghetti and meatballs for the first night of my stay over.
I was there only two nights when my grandmother told me that I had a new baby sister and that my father would be by to pick me up later in the afternoon on what was the third day of my visit. It had been a fun two days skipping school and running the streets and exploring the rocky outcropping on Mission Hill that overlooked Brigham Circle with some of my cousins and their friends who lived close by. But I was looking forward to getting home to my waiting baseball glove and a game of catch with my friend Tommy from across the street, or maybe we’d set up the street hockey nets and get a game going. For street hockey we’d set the nets up on the opposite curbs of the street, and someone would yell “car!” whenever one would approach, interrupting the action as the driver, forced to slow down, would glare or in many cases, give us the finger.
I was sitting on the front steps of Nana’s brown triple-decker when Dad pulled up. I was the last stop and got into the back seat and squished into the pile with the others, jamming my crumpled grocery bag under my feet, pushing Judy’s knees out of the way in the process and against her protests. We were all excited, jostling and harassing each other for position as my father pulled away, anxious to get home and meet our newest sibling. We didn’t’ make it one hundred yards before Dad slammed on the brakes and pulled over. Angry he threw the steering column shifter into park and turned sharply towards the back seat, and leaning in menacingly screamed at us all to “shut the fuck up” before someone’s head got “knocked from its shoulders,” one of his favorite expressions. That one, and of course, “I’ll hit you with so many lefts, you’ll beg me for a right!”
Something in his voice told me this wasn’t just a usual rant at us and we’d better be careful. This was a rage driven by something else, but I wouldn’t learn what it was until like many other things, years later. But from the minute we got home that day we knew something was up between Ma, Dad and Diane, because all my mother and father did for a few days after was snap at each other in front of us and scream at each other behind their bedroom door and Diane just stayed in her room crying or lying quiet. All we could do was fuss over our new baby sister, Susan, and shrug off whatever the hell was going on.
Things got back to “normal” after a tense week or so but on some of those nights that week Karen and I would listen to my father muttering to himself out back on the second story porch as we listened in through a window we’d cracked open in the attic just above and behind him. He’d put one leg up on the middle porch rail and smoke cigarette after cigarette and say things like “I’m the best goddamn man she’ll ever find,” or “I’ll fuckin show them neurotics.” We couldn’t hear most of what he’d say, but giggled so loud at the fact that he was talking to himself that we were sure we’d be caught. And that wasn’t the first time we thought we’d been bagged eavesdropping on him. He also enjoyed carrying on his one-way conversations with himself while sitting on the toilet. Over the years from when we were little, we could sometimes hear him mumbling to himself from outside the bathroom door.
To be continued……..