I was born in 1964, my mom was 18 and my dad was 19. They were married, but apparently we lived with my maternal grandparents for a few years. I have no memory of this time at all, just the stories of my Italian grandmother, worried about my poop output and sneaking enemas into me, to the point that my parents moved out and bought a house. My dad grew up in a housing development, specially built to lure Philadelphians in to New Jersey and the be closer to the Jersey Shore (nevermind it was at least 20 miles from the shore). They were boxy, cheaply built houses and the development boasted a lake and playground. My dad lived there for most of his formative years and was a lifeguard at said lake, but by the time we moved there, no one had swam there for years and the playground was just the skull of a swingset, lots of playsand with broken bottles. We still went there to run around, even barefoot, which since I never was cut there, proved parents are sometimes wrong. We also caught tadpoles there every Spring, but had emphatic instructions NOT TO STEP ONE FOOT IN THAT LAKE BECAUSE WE WOULD CUT OURSELVES ON THE GLASS. Even as a kid I figured maybe someone should just come and clean out all the glass, sheesh.
Anyway, we moved to this development, to a street where everyone had ginormous families, tons of kids, us and the old lady Frieda who lived next door, called Frieda the Cat Lady for obvious reasons. My paternal grandparents lived around the corner, ran the only flower shop in town for years. My grandmom Margaret was Edith Bunker, through and through and I adored her. Pop-Pop wasn’t nearly as bad as Archie Bunker, generous to a fault, drank too much beer and smoked too many cigars and was as burly as they came and yes, he loved flowers, go figure that one out. More on them later.
Anyway, our neighbors to the right had a gazillion kids, were strict Catholics as far as birth control went, hence the gazillion kids, went to church every Sunday, but that was about it. They were poor. They moved into the house with only the outer shell and the husband was going to fix it up. Well, it was the only house I had ever been in that had plywood walls, nothing was painted and the cool thing was the bathroom had toilet stalls to accommodate the gazillion kids. I also had heard that the dad beat the mom, never witnessed it, but the kids were terrified of him and Delores was at our house a lot. Across the street was the biker family. A mom, her three kids and numerous live in boyfriends. Now this was about 1969 and I never saw such a thing before and they scared the bejesus out of me. They had no lawn and the boyfriends just parked their bikes right up at the door. The younger kids were at my house a lot. Diagonally across from us were the Reitels. I know I spelled it wrong, but what made them so fascinating, to me anyway, was the fact that only a few of em had “real” names. Shorty was the dad, a merchant marine built like a fireplug, Lillian was the mom. They had four kids, but only one was my age, one was a teenager who babysat me and the other two were almost my dad’s age. Lillian had Billy at age 42, ancient for back then. Their kids names were Dipe (because apparently potty training him was a problem as a kid), LeRoy, Doll and Billy. Billy was my best friend. Although they lived there from when Billy was born, he had a southern accent. I never understood that part of it. Their house was small, two bedrooms, smaller than ours and always crazy. Shorty would be gone for months at a time, there was calmness, he came home and hell broke loose. Drinking, card games, just chaos. Lilllian was at our house a lot too. Doll had her own bedroom and it was anyone’s guess where the rest slept, although I think Dipe and LeRoy came and went, I saw em a lot living there, so who knows. They had a hardshell trailer in the driveway we would often play in, sort of an addition that wasn't attached, you could say. My fear of dogs started here because they had a mongrel dog, whose name escapes me now. I was always fine and happy with the dog til it went rabid. Foamed and attacked Billy right in front of me. Apparently, I was in such shock, they took me to the hospital too (no memory), I didn’t talk for days (another shocker there) and from then on, would never get near any dog, no matter how friendly anyone told me it was. My parents tried, we had several puppies, but one nip on my finger and that was it-the dog had to be separated from me and hysterics ensued.
It was tough growing up an only on that street. When school started, my clothes were new, clean and ironed. 1st grade brought on Catholic school and starched shirts and uniforms, knee socks and Bass Weejuns. I also had matching rainboots and raincoats (hideous ass plaid ones), umbrellas in every size and color, snow boots that matched my snowsuit, play clothes different from school clothes-you get the picture. If my mother only realized how these alone scarred me for life and how I swore and stuck by never making my child wear anything itchy, plaid, with a zip in lining, dorky snowboots to school, etc-she may not have done it, but I suspect she still would have anyway. Yeah, they called me the “spoiled only”. I loved living with all the kids, but hated it at the same time. I learned the word “fuck” at age 5. Marco, from down the street, sick of me moon eyeing him told me to “fuck off little girl”-I swooned, he talked to me! and told my mom. I was hit in the mouth with a hairbrush and told never to say that word again. Harrumph, ruining true love was she?? My brother came in 1970, the only status finally changed, but not by much.
Summers were spent in inflatable pools in the backyard, catching lightning bugs, walking to the corner store (which was about a mile away, but who was counting), hanging out in the flower shop smelling everything and “helping”, nightly visits from the ice cream truck, whose bells we would hear from blocks away and have coins in hand positioned on the front step (no one had porches there) ready to run. This was another sore point to the big families, I always had ice cream money and not just for the cheap freeze pops. They had each other, but apparently that didn’t count to them. One of my favorite memories, scary really now that you think about it was chasing the mosquito plane down the street. Yes, the mosquitoes were so damn bad, a crop dusting plane came down the streets weekly spraying DDT or some other chemical form of toxins and yes, as kids, we would hear him coming, line up and chase him down the street, running through the “smoke” of the dusting. Yes, we were allowed to do that because the government said it wasn’t dangerous. Heck, everyone smoked cigarettes, drank and drove and didn’t wear seatbelts-what’s a little DDT smoke in yer eye, in your lungs, on your skin-c'mon buck up!