Tuesday, January 10, 2017

52 Stories: What Was Your Childhood Home Like?

The home I remember most was our rowhouse on Blakeney Road, in Catonsville, MD, with the zipcode 21228. It was a brick rowhouse, built in the 40's or 50's. I remember the house number as 260, but a search of Google maps is making me wonder if the street has been renumbered, or if I'm remembering wrong. Now I want to go over there and see. We lived there from about 1972-1980. When we started out, there were three kids in the family, and by the time we moved, there were 7. My dad built us a bedroom in the basement when the space really got scarce.

I remember my mother's very fashionable and on-trend taste in decorating, so we had shag carpet in multicolored blues, metallic wallpaper, chrome and glass furniture, and a kitchen remodel in orange, avocado and gold. I remember it as being very cool, really! My mom does have a great eye and a wonderful sense of fun. There was a cupboard under the basement stairs. There was also an attic with a pull-down stair. I can remember actually setting up a little hideaway in  the attic, even when it was so hot in the summers or cold in the winters. I remember the fiberglass insulation being so itchy, but I loved having little places to myself.

I remember the alley behind the house, and the locust tree in the back yard that we were allowed to climb but that had thorns so was pretty much impossible to climb. There was a glorious maple tree in the front yard that was totally climbable, but Mr. McAvoy next door would not allow it because he was concerned about us hurting ourselves as well as damaging the tree. Mr. and Mrs. McAvoy were those neighbors who were slightly intimidating, but whom I remember respecting and trusting with all my heart. I feel now that even though there were some grumpy "hey you kids--get off my lawn!" moments, this older couple was very good to our family. Mrs. McAvoy would hire me to take care of her bird or her cat when they went out of town. Mr. McAvoy sat on his porch and smoked a cigar nearly every evening, and the smell of a cigar is to this day a homely, pleasant thing for me, evoking nights when I would sometimes sit with him and we would chat.

There were lots of kids in the neighborhood. The McMannis family a few doors down was a great Irish Catholic family with more kids than us, most with red hair. Johnny was a few years older than me and I loved him with all my heart for all the time we lived there. All the girls were named Mary, each with a unique middle name by which they were known to others. Mary Cullen, or Cully, was a few years younger than me, and she, my sister, and I had that sort of comfortable, yet almost indifferent friendship born mostly of proximity. We spent time together by default, rather than by any definable attraction. She went to St. Marks, so we didn't see each other at school. I have almost no memories of Mr. and Mrs. McMannis, but there was an older brother, Jerry, who was mentally disabled, and always said hi to us as he shuffled along the street. At the end of our row was Kim Bahoric, with long, honey-colored hair. I considered her a good friend and we spent a lot of time together, until she moved away. I remember that she moved out to Jarrettsville, because even then I loved maps and I remember being sad that it was so far away, all the way in the northern part of Baltimore County. Sure enough, we never saw each other again.

I think when I was around 10 years old, the delightful Allen family moved in to one of the newer duplexes down at the bend where Blakeney turned into Altamont. There were two kids my age! Twins! Don and Donna. I have many good memories of the Allen family. Sadly, Donna has passed away, but it was delightful to see them both at our 25th high school reunion some years ago.

I remember my childhood in that house as generally happy, routine, and secure. Our neighborhood felt safe and had all the magical things that a good, kid-friendly neighborhood should have--places to hide, trees to climb, and that glorious alley. In spite of being right next to Exit 13 of 695, it felt quiet. We rode our bikes everywhere.  Because it was a rowhouse neighborhood, it was a maze of 5 or 6 streets that were so familiar and known to me that I could go anywhere.  There was mulberry tree that bore millions of delicious, fat berries in the summers and stained the alley that dark mulberry purple. We sledded down Darrow Drive in the winters. There was a corner grocery just a couple of blocks away. My mother grew canna lilies in the front yard, and one summer, two glorious cecropia moths perched on her lilies for a whole day doing that thing they do. I think it was probably Mrs. McAvoy who had the book in which we looked up the name and identified them from their unmistakeable markings They were bigger than my hand! We watched them in absolute fascination all day long. Then they disappeared. I was launched into fascination with butterflies and moths. I've always been a bit of an oddball naturalist at heart, and love to know what things are and why they do what they do. I'm sure I did more than one school project on Cecropia moths.

We walked to and from Catonsville Elementary School, and also to Catonsville Junior High, and there were two crossing guards. I used to remember their names and I'm sad that I can't anymore. I can still see their faces though. One crossed us over the off ramp from 695 onto Frederick Rd. and, after we walked across the overpass,  the other guard crossed us over the off-ramp, then Wade Ave. Then we went past the houses turned into offices and a funeral home, up the hill, past the fast food place (was it a Hardees? I think it might have been) and to school. It was nearly a mile I think, and up a major thoroughfare. I imagine now that kids from that neighborhood get bussed to school.

My grandmother moved in with us, and we just didn't fit, so she helped us buy the amazing house at 109 Forest Drive where my parents lived for the next 30 years until they moved to Arizona. I'll save my memories of that house for another story.

Note: I can't find a single photo of the Blakeney Road house or the neighborhood, but I'm going to see if my mom has some and maybe I'll add them retroactively. I'm determined not to let perfectionism get in the way of this project.

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Thank you for sharing your insights!