More Moments in Montclair
My older brother, Todd, wrote a book one year and gave it to the family for Christmas. It is a treasure. A small, unassuming book titled Moments in Montclair, it lists various memories of our childhood in random order. I can’t read it without laughing myself to tears or crying myself into a fit of giggles.
I don’t assume that our childhood was any better or more magical than anyone else’s but I do know that the mere fact that I grew up with five brothers and no sisters provided much entertainment, physical activity, and subterfuge.
In honor of my family, whom I continue to adore beyond words, I am feeling pulled to those years more than ever. Perhaps it is because my own children are now off on their own, or perhaps I am feeling that summertime nostalgia that hits me this time of year. And part of me would like to do put my reminiscing down on paper so that when I am moved into a nursing home, hopefully some time far in the future, I can whip it out and read it to the kindly nurses and candy stripers who feign interest or, in the dim light of evening they can read it to me.
My childhood spanned the 1960’s and 1970’s. Our family of eight shared a modest four bedroom house in Montclair, NJ. It was pre-computer, pre-cell phone, pre-everything digital. Looking back, I would argue that this “Pre Era” had a power all its own. A magic that surpassed anything one can purchase at Best Buy or the Apple Store. It was an era that demanded creativity and initiative, when kids had to work issues out on their own and parents rarely stormed the principal’s office except to agree that their kid was a schmuck.
As an experiment I am going to write a short memory every other Monday. Please feel free to share this backward journey with me as it just may stir up wonderful memories of your own. Comments and personal sharing are encouraged and welcomed! Let the trip begin~
Our House Looked Like a Yellow Version of This
Let me introduce you to my family:
My dad’s name is Harry. Back then, we referred to him amongst ourselves as H-Bomb since he was a force to be reckoned with. The quintessential Wonder Years Dad, he left every morning in a slate grey suit carrying a briefcase and drove to a place called Kearfott. We had no idea where that was or what happened there, but it was important. He returned precisely at 6:00 PM. The air in the house changed when he walked through the door. Our steps became lighter, our words more carefully chosen. Six PM was the time to straighten up, set the table, and get washed up for dinner. He’s the one who taught us all to “have a little class for God’s sakes.”
Lois, our mother, won a Shirley Temple contest when she was five years old for two reasons: she looked like Shirly Temple and she sang Red Sails in the Sunset on the radio. None of us could get over this. Who else had a mother who sang on the radio? In our eyes she had experience with fame. She also was voted Homecoming Queen in High School and went on to become a nurse in a white hat. Luckily none of this went to her head. First and foremost she was our MOM. A whirling dervish of cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping, nursing, and confidant when we needed one. For one half hour a day she sat and read The Star Ledger with an open-faced PB&J. No one was allowed to to talk to her during that time unless there was blood involved.
David was the oldest. The only one of us too cool to have a nickname, unless you regard ‘Dave’ as a nickname. He was the Greg Brady of the family only more mysterious. He wore his hair down over his eyes to the horror of my father, had his own pool cue in a narrow faux leather protective case that zipped, and dated an older women who had a driver’s license. My parents cleaned out the attic so he could have his own space. I can still feel the delight of parting the hippie beads that hung in the doorway to enter his groovy pad. A bit of an artist, he hammered numerous nails into the paneled wall and created a mural of string art that remains to this day.
Timothy, Timmy, Timbo, Tim was the opposite of Dave. He was the all-American kid who loved sports and girls. He played football, hockey, and baseball during various seasons but boxed and wrestled with David all year long. Sometimes my dad would order them into the backyard to “figure things out”. Once I had to disturb my mother during her half-hour break because blood was involved. I think this all had something to do with David getting his own space.
Todd, Toddio, Toddio Potatio, Odd Todd Half Turtle and Half Frog, was a year older than me. He was our Eddie Haskell with wiry blond hair and an innocent face. If there was something amiss, if we could smell smoke, hear firecrackers, or hear a friendly game ending in an explosion of “not fair’s!” Todd was usually involved. After he got in trouble he would always invite us into his bedroom to tell us about it and then laugh as hard as he could.
Susan, Susan Boosan, Sue, is me. I was the only girl and thus the only one with my own room. No one thought this was fair except for me. The only thing that I thought was NOT fair was that I was not allowed to put a lock on the door. My parents assured us that we needed to learn to respect other’s property and privacy by exercising self control. That never happened. I was the perfect follower. When you are surrounded by brothers who are ready at any moment to give you red ears, a dead arm, a charlie horse, an indian rub, a purple nurple, or pin you down so they can drip saliva over your face, you learn to do what you are told and not to tattle under any circumstances. The only place I could exert any power was during board games when the rules were written on plain white paper so no one could take over by making up his/her own rules on the spot. We went through three Trouble games one year because we wore out the pop-o-matic dice popper. Eventually we had to move to Hand’s Down.
Kevin, Kev, Kevvy Baby, Devon, Devonport Chesterfield, was two years behind me. He was the brother who always (and still does) make us all laugh. He was emotional, funny, and the constant brunt of Todd’s mischief. He had the misfortune of being born with a huge freckle on his cheek that we all claimed was a beauty mark. The teasing was relentless and that premature dead front tooth the color of a stormy sky didn’t help matters for him.
Joseph, Joe, Hobart, Hoey, Hoey Joey Come and Mow My Lawn, was born when I was seven. Cute and docile, he was our real life doll that we loved and stuffed into various costumes. He was especially useful at Christmas that first year when we put on a play about the Nativity in our basement. For the first five years of his life he probably thought he had two mothers. He was the first one I was able to boss around. But I did it with love. With five older siblings, Joe grew to be good natured, creative and wise beyond his years with the diplomatic savvy of the leader of the UN.
Outside of Todd and Kevin’s salamanders, geckos, gerbils, guinea pigs, fish and rabbits, we had two dogs and cat at various times… but we’ll get to them later.