From “The Daily Post” “
Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home?”
I was a rather lucky kid. I grew up in a rather complete family; Mom, Dad and two younger brothers, and two younger sisters – 7 of us total. We were lucky as kids, we had terrific parents and we weren’t abused or living with alcoholics -like many of my friends tell me of their childhoods. I had a pretty typical lower middle class childhood, living in a small rural town in southern Maine that hadn’t yet reached it’s hay-day of strip malls and outlet stores. My parents worked their asses off to support and raise us, and I thank them for the childhood they gave each of us.
At twelve, I was living on a beautiful rural road, with sparsely dispersed houses, in a very historic area of town. We lived in a huge old house, the first floor being over 300 years old, the second floor added in the 1940’s. At one time the place had been a large farm, complete with two large barns that each burned long before I was born. There were the remnants of ancient apple orchards, even a pear tree and lots and lots of grape vines gone wild. The property was up against land that had been left to the town, thus it was called the ‘town forest’ – tons of acreage of wilderness with trails, old dumps, old foundations and even a couple of very old grave yards…ooooo….that we as kids would think were haunted by the old sea captain buried in one of them.
Along one edge of the property, just over the line into the town forrest, was a swamp with a small stream that ran harder in the rainy season. We played in that swamp for hours and hours. We built crude bridges, caught frogs, tried fishing and manhandled turtles. My mother would buy us tall rubber boots for our excursions into the swamp land. I recall that we had a name for the swamp, but cannot recall what it was now…but it was a beloved place to play, get dirty, find adventure and live out fantasy life as sea captains of small boats we would try to build, or as army guys crawling through the swamp grass and muck in search of the ‘enemy’ neighborhood kids.
Toward the back of the property, behind the house was a small field where there were eight or ten old apple trees. These afforded us plenty of tree climbing to pick apples. Mom would make pies for us out of them. They were old Macintosh type apples. We would have “apple wars” throwing rotten ones at one another as we scurried for cover behind the piles of old stones used to build crude stonewalls along the border of the property between us and the town forest land. Farmers would build the old stone walls that are found throughout New England when they would clear land to plant. They really had nothing else to do with nor other way to dispose of the rocks and stones unearthed when plowing. So up went stonewalls to mark borders, pen cows and horses, and to keep out the villains. Our property had stonewalls on all three sides, and was fronted by the road on the fourth.
We had one neighboring house next to us, and one kind of diagonally across the street. Next door was the home of the two elderly people who sold my parents the home for under $8,000. back in 1972 – when I was 10 years old, and we had returned from living for a short time in New York. These two became our adoptive grandparents as we had none of our own grandparents living at that time. The only grandmother I had known had died when I was 10 just after we moved into that old house; the house that would be in our family for 44 years and would be the center of family activity all that time and would shelter a million memories.
Gram and Gramps were awesome as neighbors, and they especially were sweet on my youngest brother, who went there daily for homemade cookies and some hugs from Gram. One time Gramps even got out and rode the little guy’s bike around the driveway, which was quite comical! Old man on BMX bike, knees up to his chin…you get the picture I am sure! He had a big wide grin on his face too! Gram and Gramp were killed in a head-on collision on their way to camp one weekend when I was 20 and in the US Army in Germany, sadly. I’ve always missed them. They always said they would “go together” and by golly they did. Bless them.
To the left side of the property, as standing in the road looking at the house head-on, we would play baseball, kickball and football in the field there. Gramps usually kept it mowed, as his property bordered it along that side. He loved to see us set up our baseball diamond, even though we did break his garage window once with a baseball hit foul. I think it may still be broken today even. It’s a downhill slope on that side and we would roll down the hill, wrestle and play for hours there. A few years Mom and Dad tried growing vegetable gardens on that side. The deer and bunnies would come and mow down the rows nightly. But we did succeed with some stuff once Gramps showed us how to put down dried blood around the garden to keep out the critters. Evidently they think of death and dying when they smell dried blood and avoid the area. It worked and we did have a nice crop of corn one year.
So, when I was 12 living there at the homestead I was just coming into my more rebellious years. But I was generally a good kid. I loved to read. I would find hiding places on the property, a flat stone at the far corner along the stonewall where I would lay and read. The lilac bush out front would get so huge that you had paths and tunnels through the center. It was near to the road along the front left corner, and there was a rock cliff that fell off to the road below; the lilac grew right on that cliff. I spent hours laying at the top of that cliff reading Nancy Drew mysteries, Harriet the Spy, and anything else that I could relate to.
Around this time I found a book on the roadside one day, a porn book…which piqued my interest but had to be hidden like crazy! I had a place in the old tin garage where I hid it, a platform up in the rafters where I could climb up and be out of sight to read the really nasty stuff. Until someone told on me and I got caught…that ended my porn reading career until I was 18 and could get it myself! 🙂 Ah, what a memory!
At 12 I had a 2 year old brother who I just adored. I would spend a lot of time watching him for my hard working mother. She worked right up at the end of the road at a small motel where she started as a chambermaid and wound up as the general manager. We could ride our bikes the half a mile to Route 1 and be at her place of work should we need her for anything in an emergency. The summer of my 12th year we had chickens, as I recall. Mom has always loved her chickens and fresh eggs. We would sell the eggs to locals who would drive into our broken pavement driveway looking for them. Our coops were clean and the chickens happy. We had one that would always get beat up in the pen, so she ran loose on the property and we named her Henny Penny. (The sky is falling….) She was friendly. And in the fall when the chickens all became chicken dinners (and I cried on the cliff with my cat squeezed tight in my arms) somehow Henny Penny was no where to be found on that day. She reappeared the next morning as if nothing had changed. Eventually Henny went to a retirement farm to live out her days. Dad just could not do the beheading of such a sneaky chicken – after all she had survived the carnage, she must have been a blessed chicken.
Back then, 1974, you could leave your 12 year olds in charge of your other kids and they would all survive. Sure, bloody noses and cuts from fights happened and you held the victim down until they agreed not to tell Mom and Dad that you caused the injury! Kids fell out of tree forts, crashed their bikes without helmets, and stayed out til dark, but it was a much safer time and we didn’t have video games, colored TV or social media to occupy our brains. We had the outdoors and our imaginations. We had tree forts that we built with our young hands and Dad’s leftover wood and good nails. We held each other down and made each other drink lemon juice or hot sauce, just for fun. We had rope swings that we almost killed ourselves on at times. There were neighborhood BB gun wars, single pump only! And the occasional lawn dart in the head did happen, but you survived. You learned to swim whether you liked it or not, Mom’s rule. You took a bath on Sunday night, whether you needed one or not. And Walt Disney never dreamed of showing you Myley Cyrus! Yes, it was a different time, and much more fun in my opinion, I would not trade then for now ever!
At 12 I was also discovering who I was as a person, and knew I had secrets that I could never talk about with anybody. I was about to go into 7th grade. Kids were starting to have little boyfriends and girlfriends. I was mortified by the mere thought that I would have to be some boy’s girlfriend at some point. I never knew at that time that there was an alternative for me. That would come years later, long after a fun childhood of skipping rocks on the local beaches, and building sandcastles with my baby brother. And that would come just a short year after I would take him to the races in my 1973 Dodge Dart, and teach him to jungle pee because I didn’t want him in the porta-potties at the race track. I had plenty of time for my future self, I was too busy being a fun, countrified kid from Maine who loved lobsters, clams, sunrises over the Atlantic, Seapoint Beach and my awesome family.