There are places I remember
In my life … though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments …
I miss my grandmother’s house sometimes. It’s interesting (to me, at least) because I’m not normally one to “miss” anything or anyone. People come, people go. Places exist. I tend to focus on what is happening right the hell now. She lives in Rhode Island now, near my dad, and she still has a pretty cool house. But my grandmother’s original house was awesome.
She lived at 58 Gorham Street in Somerville, Massachusetts in a three-story brownstone that I adored. I mean, really, this was a magical house.
She rented the top two floors and lived on the ground floor. The tenants above her were always insane and always different: students from nearby Tufts, immigrants, Gagne family members, such an odd assortment of kooky people. She always railed about them and I thought it was just amazing that she was in charge of their homes. She fixed the plumbing, she spackled the walls, she painted …
There was a basement! A basement was an alien concept to me because I grew up in Florida, where if you dig three inches into the ground you hit the ocean. But her house had a basement! Just like people in books and movies! And it was a basement to end all basements. She used to fire ceramics and had a big kiln in one corner. There were stacks and stacks of years’ worth of Gagne family clothes and toys and magazines and books … It was dark all the time, even when you pulled a string on one of the light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. And there was one room that had no light bulb, and it was in the corner and darker than dark. There was a huge chest in there and toys from when my dad was a kid! How cool is that?
The washer and dryer were in the basement, of course. But get this: There was a hole in the floor of the bathroom upstairs. And when your clothes were dirty, instead of putting them in a hamper, you threw them through this hole in the floor and they landed in a big basket right next to the washer! I thought that this was the single most brilliant thing in the universe when I was a little kid.
She kept food down there, too. Tons of food. Enough food to feed everyone in the entire family for a month if for some reason we all just visited simultaneously and didn’t leave. She made food! There was a garden in the backyard and she grew strawberries and tomatoes and blackberries and rhubarb and — my God — how much I loved her rhubarb jam.
For some reason I was infatuated with sleeping on the back porch. This was one of the ultimate joys for me whenever I visited. Air conditioning was a luxury back then in New England, so in the summer sleeping in that big screened-in porch was like heaven. (When I was in my 20s and visiting her — even though she had air conditioning units in every room by then — I would still sleep on the cot out there that was easily six inches too short for me.)
She had a trash compactor, which I thought was highly advanced technology. I felt like I was George Jetson when she’d let me hit the button to make it squish the trash. And the trash compactor was in the pantry, which was always stocked with all of my favorite foods: popcorn, homemade cookies, pumpkin seeds, olives … I remember one time I visited and she had my favorite cereal there. I can’t even remember what it was now, but the fact that here was her grandson that lived 1000 miles away and visited maybe twice a year … and yet she always had my favorite cereal just in case I might be there … that just blew me away.
The front porch was hollow. You could crawl underneath it and watch people walking up and down the street and they had no idea you were there. My dad told me once that he used to play with his GI Joe guys under there, and I used to always dig around in the dirt a little to see if an old Army guy was buried.
Her house was a very quick walk to the Davis Square T station, where you could jump on the subway and be any place in Boston in just a few minutes. And Boston was always my favorite city when I was a little kid, so her house was like a gateway to adventures.
There was one summer, when I was fifteen or sixteen, that my dad just dropped me off at her house and I spent a whole week there. It was just me and Nana Rainy. I’d wake up and she’d pack me a lunch and I’d walk down to the subway and roam all around Boston. I’d sit in coffee shops and write pathetically bad poetry and visit cool American Revolution monuments and lay in the grass in the Commons and read about the battles at Lexington and Concord. Then I’d go back to Nana’s house and she’d have cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner for me, turkey and all, or a big ol’ honey-baked ham, or a pot roast that makes me drool now just thinking about it.
I remember telling her that no matter what, she had to leave me that house when she died. I was heartbroken when she finally sold it and moved to Rhode Island. I understand why she did. She’s in her 80s after all, and a bit too frail to be climbing ladders to clean gutters or fix shutters. But it makes me sad to think about that house now being owned by someone else.
One Response to “There Are Places I Remember”
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I went to school with your Dad and I lived in North Cambridge. You just brought back quite a few memories for me by writing your blog about your Grandmother’s house. Only, when I grew up in Cambridge and went to NCC, there was no subway in Davis Square or Porter Square. I lived in a 3 family house on Dudley St. which was owned by my aunt. She lived on the 3rd floor, another aunt and her 2 kids lived on the 2nd floor and we were on the first. I even remember the garbage men coming into the backyard and taking the garbage bucket out of the ground. We were not very well off but we didn’t even realize it. We were content with what we had and we had great neighborhood friends. I thank you for bringing me back to my roots.