29 Southwood / Paratrooper

It was 1954.

It was the third brand new home from the end of the brand new street of maybe 35 houses. It was near the end of the street that was like five other parallel streets and fifteen streets beyond that, almost parallel. All the houses were built by the same builder, Ledger Starr, who, following the war, designed maybe three homes, bought up most of the town’s property and started building the same three houses over and over again until he was richer than god. A ranch. A cape. A colonial.

It was a cape and it had a basement. Cement. I don’t think I’d ever been in a cement basement before. It was cement. It smelled like cement and went right on smelling like cement even well after my parents had been taken in by the We-can-finish-your-basement hucksters a decade and a half later. We’d had sporadic spring flooding–one year, six inches deep–but, undeterred, my father punched a hole in a corner of the floor and set in a sump pump (sump pump; a fascinating phrase; I repeated it silently to myself for a solid week) and a big black plastic pipe leading up through the floor joists and out through a hole in the foundation to the lowest point in the back yard where, presumably, it vanished from the water cycle forever.

They put in cheap wooden paneling and a bar. A bar. Just what we needed. A friggin bar and a swimming pool in the back yard and a camper parked beside the garage. A garage. A porch. The porch enclosed. The enclosed porch tiled and set with screens for the summer, and winter storm windows that weighed a ton and a half and had to be stored in the garage all summer, waiting there to be kicked or broken by the errant baseball or shattered by the ill-controlled ride-on mower. The ride-on mower. Oh, we had it all.

It had an attic. The attic was an attic, and it smelled like an attic, but not an old one; smelled like a pine and dusty sunshone attic until they brought in the fiberglass and sheetrock, made a couple of bedrooms. After that, it pretty much smelled like my grandmother at one end and my brother and me at the other.

The house was covered with “shakes.” We called them shakes and we only painted them once in the whole time I lived there. We painted them red. It might have been stain; it seemed so watery. They wouldn’t let me help except to carry and deliver beers. Some short time after the awful paint job, my parents fell for the You-ought-to-get-yourself-some-siding scam. Aluminum. Friggin aluminum. Jesus. That was the end of the Daddy Longlegs spiders around the cement foundation.

I suppose there must have been little marks or nicks we made to measure how much we’d grown, but they’ve all escaped me now. I do remember how we made little parachutes out of my mother’s scarves (scarves were still quite fashionable back then.) We’d use kitestring and tie a bunch of washers onto them for weight and toss them out the upstairs window. It only took a couple seconds for them to float down to the grass, but it always seemed like it took a lot longer. I used to watch them float down and I was free for the hour or two it took me to reach the ground. That’s about the only fond memory I have of the place, really.

6 thoughts on “29 Southwood / Paratrooper

  1. they were pretty awful, werent they. But I suppose to a soldier coming back from whatever war he had been in they looked pretty good. But i dont imagine living in one as a kid was any picnic. This is most evocative, and sad, and sort of chilling, in a way.

    • It was good for starts, JT, but it was sad to watch my parents let themselves get caught up in the “gotta have it, gotta get it, more, more, more” lifestyle that was so common then, ultimately to realize–several decades later–that they had so little that really mattered.

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