Growing up in South Buffalo in the '70s and '80s, I realize I was part of the last generation of a certain kind of childhood. A childhood of building treehouses and walking to school by myself. Having my hair pulled by nuns with no fear of parents or city officials. No play dates or timeouts.
We threw snowballs from forts we built in our yards. We broke windows and apologized to old ladies. In the summer we ate city lunches in Cazenovia Park, unsupervised, and fought with kids from Seneca Street.
We played street hockey using goalie pads made from couch cushions duct-taped around our legs. We wore bread bags over our double-socked feet to keep the snow from penetrating our boots. We prayed for snow days, served as altar boys and played Little League. We went to church picnics with our neighbors. We grew up as our parents worked hard.
All these memories stem from the house I grew up in, which my mother recently sold. I remember being happy every Christmas, with my parents providing gifts for all seven of us, God knows how. I remember my father becoming the first house-husband on record as my mother worked and went to school. He saw us off to school and made us lunch in the afternoon.
I remember the aroma of charcoal at Fourth of July cookouts and the smell of Abbott pizza and wings filling the car when I went for the ride on pizza night.
I remember my grandmother moving into our newly converted attic. In the summer she would bring the toaster outside and we'd have breakfast in the garage on the picnic table. I thought it was neat eating eggs outside. Sometimes I'd go up and watch westerns and play rummy with her. It was peaceful, not like the circus on the other side of her door.
I remember the neighborhood: the red brick street; the back yards; the families. A chorus of mothers summoning their children at dusk -- if the street lights were on, you had better get home.
I remember the death of my father, and the tough times that followed. My mother's strength still amazes me. People say football players and actors are their heroes. We never went hungry and we all had new clothes in September. We lived happily in our great house. But life delivers both good and bad things to your doorstep.
Our house became a battleground as my sister Lynn fought cancer, her son Jack still a toddler. She emerged victorious. Some of us used the house as refuge while getting back on our feet. We assembled there after wakes and weddings, for birthdays and barbecues. We planted gardens and ate zucchini bread. We shoveled the driveway and swung on the tire swing. We raked leaves and passed out Halloween candy.
One by one we moved out, because that is what happens. Our lives changed as we started families of our own, creating memories and traditions in our own houses.
One summer afternoon a few years ago, I was home visiting from New York. I was escaping the heat in the cool basement, grandma was upstairs with her air conditioner humming, mom was in the kitchen and Lynn and Jack were outside planting flowers.
I thought to myself that there were four generations living under one roof and that there is really something special about that. Now I realize that our childhood house, which gave us so much, will never really be gone at all.