Sunday, November 6, 2011

If Only I Had a Time Machine

I got out for a walk at lunchtime one day last week. I live in the same town as I did in high school and on my walk I went past our old house.

The house is a cavernous old Victorian duplex. When we moved in it had peeling paint, noisy plumbing, drafty windows and a questionable roof. My parents did quite a bit of work restoring it when we lived there. Sadly, over the past 25 years or so, it has reverted to almost the same dilapidated state we found it in back in the early 80s.

Our former house, as it looks today.
Unlike many of its contemporaries, our house was intentionally built as a duplex, not converted later. Each side has a front and back staircase, but different floor plans. Best of all, there was a secret passageway under the stairs connecting the two apartments. The door looked deceptively like a regular coat closet, but guests would often be surprised when someone would unexpectedly come bursting out of it, or disappear into it and not come out again.

A couple of nights after we moved in, my sister and I were on dish duty in the kitchen after dinner. Our routine was I washed, she dried. When I finished with the last dish and turned off the tap, to our surprise the sound of running water continued. My dad opened the basement door to find a small waterfall. For the next few weeks, we had a basement full of plumbers. There was a great deal of banging, clanging and muffled cursing from beneath the floor as they battled the ancient Goliath of a boiler.
The house as it looked while we lived there.
Now I like to get out for a walk for exercise, but back in high school I dreaded the daily walk to school. It seemed like miles and miles back then, but it was really only about three blocks. Then again, considering the 50 pound backpack full of books I carried, I can see why it seemed longer than it was. Snow and ice slowing me down in winter didn't help, and neither did the angry little white dog that chased me every day, both going and coming back.

The scene of the dreaded walk to school
One of the best things about living in that house was my grandparents lived in the apartment next door. When they decided to move to Cape Cod permanently, they moved in with us on our side and the other side was rented out. While having them next door had been fun, having them in the same house was a critical mass of togetherness that frayed everyone's nerves.

My grandfather would complain long and loudly about the "bloody pipes" making noise when we took showers early in the morning before school. He also made it known that he thought we all spent entirely too much time grooming in the bathroom for our own good. "You're always picking at yourselves, it isn't natural."

Once when my brother singed some popcorn in the microwave (a new contraption we had only recently acquired and weren't too handy at using yet), grandpa insisted we were burning the place down. He marched out to the backyard and refused to come in, claiming that he couldn't breath because we were filling the house with "bloody smoke," although he seemed to have plenty of lung power available for shouting about it.
My parents, siblings and I circa 1985 or so.
Three teenagers and two octogenarians in one house lead to quite a bit of "bloody" this, that and the other thing. Usually it was something we did, but Sometimes Grandpa was the culprit. He loved to talk long walks, and one or more of us grand kids often accompanied him. Once on one of our walks he noticed the WWII tank on the lawn of the American legion. He had my sister up on top of it, looking for a way in. There had recently been an article in the paper saying if you hit a deer with your car, you could keep the meat. For awhile after he had gone out for some mysterious drives at night, but never had any luck. I think he thought the tank would up his chances. Had it not been sealed shut, I have no doubt he would have driven it home.

Another time when we were out walking, Grandpa stopped in at the florist. I thought he was going to buy flowers for Grandma, and so did the sales clerk. Instead, he asked her for several of those little packets of preservative that come enclosed with cut flowers. "I'd like to put a wee bit in my wife's orange juice of a morning." He said, deadpan. "To keep her looking nice and fresh."
Grandpa, looking very much the irascible Irishman
Being a teenager, sometimes the eccentricity factor at my house was set a little too high for my liking. There were times when I just wanted us to be more normal. But other times, when I visited friend's, and saw how bland and beige their home lives seemed by comparison, normal didn't seem quite so attractive anymore.

Walking past our old house last week, I wished I had a time machine so I could go back again for just a few hours. We lived in a lot of different houses when I was growing up, but I'll always have a special place in my heart for that big old drafty, quirky Victorian on Broad Street.

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