Thursday, August 25, 2005

Return To Caddy Road

This past Sunday, for the first time in almost 12 years, I walked down Caddy Road. It was the street I grew up on. It was the street I called home for the first 37 years of my life.

Caddy Road is a side street off of a side street off of a side street. It is located in the Mattapan/Dorchester section of Boston, a couple of blocks away from where Baker's Chocolate used to have it's headquarters on the Neponset River, until they moved to the Midwest in the early 60's. When I was a kid, the entire neighborhood smelled of chocolate. It was wonderful.

There are 12 houses on the street, all duplexes built in 1953 or so. Each duplex apartment consists of two bedrooms and a bath upstairs, a living room and kitchen on the ground floor, and a basement area. My Mom and Dad bought our house, number 14 (and the other side, number 16, which they rented out) in 1955, the same year they were married. It cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $14,000. I would guess the going price now might be $250,000 - perhaps a bit more, perhaps a bit less.

When my Mom and Dad were divorced, in the mid-70's, my Dad kept the house and I lived with him. I was an only child and my Mom felt (and my Dad agreed) that this was best for me; to not be uprooted and to live with my male parent as role model. I am eternally grateful to them both for considering my welfare so thoroughly and not making me choose between them or anything else hideous like that. They both made it quite easy for me, despite whatever they were going through emotionally.

My Dad went through quite a period of depression during and following the divorce - he was on anti-depressant medications for a long while - and he let the mortgage payments slip. As a result, the house was sold at auction. However, we continued living there, as renters, as did our former tenants, the Murphys.

Over the course of the next 20 years or so, the neighborhood changed gradually. Where once it had been a quiet upper-middle-class neighborhood, almost exclusively white, Irish, and Catholic, it became a mostly black lower-middle-class neighborhood, and not nearly as peaceful. Crime in the area increased and properties were not kept up as well as they had been. This is not to blame just the blacks, by the way. The economics of the neighborhood changed and, whereas previously the houses had been occupied by owners, most of the houses were now rented on both sides of the duplex. There was less pride in the properties, more a feeling of transience, and this was among both the black and white renters.

In 1988, my father suffered a heart attack. The doctors who examined him determined that it was actually one of 4 or 5 he had had over the course of his lifetime, but it was the first one for which he received treatment. He underwent open heart surgery a couple of months after that and was out of work for a long time. Meanwhile, his employer fired him. In 1990, he won a judgment against them and received a (somewhat small, all things considered) monetary settlement. He then began looking for a place to buy for his retirement years (which would, regrettably, turn out to be too few.)

He found a house in northern New Hampshire that was affordable, so he bought it and moved there. He invited me to live there, also, but I was seriously dating MY WIFE at the time, as well as attending broadcasting school. I wanted to remain in the Boston vicinity, so I stayed at 14 Caddy. MY WIFE moved in with me shortly afterwards. We were married in 1992 and it was our first home together.

We last lived there in 1994, the year of my father's death. That was a very hectic time period for us. Over the course of 12 months, my father died, both of her parents died (a few months apart), and we were forced to move during Christmas week, due to the impending sale of the house. We hurriedly found another place, in Watertown, packed up and moved. There are lots of good (and bad) stories concerning that move, but they don't really belong here. Another time.

Until we were forced to move, I had never seriously considered having to live anywhere else. The house at Caddy Road was almost a physical part of my being. Every sound the heating system made as it kicked in, every creaking stair, the feel of every doorknob, the time it took for the hot water to actually run hot after turning it on - these things and many others were all ingrained in my subconscious. That house was my womb with a view, so to speak.

During the 12 years since we moved, I had driven through the old neighborhood 3 or 4 times but never actually walked it. Until I did so, I had no idea how strongly it would affect me. As it turned out, very much so.

The reason for the walk was simple enough. MY WIFE has a volunteer position on the MBTA (Boston public transit system) Rider Oversight Committee. She had heard that the small trolley line which serves the old neighborhood was going to be shut down - supposedly for repairs, to be re-opened at a later date, but we both feel that once it's shut down it will probably become a permanent closure. Anyway, she knows how much I like that little trolley line - also a major part of my youth in that neighborhood - so we decided to go for what might end up being a last ride on it. Since we would be riding the trolley, why not get off at the Central Avenue stop and stroll around the old neighborhood?

The first thing we both noticed, as we crossed the river and approached Caddy Road via Sturbridge Street, and then Monson Street, was that the neighborhood in general seemed a bit nicer than it had been at the time of the move. It was generally cleaner, and some of the houses had beautiful gardens in the front yards. It was very quiet, too, which was not the case when we left. It was Sunday, but that had never really made a difference in the last couple of years we had lived there. It did on this day, though.

We noticed a police car in one of the driveways on Sturbridge. It wasn't making a call; it was parked there and we assumed it was now the home of a police officer. This was a bit of irony, as the last tenant we knew there - since passed away, and a nice guy despite what you'll read next - had done time for multiple bank robberies.

As we approached Caddy Road, I found myself feeling rather odd. It wasn't melancholia, but rather a feeling of spatial displacement. I felt like my body didn't fit me anymore, and that the street itself was much smaller than it should have been. I felt as though I should be smaller, too - about 10 years old, agile and very thin, with a full head of hair and all of my own teeth. Instead, I was 48, carrying 15 extra pounds around my middle, with a bald head and half a mouth of implants.

As we walked, MY WIFE said this and that about the houses - "Oh, look at the nice way they've redone that porch", "That one looks better now with siding" - but while I heard her, my mind was spinning. I actually felt slightly faint at one point. Somewhere in my heart of hearts I think I had still considered this "my" home, but as much as I may have wanted to feel as if this were a homecoming of sorts, I instead felt as though I had become part of a "Through The Looking Glass" type of story, my body grown too large without my knowledge or permission. It was akin to one of those dreams where you're in public and all of a sudden you discover that you're naked. I felt totally out of place. I half expected people to come out of the houses to stare at me and point and laugh.

The street as a whole looked very nice. It was as close to the way it had looked, when I was growing up, as it had been for at least 30 years. Whoever owned the houses now was taking care of them; keeping the yards trim, doing painting and fixing cracks in walkways. There was new masonry work, cheerful windows with pretty drapes, and the street itself was clean. I had expected the street to be even more rundown than it had been when we moved, and this would have made me feel better about having left. Instead, the street was almost taunting me. "You thought you were leaving me for dead. But, I'm back and I'm beautiful again. And you? If either one of us isn't what he used to be, it's you. You're the one headed for the dirt nap, not me."

I sorely wanted to go into "my" house. I wanted to see physical reassurances that it was not "my" house any longer. I wanted to see, with my own eyes, that "my" bedroom did not contain "my" bed; that "my" kitchen table was long gone; that "my" television set and stereo were no longer playing. But, that would have entailed me looking like a raving looney to whoever lived there now. I contented myself with seeing a sign posted on "my" front porch. "Beware of Pit Bull", it said. "My" house had a very friendly cat in it, not a vicious attack dog.

MY WIFE said such a sign indicated that the neighborhood wasn't as safe and peaceful as it might have seemed. That made sense, so I latched on to that thought and held it close. Yes, it was NOT the neighborhood I loved growing up in. It was dangerous and full of snarling, barking animals.

Eh, whatever. I still felt sort of empty. I do realize the futility of holding onto a past that can't possibly have been as nice as the one that lives on in my imagination. Still...

We walked around a bit more on a couple of other streets and then caught the little trolley back to Ashmont station. As we waited for the subway, the little trolley left Ashmont headed back to Mattapan. As it rounded the turn and the steel wheels squealed against the rails, it was (at least to my ear) singing a farewell song to me. This also was a sound ingrained in my subconscious and I was very glad to really hear it one last time.

Finally, we took the subway to Alewife, picked up our car, and drove home. We could have taken public transit all the way, back and forth, as they have a trackless trolley in Watertown that goes to the subway, but I really didn't want to do that. They call it a trackless trolley, but it's just an electric bus.

MY trolley is a trolley.


Anonymous said...

Dog, Love how you write..
You say the things I think in my head...
Been there/done that.
Just like you said.. my body was wrong.. everything was wrong.
Tom Wolf was right.
Added your blog to my favorites.

Suldog said...

Cat! Thank you so much for the kind words. From you they mean much.


Suldog said...

OK, here's the deal. I appreciate comments. Thank you. However, from now on, on this site, if you want to put up a link, don't post anonymously. If you post anonymously, and include a link, I will delete the comment as soon as I see it.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your writing style, however, I take issue with the "This is not to blame just the blacks.." statement. You put so much thought into the language of the rest of your piece, I am surprised you included that statement without thought to its offensiveness. Chances are the neighborhood's esthetics declined because of the poverty of its new residents, which you referred to. White, black or other, poverty is poverty, and the effects you saw could have happen regardless of the race of the neighborhood's new residents. And as rental properties, the upkeep of the properties would be the responsibility of the landlords, not the new renters. So you ought to include them when you're assigning the blame. You would hardly like to be solely defined by your race and lumped in with every other white person in your neighborhood, and given responsibility for their actions, would you? We are individuals. Consider thinking of the "blacks" in your former neighborhood that way, for a change.

Anonymous said...

My brother and I went back to see our childhood house in Connecticut when we were in our 50's. We didn't knock on the door - just took pictures from outside. The woman living across the street thought we were looking suspicious and came out to see what we were doing. We were surprised to find that she was the same woman who lived there when we were kids (and who had terrorized us a bit then). She was quite pleasant now, though, and asked about our older relatives, most of whom had died in the interrim.

I would have liked to have gone inside, but I was afraid to. Our two upstairs rooms had been finished by our parents, completely panelled and with built-in desks and bookcases. I didn't want to see that work had been ripped out or despoiled. Also, all the mature trees on the street had been cut down during some sort of misguided street widening/improvement project. So that was pretty sad, also.

Anonymous said...

Central Avenue was my trolley stop, but I lived in the other direction. We used to go over the bridge contstantly. We always shopped at Gilchrists and Star Market and my first job was at Brighams. The shopping center and Central Ave. seem like ghosts towns now.

Suldog said...

To Anonymous, re: "not just the blacks."

I'm sorry if you felt that was offensive, but it does say "NOT just the blacks." I explicitly said that it was a problem brought about by both white and black residents.

As for the landlords being partially to blame, I agree. I thought I had made it clear that the major problem (at least from my perspective) was that the folks who owned the houses were no longer living in them. What race these people were, I don't know.

And, I hope that it is also understood that, now that the neighborhood is looking better, it is probably still a mostly black residential neighborhood.

Suldog said...

I mean, jeez, I went out of my way to qualify my statements, to avoid any indication whatever that I might have mentioned the neighborhood demographics to show that the decline of the neighborhood should be blamed on any one set of persons.

If that's the way it reads to you, either I did a lousy job of writing or you did a lousy job of reading.

In either case, I really honestly meant no offense. Peace?

Anonymous said...


I can really relate to your "Return to Caddy Road". As I too have felt the joy and pain of returning to "Mt. Pleasant Street". As for the people who have taken offense to your writing unless they have been there or grew up in the same type of neighborhood during those same years in Boston can in NO WAY understand what your story was about. CUDOS (spelling) to you Jim! Keep up the great writing! Love you xoxoxox

Anonymous said...

This really hit "home". Although I left Caddy Road many many years ago, it was my first home away from home. I had some great times there and some not so great times. You brought me close to tears, darn you.

Suldog said...

Thank you, everybody. I appreciate the comments.

Batya said...

Fantastic. I wonder how I'd feel if I was to visit my old neighborhood, which I left in 1962.

Suldog said...

Thank you. This piece easily outclasses the rest of the crap I've written here, so if you've made it to this page, you may as well skip the rest of the site.

No! I'm kidding! Don't leave! Please...

Anonymous said...

It seems that this certain story hasn't been read in quite a while, or at least hasn't been commented on. I'm only seventeen and while I can't honestly say that I can completely understand the whole concept of missing something that you called home for a long time I have sat in my house and watched the world I know as my home, my neighborhood change significantly. The woods I grew up and shared my first kiss in across from my house are being torn down for a new and "enhanced" neighborhood of houses and apartments that each resemble the one following it. The road I used to take to go to my friends house now has potholes that the government refuses to fix because of the fact the road is part of private property. I can imagine myself coming back to my "home" in twenty to thirty years and feeling the deep sensation of nostalgia and somewhat jealousy. If I could ever fix a mistake that my parents taught me is that to never tell your kid to enjoy their life when they're young. It opened my eyes too soon.

Great writing, I'm very impressed.

Suldog said...

Thank you very much for the kind words.

It isn't how old you are, or how long you've been somewhere, or even how long you've been away from someplace, but how much you miss whatever it was. You're entitled to your feelings, whatever your age.

Anonymous said...

I'm a couple of years late, but I loved that, Suldog. I always feel nostalgia for things like hometowns and old houses and stuff like that. Beautiful piece. I visited the Baker's factory area about a year ago and was so impressed. It's, like, cool there. I wanted to live there.

Suldog said...

Thank you, Rhea. A compliment from you, concerning writing, is a fine thing and much appreciated.

Karen said...

Very nice post. I feel it - my family moved from Mattapoisett, MA to Arizona when I was 14. The MA relatives still send pictures of MY house - I would love so much to see the inside.

fibrowitch said...

Meet you at the Povo event. I know just how you feel about going back to your old home. I left the state for a while, until Boston pulled me home. I went back to my old childhood home and it was being turned into a lawyers office. Most of the houses on the street have been sold sold and sold again. I was to miserable to write about it. And I have yet to walk back down that street.

It's nice to know I'm not the only townie on the net. Or at least the only person who has Boston history behind me.

Anonymous said...

Okay, this is no.2 of 23? I am taking them a day at a time or otherwise I will have no time at all to blog. Sudog...I cant thank you enough for re-posting these, I would never have found them.

Great solid nostalgia, and I know the feeling of disorientation. I went back to St.Edith's and thought I was in Lilliput.
Oh yes, I love Mrs. Suldog too.

Anonymous said...

My naive you are... you get that all tingly feeling ruining up and done your leg like Chris Matthews does when he spews his nonsense about a certain left-wing presidential candidate?

I challenge you to re-visit your old childhood street that you wax so poetically about.

Those, places to live that the people who live their now, which were referred to as:

"Oh, look at the nice way they've redone that porch", "That one looks better now with siding"

Were simply the result of years of Federal gov't policy starting with Clinton and ending with Barney Frank that encouraged, make that REQUIRED, that financial institutions provide loans to people that could not and in some cases had no intention to repay.

How many foreclosure signs are in your old 'hood today?

Alyssa said...

This was a really quality piece. I feel like I am really late ta the game reading through these, but very glad that I got the opportunity.

Marian Dean said...

Enjoyed this read Jim. Nostalgia is wonderful. I took a trip to old 'Hoods last year. Like you I felt too big, and the house looked so small when I stood outside and looked longingly at the windows. If only I had the nerve to knock on the door.

Love Granny

Philip J Costa JR said...

All I Can say is WOW Did that hit me right in my heart since I lived right across the street from you at 17 Caddy and our grand-parents lived in 15 I believe they were either the first ones if not he second ones who bought on that wonderful street the street alot of us called home for so many years great story Jim I myself alway wanted to know what it would feel like to walk into the place myself and my brothers and sisters called home for atleast 27 years a wonderful wonderful write up I could not have put it in anyother words God-Bless your old friend Philip-Boo-Costa

Suldog said...

Thanks, Boo! Coming from you - someone who lived there for so many years - your comment means the world to me. God bless you.