Friday, September 09, 2011

Return To Caddy Road

[First published in 2005 - small update following]

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 had its headquarters on the Neponset River prior to their moving in the early 1960'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 similarly hideous. They both made it quite easy for me, despite whatever they were going through emotionally themselves.

My Dad entered a prolonged period of depression during and following the divorce - he was on anti-depressant medications for a long while - and, not caring, 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 duplexes. 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 dating MY (future) 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.

View Larger Map

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 our 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 consent. 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 train, 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.


Six Years Later

The trolley did come back, with a bonus of lovely new paint, and is still running.

It's a beautiful example of World War II era PCC-type public transportation, and well worth a ride if you ever find yourself in the area. The MBTA takes a lot of heat, much of it well-deserved, but this is one thing they got marvelously right.

I had opportunity to drive down Caddy Road just a couple of weeks ago. I was playing in a fast-pitch softball tournament nearby, so I decided to revisit the old neighborhood while I had a couple of hours between games. My friend, Big Jay Atton, accompanied me, and I no doubt bored him to tears showing him things that weren't there anymore. The "Beware Of Pit Bull" sign is still on the front porch at 14 Caddy. I suppose that should make me happy, since it means "my" house is still not "my" house, but somehow it doesn't quite bring a smile to my face. On the bright side, though, it probably means that the house has steady ownership and tenancy, and I love the house, so I'm glad somebody else may love it, and Caddy Road, as much as I did.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Maggie May said...

Loved reading about your early home and I remember that strange feeling too. Going back to visit as an adult was very unsettling (my own favourite childhood home.) You described the feeling very well.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Jinksy said...

To me now, a trolley is something I push around a supermarket, though once upon a time it meant a trolly bus- Ting, ting!

Anonymous said...

Very nice. You capture the feelings of nostalgia and the conundrum they pose at times.

Spatial displacement.

I get that. Unfortunately, from minute to minute!

heh heh

And by the way, forgive me for my incredibly BAD memory, but do you have children?

Craig said...

Wow - you lived in the same house deep into your 30s?? That's pretty, um, unique. . .

It's funny - my parents lived in their 'last' house in suburban Chicago for 35 years, but I never really 'lived there'; the house I grew up in, way Up North, we only lived in for about 7 years, but that's where all my memories are. . .

I've been back to my old hometown a few times, and once I even made bold to knock on the door of 'my' old house, and the owner (still the same guy who'd bought the house from my dad) was happy to let us in to have a look around.

But you're right, of course - it wasn't 'my' house anymore. 'My' house had been lonesome at the end of a dead-end street; this place had neighbors on all sides of it. Dad had spent several months of one winter framing in a wonderful 'boy-cave' bedroom in the basement for my two brothers and me (with some token help from us boys), which carried dozens of fond memories for me, but when we toured the basement, the new owner had torn the whole thing out. . . (*sigh*)

Now I suppose I'll have to blog about it sometime. . . As my kids would say, You always make me work!


And just btw, in college, I knew a girl from Hershey, PA, and she hated the smell of chocolate. . . ;)

Suldog said...

Quirky - No, no children. We're immature enough to make up for it, though :-)

Chris said...

I've always loved the Caddy Road story.

A few years ago, Theresa and I went to New York, and while we were there, we drove down to Jersey to visit relatives and so I could show Theresa my old neighborhood. Lots of changes, but the memories will never go away.

Or the scars . . . we were crazy, clumsy kids back in the day.

Reena said...

Always fun to go down memory lane ... and it seems whenever I return to my roots, it is never the same. Time marches forward but fortunately, those memories are wonderful to engage of a time of innocence!

messymimi said...

The earliest home i remember is in a neighborhood now run down, and i haven't gone back in years. Mostly because i want to remember it as it was.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

I don't think I ever lived anywhere for more than ten years... until now.
Last summer my cousin and I took OUR WIVES by the apartment house where we lived as neighbors in SF.
The trolley looks familiar. It could easily be mistaken (except for the paint job) for one that ran a block from that apartment.

Suldog said...

Craig - Funny you should mention Hershey. MY WIFE and I spent part of our honeymoon there. I was immediately transported back to my childhood when I smelled the perpetual aroma of chocolate in the air. MY WIFE was not as enamored. On our third day, we came out of the hotel to take a stroll around the grounds. She said, "Ugh. There's that hideous smell again!"

Buck said...

I sorely wanted to go into "my" house.

I owned a home built in the 1920s when I lived in Dee-troit and experienced that knock on the door twice. I let the people in on both occasions and was supremely entertained with their stories, all of which were strangely like what you wrote, Jim.

The flip side is The Second Mrs. Pennington returned to that same house a couple o' years ago, knocked on the door and received a surly response from the current owner, although he DID invite her in... reluctantly.

You just never know.

Cricket said...

"... showing him things that weren't there anymore." A brilliant turn of phrase. I've heard it's a New England thing, though I doubt that some, to give directions like, "turn left where the A&P used to be." I'd imagine people of a certain age everywhere start to do that.

I remember this one, but I like it all the same. Myself, I avoid revisiting certain places. I want to remember them as they were. I don't do reunions for similar reasons.

The place you knew, the person you knew, doesn't exist.

Coniie/Mpm said...

Years ago when your grandmother was just a baby of around 90 we wrote to the owners of "our" old house and asked if, for a Mother's Day present, we could suprise her with a visit to the house we lived in for 13 years. They very graciously consented. What changes they had made!!! My father's bedroom was now their livingroom with a fireplace that had never been there. Uncle Ricky's room was completely gone as they had torn down some walls. Where we had had to use a ladder to get into the attic they had now put stairs and the attic was a master suite with a deck built over the Kitchen roof.

They did a wonderful job but it was no longer "our" house.

It was a great visit just the same. One we had wanted to make for quite some time.

silly rabbit said...

I remember this one! Good stuffs.
I love the trolley. We did not have them where I grew up but I got to ride the one in San Francisco a few times a year and that was always a great thrill. Of course it looks very different from this one.
I drove to the house where I grew up awhile back and sat at the curb. A young man came out and asked if he could help me. I explained that I grew up there and he graciously invited me inside.
There was something very sad about the changes they had made to it, though it was well kept up. Some things were gone that my memories were looking for. As I left, it felt like leaving a funeral, very bitter sweet.

Uncle Jim said...

Cool.... SUPRISE! John and I drove down Caddy Road a couple of weeks ago while after we left his doctor. I also recall your telephone number. CY6-9243 :)

Michelle H. said...

A house is a home based on the people around you. I'll always have memories of where I grew up. But since I didn't live that idyllic "Leave it to Beaver" lifestyle, I wont have that longing of wanting to return.

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Your blog is better than mine. You have been doing it longer than me. People like you encourage novices like me to carry on. Heartfelt thanks. (By the way, if you think all my followers is impressive, it's a fluke situation, meaningless.) Good luck and thanks my friend.

Three Hundred Sixty Five said...

I loved your post. I know exactly what you mean, as I took a similar trip to visit the first house my parents owned. It had ONE bathroom (I still don't remember what it was like to get ready for school in the morning, other than eating at least 2 bowls of cereal everyday). It had 3 bedrooms, linoleum floors, a single wall space heater (I do remember cozying up to that on cold winter mornings!). My fav memory of that house was the living room furniture my folks had then. I guess they were going through a western phase, because it was leather, with a western scene stiched on it, with wagon wheel arms (yes, that's what I said). Ugly. But part of my childhood that was good, cause when I was older, bad shit happened. So that house has the best memories for me.
Thanks for reminding me!
Sorry about your Dad.

chris said...

Its funny how everything changes, but some things in government stay the same.

Jeni said...

Although I have from time to time, backtracked through your archives (a stalker in disguise???) and read a lot of your old posts but I don't recall having read this one before. Anyway, I loved it! I know I've mentioned this on many occasions on my own blog and probably have said it in comments to you too, but my house -which was built in 1903 by my maternal grandparents -is the place where I was born almost 67 years ago (pretty soon) and where I grew up, moved away from the area in 1963, moved back to the area in 1972, built a house next door to the old house in 1973 and lived there until 1979, when -after my Mom died -I moved back into the old family homestead and have been back in this old place ever since with no plans of moving until I go for my last ride, ya know! So, if you add up my years in this house, it comes out to about 50 years! It doesn't look the same today, inside or out, as it did 67 years ago and there's a lot missing in the way of other people who used to be part of my life, part of this house too now, but all in all, it's still "home" to me! My Mom's oldest brother moved away from this area in the mid-to-late 20s, to the Pittsburgh region and he built a beautiful 2-story brick home in the early years of Monroeville. But that place was always his "house" whereas this place was what he was referring to anytime he said about being "home!" Funny, isn't it how those early sentiments do stay with us?

Anonymous said...

I hadn't read this one before. Poignant and well-done, Suldog.

I think Jeni, above, is very fortunate. We all move so much these days that we don't grow attached to anything or anywhere...and the human soul needs to feel attachment.

I've only driven past the homes of my childhood. I know if I'd gotten closer on foot, I'd feel the same sort of "spatial displacement". Especially since the beloved huge elm trees that sheltered my entire neighborhood in my childhood...are all gone now. Does anyone remember those magnificent trees? It was a great loss to our planet to lose the elm trees.

Bill Yates said...

I loved this post, Sully. Very heartfelt and as always, exceptionally well-written.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! Thanks for re-posting. My parents still live in my childhood home, but it's as you said - it's like Alice through the Looking Glass when I'm there, seeing it through all the past decades, all at once. I see the neighborhood with two sets of eyes as well, then and now. Now isn't nearly as nice, so I enjoy seeing it through the 'then' glasses.

i beati said...

special memories Still ruunning????

Shammickite said...

I loved reading this post. I really appreciate the way you have a findness for Caddy Road and the neighbourhood of your childhood and even later. I lived in a wonderful place as a child too, a bungalow that my dad built in a hill, with a huge garden and a marvellous view of the sea. We moved from the bungalow when I was about 14, and it's been sold a few times since, But the most recent owner wanted to build a second storey onto it, and has documented his progress on a web page. He took down 99.9% of "my" house, and has rebuilt it so that it is unrecognisable.... no longer any resemblance to "my" house. Perhaps i should blog about it.... whaddya think, Jim?

Clare Dunn said...

Great post! You really made me feel what you were feeling! And caused me to feel what is coming.

I lived in the same neighborhood all of my 18 years (3 different houses) until I got married in 1971. jd and I moved to Texas - his home state and old neighborhood - and spent 9 years there. Then, you guessed it! We moved back to Rhody, back to the same neighborhood, so I never really felt the separation thing you described. Mom and Dad still live in the house I left, and I spend more time there than I do in my own place now.

When they are gone, I know I will miss that old house, and have only the memories that were made there since 1968. But what memories!!!

xoxoxo, cd

Shrinky said...

I've not read this before, so thank you for re-posting it. Jim, you have a natural way of pulling us right on in there, seeing and feeling, experiencing all the emotions and senses that you write of - this is such a brilliant post, thanks for taking us along with you.

I do envy you so, and not just for your talent - to have roots as you do is something beyond measure!

geewits said...

Wow. My parents were married in '55 and divorced in the mid 70's but I can't even begin to imagine living in the same place for 37 years. I never lived anywhere longer than 7 years until 2001 and sometimes it freaks me out that I've been here 10 years.
As for your old house, I'm glad it's still there. One of my old childhood houses is gone. No big loss really, but I would have liked to have seen it again.

Carolina said...

Oh you big old (but not thàt old) softie. Interesting that you sort of returned to your childhood even though you lived there much longer. And perhaps the new owner's cat is called Pit Bull ;-) Lovely story. And very recognizable. It is strange to see your childhood home again after a long time. When I revisited 'my' old street, where I lived the first 15 years of my life, it seemed it had been another life in a parallel universe. Weird.