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. Linden Lane
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Haunts

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The class assignment was to describe a place

Beyond the Green, Irving Street. Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert

Beyond the Green, Irving Street. Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert

I was raised on Irving Street, in Watertown, a small suburb bordering Boston to the west. It was and remains a tight-knit community. The homes of the working- and middle-class inhabitants sit close to one another, putting neighbors constantly in view. The many little side streets connect to larger secondary roads at their ends, joining strings of houses together.

My family lived in an ordinary white house with no trim, with a wraparound front porch and front and back yards. The house had three bedrooms: one for my parents, one for my two brothers and me, and a tiny room for guests. The only full bathroom was upstairs. There was a large attic, for playing hide-and-go-seek. The basement was also large, but I never ventured there alone for fear of the furnace, a rusty cylinder covered in soot that burst into loud humming noises. Other than that, the house seemed to have all we could need or want, inside and out, and my brothers and I made full use of it for fun and trouble.

At the top of the basement stairs, for example, was an electric switch. It was fire-engine red, for the furnace, and it was forbidden fruit. Both of my parents warned consistently about the ills that would befall me if I ever pulled it down. But, just like the huge buttons in Looney Tunes cartoons labeled "Self-Destruct, Do Not Push," the switch had to be flipped—once. The stunt cost me my dinner, and since nothing else interesting immediately happened, I determined it wasn't worth it.

Our yards held a number of attractions. To me, the lawns around our house formed a world unto itself, a separate realm. We had two good climbing trees and a peach tree for peach fights, and scattered through the front yard were several cherry trees. On the side of the house a large bush, outwardly thick with leaves but almost entirely hollow on the inside, served as a base of operations for my brothers and me as we roamed the neighborhood.

Also in our yard was an expansive system of anthills. The scurrying of tiny ants, sometimes meeting up with a spider, was always entertaining. Occasionally, I would be cruel and drown a few of the hapless little insects with the hose or cups of water, watching what were floods to them swoop up and swirl them to doom. Two types of ants, black and red, had anthills on either side of the lawn. Warfare ensued any time they crossed paths. The ants seemed to know this, that wandering too far meant danger. They usually stuck with their own kind around the mother hill, and, circling endlessly, somehow always managed to find food.

When rain pushed us indoors, creative games brought my two older brothers and me together and helped make the house feel warm. My brothers and I slept in bunk beds, and being in one room made us a bit nutty at times. Our favorite game was to put sleeping bags over our heads and pull them down to the floor; with our bodies mummified, we then commenced to pound away at one another. It was hilarious because we would be swinging blind through the sleeping bags until one of us made contact. My oldest brother, Jon, would cheat and take the sleeping bag off. One day, after Jon and I pushed my brother Tim out of the room and heaved him down the stairs, my father outlawed the game. My father's old-school strictness and his habit of putting us to work made getting out of the house to play whenever we could our number one priority.


EXCEPT FOR ONE kid who had "Duck Hunt," no one in our neighborhood had video games, and we brothers and our various friends spent most of our free time together exploring. Near our house was an oval-shaped area of dirt and grass. There was no park there, and no houses. It was just open field with a few bushes, so the neighborhood kids used it for everything. My friends and I dubbed this area the Green.

We lived on the bottom of a hill, and the Green sloped up and basically served as a large rotary. The group had several games that we congregated for, and when I say group I mean the same 10 kids every time, ranging in age from seven to 15. We were connected by our youth, the Green, and the layout of our neighborhood; all of us in our homes could see one another's houses, around the Green. Together we would sometimes stray onto other streets, but feeling neither comfortable nor welcome, we always circled back. Similarly, anybody who showed up at the Green from farther out could not be trusted.

The neighborhood games we gathered for were inventive and often dangerous. In one game, two kids would ride down from the top of the hill on cheap plastic Fisher-Price tricycles, and another kid would go down on a skateboard. The object of the game was for the riders on the tricycles to smash the skateboarder on the way down. More traditional games like baseball, soccer, and run-the-bases were also often in motion. One summer, one of the guys brought out a street hockey stick that he received for Christmas, and a month later everybody had a stick and a game was going all the time.

I had some great friends in the neighborhood but at the core for me were my brothers. They always looked out for me on the group's adventures. And they taught me to ride a bike, at the nearby Perkins School for the Blind.

The school was a block up the street, and we used to hop the fence to go sledding on a great hill in the winter or ride our bikes around the property in warm weather. Perkins was understandably strict about visitors. Anyone who had not checked in was to be kicked out, and of course we had no business being there. So when guards came around during our sledding forays, we had to run, hide our snow tubes in the bushes, and mix in with the Perkins children on the playground so we wouldn't get in trouble.


WHEN I WAS EIGHT, my family moved to the more upscale suburb of Newton. Many years and a driver's license later, I circled back to the house on Irving Street. I did not drive around for long. The neighborhood was intact, and since I never explored far as a child, I did not have a great distance to cover to revisit my old haunts. I imagined scurrying with my brothers, the hours spent trying to find all that life offered within the arms of two streets, and our contentment as we strolled back the short distance to our home. The house was smaller than I recalled.

I'd like to try someday to start my own family near this place. My kids would scurry around, as I did, and find everything they need.

Matthew O'Connor '07


Matthew O'Connor '07 is a student in the College of Arts & Sciences at Boston College. His essay is drawn from Writing Places (Pearson, 2005) and reprinted by permission. The book is a collection of works by professional and student writers, published by instructors in BC’s first-year writing program to serve as a textbook for teaching writing to college students. Eleven BC students are represented in the volume, along with better-known writers such as David Sedaris, Ian Frazier, and Eric Schlosser. The editors are Professor Paula Mathieu and instructors George Grattan, Tim Lindgren, and Staci Schultz.

 


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