Something strange happened this week. I posted an album of vintage dog photos on Facebook, which I admit is not that unusual on its face. But one of the comments about the photos at first blush stuck me as odd. Strange. Weird. And it changed my perspective on the way I looked at my childhood at 204.
The commenter said, “If this is your own family it looks like you had a fantastic childhood.” My first thought after reading the comment was, ‘if you only knew.’ Then my second thought was, knew what? The truth? The good, bad and ugly? What was she seeing that I had lost sight of over the years of living and traversing the terrain from childhood to old.
I’ve been pondering her comment ever since. Gazing through the window of my life and wondering what the truth was. Over the years, I’ve written many of the stories of my life growing up at 204. I’ve recounted tales about the kindness of Ma, her Italian culinary skills, cookie baking, sewing phenom, artistic late-bloomer and so much more. I’ve ragged on about the Old Man’s drunken nights, his love of sports, his little league coaching, his job as a breadman, his musical spoon talent, love for animals and birds, his depression and sadness, his generous and kind spirit.
I’ve shared some stories about my older brothers and sister but not a whole lot. By the time I realized that they were my siblings and not just spare parents they were on their way out the door at 204 and onto building families of their own. In the early years they were more like background actors than main characters. My relationships with them were forged after I became an adult. And I’m grateful for that.
Since the childhood comment earlier this week, I have gone back and looked at my stories through her lens. Sure, there was a lot of hard, sad, bad, heartbreaking juju. But there was also a lot of “wonderful.” All kinds of wonderful.
I realized she was right. I did have fantastic childhood. It wasn’t perfect. Far from it. Especially by today’s standards. I grew up in a blue-collar working-class neighborhood with fathers who labored hard and drank too much on Friday nights, mothers who stayed home and raised their kids, wartime shacks, tarred (not paved) streets lined with Manitoba Maples (not gold), barking dogs, stray cats (human and animal), street ball and knock-out ginger, hidden forts and little getaways, backyard skating rinks, soggy back alleys with muskeg traps, schoolyard brawls, kitchen-table fights, loud hollers, whispered secrets, gossip and tattletales, and what I didn’t understand then (because no one did) there was a whole lot of racism going on in Nowheresville.
But woven throughout all that noise and mayhem was all this love, kindness, decency, generosity, magnanimity of spirit. Goodness. It was everywhere. In our home, our family, our neighbors, in the schools, the churches, the grocery stores, Agostino’s. It was there in all the small day-to-day human interactions. We didn’t have psychologists or philosophers or deep thinkers. Not even Mr. Rogers or Mr. Dressup. There were no analysts or anyone examining our lives, putting us under a microscope telling us we were fucked-up. Badly. I mean, we knew that on some level, I guess. But then everyone’s life was like that in the neighborhood. It was normal. We were all in the same boat. No pity-parties. Those would come later.
So, I’m grateful to the Facebook commenter who saw what I had lost sight of over the years. I had a fantastic childhood. Not perfect. But fantastic just the same. And I am grateful.