12 min readBy Published On: December 7th, 2012Categories: Features5 Comments

Written by Kevin Donahue

Southie was my home for twenty-nine years. My family owned a home on the corner of H and 7th. I’m thirty-seven now, and have found myself lately reminiscing about my childhood home. I drive into Southie every Saturday to work at Woody’s L street Tavern but I never really look around the old neighborhood. Not out of spite, I just became accustomed to Southie I guess. I haven’t lived in Southie for six years, but recently the neighborhood has done a complete turnaround. Whether it’s for the good or for the bad, who am I to judge?

Today was different for me though. You see, my parents’ house, the one I lived in up until I was nineteen years old, had been on the market for a little while. My parents had packed up and moved to Florida a year ago. They retired and just didn’t want to deal with the winter weather in New England anymore. I figured the house would never move; I was wrong. I drove by the house and saw a pickup truck in the garage. Right then and there, I knew the house was no longer ours. My heart sank into my chest; the house had been my family’s only home. A lot of blood, sweat and tears got put into that house by my parents and their three boys; whose father was very dedicated to raising his children the best way he knew how; through hard work. Everything I know today about carpentry, plumbing, electricity, masonry, I learned from my father. There weren’t too many ten year olds in the neighborhood carrying sheetrock on Saturday mornings I know that.

When I was a kid I hated working on the house; especially Saturday afternoons. My brothers felt the same way, what kid wouldn’t? While everyone else was outside playing, we were learning the patient task of plastering by the most impatient guy on the planet. But many years later, now being a home owner, I have not a single regret. It has paid off ten fold being handy.

I went home and told my wife about the house, trying to hide my sadness. For the rest of the day and night my mind was filled with memories. Every time I thought about that house, a new memory of my childhood would pop into my head. I went to bed that night with a heavy heart, replaying my childhood. I hadn’t stepped foot in the house in over five years. I knew I had to see inside the house one last time before the gutting began. Let’s face it, something sells in Southie, it’s being gutted out. I wanted to feel at home one last time.

The next morning I drove up I street heading towards 7th street, and the memories began. It was a strange feeling heading towards the house; as if I was a kid again hurrying home not to be late for dinner. I had butterflies in my stomach. I passed by where I & 8th pizza stood and remembered standing on the corner in the freezing cold, volunteering to put the pizza boxes together just to stay warm and maybe get a free slice or french fries. There was I&8th Grocery, and the large containers of pickles on the counter that never seemed to get eaten. My brothers and I used to get the Sunday paper in there every week. Bay View Video across the street was the only movie store I knew of where it was okay to stare at the dirty movie boxes; as long as you didn’t get caught. The Ollie, I honestly don’t even know where to begin; so much time was spent there.

These were spots that I spent my childhood and early teen years, and now all of them were gone. My grammar school, Gate of Heaven, closed not long ago; condos. My high school, Don Bosco, wasn’t in Southie but educated a lot of Southie kids and most of my friends, was now a hotel. The only thing left on my block that I thought solidified my existence in Southie, was my old house.

The front stairs were sort of the hangout for us when we were very little. We played out front on hot summer nights. My parents and the neighbors would sit in the dark having their boring adult talks while we played Johnny Spotlight, Manhunt or Relieve-e-o. One of the best memories I have in front of that house was when I was maybe eight years old; it was summertime. I was playing with my brothers and a few friends, it was hot and sunny but huge dark clouds hung overhead. All of a sudden it started pouring rain out on our side of the street. Across the street, it was sunny and not a spot of rain fell. It lasted for almost five minutes, the rain never making it to the sunny side. It was one of those bizarre childhood moments that I think of often.

When I was eleven or twelve years old, a few houses up from mine, I watched two girls, a little older than me, have a fist fight. They kicked each other and screamed words I didn’t even know existed in vocabulary. Kind of like Ralphie’s fight scene from A Christmas Story. After the scuffle, I developed the biggest crush on one of those girls that remained and still exists to this day. Twenty-six years after watching that fight, I call that school boy crush of mine my wife. The funny thing is the other girl from the fight is now my sister-in-law. These stories bounced around in my head as I pulled up to the front of the house. The same truck from the day before was in the garage; but with an occupant this time.

The houselooked completely the same. The same vinyl siding I put up with my brothers almost ten years ago covered the house. The same woodwork I put up in the doorway as a surprise gift still looked fresh. I introduced myself to the gentleman and explained to him who I was, he asked me if I’d like to go inside. I was excited, nervous and sad at the same time. I was excited that I would get to see inside my old home one last time. But nervous because I felt like an intruder in the house that protected and kept me and my family safe for so many years was now owned by a stranger; and sad because this was going to be my last time in my family’s home.

When the door swung open, my heart literally sank below my ankles and my breath fell short; everything was gone. The hallway closet door where we played Nerf basketball was gone. The other hallway closet where we stored our Halloween costumes was gone. The pantry my dad made, where my mom stored her pots and pans was gone. The eight by eight dining area, which was also the boxing ring, was gone. The smell of gutted out walls still lingered faintly in the air. Nothing was registering in my head to bring back memories. The gentleman, who turned out to be the plumber not the owner, walked with me, we talked casually as I stared around in sadness. I think he knew I was a little crushed. He pointed me to a door that I knew very well. It was the only door left on the whole first floor. I knew the doorknob; it was the same one from when I was a kid. I grabbed the knob, it still rattled loosely in my hand. The sound was all too familiar. I opened it and inside was the bathroom, untouched. I had painstakingly helped my father remodel that very small bathroom my senior year in high school.

We went to the second floor and the only thing left was a banister post my dad had made when I was in grammar school. The third floor was gutted as well but between the third floor and the second floor was the handrail and spindles that we used to slide down when we were little. It was still sturdy and in fairly good shape. Memories came back of peeking down through the spindles on Christmas Eve, hoping for a peek at Santa. My sister, eight years younger than me, got her leg stuck in between those spindles when she was a baby. I remember trying to break the spindles to free her.

I walked around inside for a long time, telling the plumber stories of my childhood inside that house. The plumber seemed entertained as I rambled on. This man had no idea who I was but he listened to everything I was telling him. I couldn’t stop telling him stories; I didn’t want to leave and I wasn’t ready. As I told the stories though, my mind was elsewhere. I was reliving fun memories in my head. Some bad memories snuck in but that’s expected. Nobody has had a perfect childhood. You take the good with the bad and make the best out of what cards you’ve been dealt. The whole time inside though seemed very morbid for me. I will always have the memories, but none of the rooms were there anymore. The furniture was gone and the house was quiet. Four kids and two adults makes for a little bit of a noisy house. The plumber was telling me the new layout of the house and every new room description crushed me. Even after I moved out, I knew the house would be there as a safe haven for me. No matter what the circumstance, I knew it would be there for me if need be.

As we walked back through the house, walking down the basement, I couldn’t help but feel sad and emotional. We walked by the light that hung in our dining room for years, now buried in a box on a shelf. Memories were literally crashing together in my head. I never turned around for a last peek before we exited through the basement door. The smell alone of my house being torn apart seemed to crush all the happy memories that entered my thoughts. There was no need to look back, what I desired before entering the house was long gone. It was somebody else’s’ house now.

We walked outside into the very small backyard, where we used to swim in our little 2 foot deep pool, while my father tended to the world’s smallest vegetable garden. Chicken wire remnants still scattered around the dead plants. Behind the open door was my mother’s cobblestone rose bush planter. My father had made it for her in the early 80’s for Mother’s Day. It had seen better days and was missing a lot of stones. Pieces of mortar were all over the ground, surrounding the crumbling planter. It was a crushing feeling for me. I felt at that moment that my family’s existence in that neighborhood was gone. My throat swelled up and it hurt to swallow. A house that was so very good to me and my family was gone and in a way, I felt my memories had gone with it. I’m not really sure why I felt that way, maybe because I thought the house would always be there. For whatever reason, it was sad, I regretted the visit. My heart was broken as I kicked at the crumbled mortar joints. I looked at the crumbling planter and remembered that after the last stone was placed, my father had carved his three son’s names into the mortar joints. (My sister wasn’t born yet.) For some reason I had forgotten all about that until I seen the planter. As hard as my father was growing up, he loved us. My parents raised us as best as they could and tried giving us everything we wanted but gave us everything we needed. My parents were responsible for the memories in that house, not the house itself. I loved that house, but without a doubt, I love my family more. We may not always see eye to eye, but I know, if needed, they would be there for me.

I gave the planter a soft pat, said a soft goodbye and thank you and began to walk away. But something caught my eye, three rows up on the corner of the planter, was a big chunk of moss. After picking the moss off and brushing away dried up dirt, “KEV” stood out like a sore thumb. Looking as good as it did the day my dad carved it. I traced the outline of my name with my index finger. I remember the flat head screw driver he used to do it; watching it sink in to thewet mortar and him spelling out my name, smiling at me as he did it. The plumber seemed to even enjoy the moment, saying to me as coolly as possible, “that is pretty (insert the F word here) cool.” I could only nod in agreement. Every sad feeling that had built up throughout the tour had quickly washed away. It was like the house was saying goodbye to me and it was the one thing I needed. The plumber asked me if I wanted to remove it and take it with me but I couldn’t do it. It was comforting to think that maybe, it would fade away in time just like my brother’s names had or better yet thinking that maybe, just maybe, it would outlast the new owners. I traced my name one last time; I closed my eyes for a moment, said thank you again, and left the property through the backyard. I had found peace at that moment with leaving the house forever and turning it over to another family.

Even though the scenery in Southie or anywhere for that matter changes, neighbors come and go, buildings rise and fall, but through it all, home is not just the structure your family lives in. It is also the values that are presented and shared, the love that is shown with one another and the memories that are built whether good or bad. A strong family is the cornerstone of a solid home.

Image: Painting by Paula Villanova

5 Comments

  1. Kevin Conroy December 8, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Well written, Kevin.  

  2. MaryAnne December 8, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Kevin–a touching story.  I wonder sometimes about the life cycles of our houses–who came before us and who came after us.  I am in my house for 35 years, and plan to die here (hopefully, not next week).  I have similar stories of a great dad and some awesome brothers, a wonderful husband, a generous uncle, two generous aunts, and a dear friend, Jack, who helped us to make a near-board up that we bought with no bathroom or heat and a leaky roof into our home…As nearly everything in Southie continues to change at breakneck speed, I think how my dad and my husband and dear Jack–all gone way too young and way too soon–would not recognize the place we knew as Southie then, and I struggle to remember how it was, and I long for those simpler times.  I always wonder how those who’ve moved on feel when they come back to visit.  Thanks for sharing a glimpse!

  3. sharon gleeson December 9, 2012 at 4:02 am
    Absolutely beautifully written Kevin!
  4. Erin Kelly December 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm
    Well said. Your story brought tears to my eyes. People should know our stories and how we are forever bonded to our original homes. Thanks for sharing.
  5. Loser March 9, 2013 at 3:31 am
    Funny considering you don’t talk to yours nice article!

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