Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow days: Matt’s perspective

Snow did not stop our mother from sending us outside with orders to return only for meals, but we didn’t complain.

At least I don’t remember complaining.

We dressed in our limited snow gear, which included socks for mittens, an occasional pair of snow pants and a less-than-occasional pair of boots and made the best of it.

In truth, we had a blast.  

With bottoms and bellies affixed to red, plastic discs, we would sled down a long hill at our grandfather’s house that was perfect for sledding in length and slope but less than ideal because it came to an ended in the street. This required us to break before reaching the bottom (which was difficult), abandon the sled at the last second (which was painful) or shoot across the street, hoping that a car wasn’t coming (which was daring and fun).

My siblings were more than happy to simply sled up and down the hill, but dissatisfied unless we were competing (and I was winning), I would create games in which two or more of us would sled down the hill side by side (and sometimes on a single sled), battling to dislodge each other from our sleds before we reached the street.

No one enjoyed these games, but being the eldest, I forced them to play anyway.

There was one particular winter day when the sheen of ice atop the snow was so thick that we could walk on it without ever breaking through. Though it made walking back up the hill incredibly difficult. the sledding that day was the best that I’ve ever experienced. The speeds that we achieved were astounding. 

The sled battles that day were equally fantastic. The combination of the high speeds and the rock hard surface raised the stakes of the contest considerably.

I spent many winter days slinging to a sled.

We also built some excellent snow caves from the piles of snow on the edge of our driveway, and our snowball fights were long, violent and merciless. Rocks were not permitted, but ice balls were required if you hoped to survive.

When we were cold, we would retreat to the barn, which wasn’t any warmer than the outside air but protected us from the worst of the wind. We would huddle in the hayloft and warm up before leaping from the roof into piles of snow below.

I was seven years old during the Blizzard of ‘78, when our area of Massachusetts received more than 40 inches of snow. We were trapped in our home for days, and when we were finally able to leave the house, it was only through a series of trenches that had been dug through the snow to the car. The walls of the trenches were twice my height. I remember an awful sense of claustrophobia walking through those trenches, only able to see the solid white of the walls and the icy blue sky overhead.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Yellow House on Federal Street: Kelli’s perspective


Sometimes when I can't sleep at night and I turn the TV off, I lay there and mentally walk through my childhood home remembering every detail. Usually I don't get past the bathroom before I fall asleep so I am going to try to get through the whole house now.

When first entering the house, you walked into the kitchen. The kitchen with the ugliest floor tile even made. The floors were white and each tile had a different picture on it. Some were old fashioned cars, symbols resembling the Atari symbol, and women dressed in old fashioned clothes. Possibly from the circa Little House on the Prairie.

We had a wrap-around counter that you could stand behind. We always kept a cutting board on the end because my mother burned it. She forgot to put water in the pressure cooker before making potatoes. There was an opening for the washer and dryer. There was ledge above them where Matt used to hide my favorite crayon, bittersweet. (This is the highlight of an earlier post.) Above the washer dryer were cabinets. They were covered with wallpaper meant to make them look oak. It didn't do a very good job. In one of those cupboards was the ugly green, plastic cookie jar with the gold flower on it. It was there that we kept the generic Oreos which we were seldom allowed to eat.

There was a white shelf on the wall where we kept an electric kettle which was probably the first model ever made and the metal toaster that I would use as a mirror before school.

There was a tiny step and then you were in the dining room. When we were younger, there was a black wood burning stove but that was removed when we were older. Part of the counter wrapped into the dining room. On the bottom of the counter were sliding door cabinets and then a big black heater. We kept hats and mittens in those cabinets, and we hung our wet hats and mittens on that heater. The cabinets were covered again with the ugliest wallpaper ever. It was light blue with pictures on it. I can't seem to recall what the pictures were, however, I do remember it was awful.

We had a tin picture of The Last Supper on the wall. There was also a wall with a wall hutch on it. My mother had four copper balls on it along with a sign that said “Think.” I never really understood the purpose of the sign but I never questioned it. The floor tile was meant to resemble brown bricks. Not as bad as the kitchen floor, but not great either. Past the kitchen table was a closet. We kept cereal, instant oatmeal and Pop Tarts in the closet.

The bathroom was next. I don't remember the original bathroom because my parents had it redone when I was young. The new bathroom had a shower with sliding glass shower doors. There was a large medicine cabinet with three mirrors that all opened. We had three ball lights above the medicine cabinet. The sink was big and brand new.

The next room was the den. The den changed several times. Unfortunately the wallpaper did not. It was patchwork with different colors and designs. We always had a couch in there. There was one point where we had several pieces of furniture in there. Sometimes, when all the kids watched TV together, we played “switch.” You would change seats with the person on your left every time a commercial came on.

We had a bureau in there with five drawers. Each kid got one drawer to keep their things. Matt was on the top and it went in order of age. We had a wooden gray table in there which we called “the gray table.” There was a bookshelf in there with grown up books on it and a small bookshelf on top which held our “Early I Can Read” books. Stone Soup was my favorite. One day Meghan decided to use permanent marker on the three shelves and wrote “Matt, Jeremy, and Kelli” on the three shelves. Matt, Jeremy, and I were accused until Neil went in each kids bureau drawer to find papers to match the handwriting. We were exonerated.

There was one closet in the den where my mother kept the vacuum and all of our board games.

My parent's room was off the den. It was a typical bedroom: bureaus, night stand, a TV, and my parent's waterbed. (I inherited that when I got my first apartment)

There was a second door in my parents room. When you opened it the stairs were right there to go up to our bedrooms then you walked into the living room.

When we were younger, we had a big fake fire place that really worked. It was a fake flame but it was warm. It was a typical living room. Couch and recliner. There were bookshelves behind the recliner. These were the books that we tore the blank pages out of the beginning and end for writing and drawing. We had a big picture window in the living room. During the days of the “sniper,” we were told not to stand in front of the window. This is when someone was shooting in the windows of random houses. My mother had a coo-coo clock on the wall but as the years went on, it stopped coo-cooing. Also hanging on the wall was another wall hutch with my mother's cherished Hummels.

The stairs leading up to our bedroom were covered with an ugly, yellow, plastic cover. It covered the brand new carpets that were installed when the upstairs was renovated. When coming down the stairs at the bottom was a ledge. We would run down the stairs and grab the ledge, let our legs fly up in the air and jump. At the top of the stairs was a hallway. When we got older and got our own phone number, we put the phone in the hallway on a parson's table. The bathroom was in between the two bedrooms. It was a half bath and never was renovated. It was an ugly mint green and usually a mess.

Matt, Jeremy, and Ian's room was on the left. They had the bigger room. Brown paneling and blue carpeting. The only TV with cable was in their room because it was bigger. For years, they all had Star Wars bedspreads. In both of the bedrooms were eves. Not sure if that it what they are really called though. You could take the door off and store things in them. I'm not sure what was in the eves in the boy's room but I know mine held the Halloween costumes. They had a small closet and a wooden, homemade toy box painted blue.

In my room there was white paneling and red carpets. I had a huge walk in closet and my bureau was built into the wall. When I was young I had a regular single bed. When Meghan slept over we took her roll-a-way bed out of the closet. When my parent's got their waterbed, we inherited their double bed and Meghan and I shared that. When I was older, they bought me a daybed with a trundle bed underneath for Meghan. That was my bed until I got my mother's waterbed. I had a cheesy black and white TV with no cable on it and a little white desk.

Last but not least is the basement. The basement, like other rooms in the house, changed over the years. When we were young, it was a playroom for us. We had my parent's old stereo with the eight track player. We had their old eight tracks and knew all of the words to Mrs. Robinson. When Matt got older, it became his room. He was lucky. He could get out of the bulkhead whenever he wanted without anyone knowing. After he moved out I used his trick and slept down there on nights I knew I wanted to sneak out. The other side of the basement was the boilers and sewer. I used to roller skate down there.

I finally made it through the whole mental walk through and I am still awake.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Family Pets: Kelli and Matt’s Perspective

Unlike previous posts, I have decided to add my own thoughts about our pets to Kelli’s post. It seemed easier than reviewing each pet on my own.

In a subsequent post I will add in pets that she has forgotten.

My comments are indented throughout the post.


There is not one time in my childhood that I can remember when we did not have a pet.

The first pet I remember was a newt. I don't remember the name of it or even what it was. I just remember saying “I have a newt.”

I think it was a fish or a lizard. I'm not quite sure. Maybe I should Google it.

Our newt’s name was Newt. A newt is a type of salamander that is occasionally kept as a pet, so my parents were not completely insane in giving us one.

I had completely forgotten about Newt until Kelli mentioned him. Or it. I have no recollection about what happened to Newt, but apparently these little creatures can live for up to 60 years.

I doubt Newt is still alive (though theoretically he could be). We probably killed him by accident.

We had several hamsters. All of them were named Chubby Whiskers. Each of them died some a brutal death. It is a bad name. I have bought my daughters hamsters and I never named one Chubby Whiskers. It is a bad name that can never lead to anything good.

Everything that Kelli said here is true.

The first dog I remember having was Bruin. I don't remember what he looked like or what kind of dog he was, I just remember his name because it matched the Bruins ashtray we kept on the coffee table in the living room. After those two pets, my memory is much better.

Bruin was a small, black and brown dog who was perpetually happy until the day he was killed in the road by a car. My parents sucked when it came to caring for pets. Dog after dog after dog was killed in the road, and yet no effort was made to keep them safe.

I also oddly remember that Bruin’s astray well.

Holly was our main dog. She was a mutt. She had white curly fur and had a couple litters of puppies. One of them we kept, but I'll get to him later. Holly had a tendency to cross the street to our neighbors house who had a Pomeranian. She also had her own fun with the male dogs that lived in our house. She was my mother's favorite.

I don’t remember my mother every crying as much as the day Holly died. Even with her frequent trips across the street to have sex with the Pomeranian, she managed to avoid dying in the road. She was one of the few dogs to die of natural causes.

Measelman was a dog we had for years. He was a mutt also. He was a big dog who was black, brown, and white. There was no leash law back then so we let the dogs out on their own. He was hit by a car by my friend, Chris Stone, who unfortunately has since passed away.

Measelman was named after a family doctor. On the morning that he died, Chris knocked on our door. It was a Saturday. I answered.

“I think I just hit your dog,” he said.

I looked, saw Poco in the house, and told him that it wasn’t our dog. I don’t know what I was thinking.

He came back ten minutes later and said that he was sure it was our dog.

It was. Measelman was still alive when I reached him. I was devastated. It is not an exaggeration to say I remain devastated to this day. I know it wasn’t Chris Stone’s fault for hitting our dog, but I have always hated him since that day.

I had no idea that he passed away.

Molly was a dog we had but not for too long. She looked like Holly but she was black, hence the name. She had long curls though and wasn't the cutest dog out there.

I have no recollection of what happened to Molly.

I also don’t remember her being as ugly as Kelli seems to imply.

Copper, aka Copper Sox was a cute dog. He was an Irish Springer and he was adorable. I'm pretty sure Copper Sox was hit by a car. If memory serves me right, he was hit by my father who I had not seen or heard from in years.

It’s true that Copper was killed by our father, who we had not seen in at least five years. We didn’t see him on the day that Copper died either. We learned about the his participation in Copper’s death from our mother later on.

Rags was not a good dog or a cute one. His name totally described him. He was a sheepdog. His long white and gray hair covered his eyes and he did not like being walked. For some reason, we didn't have a leash so we used a white rope to walk him. He had about 30 pounds on me so when I tried to take him for a nice leisurely walk, I came home with rope burn. As with a few of our dogs, I can't remember what happened to Rags.

We already owned five dogs when my stepfather brought Rags home, which put us over the town limit. Our grandfather (my father’s father), who lived next door and was not a fan of Neil and probably not a fan of the way my parents allowed our dogs to roam free, reported us to the town, and Rags was eventually given away.

I remember the white rope well. We would tie Rags up to a tree stump in the backyard by that rope. Why we didn’t have a leash I’ll never know.

Pirate was a cute dog. He was small and tan and loveable. I was outside with my brothers waiting to go to Sunday school when Pirate came outside and was hit by a car in front of us. As awful as that was, the worse part was that we were forced to go to Sunday school ten minutes after we saw our beloved pet die.

I am responsible for Pirate’s death. He ran across the street and I instinctively called him back into the path of an oncoming car. I have never forgiven myself for that. It breaks my heart again and again every time I think about that morning.

And yeah, I parents sent us to Sunday school anyway.

Pac-Man was a long time pet. He lasted with us for years. He, like many of our dogs, was a mutt. He was a big black dog with tan eyebrows. He also had a tendency to hump me. Being so young, I thought he was trying to give me a hug. I know better now. Pac-Man, like many of our pets, was hit by a car.

Pac-Man’s longevity was a miracle, as he could be found all over Blackstone at any given time. I would see him at the park, miles from our home, while I was playing basketball.

He was named after my mother’s favorite game on our Atari 5200.

Our Uncle Paul and Aunt Nancy hit and killed one of our dogs with their car, and Pac-Man might have been the one.

Dee-Dee was not the best dog. She was actually scary. She was a pure bred Doberman Pincher with cancer. She was very mean. One day I was watching TV and she started growling at me for no reason. I was frozen in fear in the chair until my parents came home. She was put down shortly after that. To this day, I would love to know why my parents agreed to take this dog in.

I had forgotten about Dee Dee. I don’t know how. She was mean as hell.

Poco was the favorite dog, loved by all. My brother's and I watched Poco being born near the couch in our den. He was the son of Holly, my mother's favorite.

Poco was our family dog for 13 years. When my mother and I moved to an apartment in Woonsocket after Neil left and we lost the house, Poco got out and ran away. My friend Bethany and I walked around for hours looking for him. We even went down and walked the train tracks searching. When we finally gave up, my mother came outside. She called his name once and he came running home.

When he was 12, he had a seizure which left him with a limp and a tilted head. When my mother would walk him, children at the bus stop would make fun of them. She asked my boyfriend and me to walk him one morning and put a scare into the kids. They never made fun of him after that day.

When he was 13 he had to be put down. I watched him come into this world and I held him when he left it. It was one of the saddest days of my life. I left the vet’s office with a lock of his fur and his collar and tags.

I remember Poco well. The sweetest dog I have ever known.

We had a few litters of puppies from Holly that we got attached to while they were with us. Lady and Duke were from Poco's litter, and we loved them. Sandra and Meatloaf were from her second litter. My mother named Sandra and was devastated when we let her go. Meatloaf looked like a little Pac-Man. He was named Meatloaf because his breath always smelled like meatloaf.

I remember watching Holly give birth to her babies, but I have no memory of the specifics of each puppy except they were so much fun to play with.

It wasn't just dogs we had. My parents came home one day with guinea pigs. We named them Q-Tip and Squeaky. Q-Tip was an albino Guinea pig. He was all white with red eyes. Squeaky was brown tan and white. We used to take them out on the couch in the den.

One night, someone forgot to put them back and chewed the fingers off of my beloved doll, Baby Feels So Real. Her name was Jodie. She was filled with a gel so it made her feel squishy and heavy. The gel was leaking out and her fingers had to be burned closed to prevent further leaking. A hard day for me.

I remember that the guinea pigs would keep my parents awake at night with their incessant squeaking. Eventually we gave them away for this reason.

I never liked them very much. Too much like rats.

I was walking home from school off the late bus one day and a kitten followed me home. My mother, the self proclaimed cat hater, saw him and insisted I bring him back where I found him. I did and he followed me again with a second cat. She told me not to go back in fear of another following me. She had me keep them in the cellar. I named them Ham and Cheese. A few months later, Ham ran away. Cheese stayed for over a year.

One day he was hit by a car. My mom, the cat hater, was the only one who cried. She was sobbing saying “Cheesy” over and over again.

I'm guessing she wasn't as much of a cat hater as she said.

I had completely forgotten about Ham and Cheese, and though I have a vague recollection of them, I cannot even formulate an image of them in my mind.

Perhaps I was older and spending more time out of the house by then? Though I slept in an unheated basement bedroom, so you’d think I would know about two cats living down there with me.

Maybe they joined the family after I moved out completely?

So many pets, so many deaths. Almost always by a car. You would think my parents would have learned to tie the dogs up.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ian and Meghan: Matt’s perspective

I could probably write a book about Ian and Meghan, the stepsiblings who I grew up with from the age of six until eighteen and then lost when I was twenty.

I probably will someday.

Losing a brother and sister who you spent the majority of your childhood with is one of the greatest tragedies of my life.

Like Kelli, I remember meeting Ian and Meghan on Halloween, and I remember being somewhat confused as to why they were in our home. My mother and father were still married and together, but it was clear to me, even at my young age, that something strange was going on. 

Just a few weeks later, we stepped off the bus and found Ian and Meghan’s father, Neil, in our living room with our mom. Mom told us that she and Dad were getting a divorce. Neil presented himself as a social worker who was there to help us through our parents’ separation.

I knew better. I had seen him around the house too often to believe it.

A few weeks later he was living with us, and Ian and Meghan began staying with us every weekend. 

The integration of Neil into our home as a fulltime stepfather was not easy. In many ways, I never accepted him as my stepfather, which probably explained why I spent more and more time away from the home as I got older. By the time I was sixteen, I was managing a McDonald’s restaurant 45 minutes from our home and working 40-50 hours a week. I moved to an unheated basement bedroom in order to further extract myself from the family and began using the hatchway as my primary entrance and exit from the home. I avoided my parents as much as possible as I got older, because of my distaste for Neil and my understanding of how their relationship came to be.

But the integration of Ian and Meghan into my life was instantaneous and perfect. Almost overnight, they became my brother and sister. I became hard to imagine a time in our lives when they weren’t a part of the family. Ian was a tougher kid than Jeremy and challenged me more often, but it was good for me. Being the eldest, I was always in charge. Ian still deferred to my age most of the time, but if there was a voice of dissent, it came from Ian.

Meghan was the sweetest of the bunch. The most innocent. Kelli was tiny for her age but was tough as nails. If bitten by a dog, Kelli was the kind of kid who would bite back. She relied on her big brother’s protection from time to time, but most often, she took care of herself.

Meghan was four years younger than me, and I suddenly found myself with a tiny little sister in need to watching and protecting. I liked this. She was like the baby sister I never quite had because of the closeness in age between Kelli and me. I would take her on amusement rides for the first time, teach her to ride her bike and keep a wary eye on her when we hiked through the back forests.

Of course, being brothers and sisters, there was the occasional spat. One of the toughest things for me to deal with was the clear favoritism that Neil demonstrated for his children, and especially Ian. When given the choice between doing something with Ian or with me, Ian was always the chosen one.

In 1983 my Little League baseball team reached the championship game. On an adjacent field, Ian was playing a regular season game.  Despite the fact that my team was playing for a championship that we would ultimately win and I would be named an all star for the league, Neil remained on the adjacent field watching Ian play.

It was a moment that I never forgot.

Kelli’s description of the disillusion of our Mom and Neil’s marriage was sanitized to say the least. Perhaps she doesn’t know all the details.

I moved out of the house after graduation, moving in with friends and continuing to manage McDonald’s restaurants. The word “college” was never spoken to me throughout my entire childhood. Not by parents nor teachers, While my friends were spending their Saturdays taking SATs, I wasn’t even sure what an SAT was. 

Instead, I was given bath towels, a microwave oven, and a set of pots and pans for the birthdays and Christmases leading up to graduation. I was sent a clear message, through these gifts and the complete absence of talk about my future, that my time in the family home was coming to an end. I graduated in the top ten percent of my high school class, yet no one spoke about college to me, and I became to afraid and embarrassed to ask. In my mind, college had become something for people not like me.

A year after I left the home, Neil lost his job. I have been told that he lost his job for actions that were unethical and possibly illegal, but I have never been able to confirm these stories. He would eventually convince my disabled mother to accept a lump sum disability payment from the state in order to invest in a multi-level marketing company. Needless to say, the money would be gone a year later, along with Neil and our childhood home. He stopped paying the mortgage and didn’t tell my mother until foreclosure proceedings were eminent. Then he left for a canoe trip to Maine, leaving a note on the kitchen counter that informed my mother that he was leaving her and that the house would be gone in two months.

My mother showed me the note. It was despicable.

Just like that, Ian and Megan were ripped from my life.

With opposing parents, it became impossible to remain together.

My mom would descend into poverty with my sister, and I was suffer from a lifetime of guilt as I found myself equally impoverished and eventually homeless and unable to help her. Eventually I discovered that Neil was living in the same apartment complex as a friend, about two miles from my home. I made it a routine to drive over to his apartment about once a month or so and bash in his windshield with a baseball bat.

I have seen little of Ian and Meghan since our parents’ divorce. I attended Meghan’s wedding years ago and saw many of her family members who I once called Uncle and Aunt, but I avoided Neil entirely. The family had apparently heard that I planned on writing a memoir about my experiences as a child. A couple of the uncles seemed less than enamored about the idea, but one uncles offered to sit down and “dish me all the dirt” when I was ready.

I recently reconnected with Ian through Facebook. He’s married with children now. He only lives a couple hours away from me. Meghan is even closer.

It’s so strange. The boy who was my brother is not a father with children of his own. The girl who was my sister is a mother with children of her own.

All of their accomplishments and joys over the past twenty years, lost to me because of our parents’ divorce. I often wonder what it would have been like to have Ian and Meghan in my life for all these lost years. I try to imagine them at my own wedding, meeting my own children, sharing Christmas Eves and birthdays like we once did as children.  

Losing the brother and sister who I spent the majority of my childhood with remains one of the greatest tragedies of my life.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Ian and Meghan: Kelli’s Perspective

Being the youngest child in a family for the first five years of my life, I have a very good memory of the early days with my younger stepbrother, who was four when we first met, and my younger stepsister, who was three.

It was Halloween night when Matt, Jeremy, and I first met them. We had just come home from trick-or-treating and were in the playroom (later called the “den”) going through our candy. This was the late seventies when it was safe for children to eat candy before their parents checked it. Ian came in first and saw my pile of candy. The first thing he did was come over and stomped on it. Meghan stood in the doorway watching. Matt and Jeremy liked to tease me and aggravate me, however, they did not tolerate it when someone else was doing it. They pushed Ian off my candy and told him to stop. After that, introductions were made, candy was eaten, and Ian and Meghan left with their father.

Over the next few weeks we started seeing them on weekend afternoons. It was always at our house. We would play outside or in our rooms while our parents spent time together.

One night, our mother had to work so Neil (Ian and Meghan's father) picked us up and took us to Woonsocket. He said we were going to Ian and Meghan's house. It was a nice house on a dead end. The thing I remember most about this house was that I could reach the sinks and the counters with ease. I was only five years old and very small for my age, but I didn't need a stool to reach anything. Neil informed us that the house was originally built for “midgets.”

Today “little people” is the PC term.

We went and checked out Ian and Meghan's toys for a while until Neil said we had to leave because Ian and Meghan's mother was on her way home.

Over the next few weeks Ian and Meghan began spending the night at our house. Our parents put a bed in Matt and Jeremy's room for Ian. For Meghan, they got a roll-a-way bed for Meghan which was folded up and put in my closet every Sunday when she left. Soon they spent every weekend at our house. For me, the transition seemed very normal. They became our brother and sister.

Over the years they spent weekends during the school year with us and all summer. We were raised for thirteen years as one big family: two parents and five siblings.

Right before I turned 18 our parents had trouble and decided to divorce. We stopped seeing our step family and even stopped speaking to them. Ian and Meghan never met or even knew about their step niece, who was born seven months after Neil moved out. It is hard to believe that we were such a close blended family for so many years because in a blink of an eye they were all out of our lives for good.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Here Comes the Lunch Truck: Mat’s perspective

The thing I remember most about our days at Cold Spring Park was the diversity of kids on the playground. We grew up in Blackstone, Massachusetts. Throughout my entire educational career, I think there was one black student in our school, and only for a brief period of time.

At least half the kids at the park were minority, giving us our first real experience with kids from other racial backgrounds. I think this was important for us. I don’t think I would’ve grown up with prejudice in my heart regardless of my childhood experiences, but the time we spent with black and Hispanic kids at the park proved invaluable in terms of my acceptance and understanding of them as kids just like me.

That said, my brothers and sisters and I rarely strayed from one another. We were like aliens visiting another world. We knew no one. We didn’t understand the rules of this foreign land. We stuck together and played together for the most part. The idea that our parents would simply drop us off at a park in another town without supervision for the day in order to avoid purchasing us lunch was crazy.

I will also disagree with Kelli on the economic state of our family. In her post, Kelli says that “We were far from underprivileged. We were far from poor.”

I think we were closer to the poverty line than Kelli realizes.

We were free breakfast and lunch kids for our entire lives. As a teacher, I know that this alone indicates a serious level of economic struggle.

Many of the clothes that we owned were hand-me-downs, and most did not fit properly.

We didn’t have much by way of toys, sports equipment and such. I was the worst prepared Boy Scout in our troop, rarely equipped properly for the outdoor conditions. There was a weekend in February when my Scoutmaster had to pile the clothing of other Scouts on top of me to keep me warm overnight because my sleeping back and winter clothing were not suitable for the cold, winter nights.

Band trips, Boy Scout trips and any other event that required money was almost always paid for through some scholarship program funded by other parents. When I spent time in New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island with friends and their families on vacation, I was never sent with a single dollar.

I can count the number of times we ate in a restaurant as children on one hand.

We were recipients of enormous blocks of cheese from the WIC program. Government cheese. The sign of poverty if I ever saw it.

Inexplicably, my parents seemed to have enough money to travel to the Caribbean and the Poconos. They had enough money to go out on Friday and Saturday, leaving their nine year old son in charge of four younger brothers and sisters until 2:00 in the morning.

My parents might not have been poor, but the kids were.

Not destitute, mind you. Not impoverished. But poor.

It should also be noted that we thankfully did not spend every summer at Cold Spring Park. It might’ve been just one. Two at the most.

Kelli was also right about our home. It was an adventureland for kids. In addition to the fields surrounding our home and the pool and the barn, there were huge swaths of forest behind out home that we explored regularly. There were crumbling basements from ancient, burned out homes, cow ponds, swamps, a cave and endless fields of tall grass. We could ride our bikes almost anywhere in town and beyond by the time we were ten-years-old. Our generation might’ve been the last to be sent outdoors at the crack of dawn with the expectation that you would only return for lunch and dinner. The freedom that we enjoyed as children would be unheard of today. I tell my students about the lack of parental supervision and organized play that I enjoyed as a child and they cannot believe it.

Cold Spring Park put a damper on that freedom for a time, but thankfully not for long.

Oh, and the lunches were terrible. Free, yes. But you get what you pay for.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Here Comes the Lunch Truck: Kelli’s perspective

Growing up at our house in Blackstone during summer vacation was great. We didn't have any friends who lived close by, but we had better. There were five siblings in the house. Lots of opportunity for fun.

We had a huge yard and a pool.

We had a barn in the back yard. In the main room of the barn was a couch. We could hang out there, play house (for me and my stepsister) and jump off the roof. Riding bikes off the roof was fun for my brother, but not for me.

If we got bored with that, we could go inside and play Atari or watch television.

If that bored us and we were hungry we could go in our own back yard and pick blackberries or go to my grandfather’s house next door and pick apples, pears, or grapes. We even had rhubarb.

With all those activities at home, my parents thought it would be a good idea to send my siblings and me to Cold Spring Park in Woonsocket, RI for the day. This was odd for a few reasons.

First, we had a lot to do at home.

Second, we did not live in Woonsocket, nor did we live in Rhode Island.

Mom would drop us all off in the morning and leave us there all day. There was an arts and crafts station where we would make necklaces and paint rocks.

There was no swimming, which we could have done at home, and fruit picking was also not an option. People pay to go fruit picking and we could have done it at home for free.

Instead we spent our summer at Cold Spring Park.

We were bored. Very bored. We waited for the lunch truck to come because we knew when we saw it, two good things would happen.

First, we could eat. For free.

Second, we were half way through the day before we could go home.

We watched for the truck. When we saw it we all yelled, “Here comes the lunch truck!” We got a menial lunch: bologna sandwich, an apple and a carton of white milk.

Once they left we just watched for our parents to come and finally get us.

Looking back now, as an adult, I know that the park lunch program was for under privileged families.

We were far from underprivileged. We were far from poor. I can't help but wonder: Why were we there?

PS: I entered the Little Miss Cold Spring Park pageant and was the first runner up. I didn't make the paper like the winner did, but I was still the coolest girl on the planet, so I thought.