the good, the bad, and the ugly

my boyhood home ~ day street ~ fall river, mass

How to even begin to talk about home? We lived “down the Globe,” a gritty neighborhood in the south end of town. We were on the first floor and the Lavoie’s were on the second. All my growing up was here. At least the growing up I did before I left home, which I’ll admit, was precious little.

So many, many dramas. It’s a wonder the roof is still on, that the walls withstood the ravages of family life.

The two windows right by that set of stairs on the side of the house? It was through those windows that I saw my parents come home way too early one night. They walked into a cloud of smoke so thick it was like the whole state of Massachusetts was on fire. Black Sabbath was turned up to like 100 decibels. My two friends fled into whatever bedrooms were closest (mine and my sister’s) and shut the door behind them. They cowered for ten minutes, burst out, and ran for their lives.

My father used to wear clickers on his heels, these little steel add-ons that would extend the life of his heels and of course they made this very metallic sound as he walked and so I always knew when he was home. Click, click, click, “here he comes.” For a while I was happy when he got home. Then I wasn’t.

On the garage, centered in between the two sets of doors, I had a basketball hoop. I shot thousands and thousands of jump shots. In winter, I shoveled the snow off the driveway so I could shoot. When it rained, I swept the puddles dry. When it was dark, I hauled out sunlamps and crappy spotlights so I could shoot at night.

On March 31, 2006, my mother died here. We gathered around her and sent her off to that big dark place. In that little window by that set of stairs on the side of the house, was a black rocking chair. Sat there for years. It’s where my mother hung out, to chat, read, drink tea, keep an eye on my father. She is almost certainly in this photo behind the lace curtain watching me photograph her home, watching you right now. Squint your eyes and still yourself, you can see her, tea in hand, smiling out the window, waiting to tell you stories.

smokestack, fall river, mass

color photo of smokestack, fall river ma
plymouth avenue, fall river, mass

“You wonder, don’t you. You look skyward to ask – is geography my destiny? Is the place I am from hardwired in? Am I forever trapped by the patch from whence I came? I do believe that Frank Bascombe pontificated on this very matter and if memory serves, Frank Bascombe said, “Place means nothing.” Of course Frank was from New Jersey, not Fall River, because if Frank was from Fall River, he wouldn’t have said such a thing, because when you are from Fall River everything changes. All bets are off, the table is tilted, the floors are soaked with oil, they’re uneven, the door jambs don’t quite fit the way they’re supposed to, there’s always a draft, the checks are late in the mail most of the time, the sky is tighter and smaller over your head, and you’re asking anyone who will listen, who’s going to shovel the walk? You got shot out of a cannon. And the cannon and everything around it, was what was left of the industrial revolution. Have you ever punched a clock? Worked in a factory with smokestacks overhead? Is that the Meals on Wheels girl? She’s always late. Everyday, she’s late. Is today Wednesday? I think Wednesday is fried chicken day. I like the fried chicken. Place matters, Frank.”