When Home is No Longer Home

Google Map View of Home

Two weeks ago, my mother sold her house. She had lived there over forty years. It was the house I grew up in, and for the entirety of my life, no matter where I physically lived, it was the place I called home.

From the time we become adults we cling to our youth. Countless literary classics follow the theme of lost innocence or a yearning to return to childhood. There are various stages of adulthood, voting, drinking, marriage, becoming a parent, and eventually your own parents moving out of your childhood home.

My earliest memories of home begin when my parents were still married. They got divorced when I was in the first grade, so memories of them together are few and far between. Some of those memories include building snow forts in the front yard in the winter, and setting up electric train sets around the Christmas tree. As a young child, I looked up to those trees the same way adults look at the giant redwoods in California.

32 Third Avenue is the place where I learned to read. I have memories of picking up Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, and being the happiest kid in the world when I read it by myself. Reading a book without the help of an adult is one of the great accomplishments of childhood.

By my current standards, the house was small. Three bedrooms, 1 ½ baths, and a finished basement. The basement was a source of frustration early in life, as it would flood with every rainstorm. Bailing out the water would be an early source of income for me. Once the plumbing was fixed, the basement became more of a second bedroom for me as I got older. It had the space and the quiet I needed. The house did not have central air conditioning, so in the summer it was cooler to hang out downstairs.

We had a front yard with a couple trees, and a fenced backyard with a plum tree. When the plums started to fall, it meant never walking in the yard barefoot. Mowing that yard was always fun. The yard was fenced, as is almost every yard in the neighborhood, to include adjoining houses. Fences backed up against other fences is common, and I suppose makes for good neighbors.

Typically, our earliest friendships develop based on who the other kids in the neighborhood are. My brother’s earliest friend Kenny lived on the block behind us, and my earliest friend Danny, lived right up the street. From what I remember, Danny and I hit it off because we had the same first name. Making friends as an adult is a lot harder. Danny’s house was just up the street, which meant that I would stop by every day on the way to school. One of us would always bring a football for the games that I will describe next.

Our house was in the perfect location. Sitting a mere three blocks from my elementary school, the short distance allowed me to walk to and from school with my older brother. My mother often left for work early in the morning, so my brother and I would leave for school following the morning episode of Gumby, which was on right after The Brady Bunch. Television was just as reliable as a clock. I timed the walk to school to arrive about half an hour early, so that I could participate in the epic touch football games we played before class. Anyone could participate, from the best athletes to the largest brains. Our morning football games helped to seal friendships that last until this day.

In the summertime, when not attending baseball, football, or hockey camp, or even Camp Kenwal, I was able to walk or ride my bike to summer recreation. Summer rec took place at the elementary school three blocks away. Location, location, location!

Not only was the location perfect for walking to school, it was a short distance to get back to the school for soccer or baseball games. Moreover, it was a short bicycle ride to Allen Park, allowing me to get to football practice on my own. Both Allen Park and our High School had tennis courts that nearly always had an open court. The ideal location enabled the athlete inside me to flourish in early childhood.

Where I live today, anytime my children have a practice to attend, either my wife or I must drive them. I now understand how physical distance to a park or a school can limit activities kids can participate in.

My home in Farmingdale is where I had my first job. This was in the day of newspaper delivery boys roaming the neighborhood after school. I delivered newspapers on 4th and 5th avenue after school. This was a time when adults read the paper after work. A few years later the paper routes were consolidated, and papers began showing up on the doorstep in the morning. Now there is the internet, and we don’t have time to wait for a morning paper to read about what happened yesterday. We read about what is happening now.

The house was on a dead end street. I never referred to it as a cul de sac, in fact that was never part of our language. Living on a dead end meant my brother and I could play ball out in the street without fear of being run over by a speeding car. Friends could come over, and we could play out front until the street lights came on.

Friends would come over often, by mine and my brothers. The house would host a legendary sleepover party in the 5th grade. I was born in January, and thus the weather outside for this party was cold with a fair amount of snow on the ground. In the morning we walked as a group to the lake by the high school, and for reasons known but to god, decided it would be a good idea to walk across the ice. We all fell through the flimsy layer of ice, but were fortunate that the water was only waist deep. We walked back to the house, half frozen, and were welcomed by the best pancakes I ever had. In April of last year I had dinner in Newport Rhode Island with Rob, one of my friends at the party, he still remembered the pancakes.

I only took a bus for two years in junior high. The bus stop was only a block away, and served as a meeting point where we would copy each other’s homework, or if nobody bothered to do the work, we would rush though the assignment, continuing to work all the way until the bus pulled in at the school. It was not until college until I truly understood the concept of “if you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute.”

The high school was about eight blocks away, which again made for an easy walk in the morning. My brother was three years ahead of me, and was kind enough to give me a ride when the weather was bad. High school at my home was an experience ll in its own.

Entrance Ticket to a High School Party

Our house was witness to some major parties my senior year of high school. To this day I am thankful that I am part of a generation that did not grow up with smart phones or digital cameras. My house was not the only house to host parties that year, and to this day I have no idea how we did what we did. Some of the parties over the course of the year saw in excess of one hundred high schoolers, with the occasional 19 or 20-year-old showing up. We owe a lot to Greg and Shaun who worked at the local beverage shop and were able to supply an ample amount of kegs.

Our high school class was tight for a class of 400. Most of the parties saw an eclectic group of friends, all of whom were welcome. When the party was at my home, I played a good host, and often praying things would not get too out of hand. I would enjoy my own Cherry Wheat beers and vanilla plastic tipped cigars in the back yard, and then justify to myself why I was to chickenshit to approach any of the girls I had a crush on. To be fair, approaching and talking to a girl when you’re an awkward B type personality takes courage. Later in life, I would jump out of airplanes, serve a couple combat tours in Baghdad, but still have a tough time introducing myself to an attractive woman.

High school also saw the house covered in toilet paper. This was an old tradition of which I have no idea how it started. The cheerleaders would go around house to house of the seniors on the football team, throw toilet paper rolls over the trees, and in the yard, along with signs wishing us luck for the game. We won the game, beating Massapequa 20–0, and I spend the rest of the afternoon cleaning up the toilet paper, before heading to the homecoming dance.

My home is not only a source of my earliest friends, but where I learned about neighbors. For just about my entire life, our neighbors to the left, to the right, and across the street were the same. Nancy and Carmine to our right, and Tony and Cathy to our left. I watched them move into the houses when I was young, and then have their first kids, then their second, and then their third. With the kids came the second floors to their homes. The thing about Farmingdale is, that people don’t move into bigger houses, they simply build a second floor. It is all about location.

Across the street were the Lembo’s, Larry and Joanne. Larry was a Division I basketball referee, who had officiated some final four games in his career. To this day I still brag to my friends about having lived across the street from the final 4 referee whose picture once took up the entire back cover of Newsday.

It was the Lembo’s who erected the basketball hoop, probably when I was in second or third grade. My brother and I spent countless hours shooting horse or playing one on one. Neither of us was any good, I’m still one of the last people picked in recreation leagues despite my height.

Overall, we had the perfect relationship with our neighbors. Friendly, but not best of friends. People who you can count on to help you out in an emergency, loan you a tool to fix your football helmet, or show up to your grandmother’s funeral. I watched the neighbors kids grow up, and they are all living successful lives. Living the army lifestyle where I move every three years or so makes me appreciate our neighbors in Farmingdale even more.

After graduating college and commissioning in the army, I looked to my home in Farmingdale as a base. Taking leave between assignments, or even coming home on mid-tour leave from Iraq, sitting in the house and watching TV, I felt as if all the responsibilities of being a company commander in the 101st Airborne Division were lifted from my shoulders. I could sleep in, ignore the cell phone, and drink a beer a two in the afternoon. I stopped going to Farmingdale on leave about the time I met my wife, as I started flying home to see her.

The first time I took my wife to New York, to see the house I grew up in, was to attend a friend’s wedding. This trip made me appreciate even more the fact that I grew up where I did. The City and The Island are food Meccas. Moreover, living a short train ride away from the City meant never appreciating how close I was to the greatest city on earth. I am going to miss not having a home there.

Jill and I outside the house in Farmingdale

As I grew older, our home got smaller. By the time I had moved out as an adult, I would visit my mother and stay in the house. When I did, I would sleep on a fold-out bed in the basement, as the room I grew up in was just too small. I find it hard to fathom how a 6 foot 3 inch teenager could live in that room, but somehow I managed.

The last time I visited the house was on the weekend of my 20-year high school reunion. My kids were old enough to play in the yard and have discussions with the neighbors. Sabrina climbed the tree in the front while drawing in her notebook. Later in the evening Brendan and Sabrina roasted marshmallows in the back yard. I hope they will have a small memory of that weekend.

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