Visiting our kids is pure pleasure. They have comfortable spaces for us. We discover and revisit favorite spots. They are all wonderful cooks. They let us help just the right amount, enough to be fun. We work to follow good guest practices. Good guest practices include not offering unsolicited advice and not dismantling anything. And I try to remember that entertaining your mother or mother in law is tough.
It was certainly tough for me. We had a perfectly lovely apartment, as apartments go, in Jamaica Plain, a section of Boston on an elevated line of the MTA. The apartment was furnished. It had a bed, a dresser, a kitchen table, a decent fridge, and a truly ugly neon green sofa in mid century modern, with spindly legs. Merv took the legs off after one broke. A 3-legged sofa is not a useful piece of furniture. A little bedroom, a big living room, an eat in kitchen, and a functioning bathroom. A really impressive first apartment.
My work was across the park, a lovely walk. But the park had become a place where working girls met their customers, where people drank alone out of bottles in paper bags, and if you fell asleep you got rolled, which, I believe is a description of rolling a person over till you can get at the money in their wallet and pocket. So, I drove.
Merv walked down the hill to the El which he rode on its scenic trip though Jamaica Plain to Dudley Square and then the Cambridge line. Walking to the Green Street stop in the morning was fine, really it was. Walking back up the hill in the dark, after people were drinking and picking fights and entering into unfair business practices (a not mutually agreed upon exchange of money for no apparent services except the ability to walk away) was not. But Merv was fast and young and the unfair business practitioners were not fast and young so he got back safe and as rich as he had started out every time. Or maybe everyone could see he just had a dollar in his pocket.
The house had trees around it, and the remains of what had been a second house on the property. The house had burned down and now just the stone foundation was left. It looked like the perfect garden to me. And there was a clothes line. Trees, apartment, clothes line, eat in kitchen, lovely park…at certain times of the day.
I washed our clothes in the tub and took them out to hang on the line. It was a beautiful spring day. I hung them to dry in the sun and turned to go back in to the house. The downstairs neighbor had locked the back door. I couldn’t get in. I knocked on the back door. No answer. I called up to Merv. He didn’t hear me. I rang the doorbell to the front door. He came down and let me in.
We made a little garden in the ruins. We found an old wood wire holder we made a table out of. We found a couple of old metal folding chairs. We planted geraniums on the walls. I made gazpacho and we ate it in the garden. The geraniums blooms were just about to bloom. We came down the next day. Someone had broken them all off. Maybe a boy, I thought, taking the flowers to his mother. Nope — the geranium blooms were there a couple of feet away, just tossed in a heap.
Mom came to help with the new baby. It was a beautiful June night and the breeze came gently through the window, along with neighborhood sounds. Cars gunning. Husbands and wives screaming at each other. And then the sounds of someone getting beat up, shouts for help. We called the police. Mom looked at us. She looked at her new grandchild. She looked at the set of keys we needed just to go our our door. She looked at the neon green sofa without legs made into a makeshift bed. She set her jaw and did not say a thing.
The call came the next morning that the Cambridge apartment we were waiting for was ready for us. Merv looked at me. 1 week old baby. No sleep exhausted. He looked at Mom. “We are moving today” she said. And we did.
Today we move, leaving one child to visit the next, a boisterous crew of grandchildren and dogs and a park nearby and friendly neighbors and a clothesline for my swimsuit. And I don’t think we gave any unsolicited advice. Except windows…Wait..plantings…floor layouts…