Smoke, Piss, and the End of Childhood
By Jamie Bologna
When you drive up my parents’ driveway, my childhood home is on the right and to the left is a small hill, shady from the tall pine, maple, and oak trees that cover it. At the top of that hill is a brick fireplace — my father told me when I was younger that it was built for outdoor events put on by the old church down the road.
My first memory of this patch of land in Methuen, Massachusetts, is on my 5th birthday—July 1st is my day, but we always celebrate it together with the 4th.
The memory isn’t entirely clear, but what I do remember is this: running down the steep slope of the hill, toward the banging sounds of our fireworks display. My mom told me the fireworks were for me.
There used to be 8 or 10 wooden picnic tables around the fireplace, and that’s where we had our big, Italian family gatherings. Sometimes my aunt and uncle’s band would play. Sometimes we’d grill sausages or vegetables. And by the time we had to retreat inside at dusk, my sister and I would get a once over for deer ticks.
Later, this place became a stopping point in my childhood quest to conquer the forests of our backyard. It’s where my best friend Brett and I would take a pee break, standing side by side behind the bricks and letting our yellow streams splash where they might.
I first met Brett in 3rd grade, and from the first time I saw him I knew he was way cooler than I was — he wore sunglasses back then, in 3rd grade, and had a Game Boy. He smelled like the kind of cream you put on your skin when you’re suffering from poison ivy, a smell that stings your nose. I kind of liked it.
The last time Brett and I went on our missions through the woods was probably 16 years ago. We were both getting ready to go to off to high school — he, his local high school, and me, boarding school.
That summer we’d gotten into model rockets and Brett had always been a bit of a tinkerer. He’d gotten in a bit of trouble one summer for mixing pool chemicals and orange juice to explosive results. Together, we’d always find a way to break or destroy something. And the fireplace was a great place to strike a match, light some branches and old pieces of plywood on fire, and talk about the girls we knew. What I really wanted to know was what had done to get kicked out of middle school.
That was the last time I went up there. My parents stopped using it years ago — they now have a more comfortable patio closer to the house with easy gas grilling and even easier bathroom access.
Today the brick fireplace stands almost as it was. The ivy and saplings have grown over and around it, and the harsh New England winters have frozen and thawed the mortar between the bricks almost to the point of crumbling.
It stands as a monument to a time past, when there seemed to be unlimited free time, lots of smoke and ash, and invented stories and games.
Sometimes I miss those days.