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The Neighborhood of My Puberty

You might know that I’m writing a memoir. It probably won’t be done for a long time yet. I’m not complaining about the time it takes; I just don’t want you to pass out holding your breath ;).

To give you an idea of one of the book’s settings, I’ve written a description.

I’ve lived in a different neighborhood for every stage of my life.  The one I think of as quintessential suburban America was the scene of my puberty, from fifth through ninth grades.  At the head of the street, intersecting the busy main drag, sat the First United Methodist Church with its big parking lot.  Next to the cars, the church had installed one swing set and one seesaw and called it a playground.  Crabapple trees tempted bored children with their small, hard, bitter fruit.

Church at the head of the street

My parents and brother and I lived a lazy walk down the street from the church, in a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath ranch. We had a large front yard with lots of grass to mow with the old egg beater Dad made me use.

Vintage “egg beater” lawn mower

At the boundary of my backyard my parents kept a garden of tomatoes, string beans, and zucchini.  Next door, the old man’s garden soil was darker and richer. His tasselled corn could be eaten crisp off the cob.  Next to our garden was my tether ball court and on the other side of the concrete slab, the playhouse my father built me smiled its crescent moon grin.  Dad’s joke was that crescent moons used to mark outhouses when he was a kid.

Some of the houses on my street were new like mine, but the ones on both sides of us were at least ten years old, and a few were close to twenty.  The houses were in good repair, with aluminum siding and front lawns—some green, others brown and patchy.  Around the corner, the houses were both single family and duplexes.  My grandmother’s duplex was at the end of that street, and I bicycled down there for dried apricots and butterscotch Dumdum lollipops and to babysit the baby boy of the young lawyer who lived on the other side of the duplex.

Along the back of the houses on the other side of my street was a forest of Balsam firs and white pines known as “The Pines.”  Under the trees, the earth was two inches thick with fallen needles.  When we slept out there in our sleeping bags, the boys visited.  Warm nights increased the pungent fragrance of the pine needles, which blended with the spicy scent of the teen boys.

At one end of the pines was the church and at the other end the minister lived in his parsonage with his wife, my piano teacher.  Below my scales and arpeggios, I could hear the boys playing softball outside and the timbre of their voices was a call to me to come play with them.

The little kids rode their Schwinn Stingrays and Huffy bicycles on the street, warm breezes blowing in their faces.  Between five and six-thirty every day, mothers called their children in to dinner.  A dinner gong at my house called me home just in time for the Mercury Vapor lamp to light up the yard.

Behind our house was an open field where we dug out forts in the dirt and weeds, which we covered with scrap lumber from the new houses being built in the next neighborhood.  Down at one end of the field, where there were a few oak trees, somebody had built a simple tree house, and even the protruding rusty nails couldn’t keep us from climbing to it.

Beyond the field was the City Dump which attracted us like maggots to a dead squirrel. A large pharmaceutical company dumped its wastes at the landfill.  The foam from their trucks hardened into large sculptures we climbed all over.  On hot and humid days, the toxic stink cloud hung over the dump and the field, and I held my breath.  The refuse from all the homes and businesses in the city ended up out back of our houses.  The best trash was the stacks and stacks of dirty magazines, molding and solidifying into blocks.

That gives you an idea of where my childhood turned into my adolescence.  When I was fully a teen, we moved to a new house in a new neighborhood, and my world changed.


My best memories are of the summers. But the photos I have are of the winter. In the parking lot of the church above, we ice skated on the frozen pavement. I wonder why so many of my memories are of the short summers?

Our house

My playhouse post can be found here.

My fort post can be found here.

Because my book takes place in a variety of settings (I have moved quite a bit), I probably will end up combining a couple of settings or using one setting over a period that is longer than I actually lived there. It’s a bit like combining two or more characters into one. It will be necessary to keep the book focused on what’s important, rather than forcing the reader to spend too much energy processing all the moves.

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