We were living on the south side of Framingham Massachusetts in an Italian neighborhood, where each day you would see clusters of elderly women talking in their native tongue and using the hands emphatically. I grew up at a time when we we basically “free range” kids, we all knew that when the streetlights came on it was time to go home. Our home was a what they call a ranch house where I shared a bedroom with my younger brother. At 12 years old, my life was simply going to school, playing in the woods or the sandpit behind our home. In the winter, when the snow covered the landscape we would head for one of the hills and there would sled down trying to see who would get closest to the frozen swamp. In the summer with school out, I would use the rope swing tied to a gnarly old branch of the oak tree, seeing just how far I could swing out over the woods below.
I remember every year when the town would tar and then lay crushed stone down on our street, we would get the warm, sticky tar on our shoes which we would then drag into the house. The dark spots on the kitchen a trail that we would leave behind much the consternation of my mom, who had to clean up that mess.
Living in this Italian neighborhood there was always somebody cooking and outside you could catch a whiff of the fragrant smell of a sauce simmering on the stove. Our small band of friends were always going from one home to another and in the summer you could hear the almost constant swinging and closing of screen doors with that familiar squeaking sound with the door banging several times as it closed behind us.
Right behind our house was the old Foresters Club where just about every weekend from spring until fall there would be a wedding reception. Sometimes we would sit and watch as the bride and groom danced that first dance, holding one another in an embrace as tender and loving as one could imagine. We would then laugh as everyone was swept up in doing the so-called “chicken dance” the older relatives dancing away as the consumption of wine and beer removed all inhibitions.
For a 12 year old, it was a simple life with none of the complexities or troubles that come with being an adult. Without the need for constant adult supervision we created our own fun, whether it was playing ball, choosing sides for some football or shooting hoops. Yet, in a close community, where everyone knew everyone, you could be guaranteed that someone was keeping an eye on us as we played.