notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Lessons From The Straight And Narrow

I stopped today on a busy street to let some poor schmuck get out of his driveway. A whole bunch of memories drove off with him.

When I was a little kid, I lived in a three-family house. My Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Bo and their three kids lived on the first floor. We – Mom and Dad and four kids – were on the second floor. And Grandma (my father and Aunt Evelyn’s mother) lived in the small attic apartment.

Our house was painted yellow and green – first floor yellow and top floors green. Two-color multifamily homes were very common in central Connecticut. And I loved the paint scheme. I remember feeling sorry for my friend who lived in a brown house.

I can’t seem to find any pictures of that old house. It still stands today, but I would not take a photo today – it is so transformed – and not in a good way.

But here is a photo of a house amazingly similar to the one we lived in. In the original photo, the house is brown and yellow.  I’ve photoshopped (amateurly, I will admit)  in my beloved green.

three family house re

As an aside – the house that had the telephone ghost was originally beige. When we repainted a few years after moving in, we chose yellow. The color turned out a bit brighter than it looked on the little card. Our neighbors said they needed sunglasses to drive by.

And our house now – is BROWN!  Cedar shingles, actually, but how is that for the evolution of taste?

But back to our yellow-and-green house.

I loved everything about that house. The heavy varnish on the floors. The big flowered wallpaper. The pantry off the kitchen. The clotheslines from the back porch to corner of the yard. But there was something about that house that drove the adults crazy.

The driveway.

On the right side of the house there was a very narrow driveway. The photo I posted of my first communion gives you a glimpse.

first communion

Because this picture was taken on a Sunday, there’s something missing.

Across the street from our yellow-and-green house was this:

mom and evelyn

That’s our front yard, with my Mom on the left and Aunt Evelyn on the right. And behind them is New Departure, the biggest factory in Bristol, Connecticut. Across the street. And I know that this photo was also taken on a Sunday because the same thing is missing as is missing from the driveway photo.

Traffic.

When you live across the street from a big, busy factory, there is a LOT of traffic.

Hence the adult aggravation.

Because for most of the time we lived there, there were three cars:  My Uncle Bo’s – which was usually a huge station wagon. (See it behind us – looming hearse-like behind the communion picture?) And my Dad’s – something long with fins. And my Mom’s – anything inexpensive to get her back and forth to work.

So with a narrow driveway on a busy street, parking took mucho coordination.

Because at the end of the day, when everyone got home, the driveway looked like this:

drivewaypm.jpg

Uncle Bo worked an early shift and got home first. Then my Mom came home. Then Dad.

But in the morning, Uncle Bo needed to go to work first. My cousin Susan says that he couldn’t bear the thought of ever being late, so he liked to be at work a little early – like ninety minutes or so. Then my dad left for work.  Then my Mom followed shortly after.

So the cars needed to be like this for the morning:

drivewayam.jpg

So every single weeknight the cars had to be rearranged. And you couldn’t even attempt it during the shift change at the factory. No one in our house EVER left the driveway during shift change. But after dinner, you could manage to pull out if you were quick and had nerves of steel.

And it took some planning.

Dad would pull out. If he was lucky enough to get a big break in the traffic, he would pull out into the opposite lane. But usually he pulled out into the near right hand lane and drove around the block. Then Mom backed out her car – also into the right hand lane. If traffic was light and she could wait at the curb, she would. But that hardly ever happened, so she also drove around the block. Then Uncle Bo backed out his big wagon and drove around several blocks – to ensure he got back last.  Dad would wait on the side street for Mom to get back so she could pull in first. Then he’d park behind her. And then Uncle Bo would get back from his excursion and be the last one in.

Ta- DA!

Every night. Rain. Snow. Whatever. They would perform the ‘Musical Chairs With Cars’ routine.

And I learned a couple of useful Life Lessons from witnessing this never-ending production.

1.  Get ready for work the night before. It makes the morning so much easier.

2.  Cooperation is important to get stuff done. And it doesn’t hurt to have an agreed-upon plan.

3.  Every day of your adult life, there’s annoying shit you have to do. So what? Just do it.

30 Comments

  1. You should make bumper stickers and posters of those useful lessons!
    We used to have to do the same thing – wasn’t too big of a problem, even with the school at the end of the block – until the giant freeway went in and the entrance ramp was on the other end of the block.
    (I love the house painted 2 colors – not common here…growing up once we did have a bathroom painted so “bright” a peachy-pink that the next day it was repainted. Mother refused to pick out colors after that)

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    • Lots of our neighbors were playing car-swap too. Just an aggravation that everyone did – no one thought it was a big deal.

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  2. This made me laugh because this is my life NOW. We live on a busy street. My daughter, S-I-L and I all have a vehicle. Sometimes they have company (okay, a lot) and I get boxed in. Sheesh. I hate knocking on the front door to tell someone to m.o.v.e. for little old me. Now. Please.

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    • My sister’s house is like that. A terrific two-family full of lots of love. Good thing too – because I can’t get out of the driveway to save my life. My niece usually maneuvers my car out for me.

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      • Sometimes, it take T-w-o (are you singing the song to yourself yet…it takes t-w-o baby…

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  3. Yes to #3. A big, loud yes.

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    • Yup. dishes, vacuuming, laundry, etc. I especially dislike the gas station. So what? Welcome to adulthood.

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  4. How lucky we were to grow up the way we did! The number of things we learned from each other – Aunts & Uncles and especially from Gram will stay with us forever. Even the problem with the cars taught us something. I never understood how my friends that only lived with a Mother, Father and siblings got along. How could you possibly grow up without having a house full of 2 families to love you!

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  5. love this post! thanks so much!

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  6. I loved this post. It reminded me of the yelling that went on on our street of row homes in NE Philadelphia. If a visitor to the neighborhood had the audacity to park on the street in front of someone’s house (as if there was another option), the homeowner would come out yelling. “Move your car. That’s my space!” even if he/she had an empty driveway. Then the person parking would yell back, “You don’t own the street. It’s public property.” The script never changed.

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    • How cool! I would have loved to have been there! We mostly had people yelling out the factory windows at the passing women – of which my mother was one. And she was a cutie!

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      • I’ll bet she walked by there a lot! I would have.

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        • Yes she did! With three babies under four, she loved the whistles and cat calls!

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          • I once worked with a woman who came back from lunch and said that a construction worker across the street yelled at her. Somebody congratulated her and asked, “What did he yell?’ She responded, “Your dress is ugly.” If you can’t count on construction workers to lift your spirits, then what can you count on?

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          • Ha!

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  7. #3 is a truism.

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    • No shit. OF COURSE, housework is boring. Do it anyway.

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  8. A wonderful story! Somehow it reminds me of my husband’s fond memories of multi-family home levels and how all the kids came out to watch Mr. Pape start his car on Sunday mornings. I don’t think Mr. Pape went anywhere. He just started up the motor of the only car on the block. I love your words to live by too….

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    • Ha! That I’m sure was the highlight of the week. We used to like gathering around the lighting of the burn barrel.

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  9. I love the history in this post 🙂

    #3 resonates loud and clear – just do it!
    MJ

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    • Yes. Being a grownup means doing the dishes, making the bed, checking the oil in the car, and paying the bills on time. Just do it already.

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  10. Your last lesson is the best of all! Just do it is so right.

    The history of your house is awesome! I love the pictures also.

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    • I had a very happy childhood in that house with all my relatives. And the ones who didn’t actually live there came by all the time too.

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      • I remember summer nights when we played in the yard, Gram and your Mom and Dad would come down to sit on the porch with Mom & Daddy. Soon, a car would pull up across the street, and Phyllis and Bill would get out, then, Aunt Lil and Aunt Lora would show up. I remember one night, there wasn’t enough room on the porch, and they formed the family circle on the lawn. Really screwed up whatever game we were playing,,,,

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        • I certainly remember sitting on your front porch more than on ours. My parents liked sitting with your mother and father. Why be alone when you can be with family?

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  11. Ray Goudreau

    There was something else you learned at that house in Bristol: When you have a house and garage built to your specs, get one with three bays, and drive-thru! As you did.

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  12. Your two colour house is wonderful. It looks like the perfect house for layers of family to grow up together in. The car dance is a familiar one but I never had to contend with a factory across the street.

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  13. I love those old multifamily houses. I really like the idea of proximity to family. Probably because u haven’t lived close to mine in 35 years.

    We chose a lovely square of gray with a hint of blue stain for our sea shack in Maine. It is VERY BLUE with no hint of gray … Sigh. Lesson learned.

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