The Old Neighborhood

Easter, first grade

My neighborhood had people that looked out for each other. When I was very young, Jeanne McCann’s mother looked out for me.  She’d stop me on my walk home from school to let me know if the doctor or ambulance had been to my house so I’d be ready for some unsettling change 

Jeanne’s mom & my mom had gone to school together, their families weathered the depression-like everyone in the neighborhood. Most of us lived in extended families, with our aunts, cousins, and grandparents. As kids, we’d be in and out of each other’s homes after school. Jeanne’s aunt Peggy, all of fifteen, would when my mum didn’t have it. Patty D’Angelo’s mother would keep a hawk’s eye on us whenever we played games in the street when we were young, and even in high school when I passed her house I’d have to tell her where I was going, yes, my father knew, and if he’d seen me leaving the house wearing what I had on. 

Last day of school, front steps.

Mrs. Steinberg lived across the street and she noticed that I began to stutter and had trouble learning to read and write once my mom began to disappear into the hospital.  Mrs. Steinberg gave my Aunt Lil workbooks and explained how to work with me, just a little every day right before supper. Reading began to make sense and I turned into a voracious reader. Thank goodness for Mrs. Steinberg; she had a lasting effect on my life.

 In the mid-50s two new houses were built in an empty lot right next to our school.  Mary Bucci moved in from Boston when urban renewal tore down her Scully Square neighborhood.  Mary’s parents had come from Italy. Mary & I became friends, and I’d often go to her house after school. Mary would always begin to prep supper–peel the vegetables, and such, at four o’clock. Her father had a printing business in Boston and her mother worked in a factory sewing clothes. When her mom arrived home she’d finish off supper preparation.  Mary’s mother was strong and had formidable stamina. She didn’t make a complete transition into speaking English, but we could understand each other.

Sometimes I’d be invited to her house for supper. I was small and skinny. People always tried to entice me with food. I didn’t appreciate her skill as a cook then. Rather,  I was astonished at the amount of food she served. Despite Mary’s mother working in the factory all day, she still loved to cook, and it was her time to clear her mind and to remember Italy.

The first time I had Sunday dinner at Mary’s house her mother served us all a vegetable soup.  It was good, but I thought it was a little light for Sunday dinner. Then we were served spaghetti, and it was a larger plate. I ate my serving and felt quite full. The plates were removed. Roast pork and vegetables, fragrant with rosemary and garlic, were next. I was already full and worried. I had to eat some, but I was way too full. 

When we were older, maybe twelve, Mary & I sat at her kitchen table doing our homework.  At four o’clock she rose to begin to prepare supper. She explained it was her favorite meal, squid cooked in its own ink. I’d never heard of eating squid, never mind the ink! I remember the squid sitting in a 9 x 13 pan, waiting for her mother’s arrival. Her cooking was so different and exotic.  In the following years, I went on a picnic in Gloucester with them.  Mary’s mother brought out a huge pan of lasagna and cannoli for us!  When I was older, I went into the North End of Boston at 5:30 AM with them, entering this new world in the Italian neighborhood.  There were stalls set up along the street that sold just about the food you could think of. You’d leave with enough fresh groceries to last the week for excellent value. It helped it you spoke Italian.  

Mary has passed on, while still working at John Hancock, preceded by her mother.  But we all have jars of memories preserved in our hearts, filled with the kindness, the tastes, the sounds, and people who were important to us in our youth.

About elainereardon

Writer, forest dweller, gardener, herbalist, and painter, often bumping into magic, peeking around new corners.
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2 Responses to The Old Neighborhood

  1. Luci H Buckner says:

    Elaine, I love this story…I guess I have jars of memories too…sounds like your childhood was full of love & guidance with your family & neighborhood. Another sweeter time to remember & cherish.

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