Friday, March 22, 2013

Rooster Street 1972-1977

In 1972 Denny and I began our family together. As my four-year-old daughter said, “You and Dad were married and Denny was married to Birgit. Then Denny decided he wanted to come and be in our family so you got divorced and now we all live together on Rooster Street.”
After a pause she concluded. “Well…. That’s that!”
Denny had enough for a small down payment on a small two-family brown-shingled house in a neighborhood with mechanics, musicians, and old ladies the state of whose teeth made me gasp. We all got together at a block party where the old ladies brought wonderful potluck and Stormin’ Norman and Suzie made music off a truck. That is the title of one of their songs: “Rooster Street.”
One of the reasons we moved to the two-family was because Alan had decided to go back to the law. He had hated corporate law and then disliked the family business; so when we had our mid-life crises, back to law, only this time criminal. He grew a moustache and bought a motorcycle and got a job at a runaway house called Project Place.  Alan was working all the time; so I thought if we lived in the two-family the children would at least see him around on the house.  For example, they could go down the back stairs to Alan’s kitchen in his first floor apt. and have breakfast there.  
Of course, we gave them breakfast lots of days too, which I know because one morning Tory and Denny were discussing the Revolutionary War Bicentennial that we took them to in Lexington.
“Tory, Tory, finish your breakfast,” I said, and she said, “What’s more important, Mommy, eating a fried egg or learning about history?”
The kids’ home was with Denny and me on the top two floors.
That first year, Nick and Amanda had bunk beds and shared one of the little rooms off the pink-linoleumed kitchen. Denny and I had the other. Through a little hallway from the kitchen you found our one bathroom on the right and could walk straight through to the living room. We fixed it up with paint and wallpaper and hired a friend of Denny’s to build cupboards in the living room to hold our books and TV. For poor folks we lived pretty well.
Of course, we didn’t have closets or anything but there was a cubbyhole in our bedroom. Denny and I shared a hand-me-down bureau from my grandmother. The girls had beds and dressers from a bedroom handed down from my parents: Vermont rock maple.  So they were in pretty good shape on the third floor, which had two large bedrooms with closets and a smaller alcove by the back stairs. It wasn’t quite heated, so we let the doors open so the heat from the kitchen could get up there.
Two weekends a month, Alan had charge of all four; I think in retrospect they saw more of the real world than I would have liked. However they did somehow stay safe. The other weekends, Heather, Heidi and Kristen joined us and then the fun really began! Their ages were 3, 4, 5, 7, 7, 7, and 9, with 5-year-old Nick being the only boy. The older girls invented lives for Barbies or putting on little costume dramas.  The “babies,” as we called them, had little plastic motorcycles that they rode through the house. For some reason, Amanda always carried a mirror around when she was on hers.
On Saturdays there were outings to go sledding or to the Museum of Science. Denny made the plans and called these trips “adventures.” There was more adventure than we wanted one day, when he took them to that big MDC Park on Memorial Drive and came home without Amanda. I had stayed behind to hang wallpaper in Tory’s room, and was the first to notice: “Where’s AMANDA??” It turned out OK, some kind people helped her find a policeman; but omigod. Raising kids, there are a lot of times when you just have to be lucky.  And we were so lucky and blessed, more than we even knew.
On Saturday nights, we all got in our jammies and crowded onto the couch to watch Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Burnett, and the Jeffersons.
The first year Denny and I dreamed of earning our living as writers. After packing the lunchboxes and the seeing the kids off from their breakfast at Alan’s to the Agassiz School, we’d work on our projects. Denny might boil up a bunch of clothesline in the kitchen to craft a Twin Oaks hammock for the book he was writing. “How to Make Your Own Hammock and Lie in It” (Workman Publishing 1973). I took writing classes and even a magazine publishing course; as I had dreams of a feminist magazine called “The New Broom.” I also wrote a weekly book review column in a small-town newspaper started by our friends Kathleen and Ed in Harvard, MA.
But the royalties could not quite cover the nut, as Denny used to call it. Alan turned over his entire paycheck for child support plus his rent; but then of course, we had to send $$ to Birgit and put braces on her children’s teeth.  We were always broke; I was kneeling in the aisles of Kresge’s to try on shoes on my children’s feet.  We qualified for receiving the mystery meat from the government in cans dropped off at the Agassiz School. Finally, I thought I should probably put the writing on hold and look for a job, the day I answered the doorbell to two huge guys with guns to repossess my little green Maverick.
Repossess my car? But I’m a former debutante! So when the wolf showed up at the door I invited him in for coffee. While was making it, Denny was whispering to me, “Is the television paid for?” “Is the couch paid for?” 
While the three men chatted about how the repo guys were just trying to make a living like everybody else, I was frantically on the phone to Alan.
“What happened!! You were supposed to make the payments!
“…….. “  Alan said; and “………” which ended up with “Just let them have the keys.”  As I handed them over and the big guy stood up, I saw his jacket was ripped all down one side and held together with safety pins. Then Denny went to clean our stuff out of the car, and that was the last of the Maverick.
Then, what is a former debutante do on a Friday afternoon when her car is repossessed but call her parents.  Saturday Daddy called back and said Mother was flying in on Sunday, to make sure that I had some kind of car. Saturday afternoon Denny and I found one we liked, a 1969 Ford Country Sedan, maroon, with 44,0000 miles for $1,750.00.
When Mother visited, Denny and I were nervous. About not being married about being broke. As Barthelme’s genius says, “This is my worst moment.”
But after a couple drinks with Mom we felt better.
“The children are growing beautifully,” she said. She was reading to them and holding them. Soon they would grow old enough to fly out on their own to visit her in St. Louis. Mom gave us a check to buy the car, and that would be our wedding present.
Yes, we did have to get married. And I started grimly looking to find a job, feeling I was stepping onto a treadmill with no hope of getting off, ever.


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