I came to know the residents either by playing baseball in the back yard, hitting the ball over the stockade fence and climbing over the fence to retrieve it, or by pulling my red wagon around the neighborhood to collect bottles for 2 cents on the bottle.
It was in this house I discovered that life could be lived happily or at the very least, joy, laughter and acceptance could flourish, among the strangest of us.
755 had some interesting tenants. It was a maze of oddballs. (the pot calling the kettle black here). There was Mr. & Mrs. Berle- back apartment, first floor, Anna and Clarence to the older people. Mr. Berle was an outside painter who always was dirty. Mrs. Berle was almost proud of the timeline in which Mr. Berle hadn’t taken a bath. “Clarence hasn’t taken a bath in 1 week. “Clarence hasn’t taken a bath in 10 days”. On and on. She was right. He hadn’t. He stunk.
I had broken their window many times, by swinging a bat and sending the wiffle ball (which wasn’t supposed to break things) soaring over the fence.
Although I desperately feared my mother’s painful tirades (physically and verbally) of any annoyances or disruptions regarding my behavior to her day, Mr. Berle was always good-natured about it.
He kept extra glass in the basement for my homeruns.
There was Martha, on the first floor front apartment, the tattooed wrestler, who proudly displayed tattoos of a rose and a crucifix on each arm and would regale me with stories of “being in the ring”. I heard stories of strong women with beards and men who dressed up like women (nothing new to me) just to be in the ring with Martha to see if they could win. She seemed to be proud of the women she gave head injuries to, and bragged how she could “take on any man in the ring.” She had well built muscles that she would proudly pump. I was in awe.
There was Shirley and Dave MacDonald who had 3 kids and named them, Danny, Dawn and Delynn. They were 8, 7 and 6 months. I always felt bad for Danny. Although Shirley and Jack loved him, they called him “stupid” all the time. Danny had some problems but he was sweet. Shirley was loud, smoked cigarettes, and cursed like a merchant marine. But you always knew how she felt and if she liked you. Straight, no nonsense. You could hear her yell across the yards, “DAAANNNNNYYYYYYYYYYY, get your stupid ass home.”
Their apartment was in shambles, sour milk always on the table, Shirley always talking on the phone complaining about her “goddamn kids”, and there were dishes in the sink that hadn’t seen a sponge in days. Dave would get home from the firehouse, and after hugging all 3 of his kids, he would kiss Shirley and lovingly ask her what she would like for dinner. He would then take off his Fireman’s uniform, hang it up in the closet, (which was the only item of clothing not left on a doorknob, chair or floor) and walk to the corner store with his 3 kids hanging off his legs laughing and giggling all the way.
Dave and Shirley were loving and kind to me. I was brought along to the beach, shopping, and general errand hopping. I was never once mistreated or yelled at.
Dave would often take me and Danny to the firehouse to sit on the fire trucks.
This messy, dysfunctional loud family had something I really envied.
They had love. Love transcended the yelling, screaming, name calling, sometime spankings. and the utter bedlam that existed in this house.
How I envied this boisterous family, this messy house, in contrast to my home, where the silence was toxic and the tidiness was a desperate grasp for control, over what I’m not sure.