This summer, I'll release my next book of essays, titled "I Told You I Was Dehydrated." Today, I'm sharing the introduction to that book.
The Corner of Fourth and Clyman (an Introduction)
It’s a modest, two-story brick house on a small corner lot where South Fourth Street ends; the house I grew up in. My mom still lives there, and she’s proud of it. She should be. She’s an amazing woman.
The house isn’t big or fancy, the layout nothing special. But it was always clean, impeccably so because Mom made sure everything was in its place, all the time, yet she never made a big deal about it. Fact is, she never made a big deal about anything, because that’s just my mom: calm, unflappable and in control.
Our family needed someone like that, and when things “hit the fan,” there was no one better.
Things are no different today. When we visit Mom, I can tell you exactly where things are going to be: today’s newspaper, the book (or books) she’s reading, framed photos and candy dishes, which are always filled to the top. It’s like stepping back in time, in a good way.
My memories of this house are vivid. Sitting at the dining room table doing my homework, the same table where Mom did – and still does – her jigsaw puzzles. The same table where Dad did the family’s income taxes every year, sighing and smoking and mumbling things about the government and red tape, saying things like, “What the hell is this form for?” The same table where we gathered for so many Thanksgiving dinners.
I also remember spending hours playing in the basement. Realize it wasn’t fixed up with a modern, finished rec room with a pool table or TV or anything. It’s simply a basement built for function back in the 1930s; then probably called a “cellar.” But it was home to things like my beer can bowling league, my electric train set and a small workshop that got serious use from Mark (my older brother). It also played host to at least one Sweet 16 birthday party, one which for a time, featured a five-year-old bartender (yours truly) tapping beers from a keg quite illegally for my sister and her friends.
Most of all, it was a place where I could just hang out, a refuge where I could do or be whatever or whomever I wanted without anyone bothering me.
The small rooms of our home didn’t seem small back then. But then again, the Haznaws are a small people (at 5’7”, 155 lbs., I’m a giant in my family). I wouldn’t call it “cozy” because that word doesn’t describe our family. But we never thought it was too small or that we were crammed together. At least I didn’t.
For most of my life there, our house didn’t have air conditioning, although Dad bought a window air conditioner in the mid 1970s for their bedroom. I remember how he’d fire that thing up around 8 o’clock on a hot, muggy summer night, then close the bedroom door to keep the cool air all to himself. By the time he’d go to bed several hours later, that room would feel like a meat locker.
After Mom came to bed (always an hour or more after Dad), she’d open the door, and I’d feel that cool air as it made its way down the hall, slowly infiltrating the rest of the tiny upstairs.
But I also remember enjoying the breezes that blew through the house – and my south-facing windows – as I lay in bed, a lone streetlight shining into my room, making it seem like there was always a full moon.
It’s amazing when I go back today and see what close quarters we lived in. Upstairs, four or five normal adult steps would get you from Mom and Dad’s bedroom to the other end of the hall where you could find my sisters’ bedroom, with my room on the left. Mark shared this room with me until he was drafted (the Army, not the NFL). On the right was our family’s only bathroom, which didn’t have a shower until the mid-1970s.
I spent countless hours in my room when I was a kid, listening to music, reading, sorting baseball cards, and later, talking on the phone that hung on the wall in the hallway, stretching the cord and closing the door the best I could for privacy.
I remember sitting in Diane’s room (after Kathy got married and moved to her own modest, impeccably kept home across town), helping her run lines for the latest high school play or just hanging out. I remember those evenings as a turning point, when our relationship evolved from bickering, ambivalent siblings to “chums.”
I admired Diane for her talent and ability to get on stage in front of a crowd and perform. It inspired me to follow in her footsteps, though as the youngest, I generally had to run lines on my own. I remember being sad the day Diane left for college, leaving me as an only child, the “last child standing” in that house; just me, Mom, Dad and the dog.
There was always a dog.
I remember so many things about that old house, our home on the corner of Fourth and Clyman streets, on a small lot whose grass I’d mow in the summer and whose snow I’d shovel in the winter.
I could go on all day and still not cover everything: the Sunday mornings when Kathy and her husband, Mike, would come over after church armed with doughnuts, the front door where Mark surprised us one night when he came home on leave from the service, Christmas Eve with a big tree in the corner, and the day I first brought Joan, now my wife, home to meet my parents.
I remember the old lumberyard across the street. And I remember the railroad tracks and running to the corner to watch when the train came through. I also remember doing the same with my kids when we visited Mom years later. One summer afternoon when I was still a kid, a train derailed not 500 feet from our front door. It was big news in Watertown and beyond.
Years later, that old lumber yard – long since abandoned – burned to the ground. It was a major blaze, and Mom said the walls of our house were hot to the touch on the inside that night. She had to wake up Dad to give him the news. (He was a heavy sleeper.)
I remember our front porch and the postage stamp backyard, which was just big enough for a couple of kids to play catch and run around. For a while, a rickety old chicken coop (we called it “The Shed”) sat in the back corner of the yard. I fell through a window of that shed once. Nobody seemed to mind, though. Nobody overreacted about anything in my family.
I remember the beautiful woodwork and molding throughout the house, and the built-in bookcases with glass and wood frame doors that still hold Mom’s book collection.
I could go on for days about this house, our home, because I loved it. And I still do because it’s still where Mom lives, by herself, but never alone. Because I’m sure just like me, or Mark, Kathy, Diane or Dad (God rest his soul), she has her own set of memories, thousands of moments that make this house, her home, one of a kind. Granted, after all these years, not all the memories are good ones, but I’d bet she’s got more wins than losses.
I know I do.
This home is where so many of my stories began and remain, like my life’s library. And this book, while not filled with stories from my childhood, was inspired by my time in that house, where everything began for me.
On the corner of Fourth and Clyman.
© 2021 David R. Haznaw