A couple of months ago I was driving home from the doctors in Worcester and decided to drive down my old street. Paine street. I had lived there from birth till I was eighteen, and our landlord was like a grandmother to me. I Had, until a few years ago, kept in pretty good touch with her. They were at my wedding and had seen the boys and really, that three decker will always be home to me. Always fondly remembered.
So I found myself there, pulled over to the side of the road looking up, and fighting the urge to get out and walk up the stairs. I wanted so much to go in the back yard and sit on the grass. So many memories, so much time that has passed. It still seemed a long way up to the third floor where we lived. The tuns of groceries lugged up, the sad day we moved everything out. The day I watched my dad drive away, the first time I kissed my hubby (than my nineteen year old boyfriend) in the back hall. The times I sat in the front window waiting for my mom to get home from work and the times I sat there waiting for my dad and he never came. Watching snow fall, clothes hanging on the line, summers spent running in the back yard and roiling down the hill. Winters we sledded down the hill into the woods. Running up the back stairs to beat the rain home. The calls from my landlord for my brother and I to stop fighting because it sounded like we were going to fall through the celling. Sitting in the kitchen window looking out over I-290 at night and seeing almost to down town Worcester. Wishing on a star that hubby would ask me to marry him, and countless other sad and happy memories that all spelled home. I also noticed how much the neighborhood had changed. It looked more run down, a little empty and dumpy. Missing some tress and houses that looked like they needed to be painted. And knowing that most everyone I had grown up with there had moved. Most, like us, out of Worcester. So I drove away. Down the street and past the church were I had spent so much time, and down Lincoln Street and out of the city.
Fast forward to yesterday. I worked at the Jewish Home for inventory control and was going over the census, and I saw her name. My landlord, my grandmother figure. She is on hospice, and not expected to make it much past Christmas. She still remembered me, asked about the boys. And told me the third floor is empty. She said she knows how much it means to me, go up and see it. The tears so fresh, I could only nod. Time passes so fast. I thought she was old then, she must have been only in her 70's, I moved from there fifteen years ago, and know she is in her 90s now. I do want to go there. Run my hand on the smooth wood of the railings as I make my way up the three flights of stairs. I want to sit on the floor of my old room, and look out over the back yard to 290. I want to be able to go "home" one last time. I still dream of 121 Paine Street. Sometimes I wake and feel I can still smell my dad's tobacco smoke as he came up the back stairs. But it won't be the same if "Aunt Mary" is not sitting in her first floor apartment watching the evening mass. Without the Irish Catholic blessing posted over the front door. It is so much more than a house, the end of an era. The end of neighborhoods built around churches, three deckers and neighborhood schools. The end of strangers becoming families and watching out for one another. I never felt alone there, even when my mom would came home from work hours late after he divorce and my brother and I were there alone. We weren't alone, "Aunt Mary" was always there. Listening for us, and watching out. Her door was always open, her heart always open. Even when the rent was late and we were loud. You can't find that these days.
When she passes it will be the end of an era. It might possibly be the end of 121 Paine Street. The end of a chance to go home.