Thursday, February 18, 2016

7823. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 167)

(pt. 167)
I was usually always pretty tightly strung,
seemingly nervous about everything and
often worried. My aunt used to say I was
happy-go-lucky, but I never saw that.
Everything was a mission, onerous and
with some sort of strife. I used to know a
girl, about 6 years old, first grade, maybe
second. Her name was Mary Ellen O'Neil.
She lived on whatever that street is that runs
along Avenel Park, over past Hudson Boulevard,
across from what later came into my life as
the Pat Certain house, with  all those kids,
and where I often was too. Mary Ellen and I
used to sit on her little brick porch out front
and just read aloud to each other. Very odd to
both do, and remember, that. I guess it was
Summertime stuff, because it was always
warm and nice out, and we just sat there. I
don't remember how I got there  -  bicycle
I guess  -  nor what or why it started from.
I remember she'd get way engaged in these
adventure tales we read, all involved. To me
they were just tales, without any import. She
had an older brother too, maybe five or six
years older. I remember him, Jimmy, because 
one time after the old St. Andrew's Church
had been turned into a basketball court,
before it was torn down, someone was asking
us, five or six kids sitting around watching a
basketball game, where we were from and
he quickly and comically answered, 'from
my mother!' It was funny, since we'd all just
said town names and things. Mary Ellen just
disappeared, as did he. I guess they moved
away. Before Mary Ellen, there was another
girl I'd gotten kid-friendly with, sort of up the
street from her. This girl is still around NJ,
and I won't use her name here, but what was
really cool was that in the lot across the street
from their house (it's long been apartments now)
her father used to keep bees. And there were 
hummingbirds around there too; these furious 
little, in-place energy birds. There were some
bee boxes all around, nice weedy grass and
flowers too. It was really neat  -  the old Premium
Diner was there too, along the highway. This
family was Dutch, and I found it all extremely
interesting to see that someone raised bees, and
honey and all that which came from it. I didn't
get into the rigors of all the beekeeping chores
and stuff, but just rather merely 'enjoyed' from
a distance the idea and the scene. As a young
kid, all these little, tiny things just end up
coloring your life and your expanding view
of things. In these two cases, the natural and
bucolic sense of something real and natural
-  bees and a field  - and in Mary Ellen's
brother's case, the cool sense of playing off
things, making humor out of where you were
from. And, of course, Mary Ellen's eye-opening
sensitivity and involvement with what were,
really, just stories.
There was a period of time when  -  maybe
about 1958  -  when everywhere there were
new sets of houses going up. I know that,
along the wooded end of my aunt's house
on Starlight Drive in Colonia, only a few
miles off my Avenel house, and where we
visited a lot, the deep woods that once had
been in place there  - and into which I loved
to launch myself for hours and just get
lost walking  -  large crews of workmen that
Spring just appeared, and in a matter of a
month the entire 500 acres, or whatever it 
may have been, was cut, stripped and cleared, 
and just as quickly, in perfectly aligned streets 
and rows, about 200 houses went up. All I 
saw for the longest time was the bare wood 
frames and then structures of all these houses, 
new curbs and driveways. And that was only 
there, in that one location  -  it was going on in
lots of other places too. As I said, it seemed like
the bare-wood house blanks were popping up
everywhere. I could only sense, but did not
know, what was underway  -  the same people
aiming to conquer that sky above with their
blinking satellites and modern jet aircraft were
as hard at work smearing the land with their
cement and tar and gum and macadam. There
was a sense of the old, and the heritage of it all,
that was just getting lost, disappearing. What 
was funny was that I began dreaming about it. 
Real, and vivid, dreams that I'd wake up with  
-  of old, rambling homes and yards, trails and
streams and things, with a perfect recall and
memory, to myself, as to where and in what 
current places these each may have been. It was
as if, within me, inside, an old and treasured map
of what once had been was being brought out
and reviewed, and I was there, or still there, or 
allowed there. The sense of, even, Avenel as a
no-place, was being changed  -  because these 
new homes were being put up in even worse
locations  -  off secondary roads, middles of 
nowheres, in newly hewn fields and woods. These
people ended up having nothing at all except
roads and driveways. How they could even
consider their lack of place to be anywhere
valued at all was beyond me. I couldn't quite
understand, and didn't really want to  -  they
were like hordes, newcomers just plowing in.
The shortsightedness was that it was the very
same thing we'd done 5 years previous, but
the sense and the idea of place made it different.
Or so I thought. It basically came down to the
fact that wherever you went now, you needed
an automobile. Any idea of that old, New 
England-like village square feel was long gone;
it had been dilapidated and failing for years as 
it was, and these new places just put, like 
they say, the old 'last nail in the coffin.'
I'd think of the entire state, of New Jersey itself,
undergoing this mad transformation, and I'd just 
wonder. Another funny thing that came to be was that
the big, important, main drag through Bayonne, in
Hudson County' was called Hudson Boulevard  -  large
old homes, big porches, apartment buildings, stores.
Here in Avenel there was also a 'Hudson Boulevard',
just like there was a Park Avenue and a Fifth Avenue.
Go figure that. This Hudson Boulevard was just a string
of small, starter-price and size, for sure, homes, all in
a row. Nothing especial about it in any way, no
particular reason for the nomenclature, nothing
referential to the other Hudson Boulevard. Again, like
Fifth and like Park, it just was. It's all funny, and it
was like that everywhere I looked.

No comments: