Saturday, March 5, 2011

The White Village

A few years ago, my parents and I were taking a sightseeing tour of Portsmouth, Virginia.  The bus driver pulled in front of a historic house and asked my dad, “Sir, how many stories do you think that house has?”  My dad replied, “Oh, I’d imagine a lot.”  The driver chuckled as he clarified, “No, I mean, how many floors?” 
I spent a lot of time as a kid lamenting that “I wasn’t born yet.”  My brother and I are the youngest grandchildren on both sides of our family.  There are two reasons for this – 1) my parents dated for years…and years.  If my mom hadn’t given my dad an ultimatum, they’d probably still be dating.  2) My mom was a bit of a surprise and is considerably younger than her siblings.  On my mom’s side of the family, Brother and I are generationally grandchildren but the age of the great-grandchildren…which proved confusing at one memorable family photo op.  Our cousins are (much) older so we didn’t grow up with them.  And me being me, I’ve always been a little ticked off that “I wasn’t born yet,” because I always felt like I missed out on all the fun and that I missed a crucial chapter of our family’s story.  
My mother and her mother, "Nanny"

My grandmother, or “Nanny” as we called her, moved to the White Village from Philadelphia a few years after my grandfather died.  She and my mom, who was 11 at the time, moved into a white house on Montgomery Avenue.  When I was little, I would listen to my (much) older cousins tell stories about “going to Nanny’s.”  I used to imagine a gang of cousins gathering for summer barbeques, Christmas dinners, and Easter egg hunts, all under the watchful eye of my mom who wasn’t much older than many of her nieces and nephews.  I had visions of Nanny doling out milk and cookies to her brood of grandkids when they came to visit her in that white house on Montgomery Avenue. 
Two years ago, my brother bought a house in the White Village, a few streets away from Montgomery Avenue.  Shortly after he moved in, we were talking about the similarities between the homes in the neighborhood and one of our cousins asked us if we remembered the cuckoo clock in Nanny’s house.  We had to remind him that we weren’t born yet.  At my mom’s surprise party, I took another of my cousins on a tour of the second floor where she pointed out, “the bathroom was over here at Nanny’s house.”  Silently (because I didn’t want to be rude), I retorted, “well, I wouldn’t know that because I wasn’t born yet.”  I don’t remember Nanny’s cuckoo clock or where the bathroom was in her house because I was born long after the house on Montgomery Avenue became someone else’s.  
A Gang of (some of the) Cousins...and my mom

It turns out, my imagined version of what “going to Nanny’s,” was like was a little off…she wasn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy kind of grandma.  She was more likely to hit you with a wooden spoon than to serve you milk and cookies.  I don’t even know if there were Christmas dinners or Easter egg hunts at that white house on Montgomery Avenue.  What I do know is that the Pennsylvania cousins thought the New Jersey cousins were the favorites and the New Jersey cousins thought the Delaware cousins were the favorites and no one quite knew what to make of the California cousins.  And my mom, well, she didn’t exactly love it when all those kids came to visit. 
Sometimes the stories aren’t as good as we imagine them.    
And sometimes the stories are just floors.

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