Overnight before the big move, the leaves started to change colors. As I looked out the window into the back yard the next morning, the visible reminder of the season’s change seemed appropriate.
I was late arriving at 38 South Bryant, the old homestead in Bellevue. A few of my siblings who hadn’t been expected showed up to move Mom. They were busily packing her stuff into a large U-Haul when I arrived.
Past noon, Mom was nowhere in sight, having left hours before to open up her new house in the country. Some of my sisters and brothers were agitated, not knowing what to do with certain items that could be handed down or thrown out. Several frantic calls to Mom later, she called back.
“Hi! How are you doing?” she said cheerily.
“Mom, what are you doing? Everybody’s been trying to call you,” I said. “You’ve pulled the final Houdini at 38!”
Mom had pulled the last Houdini, laughing about it when I told her so. “Pulling a Houdini” was a term the kids in the family had for the trick of escaping just before chores began. By the time Mom had called, of course, we’d decided what to do with the items. The U-Haul was nearly full.
In all fairness, Mom did need to prepare the new house. But I also think she needed to remove herself from the chaotic, bittersweet process.
“Just don’t drive down this street anymore,” she said to me months before, when the house’s sale was imminent. “If you don’t drive down and look at the house, you won’t be reminded so much.”
The old brick Victorian, re-painted seven colors by us several years ago at Mom’s direction, had seen some living. Our family moved there in 1969, 10 years after settling in Bellevue after coming from Michigan. It was our third and final home in the borough. We moved in after my youngest sister was born, and my parents had three more kids, rounding out the bunch to an even dozen.
The old three-story, six-bedroom house worked well for us, despite the fact that for some time in my youth we had only one bathroom. Bellevue welcomed us, and Mom and Dad made a lot of friends and played bridge. Dad joined local politics, serving as a school board member for Bellevue and Northgate. Mom owned a daycare center in neighboring Avalon.
Mom also had her hands full, dealing with eight rowdy boys and four girls. She toughened up some over the years, though.
Going through some old books with her on the third floor of the old house prior to the move, I noticed a box with a chain-link escape ladder in it. I remarked casually that some of the other boys and I used the ladder to escape out the bedroom window when we were grounded. We’d climb down the ladder to the back porch roof, and hang-jump from there to the ground.
She stared away in disbelief. “Dad got that to help you,” she said.
“Oh, he helped us all right,” I joked.
Despite my parents’ patient teaching of Christian values while we were growing up, we boys raised Cain. We’d occasionally get into fistfights with each other in the front yard, or have raucous parties while my parents were gone. The front porch, which we restored several years ago after Dad died, was the scene of countless photos and reunions, goodbye tears and homecoming smiles. The cut-glass windows flanking the oak front door were restored years ago after we’d abused them as kids. Though those windows and the large stained-glass window above a landing on the stairs were brought back to full glory a while ago, I always liked the streams of rainbow-colored light they sprayed on the house even when they were beat-up looking.
Years ago, Dad lovingly stripped and restored the woodwork in the entryway, living room and dining room. At Christmas time, the rooms boasted two or three large Christmas trees, under which presents multiplied until they covered most of the floor on Christmas morning. Dozens of grandchildren tore open presents on the hardwood floor that Dad uncovered and restored.
My parents finished the house with Victorian-style wallpaper and handsome furniture after most of the kids had left home. It gave the place a stately look -- it was the kind of home grandparents were supposed to live in, filled with years of good memories and love.
We kids got to know the place from bottom to top -- from the old coal chute (our escape hatch) to the roof of the house. We got comfortable with the roof while re-shingling part of it when we were young. Mom insisted that Dad tether us with ropes to the chimneys while we worked, just in case. After that, we played freeze-tag on the roof, running in the old box gutters and hiding behind dormers or one of the four tall chimneys. In our teens, several of us boys took turns sitting and smoking on the roof behind the chimney in the back of the house.
Pausing for a moment during the move, my brother-in-law, a gentle bull of a man from the North Side, let out a sigh. “I feel like crying,” Joe said. I knew how he felt and I felt the same way, but I couldn’t cry then and I still can’t.
Of course it was time for the old place to go. A large 100-year-old house is usually too much for two people. Mom had knee problems, and she wanted to avoid stairs and live in a ranch-style house. And being remarried, she was ready for the change.
At the time of the move, one of my younger sisters lived with her family just blocks from the old house, but they left Bellevue soon after. After Leah and her family left, for the first time in 42 years, none of my family was living in the borough. Now it’s been a few years since the move, but even the grandchildren still fondly recall old “Thirty-eight.”
Our time in the borough was short, compared to the town’s history. But Bellevue’s effect on us lives on.
The many good times, like tearing down the dilapidated garage in the back yard with my Dad and brothers, and Dad insisting on giving the final whacks with a sledgehammer to the corner of the garage before it went crashing down. The basketball games, parties, camp-outs and picnics in that back yard that we all enjoyed are now the stuff of our own legends. For me, kissing The Beauty on the back porch many years ago was a high point.
There were tough times, too. Like when one or another family member was ill, or the lean times after Dad lost his job as an engineer for U.S. Steel. Or the nights when the cops would pay a visit regarding some trouble by, well, I won’t mention any names.
Despite our sometimes crazy ways, all eight of us boys graduated from college and are doing fine. The girls, who had to be saints compared to us, also graduated and remain the glue of the family.
While we packed the truck that day years ago, a lifelong neighbor who grew up the street over from us stopped by. He watched the scene and shook his head in amazement. “I can’t believe there aren’t going to be Barneses living here,” he said.Neither could I. But while the season of my family’s residence in Bellevue was short, it was good. And for one family, the end of that season marked a new one beginning.