To me it felt like a mansion, but in fact that house was a pretty standard post-war colonial. There were seven of us living there with innumerable cats but there was always some place to escape. There were five bedrooms and when everyone lived there that meant that the only ones that had to share space were me and Neil and my Mom and Dad. My two oldest brothers’ ruled the attic bedrooms like a medieval castle and lets us know that our presence there was unwelcome. But even outside of the attic bedrooms there were spaces to go and hide, in the storage area underneath the eaves of the house. There was a phantom pergola that looked like it might be a room above my parent’s bedroom that was in fact a sealed off space that I would often try to gain entry to. At the end of the long hallway in the attic there were two windows that had an exceptional view north of the neighbors across the street and would even grant me occasional access onto the steep slopes of the roof of that house.
The second floor held three bedrooms, the master bedroom which in the current sense of the term was in no way a master bedroom, two other bedrooms for the three other boys, a full bath and a den at the top of the stairs. The den was where we hooked up our first computer to an old black and white TV and where we would always gather as we woke up on Christmas morning because we knew we were not permitted downstairs until Mom and Dad approved of that venture.
The first floor housed the living and dining room, the kitchen and eating nook, the tiny foyer in the front and the slightly less tiny foyer in the back. There was a half bath that had a window that looked into the back yard which was dominated by one of the most climbed trees in all of Cleveland Heights. Off of the living room was the door that led to the side porch. The side porch was where my mother loved to be. There was a swing, hung from the ceiling, were she would rock back and for hours on end reading her books and drinking her iced tea. Rumor has it that she was rocking me as a baby on the swing when the chains broke on one side and sent us both into the floor boards, me, most likely landing on my head. I note this incident not for legal reasons, but only to cite the fact that I was, evidently, dropped on my head as a baby.
The basement of that house was where the magic occurred. It consisted of a large open area underneath the dining room and whole kitchen area, a walkway of shelves full of Legos and G.I. Joes and puzzles. Off of the walkway you could gain access to the utility room which housed a massive old furnace that was at one point fueled by coal but now was fed by gas, in addition to the rectangular square which held the washer and dryer and utility sink. The other exit from that corridor led to the Cold Room. I don’t know who named it but the name was apt. It was the room underneath the side porch which was not privy to heating ducts and held such things as old paint, desks, half built stairs, and anything else that was oblivious to the temperature. It was an awesome clubhouse, complete with locking door.
That house probably had more square footage inside than outside. The front yard was split down the middle by a concrete path that lead up to the front door which we never used. If someone came to the front door we knew that it was a stranger or salesman. The back yard was overwhelmed by the two car garage and the tree. Of all my hiding places and escape routes, I most often would find myself at the top of the tree. If I got high enough I could rock back and forth and shake the whole foundation, and I could see over all the fences that concealed yard after postage stamp yard into the backyards and the forbidden zones. When I was at the top of the tree I was free and alone and felt like I could fly.
The detached garage was another area of escape. Two cars and at times various motorcycles and bicycles could fit in it comfortably. There were three open shelves on one side of the garage that would hold such things as toys, bats, balls, tents, etc. We had access to these shelves as kids. On the other side of the garage there were built-in shelves with drawers that held Dad stuff. Dad had created a wonderful contraption for his paint brushes that involved an empty paint can half full of paint thinner, a bent coat hanger manipulated in such a way that it pinched into each side of the paint can and hold a used paint brush in the paint thinner below. I’m not sure if this was the proper way to care for your paint brushes but it seemed pretty genius at the time. The drawers were also a little bit frightening, not only from the fear of the Wrath of Dad if you took something out and didn’t put it back or broke it, the bottom shelves were home to several generations of mice who would nest in and behind the drawers. If you opened a drawer that was a mouse house the mice would squeak loudly and run away.
On the side of the garage that faced our yard there was a three foot by eight foot strip of land that was our annual tomato garden. On the other side of the garage, once you got past the gated area that held our garbage cans, was a path that led into the wilds. Past the white gate and four metal garbage cans was a tiny path between the side of the garage and the three foot high chain link fence that separated our tiny plot of land from the Davis’ tiny plot of land. They had an apple tree back there which hung over both their side and our side but I can’t ever recall getting a good apple off of that tree. Behind the garage was an entrance to the paths to the three dimensional secret areas of suburbia.
The back of the garage was nearly touching the back of the garage of our neighbors on the next street over, and conveniently they had a kick out built into the back of their garage that was low enough to climb onto. From there one could ascend into the over grown weed that was now a tree at the back corner of the garage. This led up, up to the roof of the garage. For some reason roofs and heights always fascinated me almost as much as tunnels and caves called to me. I always wanted to get on top of things or below them. Unfortunately, once on top of the garage there was very little to do. It didn’t hold the same visual expanse as being at the top of the tree or looking out of the window in the third floor so I never spent much time on top of the garage.
The paths behind the garages were a highway between properties. I could travel to the borders on these trails. To the north the path was simple, we only live four houses from the corner to the north so heading in that direction was fairly pointless, except that the outlet of the northern past was one of those abandoned parcels of land that no one really owned. It was a twenty five foot square piece of land that was bordered by bushes on two sides and sides of garages on the other two sides. Jimmy Barle and I had myriad plans for use of that place, from building a club house, to building an underground shelter, to building a stage where we would perform and only invite really good looking girls to come watch us.
The south path took much more effort and was incomplete. I could not make it all the way from my house to the major road to the south. The exact border is unclear to me but there was some point a few houses south of us that you had to cut into backyards, or down driveways and into front yards to continue to head south. This reckon would become vitally important as I got older and the outdoor games in the neighborhood got more and more complex.