The kingdom I grew up in ran only a few blocks in either direction from its secret epicenter, the kelly-green Cape Cod at 98 Turner Street, St.Martin’s parish, Buffalo, N.Y.
Scattered elsewhere around the neighborhood – I didn’t know it was a kingdom then — stood the parish’s three principle structures. There was the dank, grotto-like Old Church (its walls smelling of frankincense and what I imagined to be an air of holiness). Across the street, the shiny New Church (whose cornerstone read "1960" and whose interior smelled of nothing stronger or holier than Pine-Sol). And across the road again, the blond-brick Elementary School, where we children were held hostage nine months out of the year by fearsome, black-robed creatures who were neither man nor woman.
Clustered within a few blocks of each other were the friendly outposts of Fitzgerald’s Delicatessen, home of Red Hot Dollars, Jaw-Breakers, foot-long pretzel sticks that stood in a plastic humidor and three racks of comic books. Just a house away (a “house” being a common measure of almost mathematical precision, given the grid of streets and identical lot sizes the parish encompassed) was the tiny white cottage where my grandmother taught me the lessons of baking and eating bread. Then, two blocks away, the real cathedral of my kingdom, the sticky-sweet darkness of Dipson’s Abbott Theater, where the great actors of the age – Kerwin Matthews, Richard Carlson, John Agar – stole me onboard shipwrecks and rocketships most every Saturday afternoon. Then, doubling back toward home, past the hobby shop and the doomed Italian deli, past two supermarkets comprising the L.B. Smith Shopping Plaza stood The Field, where springtime pollywog ponds turned in summer’s heat to stony, weed-strewn desert. At the center of The Field stood a ten-foot-high, skinless, limbless corpse of a blighted elm that stood white as an alabaster statue against a sky that seemed always cerulean blue, and cloudless.
And finally, just behind and bordering The Field lay the close-packed Cape Cods, brick bungalows and cottages where kids named Pat and Randy and Dennis and Mike and the Twinnies and the Corcorans all lived, the Hobbit-sized denizens of the kingdom in which I grew up.
There were also kids named Judy and Donna and Karen and Maryann living in those houses, but their existence during this time meant as next to nothing to me as anything could get.
This was the my world, a place whose peculiar and particular magic I took for granted, never questioned, for as long as I lived within its borders.
My kingdom vanished in the summer of 1962, the minute the kid-packed family Rambler pulled away from the driveway where my grandparents stood waving good-bye. It vanished the moment my mother broke down in tears at the sight of her mother’s heartbroken face, as the car headed out of the kingdom and onto the entrance ramp to New York State Thruway, whose steep curve became an exit ramp from a life that seems in retrospect as close to perfect as a life can ever get.
In telling my story, I’ve made no effort to accurately divvy up the hours, days or even years. Memory isn’t ruled by calendar or clock. The stories are true as I can remember them. My memories of those days are a cascading jumble of blazing summer suns and tree-shaded dusks, of noisy, baby-bawling mornings and reluctant retreats to cool nighttime bedsheets, of on-the-dot dinnertimes in a tiny, crowded kitchen, Saturday afternoon matinees and last-minute polishing of stiff black school shoes for the next morning’s Children’s Mass. Autumn’s flare and the dizzying fragrance of leaves giving up their smoky ghosts in flame-scorched burn bins yielded to winter’s wooly, sodden trudge to school. But snow melts and school ends and all coldness is forgot in the summertimes that burn in memory more fiercely than a dying autumn.
These are a refugee’s reports, the sort of stories a banished Adam (who was also a piker at understanding the opposite sex) might have told to his disbelieving, sweat-soaked and bread-desperate children.
The old man’s lost it, they’d have muttered among themselves, after hearing his wide-eyed tales of friendly beasts, of languorous days spent eating luscious fruit that fell to hand.
Things could never have been so simple.
But yes, in memory at least, they were. And are. Yes, there was confusion and pain and death in my kingdom. But even sorrow’s impress, being new, had a freshness and a wonder to it that made it bearable. Adam’s snake may have always been there, lurking perhaps in that dead-white tree in the middle of The Field, but he at least took his sweet time announcing himself, ultimately giving his wide-eyed victims both something mysterious to wonder at and something to remember well after those eyes had forgotten the pleasure of widening in wonder.
So this is my attempt to remember this long-gone kingdom, the place Adam called Eden and I called Turner Street.
This post appeared originally at Fictionique.com. It's the introduction to a book whose working title is "Before the Fall: The Summertimes of a South Buffalo Boy."