My grandparents had a small suburban bungalow in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. The main floor of the house consisted of a livingroom, eat-in kitchen, two bedrooms, a bath, and a third “spare” bedroom that had a door out to the screened in back porch area. There was an above-ground pool where I learned to swim behind the garage. The basement was finished in the rec room style that was popular in the late fifties and early sixties.
My grandmother kept a tidy house. There was not a lot of clutter and few books. The primary exception to this was a hard-bound collection of Greek and Roman myths, much like a mini-encyclopedia, that lived in the bookshelf in the hall outside of the bedrooms. I read those books many times over.
The whole house was straight out of the fifties suburban dream. My grandfather, George, worked for Ford in the days when being on the assembly line for life could earn you a very decent livng indeed. Margaret stayed at home, taking care of the house, the cooking, the children, and the grandchildren when necessary.
The radio in the kitchen was always tuned to the Hungarian station. Detroit is home to the largest collection of Hungarians outside of Budapest and George and Margaret were proud of their Hungarian heritage. George’s mother, Little Grandma, was a tiny woman who I remember almost always dressing in black. She died when I was four or five. Hers was the first funeral I attended.
Hungarian Catholics believe in open casket visitations, spending a day or two at the funeral home sitting in front of the dead body chatting about life, death, and how good (or bad) he or she looks. Everyone goes up to the casket and kneels in front the dearly departed for a few rosaries and/or hail Marys.
I was baptised Catholic at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, only a few short blocks from my grandparents house, where I also attended kindergarten and then first grade.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee
Blessed art thou among women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death.
My grandmother’s kitchen was an eat-in kitchen. The round table was tucked into the bay window, giving my grandmother a bird’s eye view up and down her street. And grandma watched it like a hawk. The other women, housewives, were also Hungarian, possibly from the same part(s) of the old country. Regardless, they bonded like fishwives and nary a deliver could be made to a house on that block without at least one and often two phone calls being made. As kids, we were often sent out to play “unsupervised”, with the knowledge that many sets of eyes actually watched us. It would have been impossible for any sort of pedophile to snatch us from that street without several witnesses. Witnesses who would be on the phone or out the door at the slightest whiff of trouble. This made it okay for me to go play in the “park”, which was really a plot of land the same size as all the others sans house and garage with some playground equipment installed, when I was only three or four. It was three doors down from my grandparent’s place and I spent many hours there.