My rollicking “Zippidy-Doo-Dah” was not only an ode to joy, but a hymn of thanksgiving for, as in any homecoming journey worth its salt, there were perils to pass. And a choice to make: which route today? which peril?
The Academy Street route, the one I used the most, and the South Hamilton Street route, a long-way-round, offered perils which were intermittent and usually could be avoided by crossing the street: the McGilvery’s large, loud dog, Thor, whose bark, I had discovered, was not worse than his bite, since the latter once left holes in my corduroys and purple tooth marks on my calf, and Georgie Rutherford, who seemed to be home a lot, considering that he was supposed to be going to some fancy private school in Connecticut, who would come crashing out of his house to give me a black eye because I was trespassing on Rutherford property which, he insisted, included the sidewalk.
The Carroll Street route was the shortest route – straight from school to home, but its peril was neither intermittent nor avertible by crossing the street. And it was a peril to the soul, not the body.
Unlike Academy Street and South Hamilton Street, Carroll Street was not a comfortable street to walk home on. It started off just fine, with the genteel grounds of an Episcopalian Church, but quickly grew disheartening as modest single family homes were replaced by two-family homes, then houses by apartments, complete with fire-escapes, then, at the corner of Franklin Street, clapboard siding by brick until finally, just before Holmes Street, there were tenements with garbage cans out front. Sitting on the stoops there was always a group of boys from parochial school, in white long-sleeved shirts, who would chant in cadence with my shuffling steps as I made my miserable way past,
Fatty, fatty, two-by-four,
Couldn’t get through the bathroom door
So he did it on the floor.
If I hurried, the chant would become louder and raucous; if I dawdled, my suffering was prolonged. I seem to recall that once or twice I walked so slowly that my tormentors became bored and ceased their taunts, but maybe that's just a personal urban myth.
Even though the Carroll Street route was the most direct, I never would have chosen it instead of taking my chances with Thor or Georgie Rutherford if, beyond the gauntlet of shame, the Adriance Property had not beckoned. Once I crossed Holmes Street and unlatched a wire gate I was in my personal territory – more mine even than was my own backyard. I was the only boy in the neighborhood who was allowed on the Adriance Property.
The Adriances had abandoned the huge Victorian shambles which stood on a rise at the center of the property, to move into a stucco bungalow (bungalow in the commodious Anglo-colonial sense) two doors down. There were only four houses on that side of Livingston between Academy and South Hamilton: the old Adriance house; a large white house which belonged to Vassar Temple, where its rabbi lived; the Adriances’ new abode; and, on the South Hamilton Street corner, a mysterious – in the sense that I never found out who lived in it – brick cottage hidden behind a heavy wall of shrubbery.
Vassar Temple’s purchase of the house on Livingston Street had been spurred by my father, who enjoyed teasing the neighborhood’s indigenous gentry. He loved a challenge, and ruffling their cordial anti-Semitism was an amusing one. Despite their generations of training, the cordiality of the patrician Eighth Ward indigenes was no match for my father’s. He was invincible. It was during the potlatch of graceful gestures that accompanied the negotiations over the rabbi’s house that the Adriances had granted permission for me to roam their Property.
I became a fearless hero as I strolled past the sign that read No Trespassing ~ Violators will be Prosecuted and wandered under the old maples and oaks seeking adventure. Often this was a magical encounter with the presiding deity, the caretaker, who was not at all an Uncle Remus, but a busy, ingenious Yankee who was always doing something, mowing, pruning, digging, tying and untying, building and taking apart, and fixing the moving parts of things. He would have been a role model as unreachable as my father if he had not patiently taught me how to do some of the things he did. For example, it was my job, as I stood by and listened to him explain the hows and the whys (the whys usually having to do with the weather) of what he was doing, to roll his cigarettes.
Finally, when the shadows became so long and dense that they lost their association with particular trees, I would make my way through another wire gate and across Livingston Street and sneak into our house through the garage, knowing I could make my way up to my room, still humming “Zippidy-Doo-Dah”, without having to face my mother’s crushing inquisitiveness about what I had done at school that day. By that hour she would be in the kitchen preparing one of her dozen specialties adapted from Gourmet to suit my father’s palate and, incidentally, increase the avoirdupois that so excited the boys from St. Mary's.