When I think back about how many years I felt imprisoned in this almost water locked town, it turns out we only lived there for 10 years. Almost eleven, if you count the time it took us to move into the new house in Plympton - but I guess it only seemed like a lifetime because I was so young. How we ended up in Westport is an interesting story, one that I only learned after turning 34. Finding this out was kind of a shock at first, but I like knowing that it happened to us. Even if it wasn't a story I could tell when I was younger. Had I known, and had I been allowed to share, I certainly would have been the school badass, figure skating notwithstanding.......
My Mom and Dad were married when my mom got pregnant with my older sister in '66. Along came me in '69 and then the baby in '71. This left my mom a 21 year old with three small kids and a husband that, with little surprise, had little interest in being married and having kids. How true that is isn't the point, and I don't want anyone thinking either of them had an ounce of malice towards one another. In fact, the two of them, as young as they were, had some uncanny understanding that involving the three of us kids in any dispute was completely out of the question. I never knew they didn't like one another until I was in my late 20s. I will be forever grateful for that.
My mom began dating my step dad a couple of years after the official split from my bio-dad. We struggled in ways I am sure I will never know - but I do know that my mom ironed a lot of the neighbors clothes for cash and did odd jobs to make ends meet. To my knowledge my dad wasn't a financial contributor at that point, but we all made it work. No anger, no resentment - we were all so young. All of us.
Step dad was a cool bearded dude with a motorcycle and a taste for cars and all things gasoline. He had a good job and was recently divorced. Mom and he met at a cousin's wedding and things went well... and fast. He was a civil engineer (I thought he worked on a train and was very nice to people, but I also thought veins that old ladies got were called "veri-close veins") and my mom was completely in love. Keep in mind that my mom, a 23 year old with three kids, very pretty and a size zero with big boobs and a taste for Mo-Town. It was the seventies, so one has to imagine bras were in limited supply. All I knew was they were in love and announced to us they wanted to get married. And so they did.... and so did we.
My sisters and I were all very sick on that beautiful wedding day in the living room of our HUD home in Springfield, MA. My two sisters had Measles, Mumps and Chicken Pox at the same time. I had narrowly escaped with Chicken Pox only. Let's just say that the only people smiling that day for pictures was Mom and New Dad. Itchy, Scratchy and Me were not happy - but the show must go on.
Things were good for us once they got married. New Dad worked far away in New Bedford or something and came home as often as he could. One of his passions was seafood, a concept we didn't really understand, since we lived 3 hours from the ocean. He, as it turns out, grew up near the coast and loved all things stinky and fishy. Gross. With his new family so far inland and not really grooving to his seafood tastes, he began introducing it to his new friends where we lived and to his friends at work. They were all in love with it! So, he began taking orders for clams, lobster, muscles, fish fish and fish. It was so gross. Things crawling around in the fridge, bags of fish with the eyes still in it. Not things a kid who ate government cheese as a delicacy found even slightly appealing. Not even a little.
New Dad decided that he and Mom should open a little seafood shop in a section of town that got good foot and drive by traffic. He got a business partner that would run the store when he was at his day job and Mom would come by and work the register and do outside sales. Mom was good at chatting up people and selling them seafood. In fact, she was so good at it, the business grew quickly and they had several restaurant accounts and were considering branching out.
New Dad decided that with his new success, he would look into branching out to New York, since some of his clients had restaurants in Springfield and New York. After some inquiry and phone calls, it turns out you have to have "protection" to sell in New York from the mafia. Since the obvious dangers of involving ourselves with mafia types was unappealing, ND decided to keep the operation local, but grow it as big as he could.
Apparently word got out to the local organized crime folk in our city and decided they wanted in on the action. The business partner guy was approached by "someone" and was asked if they could get in on the action. Once this was presented to my Step Father, he quickly decided, "hell no". He had worked to hard to build this and had a lot at stake. No way was he going to cut these guys in willingly to take any of his hard earned cash. This is, after all, where the crime part of organized crime comes in I suppose.
Once the refusal was delivered to Tony Shortfinger, or whatever his name was, Dad was advised that things were probably not over. How true that was. A visit was paid to the store, when he was at his other job and business partner guy was told, under what would have to have been some emphatic telling to that left little to the imagination, that the crime dudes were in and there wasn't any choice. New dad - not happy. Turns out, he ain't 'fraid of the Gamibinos, the Supranos or the Gottis. But his lawyer was...
Dad had taken a small loan at a local bank for the fridge cases and the water tanks and scales and stuff in the store to minimize his initial cash investment. Once he found out about the impending hostile take over by Johnny Short Leg, he marched down to the bank and informed them that things weren't going well and he was not going to be able to pay back the loan. In fact, they should get down to the store right away and pick up that collateral before someone breaks in and steals it. So they did. All of it. Surprise!
Now, I was 6 at this time, so the fact that my parents owned a seafood store barely registered, never mind know that they were tangling with mafia sorts and that our lives were in potential danger. But we were in danger, and it was not good. The business partner guy disappeared for a while, and turned up with no less than two broken arms. Whoopsie.
I remember packing up the house with my parents frantically while one of us had to keep an eye on the driveway. "What are we watching for?" we asked. "Anyone who pulls up to the house that you dont' know, tell Mommy, ok?" I just figured one of dad's friends were coming and he wanted to know so he could make his coffee or something.
It took us about two days to get the house totally packed up and into a big rig. We moved into the new house by the weekend. Never asking a question, never looking back - just got a new room in a bigger house with a huge yard. As far as I was concerned it was a good idea. 30 years later I was told why. The only thing I could ask, through my hand that was over my mouth, was if we were in the witness protection program and were my relatives really my relatives. Mom and Dad laughed at me and explained that the casting of my current family could never happen by the government, or by the best casting director in Hollywood. So true.....