THE HOUSE THAT AL BUILT
(Based On A True Story)
By Rick Manzone
The day we left for the “promised land”, I was anxious, nervous, hesitant and a little excited as to what lie ahead. When we finally reached the future home of our family, the place where a lot of memories and growing up both physically and mentally would occur, my first impression was of wonderment at how large of an area it was, combined with my confusion regarding the rather obvious and steep slope of the hillside. After all, the city was flat, and made of concrete and pavement. Grass was what covered the 20’ x 6’ area between the front porch and the sidewalk. The expanse of the area loomed as large as the entire block I had just left.
We parked along side the road, a rather desolate stretch of Route 16 and climbed out of our motorized version of the covered wagon. The land was green and lush and blanketed with a wide open bluer than imaginable sky. Apparently my father had made previous arrangements to have a local excavation company install a sluice pipe and dirt bridge connecting the road to the field. We walked across it and started to make our way up the hill. To the left was an old unassuming farmhouse with a well house behind it and a medium size barn halfway up the hill. To the right was more hillsides bordered by barbed wire, pine, poplar and other trees.
As we progressed up the slope I could see that a large patch of ground had been dug out and leveled off no doubt by the same excavator. The grass leading to the front of the leveled out patch was weedy and rocky. The hillside behind the patch had a 4 foot wall of dirt that jutted up from the back edge of the patch to the trimmed off edge of grass that covered the upper hill. My father and I reached it together and I stood there pondering how someone could accomplish this feat. I had never seen ground manipulated in this manner before. My father immediately started pacing off the sides as if to measure and confirm that his instructions had been met adequately.
After what seemed like an eternity of pacing, inspecting, and scribbling notes with a pencil he kept tucked behind the top fold of his right ear on a scrap of paper he pulled from his shirt pocket, my father started toward the farmhouse to the north. Tagging along, I asked him where we were going. His reply was nothing less than cryptic to my not yet acquired resourceful way of thinking; he said very matter of fact...”To get electricity!”.
He strolled up to the back door of the house and knocked intently and loudly as if he had stood in front of that door everyday of his life. There was no hesitation or caution or misgiving in his actions or voice. The door opened and there stood a rather tall balding man in overalls wiping his hands on a rather plain dishrag. My father took a courtesy step back from the door and addressed the man. “My name is Al”, proclaimed my father with the same level of intent he had used to knock on the door, “I bought the land next to you and I’m going to build a house on it for me and my family”. “Who is this young man?”, the man asked in a European accent I deemed German or Swedish or Dutch. I really had no idea what country the accent belonged to. I just knew it wasn’t French, Irish or Italian. Being from the city, and having watched a lot of old movies with my mother, I was familiar with those three. “This is my number one” was my father’s rather immediate response. He had a habit, which I would later look back on as very special moments, of referring to me as his number one. I was the first of four sons. We followed the only girl although it would seem my parents kept trying for another girl...at least 3 times after me. I was born on the same day as my father, November 24th. As my mother tells it, my father was born at approximately 6 a.m. and I was born at 6:30 am on the same day some twenty six or so years later. It is this coincidence of birthdays, I suppose, that helped to strengthen the sometimes invisible, often seemingly non-existent, yet present nonetheless, bond he and I would have.
We were invited inside where we were introduced to the man’s wife who was also of the obviously same ethnic background as he was. She was a very plain yet pleasant woman with a soothing tone to her voice. She offered me a glass of milk and some cookies, which I accepted gladly. The two men went back out into the yard to talk. When their conversation concluded, the man and my father shook hands. My father said thank you and we left. My father told me to wait by the leveled off area while he went to get the truck. I watched him make his way to the old Chevy while I finished the cookies.
He pulled out into the road, lined the truck up with the dirt bridge and with a roar that can only be made by a well worn straight six and some rusty exhaust pipes, tore into the field with mud flying in every direction as he climbed the hill and came to a dusty, bouncing, rattling stop. I have to acknowledge however that some of our extremely necessary gear had been strewn across the field during the climb. My father climbed out of the truck like Mario Andretti after winning Indy. He patted the hood as if to say “Atta Boy!” and said “C’mon” as he headed down the field to gather up the lost load.
After rescuing the tossed off portions of our 4 wheeled kit bag, we piled everything up in the middle of the leveled off area. When the truck was unloaded, my father ordered me back into the cab. It was now mid afternoon. We drove down the hill and out onto the highway heading south. I questioned my father as to where we were headed. He said he knew someone we could get some wooden pallets from. We pulled into a warehouse of some sort and I stayed in the truck cab as my father and another man loaded a dozen or so pallets onto the flat bed. Dad then secured the pallets down with rope. He climbed in, maneuvered the truck around and pulled back out onto the highway heading in the direction of the land.
We drove back listening to an 8-track tape of Johnny Cash that included “A Boy Named Sue”, Johnny’s newest hit and my dad’s favorite.