The day my sister decamped to the basement she was an annoyed 15-year-old with a Bay City Roller’s fetish. Once down there it didn’t take long before she morphed into… Other. I couldn’t pinpoint the actual moment she transformed, but I’m reasonably certain it started with her sixteenth birthday party, a set of keys and the basement door.
I recall feeling quite honored the day she summoned me into her lair to snap a few party pics. However, it didn't take long before a feeling of dread washed over me as I gripped the door knob. I didn’t bother turning on the lights, I knew there were only twelve steps between me and another world.
As I took the last stair, I was met by the ominous opening riff of AC/DC’s Hells Bells. Next, peals of laughter assailed my ears as thick plumes of cigarette smoke assaulted my sinuses. Bobbing and weaving my way around the sea of salami hanging from the ceiling (Nort’ side Italians will understand the reason), I neared my sister’s room. I paused in the shadows, recollecting the look of terror on my brother’s face when he caught her smoking Marlboro’s for the first time and leafing through Glamour magazine. The little twerp had been spying on her and it was a forgone conclusion he’d get caught. Still, the threat she gave him before he scurried back upstairs, “If you tell mom, or dad what you saw (dramatic pause) … You’re f**king dead…” cemented the truth that tangling with our older sister would reap massive amounts of misery.
A few weeks later, her menacing threat did bear fruit in the form of Mumsie, who demanded to know how my six-year-old brother knew the ‘eff’ word. Obviously, our brother had the good sense to keep his trap shut. Still, I gotta say, I was a little miffed Mumsie’s first thought was bee-lining it to me first with her accusations. I should have expected it though. Such is the life of a middle child. Nevertheless, I managed to come up with a plausible explanation, (not a lie, I would never lie to my mum) cuz there was NO WAY in hell I’d rat out my sister!
Honestly, I could have, quite a few times. It’s not like I was clueless when she snuck out the basement since the door was right beneath my bedroom. Her destination was a no brainer as well. Most teens living in the twin city area could be found at our favorite hangout Shakey’s Pizza Parlor, which happened to be less than a half mile from our house on foot. What was so special about the place? Shakey’s boasted the latest arcade video games! On Friday nights teens paid a one dollar cover charge and stood shoulder to shoulder for hours just for a chance to play one of the those games.
Not that my sister would ever lower herself to stand five deep quarter in hand waiting to play Donkey Kong. The older crowd of Nort’ side teens had designated Shakey’s as the rally point where they’d discuss plans, divvy up bodies and then pile into an assortment of Muscle cars. Cigarettes lit, booze at the ready, they’d peal out in a cloud of burned rubber—no doubt for another evening of poor judgment and questionable activities.
all content & family photos property of L. Campbell
Until I made friends beyond my Italian neighborhood, I had no idea Crème de Cocoa liqueur wasn’t actually a topping for ice cream—Gnocchi never made it on the menu at the first Thanksgiving dinner—or that the end of a loaf of bread is only known as the 'Culo' in an Italian household. Intrigued? Then kick back with a glass of vino and take a glimpse into my life growing up Nort’ side.