The house that I happily call home is located in Branford, CT. How I ended up here almost 30 years ago is still puzzling to me. Back in the day (40 years ago) when I was a roofing contractor, I would purchase distressed property. During the off season (December thru March) in roofing, I would renovate real estate and then flip them in the spring. If only I was discovered doing this back then I might have had my own TV reality show… “Fred’s Flippin’ Houses.” Yes…I know… the word “flippin” has more than one meaning.
In the immortal words of Marlon Brando who played Terry Malloy in the movie “On The Waterfront,” “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody…and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville!” Well… maybe that’s a stretch… a little melodramatic but you get my point. My main goal wasn’t necessarily to make money but rather to provide a working environment for my employees during the winter. I didn’t want to lay them off. You know what they say about idle time and the devil. They were good hard working men but could easily find their way into trouble if they were unemployed even for a few winter months.
Sunday was always a special day for our family. It was the only day that I intentionally refused to work. There was no amount of money or convincing that would ever make me change my mind. Sunday was Russo Family Day from the crack of dawn until the moon shined brightly and the children were put to bed. Giving up work every Sunday for my family wasn’t hard to do. I owned them that much after working 12-15 hours most days during the roofing season. There were times when my children were young that I would leave so early in the morning that it was still dark outside and return home at night in the dark. Yet there was no compromising Sundays. This was our day… our Russo Family Day.
My wife Mary loved dressing “her three girls” in cute and fancy girly clothes. It always made he feel good. We first attended 10:00 AM Mass at St. Rita Church and then sought out our favorite Greek diner, The Acropolis Diner” for breakfast. What did you expect it to be called… The Coliseum Grille?
Now you might be wondering where Fred is going with this story? He first started out talking about the house that he lives in and he now has us attending Mass and eating breakfast at a Greek diner. In Italian there is an expression that says…. “Pazienza” (have patience).
By noontime, Mass and breakfast were over. What do you do with a wife and three kids on a cold, wintery Sunday afternoon? Go to a amusement park? No. Go for a picnic? I don’t think so? Take a ride into the countryside? Come on now! Go to a movie. Yes, but that cost money and I just expended money both in Church when they passed the basket (twice) and for breakfast. I planned on doing something interesting with no cost to me.
I was renovating a house (yes... the house I now live in) and decided to show my family the extent of the work that I had accomplished with this “rehab” project. “Rehab.”… That’s a word that property developers always use today! I may have actually invented that word back then.
The visit to the house would cost me nothing but time… well at least I thought so. When we arrived at the property, my daughters realized that the house was near the water (not waterfront property but lots of views of Long Island Sound everywhere and just a stone’s throw from the beach) the coordinated pleading began. They gave me more reasons why I should keep the house rather than sell it. I believe their list of reasons would exceed any list found in the Guinness’s Book of Records.
Needless to say…I was quickly disarmed, did not have the heart to say, “No” and quickly conceded that I would keep the house for our summer use but would rent it out in the off season. After spending our first summer there with beach towels being used as curtains over the bedroom windows for privacy and air mattresses for bedding I realized that I liked the house more than my wife and daughters. Crossing the Q Bridge heading toward Branford was like crossing the Newport Bridge into Newport RI.
Branford was a different environment. People who live near the water have a different set of priorities that are water related such as boating, sailing, swimming, fishing, clamming, walking and drinking... and not necessarily in that order. The truth of the matter is that I never did any of those things and have neither the intention, inclination nor interest to do so now.
Here I am, thirty years later living full time in my lovely fully renovated Victorian style home. My beloved wife Mary passed almost 8 years ago and my three daughters are all happily married and now live in their own homes with their husbands, children and pets.
It makes me wonder every now and then whether it would have been wiser to have brought my family to the movies that cold Sunday afternoon in March rather than trying to get off easy by showing them the four bedroom home where I now live… alone.