My First Home: Pressured to leave, determined to stay

My First Home Boston
James Heimer for The Boston Globe

My parents, who are from Alabama, married on June 27, 1942, and moved to Boston that September. They lived with my dad’s sister in Jamaica Plain. Four generations shared the three-family house. My parents, being Southerners, believed in big families. I am the eldest of eleven.

My dad bought our house in 1950 in Roxbury, a white three-decker. It was wonderful. We had yards, front and back. The crab apple tree allowed Dad to still make a pie with enough sugar to choke a horse. I no longer had to share a bedroom with my brothers, but as the size of our family grew, we soon occupied the entire house.

We were one of the first black families to buy a home in Roxbury. A short time later, my parents learned that our neighbors had signed a petition claiming we shouldn’t be living there because we had too many children. They had no clue with whom they were dealing.

Dad was a waiter for the Tuskegee Airmen and served in the Civilian Conservation Corps under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He entered as a private and in less than a year became a corporal. His also served with the Ninth Calvary, once known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.’’ He had dealt with horses and snakes in Louisiana, so these neighbors were no match for him. He ignored the petition, kept working three jobs, and attended to the many mundane things of life in a large family.

Because there were so many of us, we were raised with strict rules but lots of love. Dad was a deacon, so that took it to a whole other level. Although that love was tempered at times with some forms of physical discipline (we’re still trying to kill that bush where you got to choose the implement to inflict your punishment), we always knew right from wrong and to act accordingly.

In the end, the neighbors, as they got to know us and came to the realization that my dad and his brood were not going anywhere, acclimated. There were the DeBellas next door who brought grapevines from their native Italy. The Nickersons, who lived on the next street, built a full-size dollhouse in their backyard — you could actually stand in it. The Leeks owned the first television set in the neighborhood, and we would spent hours with Howdy Doody and the peanut gallery and “Your Show of Shows.’’ The neighborhood had so many fruit trees, we had our pick and knew exactly whose yards had the best.

Most of those neighbors are no longer here. Mr. DeBella was on a ladder trimming bushes when he fell, had a heart attack, and died while we were playing dodgeball. As youngsters, it was our first close-up view of death. I lost my own father last month.

Today, it’s still my parents’ house. As we grew up and left home, my mother would throw out beds. My dad would say: “Don’t do that. Some of them will be back.’’ And sure enough, a sister and a brother live there now.

From this house sprang one of the first black ironworkers, a paratrooper in the Second Airborne Division, a disc jockey, a master electrician, a Marine veteran, an operating hoisting engineer, a nurse, and a physical therapist for professional athletes. Mom is a licensed practical nurse and earned a master’s degree in education in her 40s while still raising us. Dad was a recording artist, performer with his own gospel group, and the holder of several US patents.

This house was and is the center of our family’s strength, unity, and love for one another and our neighbors.

Helen Morisette is an administrative assistant who has worked at the Globe for more than a quarter century. Send comments to and a 550-word essay on your first home to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue. Subscribe to our newsletter at