My First Home: Help from the old country

My First Home

Anthony Russo for The Boston Globe

OK, I was a bit skeptical and, truthfully, annoyed when Mary Anne called me at the office and announced, “I’ve found a house for us!’’

“Where?’’ I asked.

“Natick!’’ she bubbled.

Now I was really annoyed.

Natick, where I was born and bred. We had been married for three years, living in an apartment. Mary Anne was pregnant. Time to buy a house.

But Natick? What did she know about Natick?

Mary Anne was an Army brat. She was born in Japan and lived in a number of states, including Alaska, as her Bronze-Star-medal-winning father kept transferring from base to base.

All right, Mary Anne, let’s go see the house. My skepticism elevated when we arrived at the address. There wasn’t much house to see except a peek of the roof’s peak. The house was enveloped by tall, burnt-out hedges; eerie, twisted tree branches crawled up three sides. Everything was overgrown. I eyed what might have been a window. It offered no comfort.

Mary Anne gauged my look accurately.

“But wait until you see the inside,’’ she said. The big living room and built-in hutch had won her over. We walked in. She was right. I had never lived in a home with a fireplace, and this house had one. I was warming up.

“Wait ’til you see the backyard,’’ Mary Anne said. She knew a good-size one was a priority for me so our soon-to-arrive son and the neighborhood kids could play soccer, Wiffle Ball, or whatever game they conjured up.

We bought the place, cleared out the haunted house look on the outside, and moved in, excited and nervous. When the bed collapsed that first night and the refrigerator made very weird noises, I wondered whether our old apartment was still available.

Mary Anne recalled telling me at the time, “Someday we’ll laugh about this’’ — and that I wasn’t amused.

There was inside work required, too. The kitchen had no cabinets. Great. There I was, Mr. Unhandy Man, allergic to tools, all thumbs with hammer and nails.

But here’s where our luck changed. I brought in the Italian brigade, most of them immigrants, my father being one. They had come to this country and either had a trade or learned one to support their families. Fred Saviano was a brilliant carpenter. He built our cabinets. How good was he? That was 46 years ago. The cabinets are still with us.

My father, Leonardo, took care of the landscaping. He uprooted the mess that clung to the house and planted lovely 5-foot-tall hedges that are still in place. The front walk and steps were cracked and unsafe. Frank Pignatelli, a relative and stonemason, took care of those.

Mary Anne and I didn’t have to hire outside help. All the big stuff was done off the brawn and sweaty brows of my dad and his friends. It was their housewarming gift to us.

Mary Anne and I moved in on Labor Day. Our son, Christian, was born a month later. He remembers the house only as it is. We’ve lived here ever since.

Christian, his wife, Courtney, and their 4-year-old daughter visit often. In the backyard, we tell stories. House stories.

Lenny Megliola can be reached at or on Twitter @lennymegs. Send a 550-word essay on your first home to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.