AT HOME IN CHATHAM
By Mary Tunny Weichert
The word home brings many good feelings, happy memories, emotionally moving visual images, and hopeful expectations to my mind. It is the place I begin and end each of my days. It is the safe haven I share with my family, friends, and pets. When I am home, I feel protected, welcomed, loved, respected, and at ease. It is my retreat from the outside world. It is the foundation of my well-being.
“Amid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which, see through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere.”
— John Howard Payne
The environment in my home isn’t, of course, always tranquil. But even in times of trouble, our home gives my husband, children, and me a secure place to withdraw, work through issues together or on our own, and restore the inner strength we need to navigate personal and professional challenges.
THE NARRATIVE OF HOME INCLUDES MANY LAYERS
Although home for me now is primarily the house I share with my husband and children on Hedges Avenue in Chatham, my memories of home include a childhood house on Orchard Road, the house of my adolescence on Lum Avenue, the apartment on Summit Avenue Tut and I shared in the early days of our marriage, and the first house we owned on Lafayette.
Eager to leave the high taxes of Newark behind and establish a family home, my parents moved to Chatham in the 1950s. Along with six brothers and sisters, I attended Chatham’s outstanding public schools, including Washington Avenue Elementary, Chatham Middle School, and Chatham High School. The houses I lived in, my neighbors, and my schools, teachers, and school chums were central to my being at home in Chatham.
The house I grew up in on Orchard Road.
SAFE AND FRIENDLY, CHATHAM WAS BRIMMING WITH OPPORTUNITIES FOR KIDS
Our neighborhood was full of kids with whom I routinely played pickup baseball, kick the can, and capture the flag after school before our parents called us in for dinner. We kids were free to ride our bikes, walk to each other’s houses, and stroll into town without parental supervision. We felt safe, and our parents were confident we could get around Chatham without harm.
Between the 1950s and 1970s, before the midtown direct train line changed its demographic, Chatham was not considered affluent. Many families were large, most moms stayed home to care for their kids, and money, as our parents emphasized, did not grow on trees. Wanting something meant finding a way to make it happen without our parents’ involvement and funding. As a result, we engaged in chores at home and around the neighborhood to earn spending money. Common options included shoveling snow, raking leaves, delivering newspapers, and babysitting.
HISTORY OF THE ORCHARD GAZETTE
One year, a group of us 8-to-9-year-old kids from Orchard Road and Oliver Street started a local paper, The Orchard Gazette. Each of us had a role either in the journalism (a term we probably didn’t know then), delivery, or organization of the paper. We interviewed neighbors for news about pets, local baseball teams, books to read, and other neighborhood goings on. After gathering the news, we sold hand-written copies of The Orchard Gazette back to our sources as well as other neighbors for 10 cents a piece. Thanks to our kid-friendly subscribers, The Orchard Gazettewas a hit. I don’t remember what we earned in total from our publishing venture then, but I do remember that it gave us modest spending money. More importantly, we felt accomplished and proud. To this day, I reflect fondly on my activities with friends from those days. Our experiences taught us the importance of camaraderie, how to resolve conflicts, and to respect each other’s differences.
Oliver Street and Washington Avenue, the home of many childhood adventures.
PERSPECTIVES FROM SHELTERING AT HOME
Over the last eight weeks since the COVID-19 shelter-at-home mandate, I, like many of you, have spent more time at home than ever before. Interactions with my husband and children, long walks through Chatham each day, and continued work have helped alleviate some of the cabin fever that accompanies too many hours in the house. Even so, my family and I are bursting at the eaves to get back to our previous routines.
On the other hand, our recent quarantine has given me pause to reflect on the meaning of home. In addition to the house I share with my family, I now see home in context with my life overall. It is a sanctuary that includes interactions and friendships from my childhood, my ever-shrinking planet earth, and my country, state, town, neighborhood, street, and yard.
Over the decades, many friendships from my childhood in Chatham have grown stronger. We have supported each other in raising children, starting or changing careers, marrying, divorcing, caring for ill parents, bidding farewell to dying parents, managing health challenges, and celebrating our kids’ and our own accomplishments.
Now, especially as aging rouses deeper understanding and new focal points of life, I feel more blessed than ever to have grown up in a small, compassionate community that supports connections between people, consideration for others, and commitment to helping neighbors. Living in Chatham has guided my narrative. It has given me the opportunity to cultivate meaningful relationships and explore life on my path toward self-discovery. I’m grateful that Chatham is the home of my past and present. With luck, it will be the home of my future.