Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Early Years

As much that is good with my life now, I look back fondly upon the neighborhood where I lived as a child. I grew up in the city of Philadelphia. I suppose you could call it a working class neighborhood. It was predominately Catholic, and, as was common at that time, it was all white. The homes were rowhouses with 2-3 bedrooms and a single bathroom. I lived in a 2 bedroom home with my parents and two brothers. It was a neighborhood that was a kid’s dream, you were never bored because there were so many kids to play with. Every day that we were off from school, we were outside playing all day. There were so many kids that we were always able to play tag or red-light, green-light. We could sit on our front steps and play board games or ride our bikes. We were able to form clubs and softball teams (I remember breaking a neighbor’s window on the narrow street that I lived on). Thanks to a girl who wanted to be a nun we could play school. Our local recreation center (the Rec) provided us with a playground, swimming lessons and so importantly (since I was a girl) an all girls softball team. In the winter, I would make an igloo with my friends. We went indoors just to eat lunch or supper (and I guess take a bathroom break).

We had a library that was a couple of miles away, but the distance never stopped me, even during the winter. I would borrow as many books as I could (twenty in the summer) and return them all within three weeks so I could borrow more. Many of the things we needed were around the corner or down the street, like our corner grocery store, drug store, luncheonette, shoe repair, dry cleaner and optometrist. There was a place across the street from the Rec which sold every type of comic book that was printed at that time. There was even an art gallery for awhile, but I never knew anyone who bought anything there. School was so close by that I came home for lunch every day.

It was a neighborhood where only the husbands went out to work, the women stayed home, taking care of their many kids, cleaning, cooking, and watching the afternoon soaps. In the summer, since no one had air conditioning (except for one family), the housework was generally completed as early as possible.

The big event in our neighborhood was New Year’s Eve. We would all go from one house to another, eating, drinking (beer for the adults), and listening to music. Around midnight, we would watch the ball come down, with Guy Lombardo playing Old Lang Seine on TV. Soon after, I would fall asleep at someone’s house and wake up the next day in my own bed. New Year’s Day was special, too. In Philadelphia, many neighborhoods participated in the String Band competition. Although, I didn’t know of any musicians, our local drug store was owned by Joseph Ferko, who was the founder of the Ferko String Band. The store has been closed for many years and I don’t know where the current members live, but the string band is still a major contender in the annual event. Anyway, after the parade, the band, still in their costumes, would march through the neighborhood, head for the mayor’s house (Mayor Tate went to the same church that I went to), and wind up outside the convent, and perform for the nuns who taught at my school. I remember following the band with my friends, doing the Mummers Strut in the streets. I guess it was like a miniature Mardi Gras, without the necklaces and the booze.

I live in a middle class neighborhood in Florida now. I love the weather, looking out at my pool, admiring the tropical plants and the magnificent sunsets. But it’s not a Neighborhood.

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