Historical Significance

The stale air hits me like a slap to the face: soupy, syrupy, strained like carrots in a baby food jar. I stand in the opening, both ready to step out onto the smoking sidewalk and to scramble back into the air conditioned solace of the building, stark choices on a stark day. The crowd makes the choice for me, however, shoving me unceremoniously out into the reality of a heatwave I wish had waited a week to arrive. I stumble into the blazing sunshine, suddenly sweaty with a perspiration that springs to my forehead, and cheeks, and everywhere else all at once. 

“Is that the Liberty Bell?” Alexa asks, inquisitive as always. She doesn’t complain about the heat because I’m not sure she feels it. Oh, the joys of youth.

“That’s the building that houses the Liberty Bell, yes,” I tell her, nodding my head in the general direction of the structure itself, but she has stopped listening. Because, while this is a part of history, it’s not a part of her personal one, so to her it’s just one more thing she has to look at, that someone told her was special.

“And that’s Independence Hall,” I continue, pointing far out across the expanse of grass that separates the Liberty Bell building from the old Pennsylvania State House.

“How come the Liberty Bell isn’t up in Independence Hall?” asks Alexa, who appears to be listening to me again. I can never tell, except for when she opens her mouth.

“Why, because it’s cracked,” I say, but she doesn’t laugh, though I think my joke is funny. “They can’t very well ring a cracked bell,” I add. She still doesn’t laugh. Continue reading “Historical Significance”

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Endless Summer

When I was a kid, summers were for having fun outside. They were all about riding our bikes, swimming (if we had the chance), playing in the hydrant (more often than swimming), YMCA camps, and staying away from bologna as much as possible. It was the time of year when, even though we had responsibilities, they weren’t as immediate or as detrimental to our precious time as at other times of the year.

That’s because summers were truly endless. It was like someone flipped the switch, the room became bright, and the bulb didn’t burn out until three months down the line. It didn’t matter that we still had church every week because nothing else was really set in stone. Because summers were for us kids. My mom still went to work every day, and she left us a chores list, but we would blast those out of the water and move on to the more fun stuff.

It’s funny. Even though we lived in the poorer part of town (sorry, North Philly) and there was a lot of… activity around, it was like we were in our own protective bubble, being kids. Continue reading “Endless Summer”

300 Writing Prompts: #135

“Write about your first home: your childhood home or your first apartment or house of your own.”

5711 BroomallWow, nearly 40 years on this earth and still, when I think of home, my mind goes back to 5711 Broomall Street in South Philadelphia. It’s the place of probably my biggest progress because it’s where I learned how to find myself. Even though it was cramped, and my room was like a broom closet, it is where most of my integral memories were formed. When I think of 5711 Broomall Street I think of…

Spring baseball. I used to tape up a bullseye on my closet door at right around the area where I felt like the strike zone would be. Then I would put a length of masking tape on the floor back by my window, and I would stand behind it. I would take the ball from my over the door basketball set and play out entire games. If I hit the strike zone it was an out. If I missed the strike zone it was a hit for the opposing team. I would play as if I was both sides, and I would be exhausted by the end.

Latchkey fun. I busted my head one day when we got home from school, in that “between time” before my mother arrived. I knew the leg of the stool was hanging on by a thread, but I still tested it. I still bounced on it. While I was on the phone with my nana one afternoon it completely collapsed, I crashed to the floor, and I hit my head hard on the radiator. It was winter so the thing was damn hot. I still have a spot on my head where hair won’t grow.

Getting locked out. Once, when I was riding public transportation home from school, I walked the several blocks home before realizing I didn’t have my key. It was the dead of winter — snow was on the ground — and I huddled out on the front stoop waiting for someone to come rescue me. Eventually, frozen as a popsicle, I realized I would have to do something. So I somehow clumsily climbed on the roof above the porch and jimmied open the window to my mom’s bedroom. The radiator was my friend that day.

Making out. In high school I got my first job and my first girlfriend, not necessarily in that order. After school I would invite her back to the house even though I was supposed to be on my paper route, and we would make out for about an hour and a half each day, sometimes only stopping when we heard a car pull up outside. Sometimes I would even have to slip her out the back door. Yikes.

Making snow angels. It might have been the ghetto, and we might have been poor, but there are some things everyone did, one of which was snow angels. I recall times when the snow was still coming down thick and we would have a snow day from school. My sister and I would layer up, get on our boots, and drop down backward onto the carpet of snow, waving our arms out like we were butterflies. Mine never came out quite right, probably because I would always get up so quickly the snow would fill in part of my wings right away.

Tending the “garden.” The backyard was a lost cause, but my dad got it into his head that he was going to build a little garden back there one spring. We were pulled into service pulling massive amounts of weeds, mowing the overgrown yard, and raking the dirt when all the grass and weeds were gone. It was hot, sweaty work, and we hated every minute of it. It was not satisfying after the fact either, because the ground just wasn’t right for growing anything. The weeds eventually grew back.

Hiding beneath the stairs. I think of Harry Potter now, how in that first book he was stuck in the tiny space under the stairs, how much he hated it. It was the opposite for me. When we first moved into the house I remember racing through every room trying to find a small space to call my own, a place to hide. And there it was, waiting for me, and it looked just like that little room that Harry hated. I slid in there quiet as a mouse and made it my own. Eventually my mother decided to use it for various storage, but before that it was all mine. Shhhh.

Falling onto the couch. We called it “judu,” the art of standing on the arms of the couch and falling face first onto the couch cushions. It was such a rush, too, and I’m still not quite sure how we started doing it anyway. It was probably Joy’s idea, as most things back then were, and I followed along. The test was to hold our hands laced together behind our backs before we fell. If we unclasped our hands before we hit bottom we were disqualified and the other person won that round.

To this day I still think that “judu” was the ultimate rush. There were some really good times spent in and around that house, even though these days I spend more time thinking about the negatives than the positives. Time to fix that perception. This was a start.

Sam

From Philadelphia, With Love

greetings-from-philadelphia-pennsylvania-pa-postcard

“Where are you from?” she asked me, and I didn’t know what to say, so I paused. I mean, I’m originally from Philadelphia, but I haven’t lived here since the ’90s. I live in upstate New York now, but I don’t know if I’ve ever considered it a pad from which to launch my life. My life as I know it did begin there, but can I possibly be “from” there?

She asked me this question on a bus in the Irish countryside, when we met for the first time. I asked her the same, and without hesitation she said, “Canada. I’m from Canada.” I found out later that she had chosen to interpret that question the first way, because it was where she had been born but she lived in eastern Pennsylvania. Now she lives in Texas, but if I asked her the question today she would still say “Canada” in a heartbeat.

I wonder how long it will take her to finally say somewhere else? Perhaps it’s a length of time thing. Wherever you’ve lived the longest is where you’re from. Maybe when I’ve lived in upstate for over 21 years I will finally be able to say without pausing that it’s where I’m from. Or it may not matter at all. I might always feel stuck between two worlds, just like in life.wp-1458475610286.jpgWe either love where we came from or we hate it. I don’t remember who said that, but I completely agree with it. There’s usually no middle ground, from my experience. And I think people assume that I hate it because I don’t live here anymore, which is a falsehood. I love this place. I love the atmosphere, the people, and just the “feel” of Philly. It has a hold on me, and it always has, so every time I come back I just breathe it in and try to hold it forever so I don’t forget.

Maybe that’s what I worry about more than most things, that I will somehow forget all the things that make this place so special. I think that’s the reason I just walked the streets of downtown the last time I was here, to soak it in, to revisit my old haunts and see that they’re still here. I didn’t get a chance to do that this time, well, not really, but I did get to walk a few of my old paths.

We can’t get back the past, though. Time always moves on, and it takes us with it, like it or not. I can’t go home again, and yet it remains my home. It’s still where I’m from, and I am so proud to tell anyone who asks, just like I told that girl on a bus in the Irish countryside 7 years ago, even though I paused. I think that was the 7 years pause (the length of time I had lived in upstate New York to that point), but I still gave the correct answer.

And when my friend asked me where I was going this weekend, I didn’t even pause before I told her, “I’m going home.”

Sam

Streets of Philadelphia

“I walked the avenue ’til my legs felt like stone. I heard voices of friends vanished and gone. At night I feel the blood in my veins, just as black and whispering as the rain… on the streets of Philadelphia.” ~Bruce Springsteen

I still call it home — the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection — even though I haven’t lived there for nearly 17 years. I catch myself doing it more often than not when people ask me if I’m ever going back. I tell them that some people love where they grew up, some people hate where they grew up, and I’m in the former group. Of course every time I do go back usually my time is scripted. But I went back a little over a week ago, and I had some time to myself.

So I walked the streets of Philadelphia for the first time in 17 years with no destination in mind.

I guess I’m just drawn to history, the type of history that I took for granted when I lived in Philadelphia, the kind of history that can’t be overstated. There’s just something about being across the street from the old State House, knowing that the most famous Congress in history met there to draft a document that is the basis for life in America even now, over 200 years later.

Almost to the State House, and that famous Bell, when I passed by an old cemetery that drew my eye. There were elaborate paths through it, and I could imagine Benjamin Franklin being buried there, having a huge headstone and adoring mourners leaving flowers there day and night. Of course how could they still be mourning now? But no one said I was logical. Besides, I was a bit tired from all the walking. I’ll take a pass.

Ironically this shop was closed.

Remind me never to drink any of these alcoholic beverages, but these labels looked awfully cool on the side of that truck. It was fun to wander from 10th and Fitzpatrick all the way down past South Street, to the Delaware River and back to Geno’s and Pat’s Steaks in South Philly. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had no true time constraints and the ability to just go wherever the wind led me.

It was great, but it was over all too soon. There’s something to be said for routine, but in the random there can be a satisfaction that nothing else can ever achieve. So it was nice to go back home, to enjoy time with people I love, but to also spend time just being home, on the streets of Philadelphia.

Sam

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