This morning when I was making a fresh pasta salad I got to thinking of summers past. Here I am an adult in my own kitchen in Chester County and I hear the sounds of memories on a hot summer day and places now a lifetime away.
This has been a big month. One of my best friends turned 50 on June 20th and another today June 26th. The one turning 50 today should remember this time of year when we were 12 and 13 respectively and we were suffering through the Tennis Farm at Shipley – our mothers had big hopes for our tennis capabilities (and that was all shot to hell in a hand basket rather quickly!)
My father’s birthday is on June 29th. He was born on the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. Odd bit of trivia to remember but when I was between 9th and 10th grades and on my first visit to Europe, the village in Alsace I was in had some sort of Saints Day remembrance.
So I was looking through old photos today and pulled out a couple in particular having to do with my father – one photo was taken at my great aunts’ former home on Ritner Street in South Philadelphia when he was only a few weeks old. The photo says on the rear in fading old-fashioned script “July 20, 1935 baby 21 days old”. My father is being held by his father whom I only have a few memories of because he died when I was quite young.
One of the memories I do have of Pop-Pop, my father’s father, is him teaching me how to plant my first tomato plants in my first garden. Yes, a summer memory and I remember we planted plum tomatoes and one of the plants bore a tomato that looked like a little baseball mitt.
Another photo I was looking at was from the late spring into summer of 1941 when my father was taken to Washington DC to see his godmother, my Great Aunt Josie who went to Washington I am told to work for the war effort during World War II – I know that was something that not every young Italian American woman of her generation was permitted to do.
It is these hot and humid summer days thus far over the past few days that have made me think of other hot and humid summer days of my life.
I remember days like this in the 7th to 8th grade area of my life and I remember swimming in the pool reserved for the estate help of the old Dorrance Estate on Monk Road in Gladwyne. One of the girls I knew at the time had parents who worked on the estate and I believe she and her family also lived on a tenant property. Don’t know if that second swimming pool still exists today – the estate is now inhabited by former in-law relatives of designer Tory Burch I believe. It was a fabulous pool and even as an adult I marvel that it was for the help.
I remember days like this when I was even smaller and we lived in Society Hill and would go to see my great aunts in South Philadelphia. I have these very distinct memories not of greasers and mobsters but of the little old Italian ladies up and down the street socializing with each other out on their stoops and front porches in aluminum garden chairs and even plain wooden kitchen chairs. Their voices traveled up and down the block in the humid summer air. It was a comforting sound, a cacophony of English and Italian. A lot of the houses had no air-conditioning, or if they did they were window units. I am old enough to remember when most did not have central air. It was at that house in South Philadelphia I learned how to make pasta on a giant ceramic topped kitchen table too.
I spent a lot of time with my great aunts growing up. My father was their favorite out of his siblings and my parents’ relationship with my father’s late mother was difficult at best a lot of my growing up years. My father’s mother and I actually had a better relationship when I became an adult and she was living in a nursing home close to where I was working.
Grandmom was a very intelligent woman, just not very easy-going. Grandmom was someone who truthfully hurt my feelings a great deal as a small child. I remember one time I had either made brownies or chocolate chip cookies for the first time with my mother and for some reason I wanted to tell Grandmom. I was maybe in 3rd or 4th grade. So we called her up on the phone. She did not say “that is wonderful” or any of those simple platitudes little girls love, she had to tell me how my oldest female cousin had made Baked Alaska or something preposterous. I was crushed. She was however one of the oldest survivors of breast cancer I ever knew.
Summer days like this also remind me of my mother’s parents. Mumma and Poppy were so much fun. My Poppy was this little Irishman and Mumma was Pennsylvania German. But with the two of them there was never any awkwardness, you just knew you were loved.
Summer and my Mumma meant fruit pies with that crazy perfectly high meringue on top like you see in diners. Only her pies were amazing tasting too with perfect flakey crusts. And one summer we all remember her also helping convince my father to let us take home a stray kitten who found us in Avalon. “I always have loved a red cat.” she said. And yes, Kitty Joy came home.
Summer also meant days down in the Gardens of Ocean City NJ playing on the beach when I was really little and then playing in the dunes of Avalon (there used to be amazing sand dunes before mother nature and over building took over). Summer at the beach meant decorating your bikes for bike parades, getting soft fresh donuts still warm from the oven dusted with confectioners sugar and sticky cinnamon buns from the bakery with my father on early weekend mornings, and looking at the constellations and for shooting stars on a wide open beach at night.
Summer also meant to me as a child the art and crafts fair that my mother and a lot of her friends helped start and volunteered for at Head House Square in Society Hill – otherwise known as the Head House Square Shambles. There you would see art of many of Philadelphia’s best artists of the day, including family friend Margery Niblock.
Summer also meant visits to my mother’s German friends who were sisters. They lived in Schwenksville and Harleysville respectively in amazing old farm houses. One sister used to have a 4th of July party we went to sometimes as a little girl. It was a huge thing with people and kids all over the place. I remember pigs roasting on a spit, watermelons carved into baskets and filled with fruit salad and grown men acting like boys and taunting the billy-goat who usually butted someone right in the rear before the night was over.
So where am I going with all of this? I don’t really know. I just seem awash in memories this week so I decided to write some of them down. Like many people, I live in Chester County now, but it isn’t where I started life. And those memories of chasing fireflies and snap pops exploding on a hot summer sidewalk or salt water taffy on the boardwalk or kick the can in the twilight and rounds of Marco Polo in the pool should be remembered fondly once in a while.
In the adult you find the echoes of the child they once were, don’t you? The kaleidoscope doesn’t have to be a crazy twirl, if you let your mind open you too will remember some of what made summers your own as a child.