random acts of early morning memories…

Yes, me circa 1981/82

Memories are funny things. Sometimes they arise unbidden in the early morning in the time between sleeping and awakening.

This morning I had the memory of the spring break I spent in Rocky a River, OH. It was freshman year and my parents had told me something along the lines of it was too expensive to fly me home and no one I knew was driving back to Pennsylvania from Ohio, so I went home with a friend. To Rocky River, a suburb of Cleveland.

Cleveland at that time was nicknamed the mistake on the lake.

This was the spring of 1982 and in 1978 Cleveland as a city had defaulted on their loans from local banks. I think it was the late 1980s before a lot of that debacle was resolved.

People in the Cleveland suburbs did not think the city was super safe at that time, so I did not see much of the city then, and have never been back. One thing I did see was something on the inside which was reminiscent of the Galleria in Milan, Italy. It is called The Arcade. It is a famous landmark because it was built in the 1890s as the first indoor mall. When I saw it in the spring of 1982 it really hadn’t been restored much and was kind of rundown but it was so cool. I found photos on the Internet of it today:

I also remember being taken around to see the mansions along Lake Erie. Most of what I remember were these giant Tudor houses with lakefront views that were so gorgeous. Being from the East Coast, to me lakes aren’t as big as the Great Lakes. Looking at the Great Lakes is like looking at an ocean. One of the houses behind great gates was owned by the people who founded Bonnie Bell Cosmetics.

There were also other attractions like this really amazing walking trail and park along the Rocky River. I don’t remember the name of the park or recreation area but the views were crazy beautiful and there were also waterfalls.

Something that has never changed in me is liking to look at old houses and cool old buildings and pretty bits of nature. I’m only sorry I really wasn’t into photography back then.

I also remember it was a time I was utterly homesick and had really wanted to go home for spring break, not stay in Ohio. At night, as I lay in bed in the guest room of this girl kind enough to host me, I used to fiddle with the little transistor radio on the nightstand. If I fiddled with the dial ever so slightly I could briefly pick up KYW 1060, otherwise known as Philadelphia’s news radio.

I don’t know why I remembered all of this. The girl who hosted me is someone I haven’t seen or heard from since freshman year. We were in different sororities and by sophomore year she was one of those people who essentially ditched all of her friends from freshman year and clung to her sorority. Which was kind of awkward for a while because I seem to recall we were in the same dorm sophomore year. But she was someone whose mom had died before freshman year and sometimes I remember her seeming so sad. But that spring break long ago we had fun, and it was nice to be and see where she grew up.

Other memories today were triggered by news on a Facebook Page about the fate of the Dorrance Estate on Monk Road in Gladwyne. Most people refer to it as the Burch Estate as they are the current and/or most recent owners, but to me it will always be the Dorrance Estate. The land is subject to development now. There have been a couple of plans. The current proposal involves creating 27 houses.

Ok that is much better than the last plan, but it still seems so dense to me. But then again I remember the way Gladwyne was when we first moved to suburbia in the mid 1970s. And what I realize this morning when I was speaking to a friend is that Gladwyne back then was a lot like parts of Chester County. In my humble opinion, somewhere no matter what happens to that land, the Dorrances are rolling in their graves over whatever happens on Monk Road.

I remember being on this estate as a kid when we lived on Monk Road for a year. The first year in suburbia was spent in a rental house because our home in the city sold faster than was expected and they needed to find a house at least temporarily in the township my parents wished to reside in (Lower Merion.)

That was a magical year for the now former city kids. We started taking riding lessons and were able to be free range kids in the summer. Well, except for having to go to tennis camp. My mother had decided I needed to know how to play tennis so off I went to the Tennis Farm in Bryn Mawr. The plus side of that (because I truly hate and am bad at playing tennis) is that I made some lifelong friends that summer at that camp.

The Dorrance Estate was way down at the end of the road. The Dorrances at the time also had a pack of Labrador retrievers with two other dogs that would periodically get off the estate. And there was the swimming pool for the staff and the Dorrances’ pool. I went swimming in the staff pool that summer because I was friendly with a girl whose family lived and worked on the Estate and resided in one of the tenant properties.

At that time, Mr Gwinn’s property at the other end of Monk Road was still intact and hadn’t gotten chopped up for McMansions. Mr. Gwinn had many horses and a giant carriage house along with the stables that housed a glorious old sleigh that he would take out on snowy days before the roads were plowed. I still remember he and his wife throwing parties. His nickname was “The Squire”. His wife was a beautiful lady and I remember a summer party they had where she was outside greeting guests in a long Vera or something similar summer hostess gown. Cotton, bright pattern, long and very 70s. It could have been Lillie Pulitzer too. Part of “the Squire’s” property is still intact, but sadly a few years ago his house was torn down. The years had not been kind to the house, and there was a lot more gong on then would make it realistic to save it. But I am told some of the outbuildings remain.

But I also remember the estate and adjoining property that existed before Waverly Heights Retirement Community was built. I remember the horses and ponies that used to stick their heads over the fences for pats and apples and carrots.

The irony is back in the day, Gladwyne to an extent was a lot like parts of Chester County.

When you have random memories like that it makes you realize that with few exceptions do any of us really end up where we thought we would be when we were kids? When I was really little and we lived in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia, I thought that we would always live in the city even when I grew up. Then when we moved to the Main Line suburbs, I swear my friends and I were among the last generations that were groomed to stay there…..

…..Yet that’s not where life took me and many others in the end.

Do I feel I am where I belong? That I am where I am supposed to be? Yes, definitely.

But every once in a while, especially as I get older, these random memories surface. Sometimes I unpack them and dig around in them for a while, and other times I just let them pass on by.

Thanks for stopping by.

Circa 1976/77 Gladwyne, PA taken on Monk Road. Me in tennis whites.