rambling down memory lane….

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Some weeks I write a lot, other weeks not so much.  As I sat at this traffic light this afternoon headed towards home I realized again how much I do NOT miss the Main Line.  And I smiled again at the presumptuousness of those who refer to Malvern and places like Chester Springs as the “Main Line”. They don’t get it, it’s not the Main Line, and thank goodness.

When I was growing up the Main Line was a far more civilized place until the changes started to seem to appear in the late 1970s .  It was then that I remember my mother remarking about people who had bought a neighbor’s house on Brentford Road in Haverford always lined up their expensive cars right out front like a car lot or showroom, instead of parking them down  behind the stone wall near the garages.

But it was true, it was the little changes. At first you didn’t notice much.  But as the old families moved out, and new people moved in and old homes started to get torn down or bumped up to what we would come to call McMansions, change was coming.  Long time businesses closed, new businesses came in, some good some bad.

Movie theaters started to close. First I remember was the Suburban in Suburban Square.  That was a grand old theater once upon a time. I can’t even find photos of it anymore.  The next movie theater I remember closing was the Wynnewood theater. Then in more revent times the Ardmore Theater on Lancaster Avenue which has yet another horrible fate planned for it.

Then the department stores. I am not sure of the order but Bonwit Teller, B. Altman, Wanamaker’s, then ultimately Strawbridge & Clothier. For me Bonwit Teller and B. Altman were particular favorites. Followed by Wanamaker’s.  Strawbridge’s in Ardmore was always hit or miss I thought.

Then old time restaurants and diners.  Now I am not saying a lot of these places were culinary masterpieces, but they were the everyday “joints”.  The Viking Inn and Smorgasbord in Ardmore, for example. It opened in 1930s and was the only Scandinavian restaurant around.  I forget when it closed exactly, but it died a slow and horrible death.  And all of the diners that used to be around. I remember some were even those silver metal diner buildings.  Like the one which was in Rosemont once upon a time.  Now there is a McDonald’s where it once was.viking

I remember as even a teenager, out here, where I live now in Chester County, seemed so very far away. Today, I can’t imagine being anyplace else.

I had medical appointments today and had to venture to the Main Line to go to Penn Medicine in Radnor. It’s amazing that we live in and around affluent areas because the roads are in such terrible shape.  And the drivers.  Cutting people off, angry honking, lights and stop signs are all apparently optional.

Every time I go to the Main Line now I feel like I can’t breathe.  There is so much more density and traffic and I feel about a million years old when I pass by what was someone’s house I once knew.  You drive by and you remember who used to live there and the house wasn’t a McMansion or a townhouse or apartment building.  It was just a nice house.

When I was growing up after we moved to the Main Line I remember summers coming back from the beach.  My parents’ early cars had no air-conditioning so I remember the searing end of summer city heat as we came over either the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman. When we reached the Gladwyne exit of the Schuylkill the temperature just dropped.   All that verdant green. Not so much anymore because well development, development, development.

134 Cheswold Ln, Haverford, PA 19041Even the august Merion Cricket Club is not safe from development and supersizing. Truly lovely when growing up, today, it’s a shell of what it was.  Changes to the original dining rooms, elimination of the casual and teenager friendly Cricket Room and a series of chefs who aren’t remarkable except for how the food has declined in spite of the tarting up of dining rooms. Plans exist to turn Merion into a suburban country club.  These plans would include some of my favorite houses around the club. I especially loved the pink stucco house at 134 Cheswold Lane.  That was the house my parents house sat in the summer of 1973.  The summer the Haverford Hotel was torn down .

I have written about this house and the Haverford hotel before. It was at this pink house on Cheswold Lane that my younger sister learned how to swim in the pool behind the house in the secret garden you could not see from the street.  The garden had the first blueberry bushes I had ever seen.

I also remember spending Saturdays in Bryn Mawr with my friends. Going to Katydid and the bookstore next to it. The Greek diner down from the movie theater. Maybe buy candy at Parvins Pharmacy.

Katydid was originally in Bryn Mawr before moving to Wayne .  They had these little mice in little dresses that were real fur. We used to collect them.  I think some of them are still in my dollhouse from growing up that my sister has in storage somewhere.

It was nice being a kid then. Summer nights were for kick the can and other games we actually were able to play in the road without anyone hitting us.  Certainly can’t do that on Main Line streets now.

When my friends and I were growing up, we always thought we’d grow up and live where our parents lived. HA! It was a nice thought, but between the home prices and ridiculous real estate taxes most of us either can’t or choose not to.

There are so many businesses that are gone. Restaurants. Bakeries. Book stores and who remembers The Owl at Bryn Mawr College? I loved, loved, loved that store. Second hand and antique and out of print books. The Owl bookstore was I think founded to support the college’s scholarship fund. And the older ladies who ran The Owl were amazing.  That place was floor to ceiling books, and several floors of books. It was dusty and sometimes dim in the lighting department but you could get lost for hours looking at books. It was heavenly! (Especially on a rainy day.)

Driving around today I wondered if half of these people in their giant SUVs on their phones ever paused to breathe?  Did they enjoy where they lived? Or was it all back and forth and maybe push someone out of line at the Starbucks drive thru?

Thanks for the memories old Main Line, but nouveau Main Line? I just don’t miss you.  You don’t get yourself anymore. History and tradition and genteel living, all memories.

Thank you Chester County for the new memories.  And being able to find spindle back rocking chairs from Maine in old barns.

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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.

bette davis eyes

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It’s funny how beautiful a storm can look on the way in…

Remember the Kim Carnes song Bette Davis Eyes from 1981? Lots of artists have covered it since then, including Taylor Swift.

I had it pop up on a Spotify 80s play list recently and now it’s an earworm.  It’s in part an earworm because it reminds me of someone I knew and lost track of a long time ago.

Long ago and far away I knew a woman who had a bright future.  A rising star in pharmaceutical sales she reminded you of Bette Davis when you looked at her.  (My age is showing indeed because half of the people who read this will  be in the camp of “Who was Betty Davis?”)

This girl also reminded me of the William Blake poem with the line “tyger, tyger burning bright.”

She was a lot of fun, often exhausting and she loved to dress up, dance, and party.  It was the 1980s, so a lot of us did. Girls just wanted to have fun…quite literally.

Then one night she showed up someplace after another party.  She was just too, too. I think you get the drift, right? We had her keys taken away at a place and someone was either supposed to drive her home or pour her into a cab. I left that place early, and for days I did not know what had happened.  It was the days of BEFORE as in way before social media and really even cell phones (there were pagers entering our world somewhere around that time but I do NOT remember when. I never had a pager.).

I realized after a few days I had not heard from her. And she wasn’t picking up answering machine messages. I remember calling around and finding out she had wrapped herself around a tree and was in the hospital. In ICU.  Her accident occurred  on a twisty road where within a short amount of time someone else I knew had a late night after-partying accident  and for a while was even in the same hospital as this woman I knew. The sad difference was the second person was given the gift of a real second chance at life and recovered, got married, and had a family.

This woman I knew? She ceased to exist as any of us knew her that one fateful night.  I don’t know if she became a quadriplegic or a paraplegic, but she was in a wheelchair and she also had brain damage. A lot of it as I remember.

And what was the most awful thing about the brain damage? Her memory seemed to stop at a certain point.  I remember trying to visit her after it happened, and even up to a couple of years after it happened.  She had absolutely no clue who I was because those memories were instantly erased on impact the night of the accident. That was crushingly hard. You remembered her, had some really great memories of going to the beach and to black tie parties and so on, but she had absolutely no clue who most of us were. It did make you cry.

Eventually a lot of us stopped trying to visit her.  I was one of them.   She was in a wheelchair and she lived with her parents. And her parents were obviously very protective of her and well if you didn’t grow up with her, go to church with any of them…. you just felt uncomfortable.  So I let her go. I still have a photo of her  somewhere sitting on a fireplace bench at my parents’ house. Bright red lipstick and a smile that not only lit up her face but every room she was in.

Soon as time fades and life goes on, you meet other people. But every once in a while, like when I hear a certain song, there she is all shiny and bright and we are in our early 20s.

Suffice it to say, I learned at an early age why you didn’t drink and drive. So I had not thought of her in years at this point until I heard that Kim Carnes song.

But I think why I am writing this is it’s time, and also because we also have this total addiction crisis in this country.  Addicts and alcoholics…who doesn’t know people with these issues…. and for all of the rehabs and programs the numbers keep growing. And growing.

I have one friend who was made a widow by heroin a few years ago now.  Her husband decided to be a teenager, and one dose, one fatal dose was all it took to overdose. I have another friend who more recently lost her son to an overdose in another state. These life circumstances have had a profound effect on their lives.  One friend has persevered and become stronger and the other worries me because emotionally she is a fragile shell.

I had another childhood friend whom a lot of us lost to an overdose  in 1998.  It was long before people were talking about it as much.  He had struggled with addiction and alcoholism from the time he was a teenager.  He was often so bad he was terrifying.  I remember about a year or so before he died ending up in a car with him on the Schuylkill Expressway and literally being afraid I would not get home alive he was driving so fast.  He was back from a stint in rehab and I thought he was sober – we were just going to dinner in Philadelphia. He loved speed. And the speed at which he fell off the wagon and died of an overdose at 35 in 1998 was another terrifying flash.  And a wasted life. I still remember where I was when I was told he had died.

The faces of addiction have changed. Or maybe they haven’t but we are talking about them more? I don’t know.  But addictions are a disease. Some people are strong enough to get clean and get sober. Others aren’t.  I know someone from my high school era I have completely shut the door on.  I know when I can’t handle things, and their life will just drag down whomever is left and they have sadly, completely tanked their life. Right or wrong, I choose not to be around them.

I had a maternal uncle and a paternal grandfather who were drinkers.  I knew it from a very early age.  I did not love them any less, but it made me sad.  And I have to be honest as a child it often made me uncomfortable.  Adults didn’t think you knew…but you knew.

One of my earliest memories of my paternal grandfather was the shortwave radio on the enclosed front porch and the smell of  Schlitz beer.   He was never outright blotto but you could always sense the hum of alcohol.

As a result of these relatives and friends’ issues, maybe I notice things too much or worry about them too much.  All I know is there are way too many people with substance abuse issues from every walk of life. I feel incredibly lucky that I have not had to struggle with these demons personally.  But for the grace of God go any of us, right?

This Friday, August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day.

As per the Daily Local, Chester County is participating.

None of us today are immune to these sad events. We have to commit to being part of positive change.  I don’t have the answers.  But I have watched too many experience the loss. I have experienced loss on a certain level because of the alcoholism and addiction of others.

If you think you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, reach out to friends and family and ask for help.  That is the first step.  I know from people I have known  in various programs over the years that sobriety and staying clean is a process and often a tough road. But living is such a gift.

Also educate yourselves (and your children and loved ones) on the dangers of herbal opiods like Kratom and vaping. Sorry not sorry no good comes out of being addicted to nicotine without the cigarette, either.

Here is another article on the events for Overdose Awareness Day this coming Friday:

Chester County Press: County to participate in Overdose Awareness Day
08/28/2018 08:28AM ● Published by J. Chambless

The county’s Department of Drug & Alcohol Services has announced the county’s participation in International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.

To mark the occasion, 144 pinwheels will be displayed in front of the Chester County Justice Center on Market Street in West Chester and the Chester County Government Services Center on Westtown Road, representing the 144 lives lost to accidental overdose in Chester County in 2017. Citizens are invited to participate in a moment of silence on Aug. 31 at 9:30 a.m. to remember those lost to overdose and the loved ones left behind.

“Sadly, Chester County lost more loved ones to accidental drug overdose last year than in previous years,” said Vince Brown, executive director of the Chester County Department of Drug and Alcohol Services. “Our community, as well as our country, continues to face an opioid and heroin epidemic and the disease of addiction knows no bounds. Addiction does not discriminate against age, race, socioeconomic status or education level.”

Several organizations will be holding events on Aug. 31, including:

  • A candlelight vigil hosted by Kacie’s Cause at First Baptist Church (415 W. State St., Kennett Square) from 7 to 8 p.m. This event will include featured speakers, a lighting of candles and an open mic sharing for the attendees.
  • A candlelight vigil hosted by Kacie’s Cause at The Green of Oxford Presbyterian Church (3rd Street, Oxford) from 7 to 9 p.m. This event will include featured speakers, a lighting of candles, ABE the pony, the Kacie’s Cause Mascot, and an open mic sharing for the attendees.
  • “Building Community, Sharing Hope,” hosted by Pennsylvania Recovery Organization-Achieving Community Together (PRO-ACT), at Charles A. Melton Center (501 E. Miner St., West Chester) from 6 to 8 p.m. This event will include a free buffet dinner, free Narcan, several keynote speakers, recovery resources, and a moment of silence with a luminary ceremony to remember the victims of the disease of addiction.

 

 

 

family dynamics

My late father at 3 weeks old in the arms of his father, my grandfather. My great Aunts Josie and Millie are peeking out of the door, and I think the older woman sitting on the stoop is their mother, but am not certain. Taken on or about July 20, 1935. This is the only photo I have of my paternal grandfather.

Family is a funny thing. Growing up, and even as an adult, I marveled at  (and sometimes envied) the people I knew who used to have these giant family gatherings. The families where everyone went to every major occasion and holiday. 

Now of course, as an adult, you realize that even those perfect seeming families who took lots of photos together and got together often are not perfect after all, and had their issues.  But when I was little, because so much of my family seemed fractured and fragmented, it seemed like a more perfect world than my own.

I loved a lot of my childhood.  I have written about it here.  But I also have memories I don’t love, yet are part of my personal history.

My father visiting my Great Aunt Josie in May, 1941 in Washington DC. My aunt was part of the civilian war effort down there during World War II.

I have never understood the relationship between my father and his siblings (my aunt and uncle.) I know that he loved his sister a great deal growing up and doted on her as an older brother would.  The relationship with his brother seemed to be more competitive for lack of a better description.  Even when I was a child, they never felt close. When they were together it was stiff and awkward. You could always feel the undercurrent of the unsaid.

For a while as a very small child I remember huge Christmas gatherings in South Philadelphia at my great aunts’ and uncle’s home. There were also family gatherings at My Great Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl’s. I loved going to both of those houses. It was awesome.

I never remember such family gatherings at my paternal grandparent’s home.  I remember few visits to my father’s parents that were true family gatherings….or truly comfortable.

My father in his mother’s arms. July 20, 1935.

The family dynamics on my father’s side have always been complicated.  There were second and third cousins I never knew I had until I was well into adulthood because I never saw them.  There were related to great aunts and uncles on my paternal grandfather’s side. And for whatever reason, my grandfather Pop Pop had siblings he was close to, and siblings he wasn’t close to.  I never had a score card, so the “why” always depended upon who was telling the story. I would go to occasional family funerals and weddings and marvel at the room full of people who resembled me, yet I did not know. There was also to be considered to whom my parents spoke to and didn’t speak to. Only that part of the fractured family dynamic wasn’t as obvious when I was a child.

I remember in my father’s parent’s home photos of my aunt at her marriage, and my uncle.  I do not remember seeing one of my parent’s wedding.  It very well could have been there in the living room with other photos, but the ones I remember were of my aunt and uncle.  My father’s sister was a very beautiful traditional bride. My uncle’s wedding photo to his first wife was different.  It seemed more like a hippy wedding by comparison. My mother was an elegant bride.  She had designed her own wedding gown and it was extraordinary and my sister wore it to her wedding. But again, I do not remember a photo of my parents with the photo of my aunt and uncle.

I remember vaguely an overnight with cousins at my paternal grandparents’ home when I was very little.  I do not believe my sister was old enough to be there. I don’t remember having fun.  But I rarely did with my aunt’s children.  I did not measure up to whatever standards were set is how I always felt, and I always felt judged.  They also were not very warm people except to their immediate family unit.

Growing up, I remember things like calling my paternal grandmother to tell her I did something and her not saying anything remotely grandmotherly  like “oh isn’t that nice.”  What she did was tell me every time I made the mistake of wanting to tell my grandmother something as a child she would always just tell me as a way of a reply about the things my aunt’s daughters did that were so much better.  If I made brownies, one of my aunt’s children made baked Alaska. It’s how it went. My maternal grandmother was the polar opposite.  She would do things like fill the front hall with balloons to surprise us when we came home.

However, I will say as an adult, I did not have a bad relationship with my paternal grandmother. In fact I understood her a lot better and I think small grandchildren were never her forte, but adult grandchildren she could relate to. Or maybe it was I could relate to her better as an adult.  In those last years after she was in the nursing home,  I enjoyed visiting her. I really think it was because that was when in our relationship we had our first and only one on one time.  It was during this time I came to know her as the truly strong and independent woman that she was.

A lot of my father’s immediate family were not nice to my mother. I remember that distinctly.  I often wondered if those adult relationships had a trickle down effect to my generation.

I will freely admit I do not really have a relationship, nor did I ever have a relationship with any of the children of my late father’s siblings.  I tried with a couple of them here and there, but my uncle’s children have always been strangers since my uncle and father never really spoke much that I was aware of (and they moved out of the area when they were little and my uncle and his first wife divorced and then my uncle remarried), and my aunt’s children just never really wanted to bother being family.  There was them, and there was us. Just what it was.

I have three distinct memories of my late father’s brother, my uncle.

The first memory was at a party in honor of my Great Aunt Rose that was held at the Lakeside Inn in Limerick, PA (I always thought of it as Collegeville.) We were all there and it was multi-generational.  It was a really grown up thing, so it was very cool as a child to be included.

My father’s brother, my uncle, was there with his children.  He asked all of the kids if we wanted to go to the lower level of the restaurant where they had a gift shop.  (O.k. what kid doesn’t  want to go visit a gift shop???).  The gift shop had all sorts of local crafts and little things.  My uncle then proceeded to buy his children every other cousin something except my sister and I.

We did not say anything, but my Great Uncle Carl saw the kids coming back up the stairs with their new treasures purchased by my father’s brother.  My Uncle Carl was a sweet and gentle man, and quick as a wink with a smile on his face, he took us (my sister and I) back downstairs and asked us to pick something out.  I remember still what I picked out and I had it until it literally fell apart decades later – a small owl pillow maybe like 8 inches tall.

As an adult I often wonder if this is one of the reasons I like owl things. Because of that memory of my Great Uncle Carl being our hero that day with his kindness. It was awful to be made as a child to feel so small. And I was old enough at the time to feel very crappy at being a casualty of war between my father and his brother. My father was never petty towards his siblings’ children. I do remember that.

The second memory was much later on.  It was before my grandmother died in 2000, but not long before.  Grandmom as I called her was living (along with my Great Aunt Josie) in a nursing home.

My grandmother was dying.  I went one time before she died with my father to see her.  They had not had a great relationship throughout the years.  As a matter of fact there were large periods of time when they did not speak after my paternal grandfather had died. My grandmother not too long after my grandfather died moved in with my aunt and her family.  Interestingly enough, until my grandmother was in a nursing home I never saw her one on one. There were always other of my aunt’s family around. Like a chaperone.

Anyway, this one visit when I went with my father, my uncle had come down from New York State where he lived to see my grandmother.  He always stayed with my aunt. My aunt and uncle always seemed to be quite close. Which is probably why growing up it always seemed to be them versus my father.  Mind you, I will not pretend my father was perfect, and I never knew what truly went down in those then adult relationships.

I remember this particular time, standing with my father and my uncle literally over my grandmother’s deathbed when my uncle turned to my father and told him he was “a bad son.” Yes, direct quote, I will never forget it. Even my grandmother looked startled.

All of a sudden I looked at my father and he looked so hurt and in pain.  My mouth flew open and I told my uncle off. Right there in front of everyone.  Yes, not appropriate any more than my uncle’s outburst, I acknowledge that.  But in my defense, it was a familial carpe diem moment.  Oddly, my grandmother who was completely aware of what was going on around her did not correct me. She just smiled briefly.

The last memory of my uncle doesn’t even have a visual memory.  It was when my father died.  He did not come to the funeral.  Somewhere I have the letter he wrote to me at the time after I wrote to him to ask why he could not come to his only brother’s funeral.  My aunt was there and I think at least one of her children along with her husband.  I understood people being busy, but he wasn’t.  He just chose not to.

That was the last time until two days ago that I had really thought of my uncle.  Two days ago, one of my second cousins e-mailed a bunch of us to let us know that my aunt had reached out to her to tell her that her brother, my uncle had died five days prior.

It was so weird.  I felt nothing. No sadness. Nothing.  But then again, I never really had memories with him except for those ones I mentioned. So it was almost like hearing about the death of a complete stranger. That thought did make me sad, I will admit.  So I got to thinking, based on my memories how we all got here.

Family dynamics.  The events that bring us together and the events that tear us apart.  It’s a conundrum and part of the cycle of life.

 

demolishing part of memory lane on the main line

Sometimes in those moments between waking and sleeping, memories of childhood come floating back.  This morning I awoke to memories of a pink stucco house with blueberry bushes beyond the pool, a pool where my little sister first learned to swim. The house was located at 134 Cheswold Lane in Haverford.

So, no this is not a post about Chester County. This post is about memories.

In the early 1970s, my parents were starting to think about moving from Society Hill to the Main Line. Somehow they were connected to lovely people named John and Jean Markel and they agreed to house sit for the entire summer. My sister and I were fairly little, and this was a strange idea for us because summer usually meant the beach, but this house was magical with a secret pool tucked into the back and lovely gardens to explore. Immediately adjacent to The Merion Cricket Club we could hear every day the pop pop sound of tennis balls when they hit the racquets-  and an added bonus when the tennis balls sailed over the pink stucco garden walls for us to collect.

I think the summer of ’73 because I remember it was the summer they tore down the Haverford Hotel and Mrs. Sharpe’s carriage house doors with the large heavy metal (iron?)  lion heads with rings in their mouths jutted out to the sidewalk on Haverford Station Road. I have distinct memories of walking along Haverford Station Road with my father and how large the lions heads and rings seemed, and the carriage house doors imposing.  I also remember before they demolished the Haverford Hotel they sold a lot of things off, like furniture and fixtures. At one point, the sweeping lawns of this old hotel had rows upon rows of mattresses lined up in the summer sun like corpses.

I have looked and looked for photos of the old hotel, and the only one I can find is from an old edition of the Main Line Times:

ML History: Recapping the summer of ’73 archives By Kathy O’Loughlin Aug 11, 2010

 

I also found reference to the hotel and Mrs. Sharpe on the Lower Merion Historical Society website:

Catherine H. Dixon Sharpe bequeathed her home and a 2 1/2-acre property at Montgomery Avenue and Haverford Station Road to the township for a bird sanctuary. In 1978 her house was razed, and fencing and trails for walking through the wooded area were added…..A Haverford landmark for sixty years was the Haverford Hotel, built of brick in 1913 at the corner of Grays Lane and Montgomery Avenue. Its stately white columns supported the roof over a wide and gracious porch entrance. Fifty rooms were decorated with Chippendale desks, Chinese screen paintings, mahogany china cabinets, brass sconces, and sparkling chandeliers. Many wedding receptions, including that of President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, balls, other parties, and meetings were held there, but in 1973 the hotel was demolished, and Gray’s Lane House, an apartment condominium designed by Vincent Kling, now occupies the site.

It was a lovely summer. My school friend Paula’s aunt I think it was, lived close by so I would see her and I remember visiting other people my parents knew on Elbow Lane, and other nearby roads and lanes in Haverford and Bryn Mawr.

My father’s job was in the city, so I remember a lot of the time he stayed in our house in Society Hill during the week, and took the Paoli Local to Haverford Station on the weekends.

The Markels house was a magical house, and there are details I remember to this day inside. A lovely wood paneled library with floor to ceiling books, a piano, a Butler’s Pantry loaded with the most beautiful and feminine sets of china and flatware.  I think it was that summer I fell in love with English and French porcelain. 

There were stools in the kitchen which was large and sunny. I remember watching television sitting on a stool – there was a tiny black and white television on one of the expansive kitchen counters.

Outside were what were to me at the time the best secret gardens ever. The gardens were so beautiful and there was also a  lovely pool. I remember the Markels had inside and outside staff who would come take care of things during the week.

Ironically this was the summer I also remember seeing Loch Aerie for the first time because I remember my parents exploring way past the borders of the Main Line.  I remember driving out Lancaster Avenue into Chester County for movies and antique stores.  I remember that there were also drive in movie theaters in Chester County at that time, but I digress.

The Markels house was old school Main Line beauty. The house was large and gracious, but just beautiful and subtle inside. It was also a very livable house.  I think it was because of this summer that a few years later my parents eventually settled in Haverford after a year in Gladwyne.

According to Montgomery County public property records, the people whom eventually bought this lovely house from the Markels sold it to Merion Cricket Club more than a few years ago for a little over $1.5 million:


Unless you lived back on those streets, you really weren’t paying attention to who was selling and who was buying.  I remember before I left the Main Line talks of Merion Cricket Club amassing neighboring properties so they could expand.  I just didn’t pay much attention to it. I was never a member, only ever a guest.

Recently, someone sent me a Zoning notice from Lower Merion Township:

Wow, so now we know why Merion was buying all the properties over the past years, right? They want to become a land locked Main Line Country Club? Forget that the history of the club, and the traditions of the club do not lend themselves to this, that there already are swim clubs and country clubs on the Main Line.  

But given the nouveau Main Line, I completely expect all of these lovely houses Merion Cricket has amassed in these still lovely neighborhoods will fall to the wrecking ball with hardly a whimper.

These are beautiful homes. They are also part of an increasing history of the Main Line no one cares about, or they find it is acceptable to just sacrifice these established and lovely neighborhoods.  This is a change that will impact this area.  For those of us with childhood memories it is sad and / or bittersweet.  I am guessing my own personal memories of a magical childhood summer have surfaced because of this news.

Here is a recent article on the topic:

LM Zoning: Merion Cricket Club seeks demo of club-owned historic homes Viability of club’s future addressed in plan
By Richard Ilgenfritz rilgenfritz@21st-centurymedia.com @rpilgenfritz on Twitter Apr 21, 2017 Updated Apr 21, 2017

Citing the need to attract additional members, officials from the Merion Cricket Club are seeking Lower Merion Township zoning approval of a plan to demolish seven historic homes in Haverford, including those built by famed architect Walter Durham, and repurpose others.

“The club has seen its membership levels drop over a significant period. In order to address the long-term, continued viability of the club, the club has, over the years, acquired the adjoining parcels and has embarked on a master planning process to develop a vision for proposed improvements to the club’s facilities. By providing for improved facilities, the club’s objective is to allow the club to stabilize membership levels, and thereafter return to and sustain its previous membership levels,” according to the application submitted to the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board…..The Cricket Club has owned many of the properties for more than a decade and under the plans will demolish houses on Elbow Lane near Cheswold Lane and ones near Grays Lane to the rear of its historic property. Four homes in the center of the Elbow Lane to the rear of the club will be retained and repurposed for other uses.

The Lower Merion Conservancy placed the Durham homes that date back to the early and mid-1900s on its Historic Preservation Watch List last year due to concerns that they would be demolished.


Sometimes things done in the name of “progress” are painful. But I no longer live there, so I write about this as an observer memorializing memories of a summer long ago.

Enjoy the lovely day.

unexpected memories of childhood past


I saw the notice of a house sale on a Facebook yard sale group page for West Chester. What caught my eye was the print above.

The subject is now a man not far from my age named Mark. They were done by his late father when we were all kids in Society Hill.   It’s a set of four originally, there were three available.

The artist was Harry Niblock. He and his former wife also a tremendous artist, Margery Niblock, were dear friends of my parents and Margery is still a friend of mine. Our whole family has pieces of their art, and a lot of memories attached to the art especially because as a child I remember when a lot of it was actually created which is really cool.

So I went to the sale. What I wasn’t expecting is I would know the person whose house was having a house sale. She wasn’t there, but she was a woman I knew from the time I was a little girl. 

This lady was widowed twice. Her first husband I knew as a little girl and her second husband I also knew for a lot longer, because he had been married to one of my mother’s closest and best  friends and my mother had introduced the lady and this gentleman when they were both widowed. They subsequently married and he died.

So walking around the sale was a little emotionally loaded. I saw items from the households of two different couples, and their years together. I think what really upset me the most was the fact that there were items that belong to the second husband’s army career. Even a baby picture of the son, his namesake.


 Seeing his various stages of career Army uniform is hanging on a rolling rack actually brought tears to my eyes and upset me. This man did some time in Vietnam. A couple of tours my mother said, and she also said she only ever remembers him talking about it twice. Ever. He was a great guy, a true soldier who loved his family too. I have really fond memories of him.


So I bought some things, namely Harry’s prints and one of Margery’s I didn’t have but remembered fondly. The Margery Niblock prints for sale or the series of prints her friends received every year in lieu of a Christmas card for years. I have quite a few framed and hanging on my own walls. I don’t know how valuable they are, but they are extraordinarily sentimental. Margery taught me as a girl to do linoleum and wood block.

Now I’m sitting in my car before I go home writing this down because it was  almost a surreal experience.  Flashback memories of two different families and my own childhood.
I hope the lady who is moving enjoys her new home. What a morning for memories.

january  stroll down memory lane 

 In the early morning twilight I can hear them. Just before dawn I still remember what they sound like and see them in my mind’s eye.

Who?

My favorite relatives who are no longer on this earth. It sounds creepy but it’s really not. They were very happy part of my growing up.

Maybe it’s a reflection of my 51 years or my inner child needs to let loose once in a while, I don’t know. But when I think of my favorite great aunts and uncles and grandparents and even my father it’s always at those predawn times when I am just waking up.

This morning I heard my Great Uncle Carl talking to his dog Lancelot. When I was little Lancelot was this absolutely gorgeous German Shepherd. He was my uncle’s pride and joy.

I rarely hear or can summon mental images of my maternal grandparents my paternal grandfather. They were the first to die when I was very young, so my memories of them are more faint. 

My paternal grandfather, Pop Pop helped me along with my father plant my first tomato plants and our garden’s first rosebush when I was little – the hybrid tea rose John F. Kennedy. That rose was one of the most spectacular white roses. It’s a shame you don’t see that rose very often anymore.

My Mumma, my mother’s mother, was Pennsylvania German from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She was blonde and blue-eyed and always wore her hair in a French twist. I swear I never saw that woman in a robe and bedroom slippers. She was always dressed with her make up on. She was a great cook, especially when it came to baking. I remember as a little girl she used to make those lemon and blueberry meringue pies with the diner-high meringue. It is also because of her that I learned how to do needlework. She did the most beautiful embroidery. As a matter fact, my mother recently gave me a whole bunch of now antique linens that were made by her and the women in her family.

My Mumma unfortunately slid into horrible Alzheimer’s or dementia when my maternal grandfather, my Poppy died. As a matter fact the last memory I have of Mumma speaking and acting clearly was when she called our house to tell my mother that my grandfather ( this one I called Poppy) had had a heart attack and died.  

Poppy had been older than Mumma. He was little and Irish and had been among other things, a carpenter. He made some of the toys my sister and I played with when we were little. Poppy was very sweet. I think I was in eighth grade when he died. When he got tired of too much women’s nattering he would turn his hearing aids off.

When my Pop Pop (my father’s father) died I think I might’ve been six or eight years old I don’t even remember I was that little. I remember the long ride to the church in North Philadelphia where he was buried out of and putting a little bunch of violets in his coffin. And then an even longer ride to the cemetery he is buried in.

But back to my Uncle Carl. My Uncle Carl was a pharmacist. He owned Trooper Pharmacy in Trooper, Pennsylvania. And I still have the mortar and pestle he gave my father. It’s still the best thing for making pesto. He had started out with his brother at another pharmacy they owned that was on the corner of 12th and Ritner in South Philadelphia.

My Uncle Carl and Aunt Rose lived in Collegeville. They lived up Ridge Pike when it was still country, and my grandmother and great aunts would refer to where they lived as the “country”. They lived in a big house and they never actually use the second floor it was so big. They had one child, my father’s cousin Carl who had gone to Annapolis to the Naval Academy and been in the Navy. He and his then wife Linda were so very glamorous to me when I was a little girl – they were quite the striking couple. I loved when we would go to visit them in Maryland. The second house they lived in was this fabulous Victorian in Ellicott City. I think at that time their dog was a Dalmatian.

My Great Aunt Josie used to do her big summer vegetable garden at Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl’s. She would go out there for extended periods of time in the summer and I still remember her tending the garden. Of course she also had a garden in the back of her house in South Philadelphia, and a giant grapefruit tree she grew from seed. The shame of where my Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl used to live is now everything around there is developed. Driving by today you would never believe there was a farm behind them with horses that would eat the apples from their Apple trees and so on.

My great aunt and uncle’s favorite place to get dressed up to go out to dinner was The Lakeside Inn. I believe that is actually in Limerick and I think it’s still open today. I remember one time my father’s family was all gathered there at the Lakeside Inn was for either a birthday for my great aunt or a wedding anniversary celebration.

We were all dressed up and gathered for this party that took over a good portion of the inn. Even my father’s brother was in town with his first wife and however many children they had popped out at the time. My father’s sister, my aunt was there with her daughters and husband.

We never saw my father’s brother and sister terribly much after a certain point growing up. They really didn’t get along with my father and they really weren’t nice to my mother… and they really showed little interest in my sister and I. 

I remember a family party at the Lakeside Inn vividly. When I was a little girl it was a very pretty place and I always felt very grown up being there. I remember at the party my father’s brother took all the children downstairs to the gift shop. Only he only bought little trinkets and presents for his children and my father’s sister’s children. It was at that point in time that I really decided I did not care for my uncle even if he was my father’s brother. There my then very little sister and I stood while everyone else were given little gifts purchased by my late father’s brother. It was just kind of mean.

My Uncle Carl, who was always the sweetest and kindest of men somehow got wind of what was going on and he took my sister and I downstairs again and let us pick out gifts from the gift shop so we weren’t left out of being treated. I had that little stuffed owl he bought me that someone had made by hand until it literally fell apart threadbare.

Another thing I remember about my Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl was that was where I first became aware of the sounds of summer on their front porch. 

It’s funny I used to look at my friends with big holiday gatherings of their families and wonder what that would be like. I remember it from when I was very very little but then it all stopped and eventually families went their separate ways. It got to the point where we would only see everyone at special family parties, weddings, and funerals. But I hated when I was really little being sent to the Antartica of the “children’s table” so maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.  

I remember one holiday children’s table in particular – I was really little and my father’s sister and husband and family were living in a rambling white house in Paoli at the time. It was I think Thanksgiving and the children’s table was a card table with a cloth thrown over it near the front stairs. One of the vegetables was black eyed peas. And that is literally all I remember. Other than my one cousin looking irritated all through dinner to be stuck at a table with the little kids.

It’s funny, you always think you forget things and then there are just these odd quiet times when you remember. Another person I think of sometimes during these quiet times is my mother’s niece Suzy. Suzy died of cancer the same day as my father a couple of years later.

Suzy was like a big sister more than a cousin she was in and out of her house so much when I was little. I remember before she got married she worked at a very cool clothes store Philadelphia on Chestnut Street. She always had the best outfits! Her wedding to her first husband was celebrated at our parish church old St. Joseph’s on Willings Alley. Her wedding reception was actually held at my parents’ house in Society Hill. 

I remember during her wedding sitting in the breakfast room off the kitchen on the bottom step where the back stairs up to the second floor of the house were with my cousin Carol eating water chestnuts wrapped in bacon. I also remember the wedding photographer doing my cousin Suzy’s portraits before the wedding in my parents’ bedroom and other places in the house when she was getting ready.

When I was in my 20s my cousin Suzy lived in Newtown Bucks County with her first husband and three daughters. It was always such a big treat to go spend the weekend with my cousin Suzy and her family. We always had so much fun. 

Suzy and I spend a lot of our time going to flea markets like Rices in New Hope. We would also explore antique shop after antique shop throughout Bucks County and in New Jersey across from New Hope.

I also think of Suzy sometimes when  I put my Fiestaware away. It was with Suzy that I saw Fiestaware for the first time. We were exploring on the other side of the river in New Jersey. We were not in Lambertville I forget where we were. But there was this antique store that almost exclusively sold vintage Fiestaware and they also in a section of the store sold imported Russian nesting dolls. Don’t know if the store still exists but I remember it vividly. I remember row after row of the happy colors of Fiestaware.

I have a lot of memories of my father obviously and him I miss at certain times a great deal. I always think of him a lot at Christmas because he loved Christmas and he was the most perfectionist of perfectionists when it came to decorating the Christmas tree. And my father’s tree was always silver and gold. It was a minor miracle when you could sneak a color on it. I have some of his ornaments still in the original boxes with his handwriting identifying what they are written on the box. 

And I had to laugh the other day as I looked at my Christmas tree and Christmas decorations which are still not all put away yet. I thought of him because one year everyone argued over who was taking down what and putting away which Christmas decorations and basically the Christmas tree stayed up until almost Valentine’s Day. That memory still makes me laugh.

I’m glad I have these memories of people who have gone before me. My friends always tell me to write things down when I remember them, but half the time I just forget – it’s sort of like my recipes. I’m thinking and 2016 I should make more of an effort to write these memories down while I still have them.

Thanks for stopping by.