August 08, 2002

growing up Philadelphian

This is for Tygerchild, for
mentioning The Al Alberts show and giving me flashbacks. And maybe a bit for href="">Doug, whose remembrances of the Denver of
70 years ago are fascinating for those of us who remember only half

So, Fluffyans, all together now: "Send your pictures to dear
old Captian Noah, send today, send right away...." Or to misquote another of the
Captain's songs, for those who remember when the Rocky Horror Picture Show was
screened every Saturday at the TLA, "Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and
orange and blue, I can make a monster, make a monster, and I can f*** him too."

Soft pretzels. I miss soft pretzels! They were only $.25 (you
can still get three for a dollar) and were real soft pretzels, not
prefrozen and none of this pizza dough crap they're selling at malls these days.
And water ice (pronounced wooderice), which is fine-shaved (not crushed) Italian
ice you eat from a paper cone. You could buy either, as well as hot dogs, sodas
and chips, at sidewalk carts all over town. In Center City and University City,
you can buy almost any other kind of food, too -- Chinese, sandwiches, bowls of
fresh melon and berries. in the late 80s, some of the best Mexican food in town
was from a little cart on 36th and Spruce.

My family's been in Philly
for three generations. Jewish neighborhoods were in South Philly, where my great-
grandfather owned a candy shop (wish I could still collect rent on that!) and
Southwest Philly (where my grandmother grew up and was thereby a social step up),
then moved to West Philly when my parents were kids, and then into the Northeast.
Mom remembers when it was all farms after you got off the El at Bridge Pratt --
they'd go out to visit the cemetaries. At least they could take a bus -- in my
grandfather's young days they'd get off the train and walk miles across fields to
visit family graves. Now people my age are either still in the Northeast, which is
a bit more diverse and was on a downhill slide but seems to be recovering, or out
to the 'burbs.

I can remember getting milk delivered every day, and
the vegetable an who came by once a week, and the Charles Chips trucks that
delivered big cans of pretzels or, for a treat, potato chips. In the evenings, we
used to have Good Humor trucks bringing ice cream, then later those were replaced
by custard (what Dairy Queen calls "soft-serve ice cream") trucks that also sold
all sorts of candy. My mother remembers when ice was delivered door to door. My
grandmother remembered when she was twelve and the landlord installed indoor
plumbing -- big excitement. (An entire block of row houses with outhouses sounds
pretty stinky to me!)

Roosevelt Mall, 3 blocks from my parenst is
entirely outdoors. There have been indoor malls in the are for a long time
(including Neshaminy Falls, built on the site where Chistopher Morley wrote of the
falls themselves, and canoeing in the creek and visiting an amusement park there,
just after WWI) but Roosevelt was "the Mall" to us and it was a long time before I
realized most people mean a giant building when they talk about going to the mall.
Actually, in Philly, they pronounce it more like "gaowin' to the moo-

When I was little there was an amusement park on Roosevelt
Boulevard, with a boat ride for little kids, and ferris wheel and the Salt Shaker
for bigger ones. When I got older they build Six Flags Great Adventure in New
Jersey and we'd get to go there every year or two. There was always at least one
trip down the shore in summer, usually with my grandparents. My grandmother never
let me get more than ankle-deep in the ocean. I was astounded when I visited my
uncle in New York (age 8) and he took me to the beach and I learned you could
actually swim in the ocean, just like in a pool.

brick everywhere, even on the sidewalks in the old part of town. Rowhouses in the
Old City dating from the 1700s and even the 1600s, rowhouses in the Northeast from
the late 1940s, products of the postwar housing boom. On summer evenings, kids
from about first grade up to 6th or 7th would all play running games out front,
games like Doors and Manhunt which were variants of Tag adapted for rowhouses. Or
the younger ones (I always think of myself as a younger one, maybe because fewer
of us played in big groups by the time I got older) played Mother May I or Red
Light Green Light. The adults all still sit out oon the steps and talk to the
neighbors on summer nights, and the kids still run around chasing fireflies.

The shore is its own whole entry, Soft pretzels are a whole
entry. Rowhouses, fireflies, local TV, water ice, University City vs. the
Northeast ... easy to write a page on each. And don't get me started on the
Philadelphia accents. But I think the gestalt of my memories is in that last
paragraph: red brick and hanging out with neighbors and summer nights back when
the only thing summer meant was freedom.

I miss fireflies. Kipling
wrote about the changes in Philly from Revoluntionary War days to his time, as
well as things unchanged: "And the fireflies in the corn make night amazing".
There are still fields and fields of corn as soon as you get outside the city, and
at least by the late 1980s when I was there, the fireflies on a June night were
still amazing. I'm sure they still are.

Posted by dichroic at August 8, 2002 03:04 PM
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