remembering my mother on her birthday, with her own words

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

This is the last photograph I took of my mother.  Just days later she would enter the hospital for what would become an infinitely sad progression of diagnoses.  But here she is, driving with my son, on the day he got his car.  A game front-seat passenger, urging him on, and waving goodbye to me.

Today would have been my mother's birthday.  Today will always be my mother's birthday.  She was a writer, too, and she loved her city, conveyed that love to me.  In honor of her, I yield this blog to her words.  Happy Birthday, Mom.

Southwest Philadelphia was my growing-up place.  It was the kind of community I now tend to think of as reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town; there was a pervasive sense of social security intrinsic to the very nature of that neighborhood.  Stability was at the core of community life.  It was enshrined in churches and schools, as well as enduring friends whose longevity even now captures the essence of youthful memories.
            There was the coveted childhood occupation of being personally selected to run an errand to the corner grocery store.  Such an expedition not only netted pocket change, often enough to cover tickets to a Saturday matinee at the Lindy Theater, but also allowed one the no-cost distraction of a pastime known as “dropping in,” a typically Philadelphian pleasure rarely tapped by suburbanites.
            During World War II, families on our street were urged to develop the empty field behind our homes into what eventually became known fondly as “Victory gardens.”  This gave my parents the opportunity to become involved in a project which was not only rewarding but fun.
            Although necessarily molded from the same patterns, rowhouses did not lack individualized interpretation.  People discovered ways of personalizing their homes, and streets were distinguished by the results.  After I was married and moved away, our young children, having become accustomed to the split-level landscape in which they lived, always made a game of finding Grandmom’s house when we visited my parents.  Its boldly painted green sunburst door became a symbol of the loving welcome they always received there.
            Philadelphia, profoundly and affectionately, is a city of neighborhoods, and remnants of neighborhood memories rightly remain to soothe as well as to structure.  An occasional, cogent reminder of their unifying significance casts a welcome, prismatic glow on memories past.

            From “Old neighborhoods revisited,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 26, 1981


Wendy said...

Beautiful, Beth. xo

Jeannine Atkins said...

Wow. I love this photo. Not least of which is seeing you in her.

Janice Kephart said...

That door in the middle of the block. The iron steps up the back way. The big field in the back, we never went into. That was the Victory Garden field, I remember. The tiny kitchen where even there Mom would make great meals for Grandmom, while Grandpop would sit in the tiny front foyer facing the block. It became the place where Mom took care of Grandmom when she was so sick, and we would accompany her on visits, one at a time. Memories of a little sister, in a place of so long ago. Where there was always love, because there was always our mother.

Lilian Nattel said...

I'm glad you have the memory of her.

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