my mother speaks to me, on my birthday week, about John Bartram High School

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My husband, who has found extraordinary happiness working with clay, recently began to clear out our basement to give himself more room to work. Boxes of unnecessary things have been disappearing, leaving more mounds of molting cardboard to be considered or reviewed.

Today, while Bill was showing me his latest sculptural pieces, he pointed to a row of boxes and asked if they were for keeping. I slipped the lid off of one and found, in an instant, a file marked, in my mother's inimitable handwriting: To Betsy on her Birthday 4/1/01.

The file contained a story she'd written while planning her fiftieth high school reunion. Lore Kephart was a proud alum of John Bartram High School in Southwest Philadelphia. She made friendships there that lasted a lifetime. Indeed, my mother's friendships, as I wrote in Into the Tangle of Friendship, were legendary—for their diversity, their longevity, their inherent trustworthiness. My mother was loved.

Now, here today she is, in her own words, talking to me at the end of a long birthday week. Telling me about her born-and-bred Philadelphia self. I hear the cadence of her speech in these inkjet pages. I see her crossing one word out and substituting another in blue ink. She loved to write, my mother. And she loved our birthdays—made them entirely special.

Made this one special, too:
Bartram was notable because of its reputation as a premier school with the highest academic standards. Students allowed to come there from certain other designated neighborhoods always took advantage of it, even though many had to ride a bus or the old #36 trolley, as it was called, to reach the campus. Some even fudged their way in. I was lucky; I walked.

Bartram's teaching staff was an extraordinary source of pride to all of us. To a man and woman, they could have taught anywhere, but chose to travel to Bartram. I often marvel at the completeness of the education I received there. The ghost of Mr. Abner Miller, one of my English teachers, haunts me, lest I should ever end a sentence with a preposition! Teachers were not only entrenched in getting across their individual disciplines—Mr. Wapen's was English, better yet Shakespeare—but they were encouraging as well. One old friend with whom I just caught up told me that, despite the fact that he had gone into the service having attended college for only three semesters, he spent his career interviewing celebrities like Robert Mitchum and Barbra Streisand for the column he wrote for our town's largest newspaper. "It was Mr. Sonnenfeld," he told me. "He just kept on telling me I had this talent."


Elizabeth Mosier said...

This is so lovely, Beth. And resonates with me, too, as I was just talking with Bobbi Wolf at Wolf Performing Arts Center about a performance her cast in "The Butterfly Project" gave at Bartram. Your mother's school is now nurturing a generation of refugees from war-torn countries, who have found safe haven in Philadelphia. xo

patti.mallett_pp said...

This explains much about who you are, dearest Betsy. Thanks for sharing. And the photograph is marvelous - two beauties who share an appreciation of friendship, a love for learning, and for Words. xo

Melissa Sarno said...

Betsy :) What a beautiful find. Happy weekend, dear Beth.

Lilian Nattel said...

What a find--what serendipity.

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