Sunday, July 27, 2008

My (Home) Town Monday, Philadelphia












My “Home” Town Monday, Philadelphia

Four years ago, my parents moved to Detroit to be closer to us and I became permanently estranged from Philadelphia. To go there and stay in a hotel would seem too strange and its very familiarity makes a visit uninviting.

I left Philly in 1970 when my husband (he was 25 and I was 22) took a position at a university in Detroit. But until my parents joined us, we visited Philly every year once or twice, spending many of our vacations in Ocean City, New Jersey, some in Rehobeth, DE.

Because of those annual visits, I was able to hang onto the things about Philly I loved. You know what they are: cheesesteaks, hoagies, Tastykakes, the Reading Terminal Market, the Art Museum, South Street, the riverfront, New Hope/Lambertville (where my husband grew up), Chestnut Hill, Fairmount Park, the Barnes Collection, the Jersey beaches, Pennsylvania Dutch country, Irish potatoes, the Phillies...and people that say merry to rhyme with hurry and not hairy. Ever once in a while, someone sends me a tin of Tastykakes or I pull out the recipe for Irish potatoes (candy) and make them, but it’s not the same. I've lost Philadelphia.

My family has deep Philadelphian roots. My maternal great, great grandparents, immigrating from Ireland and Wales, met and married in Philadelphia in the 1870s. A miner, he soon died from black lung disease. Destitute, his wife sent her two young sons to live at Girard College. One son, my great grandfather, became an attorney and eventually Philadelphia’s city comptroller. He lost his job when he foolishly paved his own street first in around 1900.

My maternal grandfather was an architect and worked for Charles Z. Klauder, the firm that designed many area buildings and the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh.

My father was one of nineteen children, raised in Sellersville, PA. His father supported this brood as a cigar maker in a small factory. The Nases have lived in that area for over two hundred years, undergoing five changes in the spelling of their name. Leave the area and you will never find the name Nase again. Recently, my brother traced the name back to the 1400s in Alsace Lorraine when it was spelled Nehs.

I grew up in the area then known as West Oak Lane—on Gilbert Street. I went to a terrific elementary school— Pennypacker on Washington Lane, then Leeds Junior High School and finally Germantown High School for a year. My grades fell in tenth grade and my parents, who could ill afford it, sent me to Philadelphia Montgomery Christian Academy where my grades improved and I stopped hanging out on street corners. I briefly was "saved."

And then I left Philly. And then my brother left. And then my parents left.

No matter how long I live in Detroit, I will always be from Philadelphia. It’s the kind of city that leaves its mark. It’s rough and tumble, its sports fans expect too much, it’s too humid, it has the scariest highway in the world, it’s not as glamorous as New York, or as architecturally interesting as Chicago, or even as cool as Boston or San Francisco, but it still feels like home. It is home. I just can’t go home anymore.

Check out more My Town Monday posts at Travis Erwin's blog:http://traviserwin.blogspot.com/

18 comments:

Clair Dickson said...

Nice post, Patti. =)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thank, Clair.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Patti,

Home is always home! Really nice reminder.

Terrie

pattinase (abbott) said...

I haven't been there in a while now. I need to make some friends in Philly.

Barbara Martin said...

One's roots always tie them to the place they were born; even if you feel you can't go home anymore. Beautiful post Pattinase, about your family's beginnings.

Junosmom said...

I like what you wrote, because I will always be from Cincinnati - but I can't "go home" either, because it has changed so much, it isn't "my" Cincinnati anymore.

pattinase (abbott) said...

How many of us are displaced? Most probably.

debra said...

What a great snapshot of your home town, Patti. I have never been to Philadelphia; it has always fascinated me--and your post makes it more interesting!

Travis Erwin said...

As someone who has never strayed far from the cradle, you did a great job of capturing the sense of losing your roots.

Reb said...

Patti, what a wonderful picture you paint of Philadelphia and your families history. It's true though that you can't go home.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Even if you never leave home, you can't return exactly to that state o mind you inhabited then. Or the people that made it home have left. IMHO

Megan Powell said...

Nineteen children. Good lord.

Having grown up in a rural area, and lived in the suburbs as an adult, I always feel a certain disconnect when thinking about hometowns. I feel very affectionate toward Philadelphia: even if I don't know my way, I feel comfortable that I'll be able to get un-lost easily; I know it better than my in-laws, who still think of themselves as being "from Philadelphia" even though they haven't lived there in decades; it's the reference point by which I'll identify myself in casual conversation, because you can't really identify as belonging to a place with a teensy population. But I'm definitely not a Philadelphian.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Megan-What's the small town? My husband's from a small town and only began to consider himself from Philadelphia years later, when it became clear that Philly was the marker more than the small town for other people. Maybe all people from small towns inhabit the same sort of space though.
Yeah, 19 was scary. His oldest brother died in WW 1 and he in WW 2. it was that large a span.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Correction: He served in WW 2 not died in it.

Megan Powell said...

I grew up in Vernon, NY, which used to be mainly notable for a harness racing track. Now it's in the shadow of Turning Stone Casino, so between that and Syracuse/Utica/Rome triangulation, I can generally describe where I grew up.

Now I'm in Newtown Square, so functionally I live in the Western Suburbs (rather than my particular township or the city). Also, we learned that when telling people we lived in Newtown Square we had to be careful they understood we were not talking about Newtown.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Megan-I know that area. Megan Abbott lived in Oswego for a year. Very pretty area. And different from the city, for sure.

Mary said...

Great post Patti. Thanks for painting such a great picture of Philadelphia!

Lyndi Lamont said...

Great post, Patti. Hope you get to go home soon. I'm from Pittsburgh, PA but haven't been there since 1987. Maybe one of these days.

Linda/Lyndi