Sunday, December 4, 2011


when my mother and I would take the bus to the city.

City Hall....Philadelphia...watercolor

I really don’t know if what I’m remembering is a combination of several trips to Philadelphia or the result of one trip. Which ever it is, the memories are etched clearly in my mind, especially the Christmas of the trains. I’m guessing I was somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10.

My mother grew up in Philadelphia…south Philly to be precise…and moved to the country in “Jersey” when she married my father, leaving her large, extended family in the city, some 30 miles away. It was a Christmas season in the mid to late 1940s and we were going to visit my grandmother.

The trip started with a walk from the farm to “downtown” Landisville where we took a bus to Vineland, some 7 miles away. There we boarded another bus for the trip to the city. I don’t remember much of the ride but I imagine it took about an hour and a half to reach the station on 13th street in center city. Our first stop was Wannamaker’s department store just a few blocks away, where I would see the only thing I considered important to the wellbeing of my young life, THE TRAINS. I don’t remember anything else about the store from that visit except looking up and seeing those beautiful trains running through towns and tunnels and over bridges and mountains with the shiny black locomotives blowing their whistles and puffing smoke. I was mesmerized, standing there imagining what I could do if only I had a set of trains. (On Christmas day I was to unwrap such a set of trains that, unknown to me, had been sitting in a plain box under my bed for weeks.)

Reluctantly I accompanied my mother on the next leg of our journey, a walk of several blocks to the Woolworth’s Five and Dime on Market Street where we would stop and visit my cousin Tessie. My mother was only a few years older than her niece and I think she was more like and older sister to Tessie. There were no electric trains for me to see, but there was something almost as exciting, an entire network of tubes hanging from the ceiling with small containers inside that with a single, silent swish could be sent anywhere in the store. I had never seen anything like that before.

From Woolworths we walked to 12th and Market to catch the trolley that would take us to Grandma’s house on Camac Street in south Philly. It may not have been a train, but it ran on tracks and made train like noises, and that was good enough for me, a boy from the farm in Jersey. So much excitement in just one day.

Camac Street is one of the tiny streets that run between the blocks throughout much of Philadelphia, especially in the older, central areas of the city, wide enough for a horse drawn wagon or one automobile. The brick houses were identical with their well-worn and well scrubbed marble steps all lined up with one another. They were one room wide, with a living room-dining room in the front and a small kitchen in the back. A stair way along the side led to a second floor. (Those homes with a third floor were referred to as “father – son – holy ghost homes.) My grandmother would greet us in her fractured English, dispense with the prerequisite hugs and kisses, and put on a pot of coffee. Then she, or my aunt Elanore, would walk to the corner market and return with the most incredible treats…salami, capocola, provolone, and fresh rolls. This feast would hold us over until dinner, spaghetti and meatballs that only my grandmother could make. (Sorry mom, yours were great, but hers were better.)

We would sleep in the bedroom facing the street, and I don’t know if it was on the second or third floor (I don’t even know if there was a 3rd floor…will have to ask cousin Danny.) My last memory of the trip was lying in bed and listening to the clippity clop of the horses as they pulled the milk wagons around in the wee hours of the morning.

Grandma Rondinelli

No comments: