Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Part 3 of Philly Girl in Jersey

Part three...conclusion, or is it? 
Two years after Bridget moved in with her son,  daughter Chrissie became engaged, married and moved out to begin a new family life. The household was reduced to niece Bridget and her son Sean and my husband and I. We were comfortable and complacent with the way things were for a while, two more years to be exact. During that time Theresa moved back in again, temporarily, while she waited to settle on a condo purchase, in Washington Township, New Jersey. Her condo was not much more than a mile as the crow flies from our house.  Theresa then also had to become an official Jersey girl, but she wasn’t feeling the same mournful resignation her sister felt. Theresa embraced her new status and fully immersed her existence as a New Jersey resident, with a job in Jersey, continuing her education and getting her masters at a Jersey college and eventually she married a Jersey Boy, named Steve, but affectionately called ‘Goon’. All that can be said about that moniker is this; the name applies at the most opportune moments. We love him, nonetheless.
In the meantime one of Bridget’s and Theresa’s younger sisters, Lindsay, had a steady  boyfriend named Alex who lived in Glassboro, Lindsay lived in Hatfield in Montgomery county but also started out in Philly, just like the rest of us. Lindsay’s weekends were spent over Alex’s house here in NJ while she kept her residence in PA. She finished her college education, in Philly,  got a job close to her home in Hatfield, PA, but travelled every weekend to NJ. Soon after her engagement to Alex he surprised her by buying a townhouse in NJ. Lindsay rushed to get a job with a NJ school but for more than a few months really had a hard time adjusting to living in NJ on a full time basis. She was homesick for her parents.  Living in New Jersey 7 days a week did not hold the same charm as traveling back and forth every weekend to spend time with her boyfriend and his family.
Like her sisters before her, she officially became a Jersey girl, not from New Jersey.  Lindsay has found more things to like than not about living in NJ, like her starting life on her own and romantic memories of her meeting her future husband and his wedding proposal. A little more important though is the comfort of having her two older sisters close by. 
Soon after Bridget became engaged and married,  Mike and I again planned to downsize, placed the house on the market and found a townhouse in Mullica Hill. I tried valiantly to shop the Philadelphia real estate market, but it just wasn’t happening. I like Mullica Hill, it’s artsy and somewhat unpretentious, I could see me living in Mullica Hill. At this point in the lives of my troop of kids, everyone seemed to have their own course charted and their own home base. We were ready, but the universe again had other plans.
All the plans for selling the old house and buying a new smaller house fell apart in sequence. Things have a way of working out for you when you think it’s all going against you.
Fast forward and the downsize plans were quickly snuffed by the crashing real estate market and a serious need for my oldest granddaughter  to attend a better school system.
That’s right, we are full up again in a multi generation household with my eldest daughter Kate, her husband Scot and their two daughters,  Tayler the Timid Teenager and Meghan, aka, Todzilla the Tyrant. The thoughts of living through teenage years again don’t make me shudder half as much as life with Todzilla; we don’t call her Todzilla because she’s a peach of a child. Even now, at six years of age, the name aptly applies, in most situations. 
Tayler, the Timid Teenager now refers to herself as a Township girl, certainly not a Jersey girl, “that would be tacky”, she says. We live in Washington Township, a” Premiere Community”, the water tower on Delsea Drive says so, therefore, she is a ‘Township girl’. Tayler’s still at that stage where her world is only as big as her day at the shore, her bus ride to school and her Facebook posts of cliché sayings and quotes that she finds on Google and posts them as though it’s her own words, sharing her pseudo sageness with her fellow Facebook compadres. It’s fun to watch.
Meghan the Todzilla is a pint sized six year old with a behemoth temper and a stupid stubborn streak that often tests your humanity. She is a master at testing your patience or resolve and can set you off to a point where you almost fail to remember she is a child, a very small child and you are the adult, supposedly in charge of your own self control. I often tell my daughter she doesn’t ever have to worry about any abduction of Meghan. Twenty minutes, tops, and the kidnappers will eagerly and urgently return her. I guarantee it. She has that kind of power. She’s all piss and vinegar, lots of vinegar. She has her warm and fuzzy moments, just not enough of them to help contradict the nickname. She’s actually kind of proud of the nickname.
So here I am, still a Philly girl but living a Jersey life. There are things I like about living in New Jersey, I like my grassy lawn and appreciate it even more as long as I can afford to pay someone else to maintain it. I like having a drive way and not having to jockey for a parking space after a long day at work and. I like that a lot. I like the big swimming pool on my own backyard. I like the schools. I like my neighbors and most of them are Philly transplants. I like shopping for fresh produce at a Jersey farm. I like being able to watch shooting stars from my back yard in the middle of the night. It’s a free show from the universe and a gentle reminder that it can be really nice.
There are some things I will always miss since not living in the city. I miss people walking with a purpose other than exercise or walking the dog. No one walks from their house to the store like WaWa or even Starbucks. There is a sports field complex within my development where ball games are played. Folks that live within our development still drive to that field! It can’t be the miles, because there isn’t a road that’s a mile long within our development. Yet they will walk or jog the development for exercise but drive to watch their kid play soccer.
I miss the corner stores like the corner grocery store where as you walked in the door you could smell barrel pickles and that had a small four foot counter squeezed in a corner where you could buy lunch meat or hoagies. Although there’s hardly any around anymore, I miss the corner luncheonette that made only burgers and cheese steaks, but always had a case full of Breyer’s ice cream that could be scooped into one of only two different kinds of cones, regular or sugar.
I miss the corner bar. Not any corner bar, but  a corner bar that you can walk to and the bartender knows what you’ll probably have to drink and has it half poured as ‘hello’s’ are exchanged  and “howYOOdooin’s?”. The corner bar where half the patrons know something personal about you and your family and even though they might know it, it’s nobody else’s business. That’s proprietary information. The corner bar where you can walk to and back home. The corner bar that has a wood shuffle board table, with a well polished shellac surface and just enough wax dust sprinkled to make those metal quoits glide so silent down to the end of the board that the only sound is a light ‘clack’ on another puck. The corner bar that would offer to sponsor your softball team for the season, not just because of the business generated after the games, o.k., maybe that had something to do with it, but it really was a neighborly and community gesture that reinforced a sense of belonging to something specific to our community identity as neighbors and friends. I miss the corner bar a lot, especially in the summer. It’s the meeting with no agenda needed.
            From the looks of the family that have settled in and around me in New Jersey, that is where I’ll be for as long as the universe allows. With the grown kids and their kids we have quite a comfortable network of family connected by our initial relocations of home base.  I have become the accidental Matriarch of this collection of new Jerseyites. Being that matriarch isn’t something I planned or even assigned to myself, it just seemed to work out that way.
It’s not perfect. In fact, there are days when I deliberately stay later at work so I don’t have to hear the noise that is my home life, a life I claim I didn’t sign up for. The reward comes with little unexpected gestures, like after a particularly bad day, the teenager who ‘hates her life’, puts her head on my shoulder as she passes by me and says, “I love you, Grammy.” Or once in a while even Todzilla comes through for me and squeaks out, “You’re the bessstt”. It’s not perfect, but it’s what we do and where we are, in New Jersey.
 (Note: This story came right from the heart and each of the characters had something to contribute. A tighter version of these 3 parts appears in Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey, found here  www.bit.ly/TallTalesShortStoriesSJ)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Part 2 of Philly Girl inJersey

…..With confidence that my offspring would correct the silly behavior of their dad, I went my merry way on my day trip down to the Jersey shore with my girlfriends while my family kept their date with the Real Estate agent.
While on my own day trip to the shore, my girlfriend Susan asked if I might be missing out on the house hunt with Mike and the kids. I assured her that I had no intention of relocating to South Jersey and neither did my kids. Susan already lived in Jersey, another Northeast girl married to a South Philly guy. Actually she and I were childhood friends through High School and thereafter. Our husbands’ friendship went back even further than ours. Susan wanted to move to Jersey. She was used to driving everywhere she went, and was never fond of public transportation.
“It’s not that bad,” she tried to convince me, going on about all the great places there were to shop and the many movie theaters to choose from and how nice it was to have some land. I knew all that because we travelled with her and her husband Anthony on a regular basis. Come to think of it, we were the ones who hiked over to Jersey to do those things with them. Trying to not sound petulant I responded, “Well, he can look all he wants. I am not moving to New Jersey.”
 My street savvy city dwelling children found the house in New Jersey much more to their liking than I could have ever imagined. I was betrayed. They were seduced by a ¼ acre backyard blanketed in green grass and trees! “Trees, Mom, there’s lots of big trees! And room for a pool! And a driveway, with a garage!”
 That was almost 25 years ago. This Philly girl was dragged, kicking and screaming to live in Jersey. It is the main chapter of the life I didn't sign up for.
Life is full of twists and turns. Life is what happens when you tell the universe your plans and the universe says in response, "I don't think so." It's a tweak to your nose that you had better get with the program….whatever that program might be.
We moved to New Jersey that summer of 1988 and I was promised by my husband that if I gave it at least a year, and was still hell bent on moving back to Philly, we would. As it turned out, fate landed me a direct drive down a Jersey back road to the home of our weekend traveling friends Anthony and Susan. Our new house was close to the Black Horse Pike, they lived just off the White Horse Pike. That was the main stabilizer and calming factor for me making life in New Jersey somewhat palatable. With longtime friends close by, who also worked in the city, we still spent a good deal of our weekend time with them and their pool in their backyard, just like most of my cousins. Our summer weekends were like a family gathering. It was comfortable and we were relatively content with the routine.
Fast forward, life happens, our daughters  graduate high schools, go to college, meet their future husbands, a wedding, a grand baby, a couple different job changes and I get the news that our friends are relocating south bound to Virginia. They were moving for a job opportunity. Soon after our farewells I asked my husband if we could move now. He was surprised.
 "You really still don't like it here?"
I guess I was being too compliant and passive those last 10 years. I've since lost that character flaw.
He continued, "What about the kids?"
“The kids are grown," I responded.
"But now we have a grandchild," he whined. No, really, he really whined.
That next year was an emotionally draining one, and the most life altering in the course of events. My father died shortly after a cancer diagnosis. Soon after, grandbaby number two was born and became brain-damaged. With a need for extra family support and therapy, the new grandbaby and his Mom, Chrissie, moved back home within two months of his birth.
In addition, my mom’s health was such that she was unable to live alone, especially in her three-story Victorian house in Philly. So she moved in with us, and our briefly empty nest became too crowded for multiple generations. So we traded up to a bigger house, with an in-law suite, in-ground pool, oversized grassy lawn, and even an extra bedroom that I unsuccessfully tried to turn into a Mom cave.
But within two months of settling in, Mom died, and suddenly we had a lot of extra space. More twists and turns and more changes in the life we didn't sign up for soon affirmed my mantra that fate puts you were you are needed, whether or not you planned it.
The rooms meant for Mom went unused for about two years when my niece Bridget found herself overwhelmed and somewhat alone as a single mom, trying to work full time and continue go to school. Moving in with her Dad and stepmom wasn’t a viable option, neither was it practical option to go home to her Mom who lives even further than her Dad. She needed an extended support system.  
My daughters’ relationship with Bridget and her sister Theresa was closer than cousins and more like sisters; they are all within a year of each other in age. They still remained close as young adults, sharing each others’ life stuff and secrets. With that, when informed of her situation and we decided to offer her the extra room. It made practical sense since they all worked together anyway and could coordinate with the same daycare.   Bridget moved in and filled the space that was meant for Mom.  
“Six months”, she kept repeating to me, like some kind of weekly mantra. “Six months, TOPS,” she would emphasize and then continue, “As soon as Theresa graduates from school and gets a job, we’re getting a place together. Six months.” O.K., I reassured her, halfheartedly.
 The short lived semi-empty nest was now full up with two toddler boys and their moms. It was busy and noisy and the days flew by. I was often asked by friends why my niece couldn’t live with either of her own parents and since it was really none of their business, I would shrug and say, “it doesn’t matter, besides, it’s what we do”.
Six months passes by and several things happened. Bridget’s sister Theresa did graduate college, then went on a month long trip with a college buddy touring England and Ireland, returned and temporarily moved in with us, just until she landed a job and found a place to live. However, it was becoming clearer by each day that the two sisters no longer had the chemistry they might have imagined they had growing up. I could see that moving into a place together was not going to happen, at least not happily. They were in two different life style modes. One was a working mom going to school and the other had just finished her college days, but clearly was not on any domestic path.  Eventually, Theresa found a job and made plans to share a house, in Philly, with a housemate that was not her sister.
Shortly after it was clear we were beyond six months I suggested that Bridget get her driver’s license renewed for New Jersey, since that’s where she landed for the time being. “Why would I do that”, she asked, looking at me like I was suggesting she cut off a limb.
“Well, you’re here for now and probably a little longer than that. It just seems the practical thing to do until you finish your degree”.
“But I have a Pennsylvania license. “
“But you live in New Jersey now,” I said matter-of-factly.
I suggested that it just made practical sense to get her driver’s license and car registered for New Jersey. We were in no rush to end her ‘six month’ stay with an open ended extension. On the day she did transfer all her vital information to a New Jersey residence she actually said with almost defeated resignation, “I guess I really am a Jersey girl now. My driver’s license says so.”  Join the club, honey, I didn’t plan this either….end of Part 2.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Philly Girl in Jersey...Part 1

(This is part 1 of the Philly Girl in Jersey. A version of this appears  in Tall Tales and Short Stories, a collection of contributions by local South Jersey writers, now available through Amazon's Create Space. www.bit.ly/TallTalesShortStoriesSJ )
I never wanted to move to New Jersey. I was born and raised in Philly. In my mind Jersey was a Sunday drive to visit the ‘Jersey cousins’. The attraction for me as a city kid was that each of my Jersey cousins had a pool and a large back yard, with grass and trees. We had a back yard too, but it was about the size of a cemetery plot, and required not much attention, just big enough to grow a few tomato plants in buckets. Any trees were the ones found in a park. I always thought that New Jersey was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
There was no public transportation, if you wanted go somewhere you needed someone to drive and take you if it was too far to walk to get wherever it was you needed to get to, and it seemed everywhere was too far to walk.
I’m a girl from the ‘Northeast’ in Philadelphia, married to a guy from South Philly. South Philly was a section of the city I only understood by way of the maps on the walls of the SEPTA trains indicating stops beyond City Hall. When I first met Mike, he asked me what kind of car I drove. When I told him I don’t have a car, I found out that he and most of his family felt that public transportation was ‘beneath’ them; as if it was something ‘other’ people of a lesser social status are saddled with.
When my family moved to the Frankford area and I could not have been happier that I could walk to the Frankford El and not have to take an additional bus or two to get there. The El would take me to Center City where I could go just about anywhere and do almost anything and still stay out of trouble.
After Mike and I married and had two daughters we bought a tiny row house in the Kensington section of the city that was exactly two blocks from the Frankford El. It wasn’t a perfect neighborhood, but it was the practical choice for that time in our lives as very young newlyweds.
After thirteen years in Kensington my husband Mike announced that we were moving to New Jersey and that he had made an appointment to look at a house that seemed to fit our price range.
“We’re looking at a house in Jersey on Saturday,” he said.
“I have plans to go down the shore with Susan,” I said.
“Well, then me and the kids will go without you,” he said.
“The kids and I,” I corrected him.
“Whatever. I’m going to look at this house on Saturday. You just go to the shore. I’m only looking,” he said.
I sighed, and repeated my concerns about a move so far from my parents and the huge change of scenery for the kids. Our daughters were just starting their teenage years, preparing for high school, it would such be a big change. I felt he was not thinking this through.
My job was in Center City. I needed no car of my own. I took the Market-Frankford El to 8th and Market and literally walked off the train, through a turnstile and through the revolving doors into the building where I worked. I never had to set foot outside if I didn’t want to go outdoors, a real bonus in lousy weather. I could shop for food at the Reading Terminal Market; I could catch a show after work with friends from work for a night out. I could shop without him in tow, whining about how long was I going to be and wasn’t I done yet. I could buy lunch and a huge fruit salad from the street vendors and not even spend five bucks. I could run to City Hall when we needed something official like the official stuff that one gets done at City Hall.  Why couldn’t he see that this worked for me?
Our kids, Katie and Chrissie, were well rounded city kids. They had an appreciation for the outdoors in a natural setting because we were summertime weekend campers mostly at Jersey campgrounds. It was nice to visit on weekends and to get the kids out of the city for break in their routine, but also just as nice to get home and sleep in a bed. 
The girls were street savvy and confident when travelling just about anywhere, with or without me and most importantly they knew how to navigate their way around the city by train or bus as well as on bicycle. Sometimes on weekends we would get on our bikes and ride to the Delaware River along the old factory and warehouse roads and take rest stops at some of the abandoned docks. Our favorite stop was the old Jack Frost Sugar refinery which is now the Sugar House Casino. I would tell them about my Uncle John who worked there his whole life and how much hard work it was shoveling sugar like so much sand to fill the  filtering tanks for the production lines. They couldn’t picture it, but they humored me with pretentious awe.
Sometimes those bike rides would take us all the way to South Street. We’d stop for some water ice and window shop the storefronts of some of the oddest merchandise, taking turns watching our bikes while checking out the shops and then head home. It was fun for all of us.
I was sure, that my street savvy city dwelling children would find the house hunting jaunt to New Jersey appalling and unfathomable to even consider moving to such a rustic and barbaric setting, sparse of public transportation and no such thing as South Street. Certainly they would see the error of their Dad’s thinking and put on such an emotional uproar that he would just stop this silliness. 
....to be continued.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Car Keys, A Prompt

Car keys, where are the car keys?
I put them on the table and now they’re not where I left them or did I leave them on that table?
Maybe I left them on the other table.  Why can’t they stay in one place where they can easily be found?
Move that pile of magazines around, maybe they got covered up by the clutter.  
Maybe they are deliberately hiding out of my sight because the universe has other plans for my scheduled departure.
Where are those keys?
The later I leave, the more traffic I will have to sit in once I finally get on the road. Check my pockets again.
Wait, this is not the same jacket I wore yesterday. Check those pockets.
Where is that Jacket? I left it right there. But now it’s not there, where did it go? Probably the same place the keys went.  
Those keys are like socks in the dryer, what goes in is not the same that comes out.  Without those keys I cannot leave the house, I cannot lock the front door.
I cannot go to work…well that doesn’t sound too bad, maybe it’s a sign.
Maybe the keys are trying to tell me it’s time to take a hooky day off from the workday this week.
Maybe I should pay closer attention to where I lay my stuff at the end of my workday instead of lumbering up the driveway, through the front door, down the hallway, into the kitchen, dropping my stuff that I lug with me daily on to the bench.
Maybe I should pay closer attention to the location of where I kick off my shoes and shrug off my jacket that I drape off the back of the chair at the end of the table where I thought I set down my car keys as I step into the den and plant a hello kiss on my husband’s cheek exchanging check-ins on each other’s day.
Maybe I should pay more attention to what I drop on the table as I walk around to the refrigerator and as I stand in front of the open fridge and have that silent mental argument with it smartly asking what is for dinner and why isn’t it defrosted, how long will it take and how much effort do we want to put into it?
Maybe I should have paid more attention to where those car keys ended up before all those other distractions came about.  
Where could those car keys have disappeared to and why am I standing here like they are going to call my name and verify their location?
The clock is ticking. The house is blissfully silent.
The workday is looking more like a day off.
Retrace my steps and do one more visual sweep of all my stops from kitchen to the front door before I call out from work, thinking to myself,  do I use the excuse that I can’t find my car keys or do I fabricate something?
Down the hall I go and the dog lifts her head as I pass the living room. I tell her she’ll probably have company today since I can’t find my car keys. She puts her head back down and sighs. 
My decision is made, I shut the front door.  As I turn away from the door way the car keys are hanging on the key rack.  I sigh and turn to the dog, asking her, “Where ARE those car keys?”