Several summers back our Jean made a trek down Memory Lane to where it turned into Eighth and Green in Haddon Heights, N.J. Her childhood there, in hindsight, appears idyllic.
Family photos affirm this. Here she is in her Brownie uniform, her sisters dressed as a Junior and a Cadet, her mother togged out as a troop leader. Here she is being held aloft on roller skates between her sisters. Here she skips down the brick sidewalk on her first day of school.
She was too young to be aware of the sordid details that our recollection of those years has to reveal: a neighbor’s marriage fractured, first signs of drugs at the high school, racial tension with a neighboring South Jersey town.
When she got home to Virginia where she now lives with her own family, she wrote out her thoughts and sent them to me. On paper.
Describing her walk from the downtown area to 29 Eighth Ave., she mourned the old trees that have come down in that once-Victorian resort town for Philadelphians. The streets bored between them and their overarching branches green-filtered the light in the summertime, produced flaming autumns, and glittering skeletons in the freezing rains of winter.
“They’ve tried to replace them,” she wrote, “but you sure don’t get that green cave effect with young trees. And some people have tried to restore houses by adding gingerbready effects that just seem out of place.
“At our old place, the railings have been repainted a dull red to go with an off-white exterior. It really looks nice. The wood porch has been replaced with cement.” [Her dad, remembering the scraping and painting a wood porch requires, appreciated that change.]
“One glance down the driveway,” Jean continued, “and I was instantly taken back 30 years to the garage sale we had before we moved. It is still ‘two-lane,’ whereas others in the neighborhood have replaced theirs with full-widths of cement. Probably easier to mow.”
She’s lived in the South so long she forgot to say “and shovel.”
“I helloed at a woman in the yard, and she’s the same person you met [when we made a similar jaunt some years earlier]. We swapped stories, and I told her the source of her mysterious pumpkin plants. She has taken out all the chicken coop foundations and fence and put her garden there.”
Jean grieved for a gnarly old apple tree that stood at the rear of our lot where it backed up to our church’s property. She was always either in that tree or falling out of it.
“I continued on out Green Street. The present pastor in the manse [next door to us] still has the low bushes on the corner, and has somehow convinced people not to trample down the grass between the bushes and the corner sidewalk. I remember him putting out little fences and other devices to keep everyone off that piece of grass – or foot-trampled earth!”
The D___s were the neighbors whose arguments we could hear through our own open dining room windows. The arguments ended when he moved out. The organist left her husband about the same time. Dave and I saw them last fall, married more than 25 years now, longer than to their first spouses.
“The church building was locked tight,” Jean wrote, “but sported banners celebrating the congregation’s first 100 years. The old doors are the same, along with their looped handles and door latches on top, worn so smooth now. I even walked around back to the old fire escape that I wasn’t supposed to play on, heh, heh.
“Then I walked over the old rail bridge (it looks ready to fall down!) to the elementary school.
“The fence where we used to line up is still there. I went in. The principal walked me around briefly. The kindergarten through 2nd grade rooms are virtually unchanged. They seem so huge.
“I remember we had a rug and circle of chairs in the kindergarten room, an attempt by Mrs. Stevens to make the room seem more cozy, I’m sure. The different shaped tables and tiny chairs seemed just the same, but surely they’ve been replaced several times since I was an inmate.
“The multi-purpose room was the same; a Girl Scout troop still meets there. The school still has the big white double circles [painted on the blacktop] we used to use for many games, but the blacktop is no longer pristine. I didn’t realize that the school had opened in 1963 – it was brand new for us. It seems odd that so many older teachers had been moved to a new school.”
I learned recently that with so many of the small town’s schools needing repairs, there was a referendum to decide whether it would be better to replace them all with one centralized elementary school. I must tell Jean. She’ll be relieved to hear the vote was to maintain the neighborhood schools.
“More often then not,” she mused, “I found that my memories were right on. What I missed usually amounted to details – such as the place to sit at the right of the steps rather than to the left. I waited there for you after my head was whapped by the swing.”
Ah yes, her first stitches. A girl remembers things like that.
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]