Return to Georges Lane

On the corner sits 1771 Georges Lane in Wynnefieild, home of my grandparents until they moved to Ventnor in 1967 and home to my dad until he got married in Nov. 1957.

On the corner sits 1771 Georges Lane in Wynnefieild, home of my grandparents until they moved to Ventnor, NJ in 1967 and home to my dad until he got married in Nov. 1957.

It was a beautiful fall day when Dale and I drove up to the house we knew of as Mom Mom and Pop Pop’s.  We had not been back there since they moved down the shore some time in 1967, so doing the math that makes it… 45 years or so.  Man oh man.  We didn’t know what to expect (though I did some research using Google Maps before our trip just to prepare myself in case it had been torn down so I learned it was still there and intact).   The house looks to be in great shape, and under sun-drenched skies we get out of the car and walk towards it.

It’s a feeling of celebration heading toward the house: it’s still here!  There’s been changes, as there should. New casement windows in the front of the house (along with security sign in the window), vinyl siding on the second story, the stubbed roof over the first floor is the foundation for a small satellite dish.  Any older home that keeps its value will have seen such changes.  But the special character of the place has stayed the same.

Approaching the cement steps leading up to 1771 Georges Lane.

Approaching the cement steps leading up to 1771 Georges Lane. Photo taken October 16, 2012.

Pop Pop Harry with his next door neighbor sitting on their shared steps at 1771 Georges Lane.  Photo taken in 1959.

Pop Pop Harry with his next door neighbor sitting on their shared steps at 1771 Georges Lane. Photo taken in 1959.

Look at these two images – taken over 53 years apart.  The older image must have been taken on the landing between the three steps that lead to the sidewalk and the six steps that lead into the houses.  The windows are still there (though the neighbor’s windows now have bars.  Now, in the recent shot, a black wrought iron fence separates the two properties.  “Good fences make good neighbors” is a New England truism, but is there really a need for a fence dividing the step?   Reading the older image, I can’t imagine my grandfather or his neighbor wanting to put a fence up between the two of them.  Look at the drain pipe at the left of my grandfather – its still there (probably – hopefully – a newer incarnation but in the same location).  My grandparents are in the prime of their lives in these old images, and in paying tribute to them by visiting their house, I continue to feel them with me.

Mom Mom Liz and Pop Pop Harry posing in front of their home in 1959.

Mom Mom Liz and Pop Pop Harry posing in front of their home in 1959.

I have so many memories of this house – big family Passover dinners and sleepovers in which Mom Mom and Pop Pop would tell stories of the old days.  There was always a candy store on the ground floor (in the picture above you can see a sign for money orders and Tareyton cigarettes – the store still existed).  I have no memories of the store itself.  For me, the ground floor, once home to the store, was a large storage area form the stuff my grandparents had accumulated.  I do remember fixtures, but the store had long been closed.  I remember stacks and stacks of old newspapers from World War II.  Maybe because their son, my Uncle Milt, had served in WWII they saved every paper.  I also remember a big victrola with a horn and a cache of 78s.  I wish that was saved, but it wasn’t.  In their big move to Ventnor, a lot of old “worthless” stuff was tossed, I later learned, including the victrola and old records.

As Dale and I were looking and taking pictures of the house, a young man opened the door and walked down the steps.  It seems he grew up in the house.  I spoke to him about this project, and he went inside to get his mom.  She then came out and, interested in what were there for, told us she had lived in the house about 20 years, fixing it up as she along.  She had her suspicions that a store used to be in the first floor, which she fixed up to rent out as a separate apartment.  She didn’t invite us in, and I’m unsure what I would have done if she had.

On the other side of the intersection on Montgomery Ave. and Georges Lane

On the other side of of my grandparent’s house is the intersection of Montgomery Ave. and Georges Lane, circa 2012.

Returning to the car for a wider view of the neighborhood, we look down Montgomery Avenue that the Georges Road house intersects and I take the above shot.  The Community Mini Market, across the street from their old house, is the latest incarnation of a grocery store that was there 45+ years ago.  I have memories of sleepovers at Mom Mom and Pop Pop’s, and a highlight would be going across the street to pick out dessert (it seemed I always selected ice cream sandwiches).  And it was right across the street!  I have always felt the need to live near commerce – to be near places that sold usable stuff.  Last night, in fact, hanging out in Teaneck about 9:30, I walked over to Bischoff’s to get Gail an ice cream sundae. It was a cold night mid-December night, but Bischoff’s is only a few blocks away.  It continues to give me a great feeling to walk to places.  And – carrying on with the family tradition – Jake’s new apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, has a supermarket and a 24/7 diner right across the street.  Throughout my life, every place I’ve lived has been in walking distance of local shopping.   Maybe it all stems from having a grocery store right across the street from my grandparents as a young boy, and realizing the comfort and opportunity such a location brings.

Mom Mom Liz, as I'll always remember her, in the kitchen.  This was taken Passover 1967 in Georges Lane.  Look at the smile on her face! We should all be this happy and fulfilled.  One of many sayings: "You don't need to be hungry to eat!"

Mom Mom Liz, as I’ll always remember her, in the kitchen. This was taken Passover 1967 in Georges Lane. Look at the smile on her face! We should all be this happy and fulfilled. One of her many sayings: “You don’t need to be hungry to eat!.”

Passover 1967.  Mom, Mom Mom Liz, Robin, and Uncle Milt in the dining room in Georges Lane.  I have such strong memories of the wall paper.

Passover 1967. Mom, Mom Mom Liz, Robin, and Uncle Milt in the dining room in Georges Lane. I have such strong memories of the wall paper!

Back to School

Merion Elementary School.  Traditional-looking school, blue skies and kids getting on the yellow school bus: this looks like a quintessential scene played out through suburban America

Merion Elementary School. Traditional-looking school, blue skies and kids getting on the yellow school bus: this looks like a quintessential scene set in suburban America. Oh wait… it is!

Dale and I visiting our elementary alma mater, Merion Elementary School, on October 16, 2012.  And like other sites we went to, this wasn’t a drive by but a walk-around-and-get-a-sense of the place.  Our visit took place near the end of the school day, and

the back field of Merion Elementary.

The back field of Merion Elementary.

we walked around the school, looking at the huge field to the left as well as behind.  I saw myself as a young kid on the monkey bars in the (rebuilt: much safter) playground in the distant. I saw myself running down the small hill that separated the sports field from the upper playground area.  And then we walked to the back field that stretched all the way to Narberth.  Moms started arriving,

Sixth grade school friends gathered in the back field of Merion Elementary, circa 1970.

We here here once! Sixth grade school friends gathered in the back field of Merion Elementary, circa 1970. From left Brad Farquar, David Fink, Lydia Yingling, Lee Slap and Steve Patterson.

meeting their kids and Dale and I felt a bit like outsiders?  What were we doing here? Not only were our years at this school many years before, our own kids are long past elementary school age.  The next time we’ll be spending this much time at an elementary school is with our grandchildren at their school play or something.

It all comes back though, and the years both disappear and show their distance.  We move to the front of the school, and sit on a curb watching the kids charge out of school at the end of the day, meeting their moms (still largely moms) or their school buses.  This was once us: our whole world revolved around this school and the friends we met there.  How could another world exist anywhere else?  New things getting discovered everyday – new realities emerging.  It

The main entrance to Merion Elementary School hasn't changed since Dale and I went there in the 1960s.

The main entrance to Merion Elementary School hasn’t changed since Dale and I went there in the 1960s.

was all emerging.  The beauty of being young is discovering everything for the first time.  I look up at the entry way of the school and think back to my own school dismissals at the end of the day.  How we would wait inside on the rows of stairs if it was raining or snowing.  The school bus ride home where home life would be a continuation of school life.  Meeting with different friends after school.  Elementary school bleeds into Jr. high where friendships become cemented and new discoveries are made.

How lucky we were as kids.  Here we were in Merion, Pennsylvania, living just a few blocks from City Line, separating Lower Merion from West Philadelphia, but living a world away.  Though our twin-home on Upland Road had to be one of the most modest in this rich suburb (spending time in Merion on this recent visit, seeing some of the huge manor-like homes, Dale and I remarked how we easily were in the 1%), as kids we were oblivious.  As an educator I’m aware of that kids need space (though kids will make the best of almost any situation).  Merion Elementary has a lot of space, and walking around the school 42 years after I graduated, it all still felt large. Kids there have many, many possibilities.

All in the family: William P. Mann school in Wynnefield, where I went for kindergarten and both my parents attended.

All in the family: William B. Mann Public School in Wynnefield, where I went for kindergarten and both my parents attended.

If one had to make a snap judgement, Mann school doesn’t show the same promise to a visitor.  It’s only a few miles away, but it’s in a fairly beaten-down stretch of 54th Street that winds through West Philadelphia.  Though the above shot shows the school seemingly surrounded by trees, it is in the middle of an inner-city block.  There’s a lot of history here, because not only did I go here (at least for kindergarten) but many other relatives as well (I’m sure).  I look back on my kindergarten class picture and see a mixture of different races presented, much different than the lily-white make-up of Merion Elementary.  My schooling began here; I didn’t go to a nursery school (was pre-K even a term back then)?

Bebber Middle School, where both my parents went (many years apart)

Bebber Middle School, where both my parents went (many years apart).  You can see Abbie, Michael, Dale and Robin heading into the school to check it out.

As mentioned in previous posts, some of these key visits took place on what would have been mom’s 74th birthday.  Abbie, Michael, Dale, Robin, and I drove up to Beeber Middle School in Wynnefield, and I was quick to get out of the car and take pictures.  I walked up to the steps to photograph, but stopped because there were two guys sitting

Mom on the same steps on the day of her Jr. High graduation, June 1953

Mom on the same steps on the day of her Jr. High graduation, June 1953.  The columns still stand, but the brown doors are now painted red.

there.  I couldn’t just take the picture with them in it.  I explained the project, and how today was my mom’s birthday and instead of visiting a cemetery we are here, at the middle school she attended in the min-1950s to honor her, to pay tribute to her.  They were interested in the story, and as everyone left the car to join me, they ushered us inside to check out the school.  Abbie had attended Beeber nine years

Mom Mom Ruth on the same steps at mom's graduation June 1953.

Mom Mom Ruth on the same steps at mom’s graduation June 1953.

after mom, and he had never been back inside.  I waited outside, wanting to get a feel for the place, for the street, wanting to soak in the environment.  And I was thinking about the slides, two of them pictured to the left, that I recently came across going through old family pictures.  It is a gratifying feeling that places still remain, though people are gone.  And I know that this is a lucky feeling; for many folks, their places are gone, whether by bulldozer, fire, or hurricane.  It felt tremendous to stand at the steps of Beeber with my family and feel connected to those who aren’t here physically but are always with us.

Overbrook High School stands almost as an island in West Philadelpha.

Overbrook High School stands almost as an island in West Philadelpha.

I don’t mean to get dramatic here, but If not for Overbrook High School, I would not exist.  Dale wouldn’t exist.  Robin wouldn’t either.  Drew, Michael, and Gail would probably be married to other people and would never know each other.  Geoff, Alli, Jake, Kevin, Emily, Carlie???  Not a chance guys.  I don’t mean to get all Back-to-the-Future on you, but if not for dad deciding to be a substitute teacher at Overbrook, nothing else would exist.

Dad is a substitute teacher at Overbrook and mom is a senior and he is instantly smitten.  He is seven years her senior, but that made no difference.  He found the one.

Dad as a senior, culled from the 1949 Overbrook High School yearbook

Dad as a senior, culled from the 1949 Overbrook High School yearbook.  I love the last line: he hadn’t changed throughout the years.

He was a student here years earlier, and was here working trying to earn some money while attending law school.  He had graduated Temple University, but never strayed for.  Worked at bingo joints in Atlantic City in the summers.  Lived at hom at 1771 Georges Lane in Wynnefield, about a half an hour hike to get to high school back in the day.  He had always lived at home – such was life in the 1950s (he would only leave after he and mom were married – the same with mom).

Mom’s World

Dale, Uncle Abbie, and cousin Michael outside the Trianon apartments in Bala Cynwyd.

Dale, Uncle Abbie, and cousin Michael outside the Trianon apartments in Bala Cynwyd.

In thinking of this sabbatical project, I had a vision of returning to Philadelphia and visiting cemeteries where my grandparents are all buried, where mom is buried.  But those were half-hearted thoughts.  True, I do actually enjoy walking through cemeteries (as does Gail – she maybe even more than me). There’s a quietude walking among graveyards that makes one – even one with no connection to anyone buried in the premises – feel both at peace with those who have passed and at peace with the concept that time is passing.  But in my visits to Philly, I didn’t have any interest in visiting the dead in a graveyard.  I’ve never done it, and now writing this post almost two months after the visit, I still don’t feel the need, even the desire.  Instead, on a beautiful fall day – October 17, 2012, what would have been mom’s 74th birthday – her brother (our uncle) Abbie, Abbie’s son (our cousin) Michael,  Dale, Robin, and I visited the foundational places and spaces, the neighborhoods, houses and schools where – for Dale, Robin and me – our grandparents and our parents were vibrantly alive many, many years ago.

The Trianon apartments on Conshohoken State Road in Bala Cynwyd hasn’t  always been there, I know this now.   The permanent sign in the front announces “apartments available,” and I wonder if apartments were always available there. Who might be looking for a place in Bala: those new to the area and looking for a place to launch themselves? Newly-married couples just starting out? Middle-age couples years later scaling down?  Young adults moving out of their parents’ homes? Husbands fresh from leaving their wives? This looks like any apartment building (albeit well-maintained with fresh flowers donning the sign), but on this spot many years before my great grandparents owned a large home on a farm. We never lived far from this site: growing up, our house on Sorrento Rd. in Philly, and our houses on Upland Rd. in Merion and Grasmere Lane in Bala were all only about a mile away at most.  But I only knew of this place hesitatingly, in passing.  As a kid, we’d be driving past it, on way to the back entrance of the Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center or taking the back road to Philly to avoid City Line, and once, maybe twice, mom would point out.   “That’s where my grandparent’s lived and Pop Pop [her father] grew up.”  Mom was never at a loss for words, but she never delved into the mystery of the place or talked about memories of it.  For me, looking out the passenger-side window, all I saw was a generic apartment building, completely devoid of any meaning, that quickly disappeared in the rear-view as we drove past and moved on.

Walking up the main drive of the Trianon

Walking up the main drive of the Trianon

So happy birthday mom – and today we’re stopping.  Abbie drives us in to the parking lot and starts to tell the story of their grandparents.  My head was reeling with the narrative and I couldn’t possibly take it all in – in order, with names – so we parked in the rear parking lot, got out, then stood around the car listening while Abbie spins the tale of Leibowitz.

He spoke of his and mom’s grandparents Abraham and Hannah, a young married couple with a young daughter Esther, coming to America from Romania via Ellis Island in 1908.  Penniless.    Somehow Abraham was able to buy a donkey somewhere in New Jersey, with dreams of heading down what is now US 1 to Florida (he had heard it was a good place to grow grapes, which piqued his interest; he was a winemaker back home in Romania) .  How long that trip would have taken – with or without a donkey – in the early 1900s is a mystery.  The story goes that the donkey dropped dead in Philadelphia, and Abraham took that as a good a sign as any to make this spot his home.

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The parking lot of the Tranon. Notice the railroad tracks in the distance. This whole parking lot was farmland where my great-grandfather would grow grapes in the 20s and 30s.

So this is a living, breathing narrative of my great-grandparents who died before I was born: now in America, the young Romanian couple starts having more kids, and they have a lot, eventually six girls and two boys, one being Henry, my grandfather.  Abraham works many jobs, including opening up one of the first gas stations in Philadelphia.  This leads to that.  Profits from gas stations enable him to buy real estate and he becomes quite successful.  And as Abraham establishes himself financially in the 1920s, the lure of grape growing leads him to consider leaving the city for the open space of Bala, right over the city line (but a world away).  However,  folks back then wouldn’t sell to Jews.  Somehow a friend, John Facenda, who would later become a fixture in Philadelphia sports and newscasting, acts as a middleman and buys the farm for my great-grandfather.  The family lives and thrives there, Abraham growing grapes on the property which bordered the railroad tracks (still extant and pictured above).  What I never knew before our tour was that Henry went to – and graduated from – Lower Merion high school, where I would attend and graduate from many years later.  Many of his siblings attended as well, but Abbie is unsure how many stuck around to graduate.

Among his other investments,  Abraham would own the Elmwood swimming pool in South West Philadelphia, where a young Ruth Langnas would be working as a cashier in the mid to late 1930s.  And this was how my maternal grandparents met.  Henry would help her out; if Ruth was short he would give her money to make up the difference.  She was 16 and attractive, and maybe thought that the owner’s son, four years older, would be a catch.  And they sure caught each other: Ruth got pregnant, and, probably early 1938 with Ruth pregnant with my mom, they get married.

They young couple then settles in the paternal home in Bala. It seemed as if all of Henry’s sisters ended back in Bala with their spouses.  I can only imagine the constant energy inside the house, with everyone trying to make the space their own.  Probably a lot of drama.  Ruth gets tired of it all, and maybe before or shortly after my mom was born in 1938, Henry and Ruth moved our of Bala and into an apartment in Strawberry Mansion that was also owned by the family.  Other family members ended up moving there as well, all living off of Abraham’s success.  Henry, as the sole surviving son, worked for the family business, maintaining many of the properties his father owned.  Eventually Ruth, Henry and their baby Carol leave Strawberry Mansion and move Wynnefield.

Abbie on the stoop of the house in which he grew up : 1963 N. 52 St. in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia.

Abbie on the stoop of the house in which he grew up : 1963 N. 52 St. in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia.  My mom would spend her entire single life in this house, her baby brother Abbie coming onto the scene when she was nine.  .

All my life I’ve seen snapshots taken inside the house on N. 52nd Street.  I’ve heard stories.  But I have never been there.  Or if I had, I was too young.  Mom would talk about the past, but she never returned to the scenes.  Maybe she was afraid of the neighborhood it had become once white-flight set in and all the Jews fled, settling in Overbrook Park (like her parents did) or the suburbs.  Returning to the block circa 10/17/12 was like a homecoming to an area I seemed to know my entire life but had never visited before.  Our house was at 1963 (I take complete liberty to use the pronoun “our” to ascribe ownership to a place that I’ve never visited before, yet alone lived).  Mom’s best friend Sue was a 30-second walk away (on a perpendicular street.  As Abbie tells us, when he and Carol were growing up there were many friends and family members in the immediate neighborhood. Henry was always very generous, helping to buy homes in the neighborhood for his in-laws, Morris and Amelia Langnas, as well other relatives.  Henry helped Ruth’s sister Rose procure the house right next door to them.

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The alley right across N. 52nd Street where as youngsters Abbie and his friends would play

Behind the house on N. 52nd was an urban version of the secret garden

Behind the house on N. 52nd was an urban version of the secret garden.

Abbie's son Michael, a builder and real-estate developer, inspecting the rear of what was once his grandparents' home on N. 52nd St.

Abbie’s son Michael, a builder and real-estate developer, inspecting the rear of what was once his grandparents’ home on N. 52nd St.

Back to the present: We walk behind the rowhouses (there was a small cutaway past one of the houses that led you around back)  to where the garages are.  There is a dirt road connecting all.  And a cliff to one side, where if you’re not careful… It looks treacherous now, and Abbie assured us it was treacherous then.  You couldn’t drive back here.  A retaining wall had given way before Henry and Ruth they moved in, and whose extant remains are still there (see above).  Since the rear of the house faced an embankment, with just a wooded area below, Henry would dump all his trash at back down the embankment.  Mom and Sue would sneak out and smoke cigarettes by the this retaining wall (which back in the day was hid by bushes, their “secret hangout”).  A train trestle nearby (not pictured)  would influence Abbie’s love of trains.

Looking up the block from the ancestral home

Looking up N. 52nd Street from the ancestral home on 10/17/12.

Mom posing in front her house before leaving for her ninth grade graduation in 1954

Mom posing in front her house as a teenager in the mid 1950s.  Almost sixty years later the block looks very similar, though the tree on the sidewalk is gone and many of the houses now have vinyl siding (which covers molding detail underneath the roofline).

the image is fairly dark, but you can see Pop Pop Henry behind the wheel parked out in front of the house on N. 52nd St. (I recognize the house across the street from our recent visit).  Taken sometime in the mid-1952.

The image is fairly dark, but you can see Pop Pop Henry behind the wheel parked out in front of the house on N. 52nd St. (I recognize the house across the street from our recent visit). Taken sometime in the mid-1952.

Though Henry and Ruth’s life was now centered on N. 52nd St., Henry’s parents and various family members remained in the huge Bala house.  Abraham died in the late 1940s (Abbie was named after him).  Abraham’s death ushered in a succession of losses: with no one sharing Abraham’s business acumen, the once thriving family business was sold off piecemeal, and a few years after Abraham’s death Hannah succumbed as well.  The house, once filled with the vitality of a large family, was left unoccupied and thieves eventually broke in and stole much of the possessions the family had left there.  The big house and its farm-like property, was sold about 1960 to a buyer who would tear down the house and dig up the fields to construct the Trianon apartments, completed in 1962.  Henry and his siblings received 1.3 million dollars for the sale (split six ways) , which would enable Henry to construct a brand new home a world away (but only a few miles).  At this point, mom had not only been married, both Dale and I were born; until she left to get married, mom spent her entire life on N. 52nd St.  So while mom was raising her own family, Henry, Ruth and Abbie settled into the new family home on Sherwood Lane in Overbrook Park, still in Philly, only a few miles away from N. 52nd St.  But, figuratively, a world away.

Though hidden by dense foliage, this is my grandparents' house at 6925 Sherwood Lane in the Overbrook Park section of Philadelphia.  This was the only home I would ever know my grandparents to live in.

Though hidden by dense foliage, this is my grandparents’ house at 6925 Sherwood Lane in the Overbrook Park section of Philadelphia. This was the only home I would ever know my grandparents to live in.

Margate Now Margate Then, Part 2

This is the senior center, circa September 2012, on the beach, right near our old house at 8206 Atlantic

The view of the same senior center, looking pretty lonely on the big lot, taken from the deck outside my folks’ bedroom, in the early seventies.  Look at those boss cars!! I can remember this lot before the senior center, before the Margate Public Library, when it was just a lot.  When they were building the senior center, my sisters and I found a box turtle on a construction trailer.  We took him home and named him Sammy.  Sammy lived in a box on the kitchen floor in our house on Upland Road, until mom and dad suggested  – I’m sure the reality was much harsher – that we put him back in his original habitat.  On a subsequent trip down the shore, we pulled the Plymouth Belvedere over somewhere in the swamps of Jersey off the Blackhorse Pike near AC and tearfully bid Sammy adieu.  I have strong memories of this!  I “see” Sammy in the black and white shot.

Why when I look at old photographs, the world looks more real in black and white?  Maybe it’s less of a literal interpretation – the scene was obviously in color.  But the monochromatic tones allows me to interpret the image in a way that color sometimes doesn’t.  Black and white gives a crucial layer of distance to the viewer familiar to the scene; his own memory has to come into play.  It’s a challenge.  To make a photo come to life the viewer needs to allow the characters to move, to speak, to come alive. But in black and white photos the viewer has to work that much harder.  When one looks at old pictures of one’s parents or grandparents (“one” who is in his fifties, at least, as I am), one has to color up their imagination.  Or not.  The reality of that old world was black and white.  As if color never existed.  I’m not as interested in watching archival video of my own kids, or the old home movies of when I was a kid, because the reality in the moving image is too literally represented.  It’s the sounds, the moving pictures, that seemingly trick the viewer to almost feel as if we are all still there.  Videos can be a colosal mind-fuck: there’s no room for reinterpretation.  There’s no room for romanticization.  It’s the cold hard moving pictures of a long-gone reality, and the current you is there no longer.  No – I like photographs.  There’s room for me now in the photographs of old.

The new Margate Public Library. Well, new is pretty relative. It was built when we lived on 8206, and it was new because we remembered the “old.”

Libraries hold a sacred place in my heart.  There is so much untapped potential in a library.  There are so many books to read; even if your town has a small library, 95% of those books will go unread by you.  There’s no way you can read 5% of what a library offers.  Because – and listen to me – as soon as you are catching up the library will be buying new books so the end result, the ripping reality: you can never catch up.  You are always behind, so get used to it.  Again, the untapped potential.  There are gems on the shelves just waiting for discovery.  You can say bookstores are the same way, record stores too (sad sad sad, but that’s another future post).  There is so much to read, so much to listen to.  But in the stores you need to pay money.  With the library, it’s all there for free.  It’s for you, ten, fifteen books at a time if you can stand it… if you can read them…  Sometimes I like taking books out that I truly never intend to read, just to see how they look sitting in my house.  So many possibilities…

This Margate library was sleek.  I was wowwed.  Sunlight filtered in, and there were rows and rows of books and magazines.  Sleek modern wood shelving.  I brought

Carved in the cement is the date “1979.” This bricked area was added a year after we stopped going to Margate

homework with me from Philly and spent some time there working on this project or that, but maybe romanticizing what all the books and magazines meant to me. The key word in the above sentence: “some” time.  It opened when I was, what,  a junior? A senior? in high school.  And spending time in the library just wasn’t as important as compared to the kid that I was a few years earlier.  This was the “new” library which opened on the big empty lot a few years after the senior center.  It somewhat beckons me in 2012, but it mainly serves as a reminder of the old library, which still exists.

The old Margate library on Jerome Avenue is still standing.

The old Margate library on Jerome Avenue is still standing.

How can this tiny building be a library.  It looks like an outpost, a storage shed, a doll’s house.  Something so tiny as to be impossible to have any real use.  On our Sept. trip, after the three of us left Iroquois Ave. we walked down to Ventnor Ave. and Dale and I got to talking about other memories.  And something we channelled right away was the old library.  We both had strong memories of the building, and decided to see if it was still there.  We walked a few blocks up Ventnor, turned the left onto Jerome, and about half a block in, there it was. How could you miss it?  Rather how COULDN’T anyone miss this.  It is so small, so seemingly inconsequential.  A “For Sale” sign on the bit of lawn in the front. However, it seemed to be reaching out to us, saying, “Appreciate me now, because tomorrow I might not be around.”  Someone will buy the property, and tear the diminutive structure down (it won’t take much – you could wrap some rope around the building, attach it to the trailer hitch on your entry-level Subaru and just touch the gas.  You’ll hear a “pfffftt” – and that soft sound is of the place falling down).  This building will not last, but for me the memories will.

The cover of a Hardy Boys book I possibly/probably read as a youngster at the Margate Public Library.   I

It was small, but it served for years as the Margate Public Library.  I remember two rooms: an adult room and a children’s room.  You’d walk in and be completely surrounded by books.  I would spend many comfortable hours in there, but what comes back to me so strongly are the Hardy Boy series.  Maybe I was in third or fourth grade and during a rainy day (it has to be raining, right? in the late 1960s what else would be there to do in a shore town on a rainy day but go to the library. In my mind, it has to be rainging). I was probably looking at the spines of the books (or maybe had the recommendation of the librarian) and some how came across a literary force that – I still feel this way now – changed my life.  One book let to two, three, four… I think by the end of the summer I read every Hardy Boy book.  Death defying adventures, friendship, engaging family dynamics (the brothers were a team and rarely seemed to fight), chaste romances – I was completely in the world of Frank and Joe Hardy and their escapades in the city of Bayport on Barnet Bay (You can read about the Hardy Boys today, and find the stereotypes that “Franklin W. Dixon” employed were horrible, though editions after 1959 were revised to acknowledge changing societal norms).  One after the other after the other.  I had read the Bobbsey Twins before this (same author), but the twins seemed to be kids’ stuff compared to danger and peril involved in the Hardy Boys’ mysteries.  My love of reading, that love of discovery, cystalizes in the tiny frame of the former building of the Margate Public Library.  I still love small spaces, in which everything is within reach, in which you are surrounded by everything you need.  I love being surrounded by books, by the possibility that exists within every cover.  This is a life feeling formed in this library.

The entrance way to Casel's food store, an iconic fixture in Margate since I was a boy.

The entrance way to Casel’s food store, an iconic fixture in Margate since I was a boy.

I can go so deep into snapshots.  This – like many of the images throughout this blog – should be meaningless to the viewer.  But to me, this image shows so much.  It’s the front entrance of Casel’s supermarket circa 2012, but through the power of the image I can go way back. Casel’s is on Ventnor Ave., about a fifteen minute walk from the old library (maybe longer on younger, shorter legs).  Casel’s was Mom Mom’s favorite place to go.  Every day.  Everyday she would shop at Casel’s (later a Pantry Pride would be built nearby – it is the site of condos today – and she would alternate between the two).  She didn’t drive, and she would wheel an old blue baby carriage to the store, a bootleg version of a shopping cart that did the trick.  I laugh at the memory of our grandmother walking the sidewalks of Margate wheeling a baby carriage loaded up with groceries.  And we loved going with her.  Mom Mom had no compunction about opening up bags of potato chips and letting her grandkids eat the bag in the store (never to pay for it).  She would cook food for the deli guys behind the counter, and they in turn would give her ridiculously cheap prices at the deli.  She was the queen of Casel’s and Pantry Pride.  And I don’t exaggerate: every day!  It was a daily mission, because nothing gave Mom Mom pleasure like cooking food and seeing her grandkids eating it – and the more the better.  One of her favorite expressions: “Who says you have to be hungry to eat?”

Casel’s brings Mom Mom back to me, but it also brings back my first employment opportunity.  I always wanted to work.  I wrote on some blogs earlier about various boardwalk jobs, but I was always trying to jones for some money: selling seeds and greeting cards door to door (from advertisements on the back of comic books), delivering papers, carrying beach chairs and setting them up on the beach for family friends, getting to the Margate Public tennis courts early in the morning to reserve courts for players later in the day.  But I was a self-appointed shopping bag carrier at Casel’s, a pint-sized entrepreneur.    On summer days I’d leave the beach, wash myself up, then walk over to Casel’s where I would position myself at the front of the store (right near the yellow fire pump).  Then as shoppers would emerge I’d ask them if they wanted any help with their bags.  Simple.  Most people said no, but those who couldn’t resist an earnest ten-year-old, would let me wheel the shopping cart to the parking lot, and I’d put their bags in the car for ten cents, twenty-five cents, and even the very rare dollar.  There were a few summers I seem to remember being there all the time, coming home with newly-earned coins jangling in my pocket.

Last night Gail and I watched the final episode of the current season of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”  The episode was titled “Margate Sands” – an homage to gangster hideaways in undeveloped parts of Atlantic City in the 1920s.  These Margate Sands were no longer wild in the 1960s and 1970s, and the area has continued to change, develop and grow as the 60s begot the future decades.  I was there then, and  I can still sense much of it all these years later.