We moved into this house at 218 Upland Rd. in Merion a few weeks before Robin was born in June 1965. Though there were many houses (34; I counted) crammed into the short block (which didn’t seem so short nor so crammed back then), it felt like a different world. Lots of trees lined the block (and still do). Even though the front yards were tiny, every house had one so there was a sense of deep green all around. 218 had a big covered porch, which a few years later Pop Pop Henry would convert to an enclosed den (the room you now see in the front of the house).
Two houses would share a long driveway, and these driveways would become our playgrounds. But unfortunately we lived next door to the Krasnoffs, a couple who seemed to be even older than our grandparents. Mr. and Mrs. Krassnoff had a
Lincoln Continental and a chauffer! How did that happen on Upland Road? He would sit in the car during the day in the front of the driveway by the Krassnoff’s front door waiting for them to appear. And their Continental had those back doors that hinged toward the back, so the doors all opened like the Continental on the opening credits of “Entourage.” It was kind of frustrating as a kid, so I remember using the Markowitz’s driveway across the street more than ours as a place to play.
The distinct quality of these twin homes is that you shared a wall with your neighbors. Your house was actually half a house. The houses on Upland Road were kind of narrow in comparison to freestanding homes, but were complete in their verticalness. 218 had a basement and three floors, and I had the finished attic all to myself. My first night up there was on moving day. I was five, soon to be six, and not only did I have my own room, but my own floor. There was a staircase the curved (to accomodate the narrowness of the house). You walked up the stairs and faced a window. You turned the corner and on your right was a full bathroom with a tub; on the left was a banister overlooking the stairs you just walked up. Continuing down the hall there was a storage closet on your right next to the bathroom and then directly in front of you a door. And in through that door my bedroom.
The first night I was terrified. On Sorrento Road we lived in a cozy row home in which the three bedrooms were all right next to another. If I needed something, or woke up in night, I just had to barely whisper “mommy” and she would be there. On Upland Road, there was no way. I could be attacked by monsters and no would know. Mine wasn’t just a separate room, and it wasn’t just down the hall; my room was up and away from everyone else’s on a whole separate floor. And there was a door at the landing and a door in front of my room. I was very excited for my new room during the day, but at night – at that first night especially – there was much to be afraid of. There was so much separation, how could I possibly survive the night? No body would no about me up there, all alone and terrified in my big-boy independence and my big-boy room.
But I would survive that night, and the night after and the night after. I would realize that having not just my room, but my room on a separate floor was really cool. I could make things my own. No one really ventured up unless they had to; no one could just walk by my bedroom, they would have to head up a whole flight of stairs to visit me. Early on I was in charge of keeping my room clean, and in charge of the bathroom. And I did keep them all neat. As I got older and started buying records, the records would all be organized (according to when I acquired them). First only Beatle albums, starting when I turned seven. But from there things ventured widely and wildly as I became a fifth and sixth grader: Carole King’s Tapestry. James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim. The Doors L.A. Woman. As I got older and started reading magazines, I would keep them all in piles, almost as a librarian would, in their chronological dates. First Mad Magazine (or which my entire collection is still with me), then Hot Rod, Car Craft, National Lampoon (as a seventh grader). Rolling Stone when it was a tabloid-like newspaper (I threw them all away save for one; I wish I still had them), Zap comics (and boy I wish I still had those). I had a big desk that Pop Pop Henry built for me – actually a a big formica top with two dressers on either side to house my toys/games. And my bed was to the left as you walked in the door, and Pop Pop built a loft area on top where I housed the “B.Lazaroff Motor Speedway (Under Construction).” Of course, as all slot car or model train enthusiasts would understand, it was always under construction. By the time we moved out of Upland Road when I as 15, it was still in chronic disrepair, and my interest in that model car world would not be reignited. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
There are distinct memories of moving day to Upland Road in Merion (though not of posing for the picture to the left) beyond the initial night terrors of realizing I would be sleeping a floor away from the rest of my family. Mom Mom Ruth was with us that day to aid in the transition, and she walked Dale and I the few blocks to the stores on City Line (the same City Line that was a few blocks away from our house on Sorrento Road, but in that course we were walking a few blocks west toward the “city line” that separated city and suburb; now we were walking a few blocks east, from the suburbs, to the same city line). Those few blocks to City Line would be a defining walk for most of our childhood.
It was great to be in walking distance of… so much. We would quickly learn that our street had wonderous treasures of its own (lots of houses on the block meant lots of
neighbors whom we would get to know), but the best part was that City Line existed just two blocks away. There we would discover Dake’s Drugs, which sold a tremendous assortment of candy (in my memory of it), and a tremendous assortment of comic books and magazines (in my memory of it). It was in Dake’s that I first purchased Mad magazine, then a few years later car magazines and Rolling Stone which would completely pique my interest then my “career” goals.
And just a few storefronts down would be Ben Franklin 5&10, which had everything. A few key purchases I remember: buying my dad a shoe horn set with horse heads as handles (huh?), and a purchase I’ll always remember, in late spring 1970 standing in front of their record rack (very limited, but they sold albums), and feeling torn between
the brand new Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers (the working zipper) and the Doors L.A. Woman. I’d pick up one. Stare at the cover. Put it back. Then pick up the other. Stare at the cover. Put it back. Which one should I get (I only had money for one). The winner: The Doors. I don’t remember how I got there, but I do know that record would greatly impact me because Jim Morrison would die a few weeks later, and my fascination with him and the band would keep growing and growing (and the woman I would marry would have her own Doors story: as a nine-year-old her folks took her and Nancy to seem live at the Filmore East in NYC… but that’s another story).
Finally at the end of this long block of City Line would be our car wash. The pronoun “our” is deceiving: we were much to young to drive, and we spent not a dime in there. But it would be yet another City Line destination. The car wash was the type in which you would get out of your car at the entrance. There was a walkway with huge windows.
The idea was you walked along the walkway keeping pace with your car while it was being scrubbed, brushed, waxed, and rinsed by all the brushes, rollers, and sprayers along the automatic car-wash line. As kids we would walk the walk, watching other people’s cars geting cleaned, but most importantly we would hang out there because they had an orange-ade dispenser for customer use that would dispense ice-cold orange-ade. Free. FREE!!! Dale and I both remember the joy of the car wash and the unabashed drinking that went on there (we never remember getting kicked out either). What joy!! Everyone’s childhood is different, and I know mine has its own unique stamp when one of my most pleasurable memories is of walking a few blocks from home after school to a nearby car wash to watch the cars and drink orange-ade. Not quite unique: Dale shares it with me.
On Upland Road we bordered many different worlds. Our immediate neighborhood was crammed with homes and stores, adjacent to it was a seminary with tremendous open space that I remember riding my bike throughout (but getting kicked out by security guards). And the Barnes Foundation, with its opulent grounds, was available by cutting through the Latches Lane apartments. I remember playing “Mannix,” (popular show in the late 60s of a private eye) with Freddie and Lee in the gardens of the Barnes before getting kicked out by security guards. All other kinds of huge private old mansions sat on big pieces of properties on North Latches Lane, nearby Upland Road, with our 34 homes (remember, I counted) on top of each other on one tight block.
Another world nearby was Saint Joseph’s University, which has come to dominate City Line. I imagine some residents of Upland Road now work in or for the college. Maybe students even live in some of the homes of Upland, Edgehill, or Stoneway Lane (all three are parallel, with homes on Stoneway backing onto the stores on City Line – you can see them behind the Wendy’s in the earlier shot). Growing up, I used to joke that I’d love to go to St. Joe’s – I wouldn’t have to move and I could even come home for lunch (and mom, I must say, loved that idea). I think of that now as I commute 31 miles to my college, over multiple bridges, and stuck in traffic. But Gail has that walk-to-school commute I fantasized as a young boy.
Back to St. Joe’s. And the picture. When significant snow would fall, I remember falling into action. First I’d shovel our walkway, then I’d go house to house looking for shoveling work. The houses were so close together that the work wasn’t that arduous. Each house had a limited sidewalk. So I could make some money, then head down to St. Joe’s to sled with the other neighborhood kids. We’d cross City Line to the school and its beckoning hill. And the hill seemed huge. We’d careen down the hill – no trees to hit – and it would level off where we come to a stop, then pick up and head back up the hill. It was so big back then, and today it looks so puny. And the fall-off of the hill has been shortened. It now ends in a parking lot. With cars. I can’t see kids there sledding in the winter, but kids find their own joy. St. Joe’s existed for us as active sledders in the late 60s and early 70s, maybe there are different destinations for kids today?
There are many places in my life I did not want to leave. Leaving Upland Road at age 15 I felt a profound sense of loss. Looking back, it wasn’t just the house and neighborhood I was leaving, I was more importantly leaving behind a sense of the world having permanence. By the time I was15, three of my grandparents had died, and my parents had split up. I didn’t want to leave Upland Road, but what I really wished for was for things not to change – for everyone to stay alive and to stay together. Leaving Upland Road challenged me to grow, to begin to learn to accept change. And I would slowly learn that one didn’t have to give up what one loved and cared for in that change. And one could discover new people and places to love and care for in the future – though uncertain and unknown from the vantage point of the present – while still holding the people and places of the past as vital.