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. )

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. be continued.