Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.
Aug 30, 2010
A British Housing Project Part Two
The next week, we visited the courtyard with all the shops right in the center of the social housing project we had just moved into. The co-op supermarket with discounted prices just for the residents was great. My parents were on a fixed income and the co-op allowed us to eat fairly well. I visited the youth center, but they told me it was for kids 12 to 16 years old, and I just had my seventeenth birthday. That was a real let-down.
In the meantime, we got a Labrador Retriever. Dad named the dog Jimmy, after himself. One day, Dad opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of British beer called Guinness. When he was pouring it, some of it spilled on the kitchen floor. The dog quickly lapped it up and begged for more. Just for a joke, Dad poured Guinness in the dog dish. Jimmy drank it all and Dad laughed as the dog went staggering around the house. “Why can’t I have a normal family?” I asked no one in particular as poor, drunk Jimmy stared at me with glazed-over eyes.
The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” I said. A boy of about nine stood on the doorstep. He looked very poor. His clothes were dirty. Slung over his shoulder was a brown satchel that seemed to be hand-made from spare cloth. Though I had not seen him up close before, I knew he was the boy who fed the donkey next to the gypsy caravan. “Would you like to buy some matches, Miss?” he asked, and pulled a box of them out of the satchel.
I never expected him to show up at our door. For a moment, I was at a loss for words. Then I blurted out, “Do you live in the red caravan in the field?”
“Yes, Miss,” he replied, “Are you from America?”
“I am,” I said.
His eyes grew wide with delight. “Are there really cowboys in America?” he asked me.
“I suppose there are a few left,” I told him, “but you have to go to someplace like Texas or Oklahoma to see them.”
The tinker boy jumped up and down with excitement. “Yaaaaa Hoooo!” he declared, “When I grow up, I’m going to America to be a cowboy!” He was only a child and his imagination knew no bounds. It occurred to me that he thought he’d ride that gypsy caravan straight through to Texas one day.
“Wait here,” I told him, “I’ll see if my Mom wants to buy your matches.”
Dad was watching television now. “Who is it?” he asked as I left the boy waiting on the doorstep. “Just somebody selling stuff,” I said. I did not have a good relationship with my father. Aside from that, I thought Dad might turn him away. I went to get my soft-hearted mother instead, leaving the door half-closed so Dad wouldn’t see the tinker boy.
Mom was in the bedroom, folding some freshly washed sheets. “You’re not going to believe this, but that tinker boy is here,” I told her, “He’s selling matches. You should buy some. He looks really poor.” Mom was eager to see him for herself. She bought several boxes of matches and off he went. I had a sad feeling as he walked away. All of the romantic notions I had about gypsies faded off in the distance with him. His dirty clothes, selling matches to get some food for his campfire, living out of a caravan instead of a real home and wandering from place to place suddenly didn’t seem like a great adventure. And he was a boy who would not be going to school, as I would be soon. That night, I lingered across from the field where their caravan stood and watched as they sat around a campfire. Summer’s end was coming in a few weeks. I wondered, how will they live in the wintertime?
Part Three will be posted on Monday, September 6, 2010.