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.
Sep 20, 2010
A British Housing Project Part 5
Mom shook her head. “Of course not.”
“I guess they won’t be there much longer,” I remarked.
“That’s too bad,” Dad said, “I kind of like that caravan there.” Dad settled down in front of the television.
I lingered in the kitchen with Mom. After a moment, I leaned toward her and whispered, “We should warn the gypsies if they visit us again.” Mom agreed. That evening I gazed upon their encampment for what I thought might be the last time. Somehow I couldn’t summon up the courage to go over there and speak to them, maybe even sit with them by the fire. Gypsies seemed separate and apart from ordinary people, cloaked in mystery, rumor and legend. All I knew of them were tales of thievery, fortune telling and wild dancing in the night. But who were they, really?
To the residents of Corby Commons who signed the petition, the gypsies were nothing more than homeless people who brought down the neighborhood. I found it strange that something I marveled at was someone else’s eyesore. Back in Philadelphia, I cringed every time I heard someone say that our housing project brought down the neighborhood. I was proud of my mother for not signing the petition. At least the gypsies had someone on their side.
For the next couple of weeks, I basked in the admiration of my English classmates, who saw me through star struck eyes because I was American. It was 1976 and Americans often experienced a fabulous reception around the world. We were perceived as being defenders of freedom, friendly, wealthy and innovative. Americans fought alongside the English in WWII and our countries remained close allies. People around the globe were enthralled by movies made in Hollywood. America’s reputation was at an all time high and I benefited from that lucky break.
Still, I could not keep up the charade much longer. My classmates were starting to catch on that my family might not be wealthy after all, as I had said. “I saw you getting off the bus the other day,” one of them told me, “I thought rich kids have chauffeurs drive them to school.”
I had to do some quick thinking. Maybe if I just watered down the lie a little, then perhaps I could gradually set things straight over time. “I don’t have a chauffeur, silly, I said, “We’re rich, but not that rich.”
It didn’t take long for others to ask probing questions. I was in the locker room with two of my friends when they asked why I never invited them to my house. “We’d love to meet your parents,” they said. I assured them I’d invite them over sometime soon. I wished the lie would just go away like it never happened. But then I thought about the gypsies and how people were trying to get rid of them because they were poor. Would my new friends treat me the same way?
I wanted to confide in my mother, but I didn’t think anyone would understand what it was like to be a teenager trying to fit into a higher social class. In desperation, I had read books on etiquette. I studied how to properly set a table, use the right utensils, carry myself in a certain manner and a host of other subtleties associated with a high social standing. But there no books on how to transition emotionally, how to approach others when telling the truth about your background, or what to do when people reject you because of your address.
I came home from school one day and Mom said, “I had tea with the gypsy woman again.”
“Did you warn her about the petition?” I asked.
The conclusion of A British Housing Project will be posted on Monday
A British Housing Project, Conclusion