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.


Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

May 30, 2011

The Liddonfielders: A Housing Project Diary Part 6

by Rosemary Reeves
Part Six:  Block Party in the Projects
If you missed the first five parts, click on the links below:

Violence was ever present in my formative years.  To endure the bullies, abuse in our household and witnessing a husband’s senseless brutality toward his wife, I was forced to acquire resilience.  Fortunately, the shattering events in Liddonfield Housing Project that summer seemed to come to a head.  Within days, calm enveloped Megargee Street.  On Sunday, the block party I so looked forward to was at last under way.  It brought about a sense of togetherness, sharing and pride in our community.  
My family and I had arrived home from the weekly church service to see neighbors setting up folding tables along the block.  Mom went about making chocolate chip cookies from scratch.  I had worn the pretty dress with the lace collar to mass and kept it on for the party.  Mom let me go outside and find my friends.  As I looked for them I paused at each of the tables, big-eyed and smacking my lips at the sight of all that good food.  Everyone was working together to make this a special day. 
 A teenage boy volunteered to be the D.J.  He was asking people to contribute records.  My sisters Jean and Sharon lent their albums.  Peter, Paul and Mary were belting out a tune on the record player.  

If I had a bell, I’d ring it in the mornin’.  I’d ring it in the evenin’ all over this land.  I’d ring out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land…

My sister Jean had fashioned her blonde hair into a French twist.  She looked like a young Princess Grace as she danced with one of the neighborhood boys.  My friend Marie spotted me.  “There you are,” she said, “I knocked on your door but your mom said you were out here somewhere.”  Marie was wearing a dress, too.  Hers was white.  We agreed we both looked nice for the occasion.  “Hey, let’s find Ann,” she suggested.
I wanted to get some potato chips first.  Mrs. G had them in a bowl on her table.  I reached out to grab some and she gently smacked my hand.  She smiled and said, “Not yet.  I’m not finished.  Just wait a little bit.  It won’t be long now.”
Marie and I went searching for Ann.  She was helping her mom set up.  We asked if Ann could come with us and her mom said she could.  Together we walked the length of the block, surveying all the tables with delight.  At the end of the block there was an empty unit.  The family had moved out and no one had moved in to take their place.  “Something smells weird,” Marie remarked.  There was smoke coming from the bullpen in front of the empty unit.  The three of us decided to investigate.  
We entered the bullpen.  There were some young men and women inside, standing in a circle.  “Why are you passing around that same cigarette?” I asked them.  They looked startled to see us.  They chased us out of there.  We went running back toward the party, giggling.  
“That’s that funny stuff my brother smokes,” Ann remarked, “He calls it pot.  He says if he’s going to die in a war, he’s going to have all the fun he can first.”
“My brother is going to war, too,” I said.  Barry received his draft notice in the mail.  Mom cried for days.  
Wild Thing, you make my heart singYou make everything groovy...  The D.J. was playing a hit record by The Troggs.  My sister Rusty had made up with her boyfriend.  I saw them kissing.  Someone made the announcement that the party had now officially begun and we should all dig in and eat.  There were so many dishes to choose from.  I had a little of everything and ate until I was full.    
Before we knew it, the sun was going down.  Ann’s mom called her inside.  It was her bedtime.  Marie and I were permitted to stay up a little while longer.  It was fun to dance in the cool summer night air.  After a while, though, all that dancing made us thirsty.  We stopped to get a drink.  “This is the best day ever,” I remarked.
“Yeah,” Marie replied.  She swung her arms, knocking over the bowl of punch.  The punch splattered all over her.  Marie stood there with punch dripping down her arms and forming a big red stain on her clothes.  All of a sudden, she started giggling.
My sleeve felt wet.  There was a small crimson spot where some of it splattered on me, too.  “Oh, no!” I said, “My dress!” 
“That’s nothing,” she remarked, “It’s all over me!”
I was afraid if I told my mother she’d make me come in for the night.  “What do we do now?” I asked her. 
“Let’s get my dad,” she said.
I hesitated.  “Will he be mad and hit you?  Maybe you should tell your mom instead.” 
“It was an accident,” she replied, “Why would he hit me?  Anyway, my dad’s the one who does the laundry and the cleaning because he lost his job and my mom works.”  We went looking for her father.  He was dancing with a beer in his hand.  He twirled his wife to the rhythm of the music.  Marie’s mom made a face when she saw her ruined clothes.  She asked her husband to take care of it.  Marie’s dad just laughed it off.  
"You look like a red raspberry!" he said to Marie. I followed him and Marie into their unit. He told Marie to wash up in the bathroom and get into her pajamas.  That was enough fun for one day, he remarked, then led me into the kitchen.  He poured some detergent onto a dish rag then began scrubbing the stain off my sleeve.  I marveled that he didn’t seem to mind.  My father would have exploded, but Marie’s dad assured me it was just an accident and not to worry.  I fell in love with him at once.  “Would you be my daddy?” I asked.
His face registered surprise.  For a moment, he didn’t say anything.  Then he smiled and said, “Silly girl, you already have a dad.”
“But I want you to be my daddy,” I told him.
He tossed the rag into the sink and examined the area of the stain.  “There,” he said, “I got the spot out. Your dress is fine, now.  Better get back to the party.”  There was sadness in his voice.  He must have known how my father was.  Everybody on the block knew Dad beat us. 
“I wish my mom would get rid of the dad we have,” I remarked, “I don’t like him at all.  He’s mean.  Besides, he just gets in the way of everything.”  I thought of my father as a big, lumbering interloper who happened to live with us and that’s all.  I didn’t see why he couldn’t be as easily replaced as a toaster or a radio.
I thanked Marie’s dad and went back outside.  It was dark except for the light of the street lamps.  Most of the other children were tucked into their beds.  I wandered quietly among the adults, trying not to be noticed.  I didn’t want the party to ever end.  “Your mom’s looking for you,” one of the neighbors told me. 
“Okay,” I said, but tried to remain out of sight so I wouldn’t be found by my mother.  I eavesdropped on the adults as they conversed in their drunkenness, holding their cans of beer.  A man objected to his wife dancing with another guy.  Lovers were making out in quiet corners.  I wandered near two housewives chatting.  They began talking about the woman whose husband chased her with a gun. 
“He’s still in jail,” said one of the housewives, “and she’s staying with relatives.”
“I hope she’s not stupid enough to go back to him when he gets out,” said the other.
“Did you hear?” her friend replied, “Jim Reeves refused to let her in that night.”
“I know,” said the other, “What a bastard!  But then again, what can you expect from someone like that?  I mean, look how he treats his kids.  You can hear Jim beating them all the time.”  Although they never saw me, I hung my head in shame.  Everybody said my dad was no good.
By late July, my brother Barry was in Vietnam and a riot had broken out in Detroit.  The blacks were rising up against oppression and police brutality, only this time through violence instead of peaceful protest.  There were five days of mayhem in the streets of Detroit.  Things were so out of control that the National Guard and the US Army were called in.  When it was over, 43 people had died and thousands had been arrested.  Mom said it seemed like the whole world was going crazy.
Meanwhile, Mom got a job in the billing department of W.B. Saunders, a publishing firm in center city.  At last there was enough food on our plates.  My parents even bought a cheap car off a young guy who had advertised it in the paper.  But Mom was determined that I have a Catholic school education and that cost money.   In September, she began paying toward the tuition and my fate was set in stone.
“Stop fidgeting,” she said, as I sat on a kitchen chair getting ready for my first day of school.
“I don’t like this uniform,” I complained, “It’s ugly.”  The dress that was standard school issue was prison gray and I thought the compulsory knee-high socks looked stupid.
“It’s not ugly,” Mom remarked, “Where’s your school tie?”  She found it draped over another chair.  Mom grabbed the red tie and placed it around my neck and under the dress collar.  It snapped into place.
“Why do I have to wear a tie like a boy?” I asked, “I’m not a boy!” 
“Girls wear ties too, sometimes,” she replied, “You look so cute.”
I was mad at my mother because I had looked forward to attending school with my friends.  Thanks to her, that wasn’t going to happen.  “Why do I have to go to St. Dominic when all my friends are going to public school?” I wanted to know.
“You should be grateful,” she replied, “You’re going to have a better education than them.  You'll thank me one day.”  

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