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.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Sep 19, 2011

DEMOLITION OF HOUSING PROJECT AN ATTEMPT TO ERASE HISTORY, Part 2

by Rosemary Reeves

To read part one, click on this link.


Someone was driving by and stopped his car.  “Are you Rosemary Reeves?” he called out the car window.
“Yes,” I said.  He replied that he recognized me from my website.  He parked the car so he could come over and we shook hands.  He said his name was Joe Koziela and that he used to live in Liddonfield Housing Project, too.
“Nice, isn’t it?” he remarked as we gazed through the chain link fence at the empty field where our housing project used to be.  They had planted lots of trees and we could see the geese waddling in the distance.
“It’s lovely,” I said, “Too bad there’s a fence around it.  Say, Joe, I’m trying to figure out if I’m standing where my old unit used to be.  My family lived at 4401-G Megargee Street.  Do you think this is about right?”
“No,” he replied, “You’re standing where the Ditman Street row used to be.”  (It ran perpendicular to Megargee).  You’re about a third of a block too far down.”
“Really?” I replied, “It’s so hard to tell.”  I looked where he was pointing.  “I suppose you’re right,” I told him.  Then Joe started asking me about my blog and the Liddonfield marker I am trying to get erected on the site so the housing project would be recognized in Philadelphia history.  That would be a great place for such a marker.  Right there in that tranquil field.  We talked about how I had my work cut out for me, because the homeowners in the area had a long-held resentment against the project residents.
“I’ll never forget this guy who used to come bother us boys whenever we played ball in the project,” Joe said, “He lived in one of the houses across the street and he used to come into the project with his golf clubs.  Then he’d swing those golf balls right past us while we were in the middle of a game. Us boys asked him one day why he did that.  He said he could do anything he wanted with the projects because his taxes paid for our parents to live there.  He continued to swing his golf balls right past us as we were trying to play and he did it all the time.”
“How old were you?” I asked.
“Ten,” he answered.
I shook my head in disbelief.  “I can’t imagine any adult would say something so heartless to a    ten-year-old child, especially one who was poor.”  Just then, I remembered how badly I was treated by homeowners after my family moved onto their block because we were from Liddonfield. 
No one thought of it as prejudice.  Poor people and their children were fair game for derision, snide remarks and name-calling.  No one bothered to get to know us.  No one asked us about our hardships.  They sneered as they passed by and hurled demeaning words at us like they were entitled to. It would have been an act of kindness if they had just left us alone.
“I’m looking for a relic,” I told Joe, “A piece of the asphalt I used to play on, someone’s old pair of glasses or even a shoe left behind.  Maybe some red brick from my family’s unit.  Something.  Anything.”
We both stared down at the grass at the edge of the chain link fence.  We didn’t see anything of note.  We talked a while longer and then Joe went on his way.  I stayed and kept looking, walking along the length of the fence.  It was mid-day. The sun was out in full force now.  It was hot.  I could feel my fair skin starting to burn, but I just ignored it and carried on.  At last I found my prize, a big chunk of broken up Liddonfield pavement in a pile of rubble the demolition workers had left behind.  It was close enough to reach. I slid my fingers under the fence and grabbed it.  With a little bit of tugging, it came out. 
Suddenly, I held in my hand the pavement upon which I played as a child.  My brother rode his rusted brown bicycle on it.  It was worn and weathered by the footsteps of generations of frolicking children, mothers who carried laundry baskets full of wet clothing to hang on clotheslines and fathers who worked low-paying jobs all the week long.  To someone else, it was a meaningless chunk of cement, but to me it was the tangible manifestation of a subculture of people who were more important than they knew.  It was the relic of a past that must be preserved.  It survived devastation by being obscure, unnoticeable and seemingly insignificant.  It was hiding in plain sight.
I took it home with me, this chunk of Liddonfield pavement upon which I used to go skipping along as a child.  Now that I had some fraction of the old housing project that I could see and touch, the memories came pouring back into my brain.  When I run my fingers along it I can hear the laughter of childhood friends, my mother’s voice calling my name and even the squeak of our old screen door.  I can visualize how Liddonfield was in its heyday, the housewives using clothespins to hang wet laundry in the bullpens, boys shooting marbles and my brother pulling his little red wagon.  We were there.  We existed.  We still exist and the demolition of our housing project cannot erase our legacy.

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