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 post on most Mondays and are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

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

Oct 10, 2011

Housing Project Dick and Jane

by Rosemary Reeves


“I want to be Jane,” I said as I gazed out the window on a starry night, “Make me Jane!”  I was eight years old and my family had just moved out of Liddonfield Housing Project.   Friends were hard to come by in the new neighborhood.  People didn’t like their children playing with a kid from the projects.  Kids from the projects were bad, they thought, and it might rub off onto their shielded offspring. 

But not everyone had heard yet about the housing project family who lived on the block and a potential playmate appeared on the scene as I sat on the steps in front of our house.  The little girl said she wanted a friend she could share toys with, because she was tired of the toys she had.  “What kind of toys have you got?” she inquired.

I thought about it for a minute.  I wanted to impress her.  The toy I loved the most was the pretend walkie talkie my brother Kevin made.  “I have a walkie talkie,” I told her, “Do you want to play with that?”

Her eyes lit up with delight.  “Yeah,” she said, “That’ll be great fun!” 

“Wait here,” I told her, “I’ll be right back.”  I ran inside to get the homemade toy.  Kevin had fashioned it from two empty soup cans.  He cut a hole in the bottom of each can and ran a piece of string through them.   We’d each take one of the cans and speak into it when it was our turn, the string dangling between us.  Kevin taught me to say things like, “Roger” and “Over and out.” 

I came back outside and handed the little girl one of the tin cans.  She had a disappointed look on her face.  “What am I supposed to do with this?” she asked. 

“You talk into the can,” I said.  “After you’re finished talking, then you say ‘Over.’  Then I say, ‘Roger’ to let you know you came across loud and clear.”

“That’s stupid,” she replied, “I thought you had a real walkie talkie.”

“But we’re supposed to pretend,” I told her.  “It’s fun.  I’ll show you how to do it.”

She handed me back the tin can.  “Here,” she replied, “I don’t want it.  I’m going home.  I have much better toys than you do.”  It was true.  My toys were mostly homemade or bought at the five and dime, because it was all my parents could afford.  Until that moment, I liked my toys.  Most of them required inventiveness and a strong imagination.  My brother and I conjured up wild scenerios when we played and it was fun.  We could make a teepee with an old blanket, some clothespins and a broken tree branch. Our paper planes turned us into daring pilots.  Kevin taught me some Morse Code so we could be spies.  He looked it up in a book at the library.  We’d tap secret messages to each other, like SOS.

I was in second grade.  One day, the teacher passed out books called Dick & Jane Reader.  From the first time I opened its pages, I was awestruck by the beautiful drawings it contained of storybook houses with manicured lawns and the children who lived there, Dick and Jane.  Jane was everything I was not.  I adored her as much as I looked upon her with envy.  There was never a wrinkle or tear on her lovely store bought dresses.  She was so clean and fresh, so ladylike and dainty.  There was not a hair out of place, even when she frolicked.  Her parents were divinely well off.  They were kind and adoring.  Her mother and father never had a disagreement.  Jane’s family was happy.  Other children were glad to be her friend.  I was mesmerized by her life.  I thought if I could just be Jane, I would have everything.

Jane, who went skipping down the lane in starched white dresses and shiny patent leather shoes.  Jane, who was the embodiment of all my dreams.  Jane, whose name I whispered countless times as I wished upon a star, hoping to become her.  Jane, who was perfect in every way.   She was my glorified idol, my fictional self, my flawless opposite.  What an enigma she was to me, a child from the projects.  The pages of her life instilled a reservoir of doubt, an early awareness of impossibility.  Her carefree innocence made me grow up before it was time.

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