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

Dec 12, 2011

The Taming of a Public Housing Child Part 4

by Rosemary Reeves

If you missed the first three parts of this story, click on the links below:

 
St. Dominic Elementary School was situated in northeast Philadelphia along a stretch of Frankford Avenue between Liddonfield Housing Project and Pennypack Park.  The landscape has since changed.  Liddonfield has been demolished.  But the school and the church still stand, serving as a reminder to me of what once was and that there is a time for every season.   Even now, I sometimes wonder how my life would be different had I not attended that school, how many doors would not have opened, how many opportunities would have been lost.  Then again, perhaps I could have taken the world by storm when I grew up, without all those rules to douse the fire within me.  Maybe I would have been consumed by that fire.

In their quest to mold little minds, the teachers there placed a strong emphasis on staid, old fashioned manners.  We were constantly referred to as “little ladies” and “little gentlemen” and were encouraged to behave accordingly.  It was the antithesis of housing project subculture, where toughness and survival were paramount.  To be a little lady required a great deal of sheltering and I was far from sheltered.  At seven, I walked to and from school by myself, having memorized the landmarks from the countless times my mother took me to the adjacent church.  Even before I was old enough to attend school my brother Kevin and I often spent the entire day outside without supervision.  We knew by the sun’s position in the sky when it was time to come home for dinner.  We could have steered a ship by this method across the Atlantic without the aid of adults.  Well, practically.

The only sheltering I received was from Kevin, who was three years older.  His job was to see that I did not hurt myself and that was about the gist of it.  Other than that, I was to simply tag along on whatever dubious adventure he chose to undertake.  One Saturday, Kevin got it into his head that we should go fishing.  We walked to Pennypack Park, which was about a half mile from the project.  The park was a large tract of wooded land in an otherwise urban area and the one place a kid from Liddonfield could experience nature.  We brought our homemade fishing poles with us.  They were sticks with strings tied around them and a hook attacked.  When we got to the park, we wandered through it a while before we started to fish.  We heard there were deer in the park and we wanted to see one.  Besides, we had to dig in the dirt first to find worms to put in an empty coffee can for bait.

When I was finished digging, I declared proudly that I had found us ten good worms.  Kevin told me that wasn’t bad, but that he had dug up twelve.  We put the coffee can lid back on so the worms couldn’t wriggle out and headed toward Pennypack Creek.  At one point along the way, I noticed a bush with berries on it.  I never ate a berry, other than the berries in a Tastykake Pie.  Blueberry pie, to be exact.  I loved blueberry pie.

“Mmmmn, berries!” I said as I plucked one off the bush and started to put it in my mouth.  

Kevin grabbed my wrist.  “Don’t eat that!” he told me, “Never eat wild berries.  You can’t tell which ones are poison and which ones aren’t.”

I threw the berry on the ground.  A little further along the way, I spotted something growing  among the blades of grass.  “Look,” I told Kevin, “Mushrooms!”

Kevin frowned.  “Those aren’t mushrooms,” he replied, “They’re toadstools.  Eat one of those and you die!  Ain’t you got a lick ‘o sense?”

“I wasn’t going to eat it,” I told him.  

We decided to fish on the rocks by the King’s Highway Bridge.   There were other kids there fishing already.  They had real fishing rods with expensive lures.  Our homemade fishing rods looked stupid by comparison.  “Are you sure we can catch fish with these?” I asked my brother.

Kevin was undaunted.  “A fish don’t care if your rod is fancy,” he said, “Only if there’s a fat, juicy worm on the line.”  Kevin took a worm out of the can and pushed the hook through its guts.

“Ew!” I said, “Does that hurt it?”

“I don’t know,” Kevin replied, “It’s just a worm.  Now, you do yours.”  

Kevin tried to hand me some bait.  “I don’t wanna hurt it,” I told him, “Besides, it’s disgusting.  I can’t.”

Kevin sighed.  “You have to!”

“Please?”

“Look,” he said, “You can bait your own hook or you can watch me fish the rest of the day!  Take your pick.”  So, I took the wriggly worm Kevin handed me and ran it through with the sharp hook.  Then I folded over the tail end of the worm and ran the hook through its entrails.  It made me feel a little sick but I proved that I could do it.  We tossed our lines into the creek and waited.  After a while, Kevin asked, “Did you get a bite?”

“Nope,” I replied, “Nothin’.  You said we could catch fish with these.”  When it was almost dinnertime I walked back to the housing project with my brother watching over me and dirt under my fingernails.  I stank of creek water and fish bait.  I carried a lucky rabbit's foot in my pocket and I was the most unladylike girl you ever saw.

Part 5 of this series will be posted on Monday, December 19, 2011. 

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For your viewing reference on YouTube:  

St. Dominic School Mini Commercial
The King's Highway Bridge-Oldest Bridge in the New World

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