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 19, 2011

The Taming of a Public Housing Child Part 5

by Rosemary Reeves 

If you missed the first 4 parts of this series about a Liddonfield kid attending St. Dominic parochial school, click on the links below:




My first year at St. Dominic had almost concluded.  It was May.  A bunch of kids from Liddonfield Housing Project got together and decided to have a May Procession, since this particular group of us were Catholic.   This wasn’t something we did at a moment’s notice.  No, Sir.  It took some planning.  First, we advertised by telling everybody in the project.  Then we had to pick a May Queen, some little girl who would lead the procession as the Virgin Mary.  Now, there was a boy in Liddonfield who preferred to hang out with the girls and play girl games all the time and that was okay.  The girls liked him.   But when he asked to play the part of the Virgin Mary, the rest of us voted no.  He was so downhearted about it that we felt bad, so we appointed him director of the whole operation.  

This still left the issue of who would play the part of the Virgin Mary.  Some of the girls were shy and did not want to have all that attention put on them, not to mention the pressure.  They were content to be the Blessed Mother’s helpers and hold her train.  There were only two of us vying for the spot and that was Debbie and I.  All of us took a vote and I was the lucky one who got picked.  I had no problem tooting my own horn and felt no pressure at all.  On the contrary, I was determined to throw myself into the part, like the actresses I saw on television.  

The boy director asked me if I had a long blue dress to wear.  “Nope,” I said, “but I have a blue blanket!”

“That’ll do,” he replied, “We’ll drape it over you and put a ring of flowers on your head.  Bring the blanket out, okay?”  He turned to the others.  “Anybody got some fake flowers we can use?”

I went inside and grabbed the blue blanket off the folding cot that was my bed.  The blanket had a hole in it.  I stood in front of the mirror and draped it over me, folding it over in such a way as to hide the hole.  Then I tried different poses and facial expressions.  I wondered if I should stand with my arms outstretched in a loving gesture to the people of the Earth or if my arms should be at my sides with my palms open so beams of heavenly light could shoot from my fingertips, like the picture in St. Dominic Church.  I would let the director decide.

“What took you so long?” asked the boy director when I came outside with the blanket.  In the meantime, one of the other girls, Monica, got some fake flowers from her mother’s dime store vase.  We figured out how to tie them into a ring.  Then we had our first dress rehearsal.  My friends were singing Ave Maria all out of sync and when I attempted to lead the procession by walking a few steps, the flowers slipped off my head.  I bent down to pick them up and blanket went awry.  This frustrated our director.  “No,no!” he said, “I never heard such terrible singing!”  Then he added that mine was the worst acting he’d ever seen.   

The job had apparently gone to his head, but he was right when he told us we needed to practice a lot more times.  This went on for two or three weekends.  Each time we practiced, more Liddonfield neighbors came out to watch.  The Protestant kids were beginning to get envious.  Finally, the day came and the May Procession was under way.  The housing project moms told other moms and the word spread so much that we had drawn quite a crowd.  They stood on the sidewalk along Megargee Street where they could have a good view of our May Procession, which was to take place on the lawn.  That is, if you could call it a lawn.  It was more like a strip of grass several yards wide that ran the length of the block.  I scanned the faces in the crowd and saw my friends’ moms.

“Isn’t that the cutest thing?” said one of the women.

“It sure is,” the other replied, “Our little holy terrors!”

“Okay, ready?” asked the boy director.  I was a little worried at first, because my mother was not in plain sight.  I wondered where she was, but everyone was waiting for the May Procession to start and I didn’t want to hold things up.  I nodded and my friends began to sing Ave Maria.  That was my cue to start leading the procession.  I walked a few steps and then I spotted my mother.  I was so happy to see her that I enthusiastically waved and shouted, “Mommy, here I am!  Look at me!”

This confused my pious helpers and they stopped singing.  “No, no!” the director said, “The Virgin Mary wouldn’t smile and wave!  Just give a holy nod.”

I shrugged my shoulders.  “All right.”

Just then, a kid named Bobby broke out of the crowd and ran toward us, declaring, “I want to be in the parade!”

“It’s not a parade,” Monica told him, “It’s a procession.  Anyway, you’re Protestant.”

“I still want to be in the parade,” he replied, “Will there be balloons?”

“Balloons!” the director remarked, “There can’t be balloons in a May Procession!”

I agreed, remarking that in all the pictures I saw of the Virgin Mary, there was not one balloon.  “Can we get on with this?” the director asked.

“Okay, let’s start over,” said Monica.  She faced the crowd.  “We’re starting over!”  The singing began once more and I stepped forward ever so slowly.  This time we were smooth as silk.  I led the procession all the way around the block without a hitch, except for a few Protestant kids who broke out of the crowd like Bobby to help carry my train, doing their best to sing along to Ave Maria though they didn’t know the words.

Part 6 of this series will be posted on Monday, December 26, 2011 

RELATED POSTS:

The Taming of a Public Housing Child Part 6 
The Taming of a Public Housing Child Conclusion

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