Sirens wailed as police cars raced toward our house. Someone in our new neighborhood must have called the cops. I was relieved they were coming because that always quieted things down. I knew they wouldn't come inside and see me awash in tears because they never came inside. I had been through this many times in the housing project. I used to hope that it was Batman that came to my rescue. Dad would answer the door and Batman would be standing on the step with Robin. He'd say he came to rescue us and take the bad man away. The bad man was my father.
My costumed hero had a bat signal that lit up and told him exactly where the trouble was. I hoped for Batman because he would never come to the door and walk away without making sure everyone was all right and the culprit was punished. But in those days, domestic violence was hardly even a crime. You could terrorize your family all you wanted so long as you didn't disturb the neighbors. "Keep down the noise," they told my father and left. I lost faith in the police at a very early age and soon after, I lost faith in Batman. Batman was a phoney. He was never going to come. He didn't care about us.
Shortly after the cops visited our house, some lady on the block came up to me in a huff. "That was the first time the police ever had to come to this neighborhood!" she said indignantly. I was so embarrassed. I'll never know if her claim was true. It was 1967 and there was very little crime back then, at least compared to nowadays. It might have been true or it might have been an exaggeration, but I did not want my family to be known for such a thing.
I tried hard to fit in, but the kids on the block teased me all the time because I wore used clothing from Goodwill. I became shy, withdrawn and fearful of group activities in school. By the time I was an adolescent, Holmesburg Library had become my haven from the world. Located at 7810 Frankford Avenue, not far from Pennypack Park, it was only a five minute ride on the 66 trolley to get there. I spent many Saturdays at the library. I'd hang out there for hours, sometimes reading a whole book in one sitting.
In the summertime, when other kids were going away to summer camp or on a family vacation or to the swim club, I had little to do. My parents didn't have the money to take me anywhere. At the Holmesburg Library I read about exotic places, fabulous adventures and great achievements. It inspired me to dream and having a dream is a powerful thing.
Kids whose parents don't have the money to take them anywhere, kids who are too shy for group activities and kids who are trying to escape troubles at home, need somewhere to go. They need a place where their minds will be occupied so they don't fall victim to the wrong influences out of boredom. They need a place where they don't have the pressures of competition. A place where they can wear glasses or braces, have bad skin or be overweight and nobody cares. A place where they won't be hit or yelled at. A place where they can get answers to questions they're afraid to ask.
Every kid is not the same. Some are forced to grow up faster due to poverty, domestic violence, disability or family dysfunction. Sometimes they go to the library because their parents can't afford enough heat in winter or air conditioning in the summer. Sometimes they're afraid to go home. While they are at the library, they pick up a book and that might be the only thing that saves them.