I grew up in a two-story row house in North Philadelphia in a mixed neighborhood where we played in front of the fire-plug and got ice from old ice-trucks that made their way up the tiny one-way street.
I remember the small, concrete-covered back yard where my oldest brother had me pitch him a ball and he hit it with a broken tree branch. The branch cracked and flew toward me barely missing my eye by a fraction of an inch. I still carry the scar and relish the story.
I also remember teaching a kid younger than me how to read on our front steps. He was a black boy named Washington. I didn’t know I had made such an impact on him until I bumped into him some 40 years later. I was representing a criminal defendant in court and Washington was a police officer in full uniform. When he started to question my background, I thought I was going to be arrested. Instead, he thanked me for helping him enjoy reading. I felt a karmic touch that day.
It was tough growing up in the 1950’s, particularity with bigots living on your block. One kid made me cry when he called me a “DP.” That stood for “Displaced Person,” a term for many Europeans who were being relocated from their countries following the Nazi occupation of their homeland. My father came from Greece and the smart-alack kid targeted him and a German-speaking woman across the street with venom. (I kicked the kid’s ass the next time he tried to make fun of me. Sometimes you gotta stick up for yourself and get a little respect. My old neighborhood taught me how to do just that.)
Home was where my great uncle resided until his death. He was a mean son-of-a-bitch, always yelling and cursing in Greek. He was called Uncle Mike, but may have just been a distant relative that my father took in from his homelenad.
Years later, I learned our house had been occupied by a family who suddenly moved out after seeing the mean old white guy roaming with bushy white hair and a bushy beard roaming the hallways upstairs. He had haunted the house, they claimed. No one lived in it since then.
The building no longer stands on Marston Street near 29th Street and Girard Avenue. It was torn down like so many low-income houses that went up when Brewerytown was a thriving section of Philadelphia before Prohibition.
The memories of the old neighborhood and first house I grew up in still haunt me today. But mostly in a nice way, if you know what I mean.