Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Philadelphia Freedom

On Sat Joe & I picked up my aunt Mary and Joe’s mom Evelyn and headed up the highway to Philadelphia for the day.

Evelyn was born, grew up, got married, and had 3 children while living in South Philadelphia. Her husband was also born and raised in South Philly, so both of them had lots of family around. After moving to VA they returned to South Philly on many weekends to visit with their relatives.

Mary is a native Washingtonian, but dated a guy originally from South Philly for several years. During the time they dated they went to South Philly many times, so she and Evelyn were both excited about our day trip. Joe & I were most excited about the food!

Road construction and toll plaza delays made it take a little longer than expected to get there, but we arrived close to noon. Lunch time! We decided to get a Philly cheese steak at the famous Pat’s. There’s no real consensus on where to get the best Philly cheese steak. Some say Pat’s, others say Geno’s, and yet others say Tony Luke’s. We decided on Pat’s this time, mostly because we found a parking place directly in front Pat’s. (It’s nice that there seemed to be no metered parking in South Philly.) Unfortunately South Philly is kind of dirty in places.

After lunch we walked over to the ‘Italian Market’ on 9th St. There were lots of little shops and eateries along several blocks of 9th St. Evelyn & Mary both bought cheese, salami, and hard rolls, and Joe, Mary and I got Gelato (Italian ice cream). There were lots of sidewalk vendors selling fresh produce, fish and seafood, and even live chickens and quail.

After feeling confident that we’d walked off our lunch, we got back in the car with our map and began looking for landmarks and familiar places. We drove by the hospital where Evelyn was born in 1930 and the church where she was married in 1951. We drove by the house where Evelyn’s in-laws lived, and stopped at the last house where Evelyn lived before moving to VA. She and I knocked on the door and a Philipino woman looked at us through the window, but would not come to the door. So Evelyn spoke to her through the window, telling her “I used to live here.” I think the woman may have been uncomfortable with her English and still would not come to the door. Next we went to the house two doors down where Evelyn remembered her neighbor Mary had lived. She knocked on the door and spoke to Mary’s son Ross. After explaining who she was, Ross remembered her and invited us in. Mary was in a wheelchair in the living room. At 94 years old she wasn’t quite sure who Evelyn was, but she seemed happy to have a visitor. We stayed just a few minutes, but Evelyn was happy to have connected with a happy time from her past.

Next we stopped at Termini Brothers bakery. I’m not sure if I can adequately describe this experience with words. Termini Brothers looks like it has been stuck in a time warp since 1935. When you enter, you see wood and glass pastry display cases, not the metal and glass you might expect. The floor has the original tile work and the ceiling has the original pressed tin. The smell of all the goods baked on the premises was euphoric. They even had two guys in the front corner playing music! Women dressed all in white came out from behind the pastry display cases carrying stainless steel trays, lightly dusted with flour and asked us “Can I help you?” Joe & I walked through the place, eying every delectable item, asking “Oooo, what’s that?” When she identified the items, we’d say “Okay, we’ll take one of those.” Then a man came out of the back carrying a platter of samples. He offered us a very large sample of a St. Joseph’s cake. “We only make St. Joseph’s cakes one time each year, during the month of March, in honor of St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th. It’s a light pastry top and bottom with a lightly sweetened ricotta filling.” We accepted the samples and as we tasted the heavenliness I believe our eyes rolled back in our heads. We turned to our lady with the tray of goodies we’d selected and told her “We need one of those.” And of course, we had to get some authentic Italian canolis and anis pizzelles. When we felt we’d done enough damage in the place we allowed the lady with the tray to carefully place our bounty into a pastry box which she then tied with string. It was so wonderfully old-fashioned it was actually comforting to watch this. When all was said and done, we spent $46. in the bakery. We managed not to eat it all in the car on the way home, so we’re still enjoying these delicacies now.

Then we drove passed the church where Mary had gone to a wedding with her old boyfriend, and then we drove by the now vacant lot where her old boyfriend’s uncle’s house was. We don’t know if the house was destroyed by a fire or was simply torn down, but there’s just a vacant lot there now. Mary said that "Uncle Frankie" was a mobster who occasionally dressed in drag for Halloween!

Then we drove by the famous Melrose diner, but decided not to eat dinner there. We went to Tony Luke’s restaurant called Vito’s. Evelyn, Joe & I got gnocchi with meatballs, and Mary got eggplant parmesan. They were delicious but the servings were too generous, so we all took our leftovers home with us and relished in the thought of getting to eat them the next day.

After dropping off the ladies, Joe & I got home just after 11pm. It was a long day, but an enjoyable one. We got to see and experience a lot.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Sounds like a fun trip and the weather was just perfect too!