Philadelphia Metropolis


Memories Lost and Found

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Other than my irrational fear of flying, there is one thing that will put me into a complete state of panic in just a matter of seconds: getting lost in the city. I will admit, I do not like to drive in the city. I would much rather be the passenger of someone who knows exactly where they are going so I can just sit back and relax while watching the people and enjoying the scenery. But that was not the case recently while traveling with a friend that was looking for a rental property in the area. Of course, she left her GPS at home and decided to rely on her own "amazing sense of direction". Amazing indeed.

After about 45 minutes of me begging her to stop and ask for directions or to call her mom to Google it for her, we drove down a street that felt oddly familiar to me.  As I looked at the lovely older homes I felt a pulling on my heart. When we approached a corner on N. 3rd Street (not far from the Cardinal Dougherty High School), I was suddenly flooded with these heart-warming memories from my early childhood. "Pull over!" I demanded.

I slowly got out of the car and stood in front of what used to be the home of my great grandmother; my Nana Kay, and her two sisters and brother. They lived there in the 60's and early 70's and as I stood there my eyes filled with tears and I began to recall those years of my life and the times that I spent there.

Rowhouse Use this.jpgI was lucky to be able to visit them quite frequently on weekends and for several weeks in the summer. Each of them had a job to do with regard to caring for me. I felt so loved by all of them and there wasn't anyplace else in the world that I would rather be than with those beautiful seniors.

I suddenly could remember, very precisely, the layout of the home with the glass enclosed sitting room (where they often sang songs and danced with me) and the fireplace in the living room with the big old chair in front where I would sit and watch such wonderful shows as Lawrence Welk, All in the Family and Shirley Temple movies. Next, was the dining room where many a family gathering was held and then the kitchen with all of its wonderful smells from my Nana Kay's cooking.

Walking around the corner, I then began to remember the upstairs: Uncle Dan slept in the back room, and then there was the room of my "Aunt" Sara with her big old wooden bed, then the bathroom with the skylight and then the master bedroom that was shared by my Nana and my Godmother, Teresa, who loved to tell me stories from when she worked at Gimbels.

Nighttime was my favorite time to be there for as they all lay in their beds reading the Inquirer and listening to KYW, it was the perfect opportunity to make my "rounds".  I would gather my plastic doctor kit consisting of a play stethoscope, band-aids, hand lotion, rubber bands, safety pins, popsicle sticks, makeshift needles and my notebook and pen and would go from room to room visiting each "patient".

I would give them a good examination and "treat" them as necessary. My aunt Sara was perhaps my best patient. I remember she had a lot of hanging skin under her arms and I was convinced that I was going to fix that for her by using very large safety pins to pin it up so it wouldn't hang any more. She had a hard time talking me out of it so we settled for rubber bands. I love how they would take such and active part in my pretending and encouraged me to become a great doctor someday. They were my biggest fans and I missed them.

With my eyes closed, I imagined the smell of peppermint and Camay soap that always clung to my Nana and longed to see her bright eyes and smiling face once again. As I got back into the car, I explained to my friend the significance of the home that stood before us.

I broke down and cried for the people who were no longer a part of my life and for a time that I had all but forgotten, but I also cried for the incredible gift that had been given to me at such a young age.  On this day of getting lost in Philly, I found a treasure trove of memories to share with my children, and one day my grandchildren as well.


Sheri Ryan lives in Lansford, Pa.

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