Life and death in Bristol, PA

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It seems like yesterday that I was a kid in Bristol (that’s Bristol Pa, not one of the many other Bristols in the country.)  I was going to school, and church, visiting relatives and neighbors, shopping Mill street stores, walking the streets and alleys, fishing in the river, meeting people — in short, growing up in small town America in the 1950s. But it wasn’t yesterday, it was about 5 plus decades ago, I was seven, ten, fifteen maybe. Now I am 68.

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As a college student, I read Tom Wolfe’s,  “You Can’t Go Home Again.” I thought that was my relationship with Bristol. How untrue. In fact you are always going home. Although my wife and I eventually moved up River (Delaware) to Yardley, we lived for several years in Bristol. Just out of the Peace Corps, we rented on Cedar Street, several blocks from where I grew up on Mill. Several years later we moved into the family Mill street apartment. You can go home again.

More recently we lived in town while our Yardley home was being elevated. What a trip down memory lane. Katie’s Corner at Cedar and Market was closing, had breakfast in Strouse’s, hoagies from Mazzanti’s market,  walked along the river, spent hours in Grundy Library, lunch at the King George — yes, you can go home again, Tom.

Yesterday,  October 18 was Historic Bristol Day.  Last year I attended briefly.  Since I had afternoon commitments, I went  in early. I  stopped to see my sister, Cissi,  on Radcliffe ( her house was scheduled to be opened), I walked down Radcliffe to Mill. A few people were about. Mrs Mulhern’s, one of the last of my parents generation was on her porch, several Quattrocchi girls were out organizing vendors. I talked to several Latino barbers who now own “Cattone’s” barber shop. It’s where I got my hair cut growing up. Several years ago, Joe (in his 90s) was still cutting hair.

A walk down Mill street is always a treat. Is it the same or has it totally changed. The buildings are the same, but few stores or names from the 1950s remain. In fact the only family business from my childhood is Mignoni Jewelers. Gone are Ballow’s, Spector’s, Nichol’s, Cantor’s, Popkin’s, Plavin’s, Budney’s, Brosbee’s, and Arnold’s. There is no more Grant’s or McCrory’s 5 and 10, Jerry Jewlers and Mignoni’s Real Estate are gone. As I walked down the street Ann and Carol Mignoni pulled up in front of their family store. I joked about them not being opened yet, on Bristol Day, their father Carmen would have had the shop opened — it was 8 o o’clock.

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Tragically I returned to Bristol weeks later.  Yes Tom, you can go home again. I went to the wake of Ann Mignoni (Mundy) at Saint Ann’s church on Pond Street. Unexpectedly, shockingly Ann died on Monday morning, November 24. The Mignoni Jewelers kids were cousins to my cousins. They were cousins to my best friend. Ann was married to a childhood friend. In Bristol, everyone is family.

At the wake I saw and talked to a cross section of Bristol. Relatives, friends, people I knew and people I knew I should know. Ann’s husband, John was also a childhood friend. He lived in the Delaware House (King George). Today I joked that John lived on my right; Ann on my left. I was caught in the middle. Small town America. At the wake were many HGP alumni and staff. John like me, left Bristol and attended HGP. And we both ended up teaching there. I as a teacher/ administrator; John as a track coach.

Going home is tricky. You can but . . . There are so many positive memories; mixed with sadness.  Life and death.

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