Urban, rural, suburban, small town, downtown

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I just re-read Emily Goulet’s article, “My Big Fat Suburban Secret: the city is booming like never before, a Mecca for the cool and the connected. So why am I here, in the land of strip malls, minivans and Olive Garden?”  Wow, what a title.  Emily tells her hip center city hair stylist that she lives in “Yardley.” And she’s embarrassed, she looks like and thinks like a “cool” city girl.  How could she live in the suburbs, in Yardley.

I was drawn to the article because I live in Yardley and have enjoyed teaching about community development — urban, rural, suburban;  small town and downtown living.  To be percise, Emily does not live in Yardley.  Her postal address is Yardley but she lives in Lower Makefield Township.  Yardley is a Borough that was carved out of the township in 1896.  Ironically, Emily’s  PO will come up as Morrisville on many automated address systems since that is currently the name of the Post Office.  Years ago when I was on Borough Council, I tried to have three postal names — Morrisville, Lower Makefied and Yardley.  The Feds didn’t go for it.  Today people like to say they live in “Yardley,” Morrisville is considered lower class.  Actually a real estate salesman once told a customer that he wanted to buy in Lower Makefield since Yardley (the borough) was an ethnic enclave — i.e. African American residents.  But I ramble.

When the City of Philadelphia was established by Penn in the 1680s, Lower Makefield was a rural township.  There were “hay bales and cows.”  Emily suggests that is what her stylist, Jacques, probably expects to find in the suburbs. Unfortunately it’s not very accurate.  The suburbs (post WWII automobile surburbs anyway)  pretty much eliminated hay bales and cows.  The few left are almost treated as museum pieces — something to experience on a Sunday afternoon.  Suburbanites don’t want the noise of tractors or smell of manure during the week.

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Yardley Borough was incorporated when population density increased until residents wanted self government (Mayor and Borough Council).  They wanted sidewalks, paved streets, a fire company, police force, library, neighborhood schools and other “urban amenities.”  The rural township needed none of it.    Bristol, Newtown, Morrisville, Langhorne and Doylestown are other Bucks County Boroughs.  They are really small towns with many of the characteristics of an urban neighborhood.  When I toured high school students — urban Philadelphia, Bristol and Levittown-Makefield suburbs — they found many similarities between Bristol and  neighborhoods in Philadelphia like Fishtown.  The Levittown- Makefield suburbanites and Northeast Philadelphia suburbanites were from the world of “strip malls, minivans and Olive Garden” as described by Emily.  The urban neighborhoods and small towns were strange to them.

I’ll be honest.  Yardley Borough is  quite small. Auto suburbanization came to Makefield  beginning in the 1960s and  steamrolled most of the rural landscape by the 1980-90s.  Yardley suffered.  Some “founding fathers” sold property on Main Street for suburban style strip malls.  When I moved to town in 1978 I attended a community meeting in Borough Hall.  The fire company proposed selling a Main Street lot to Wawa.  Opponents claimed it would detract from the street’s historic character; supporters of the sale screamed “we don’t need another New Hope.”  Wawa with Main Street drive up parking was built.  I still resist buying there.

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Churches moved to Makefield.  The town library became part of the Bucks system and migrated out of town.  Main Street which had hardware stores, local pharmacies, a men’s store, 5 & 10, grocery, welcomed dozens of real estate agencies to service the new suburbs.  Suburban style developments in filled some of the last open space in the Borough.  Yardley was hit harder than some other Boroughs — Doylestown, Newtown and Bristol maintain much more of the small town character.

Emily mentions several newer Yardley businesses that have some cool — Mil-Lees Inn, and a brewpub, The Vault.  She lists others from communities outside of Philadelphia — almost all in small towns like Phoenixville, Ardmore.  Small towns struggle to maintain their identity.  She claims that many young people, particularly couples with kids, — “cool” I presume — are moving to the suburbs (or is it small towns).  Whichever they stay connected with the trendy shops, museums, restaurants, theatres, concerts and festivals that make city life so appealing. Sometimes they do it by train, avoiding the suburban auto dependency.

Personally (I’m not very cool) but I’m not suburban.  I don’t shop at malls, almost never, have never owned a minivan, and do not eat in Olice Garden or any of the other endless line of chain restaurants that deface suburban highways.  Since retirement I try to take a train (Emily, I read a book or reflect a bit while riding the “God forsaken West Tenton line”) weekly to Philadelphia.   Living in Yardley Borough I can also  head in the other direction to NYC.  Many field trips explore Bucks County (still many traces of rural living) and it’s amazing across the river in west New Jersey.

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I enjoyed Emily’s article.  Got me thinking about a topic I find important.  But I want more precision — there is urban, rural and suburban living.  When we say city we are usually thinking of Center City and surrounding neighborhoods.  Northeast Philadelphia is more like suburban Lower Bucks County.  Then there are small towns which can have quite a few urban qualities.

Emily, I live in Yardley but not the suburbs.  I invite you to look for a house in the borough.  Maybe a Victorian on South Main Street. Or check out Doylestown.  I think you’ll find it a change from townhouses and condos in the suburbs.  You shouldn’t be embarrassed.

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Uncle

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Uncle Frank and grandson Frank.

Growing up our closest extended family was my mother’s older sister, Ellen and Uncle Frank.  There were three cousins, William, two years younger than me, Ellen and still younger Maryjo.  We had family dinners, visits, went to school and church together,  vacationed together, exchanged Christmas presents.  When the kids were young, we couldn’t have been closer.  It was the sister’s bond.  My father and Uncle Frank Mignoni were friendly but their interests and personalities were quite different.

Uncle Frank was much more old school Italian.  His father had a garden, including a fig tree; his mother cooked Italian, including cannolis.  After leaving Italy, I  doubt that my Italian grandfather Profy  ever got his hands in the soil; and grandmom Profy didn’t cook once the children were grown.   Grandpop had anglicized his name from Porfirio and had limited interest in Italian culture.   As a kid, I always thought the Mignoni heritage coat was much richer

Uncle could be a tough cookie.  I often stopped at their home on Radcliffe street for a Sunday breakfast after church.  I watched as my Aunt patted bacon grease off the tops of sunny side eggs with a paper towel.  Frank called for her attention, “Ellen, you buttered my toast on the wrong side.”  She looked at me, shaking her head, “Your Uncle.”  My thirteen year old mind reeled, it  was a joke I thought but . .  . but also it was Uncle claim as master of his table.  ( P.S. My aunt may have buttered the other side of the toast but she staked a strong  claim in family decision making.)

One afternoon William and I rode our bikes to Levittown.  At the time they lived off 413 in Winder Village.  We rode through woods to Bath street, into Bristol, up Radcliffe to Tullytown and the Levittown Shopping Center. When we returned, Uncle was home.  He was furious (at William, I was never mentioned).  He knew he shouldn’t ride all the way to Levittown.  I had frightening  images of William being beaten, his bike confiscated.  Uncle expected respect and obedience. No questions.

Years later in the summer of my sophomore year I was leaving Bristol to hitch hike back to Boston. My father was refusing to sign papers so Diane and I could be married. I stopped at Mignoni’s on Radcliffe. Aunt Ellen was in tears, Uncle offered to give me a ride to the turnpike, “Things will settle down,” he said before slipping me some spending money. “Thanks, Uncle, hope I see you soon.”  When he left I thought, I don’t think he’d have given William a ride to the turnpike and money.  Either strict obedience didn’t extend to nephews or he accepted that I was to be married.

My Aunt and Uncle were always generous with me.  Throughout HS, I was part of their family skiing season in the Poconos.  They paid for equipment and lift tickets.  I was treated as a member of the family.  When I started graduate school for a doctoral degree, finances were tight. I met with Uncle.  Over the next few years, he lent me $10,000 with an agreement if I earned the degree, the loan was forgiven.  His agreement was an incentive to not give up.

Uncle Frank was ambitious.  I think he had some of the immigrant, World War II veteran’s hunger for a better life.  Rather than go into the jewelry business with his brother Carmen, he became a real estate salesman.  He worked for an agency with offices at Mill and Pond street.  I think he met Aunt Ellen there.  In a few years he had opened his own office on Mill street.  He eventually hired several salesmen and close friend Gus Cocordus to handle insurance. Mignoni became a name in real estate in Bristol and Bucks County.  At some point he took some assessment workshops at Harvard allowing him to claim, “I graduated from Harvard several years ago.”

I remember stopping in his office quite frequently.  When William and I were younger, it was to get bottles of cold coke from a refrigerator in the rear of the building.  As I got older, I remember stopping and asking the secretary  if Uncle was busy.  I was usually sent through. He’d be sitting at a large desk with phone and piles of papers.  I guess I went to socialize, discuss work, school or other major questions in my life.  I respected his judgement and success.  The Winder Village house was sold and Mignoni’s built a home on an empty lot on Radcliffe street.  They joined the street’s  social scene of successful doctors, lawyers, contractors. Our family entered that world with them.

I think my first job outside of Thomas Profy and Sons was caddying at the Torresdale Country Club.  I carried Uncle’s bag and he introduced me to the Caddy Master.  For several years I was a country club caddy.  Although we had golfing privileges once a week, I didn’t take full advantage and never became a golfer.  Both Aunt and Uncle golfed regularly.  With my father, Uncle was part of the Mill Street Boys Club that went to Penn Relays and NY Millrose game.

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Mill Street Boys Club.  Uncle is fourth on right.  Father is second on left

Uncle also hired me for painting jobs.  I remember painting an apartment over his office.  One summer I painted the interior of their house which led to other painting jobs. For al least one summer after my college Freshman year maybe, he got me a job with a contractor friend.  Roy Butterworth started me hauling lumber, sheet rocking, but by the end of the summer I was doing some wood trim finishing under the supervision of a Cordisco master carpenter.

Uncle Frank was at ease with old friends and new acquaintances.  He drank moderately (whiskey, gin and tonic or small Pony bottles of Rolling Rock) and smoked small cigars.  He would regularly go to the Ninth street market in Philadelphis for provolone, prosciutto, olives, good Italian bread. He always enjoyed fresh fruit and a bag of pistachios or lemon ice was a treat.  At the beach house, he was known for his clams casinos.  For a few years, he packed the kids in a car.  He had bought a farm in NJ and the peaches were ripe.  The land was probably a short term investment but he wouldn’t let those peaches rot.

Uncle and Aunt came to visit Diane and I in Boston.  We took them to Durgin Park for dinner.  We waited in a line for a seat at their signature family style tables.  Uncle struck up a conversation with a couple behind us.  He concluded by giving the guy a business card.  I was impressed with his sociability.

At home after dinner or during a party, Uncle would play the piano.  We’d hum tunes or prompt him with songs we wanted to hear.  On special ocassions he got his 8 mm movie camera with bright lights indoors.  All the kids were lined up off stage.  As Uncle started filming we were encouraged to walk or dance toward the camera, one after another.  The movies are classic 1950s.  Uncle was a story teller.  When we were young he told and retold a war story.  He had a quarter size brown birth mark on one arm. A bullet wound he claimed.  It was a short story.  He was shot by Germans sitting in an outhouse.  We stared in wonder.  At least that’s what I remember.

During those same elementary years, he would end summer dinner stories with a question. “Listen carefully,” he’d begin. “I have a question, listen.  What’s the difference between a duck?”  Listen, what’s the difference between a duck.”  We squirmed.  “A duck and what,” we screamed.  Again, “What’s the difference between a duck?  When you know the answer, you will know it’s correct, and won’t have to ask me if its correct,” he continued.  “Just think about it. He repeated it slowly emphasizing each syllable. “What’s the difference between a duck?”  A week later we’d repeat the routine.  I answered Uncle my sophmore or junior year at BC.  I wrote: “What’s the difference between a duck?  I know the answer.”

Thanks Uncle.

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Father

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Facebook pages have been filled with tributes to fathers.  Some are recent college graduates with infants.  Older fathers being remembered by children or spouses. “You are the greatest . . . You taught me all I know . . . Thanks for always being there for me.”  Then there are tributes to senior fathers, grandfathers.  Some deceased, “You are always with me.” Photographs can be portraits, fathers and children, Mom and Dad, family groups.

Looking at the posts, made me pause and think about my Father.  Not Dad, Daddy,Pop, he was always Father.  Even some adult friends referred to him as Father.  I suspect he was the first of their post War group to have a child — a boy, a son, me.

My memories of Father are many random incidents that define his beliefs and character.

It’s Friday night.  Father is in Thomas Profy and Sons, GE appliance store.  An older Italian woman approaches, “Mr. Profy, I bought my refrigerator from your father thirty years ago.  I want to buy a new one.”  My father smiled, Mrs. C, I want to warn you, the new one won’t last 30 years. They don’t make them as well today.  I smiled, I’d recently read Vance Packard and discovered the phrase “planned obsolescence.”

Another night a couple was looking at several washing machine models.  From the basic stripped down model to the top of the line with many additional buttons, dials, features.  The woman hesitated, should she get the top of the ine.  Father spoke up.     “The basic model has the same motor, agitator, and washed clothes the same as the top of the line.  One big difference was the number of things that could break with all those extra features.” And repairs were expensive.  She choose the basic model.

There were always locals, street business men, friends who stopped in the store to chat.  “Mitchell,” my father asked, “how do you cut a dove tail?”  Mitchell went into a lengthy explaination.  When he left, I asked father, “Why did you ask him that, you know how to cut a dove tail”  Father looked at me, “It makes him feel good that I respect his knowledge and maybe I’ll learn something new.”

A lot of father’s time was related to work.  Weeks days from 7:30 to 5.  Several evenings a week and Saturday hours. Several times a month, Father, drove to Bridge street and took the El to Jeweler’s Row.  He was stocking his small watch and jewelry department in the appliance store (a concession from my grandfather I think to keep him in the business).  Whenever I could I went with him.  He made me feel important, “learning the ropes.”  But he also took the opportunity to expose me to the City.  The department stores.  Usually Horn & Hardart’s for lunch.  Then we headed to Independence Hall.  This was the 1950s, and the federal government was creating the National Park and restoring Indepedence Hall.  Father shared in my amazement as conservators carefully removed  over a dozen layers of paint to find the original color.  I was hooked — history, historic preservation, Philadelphia.

Father always supported reading and read to me when I was very young.  The first real book I remember was “Nobody’s Boy.”  It had been a gift from Aunt Lucy but at 5 years old I wasn’t going to read it alone.   It was the story of an orphan boy who eventually finds his family.  I loved the story. Father read it several times.  Another book he read was “Uncle Wiggily” short stories.  Oh how I waited for the conclusion which set the stage for the next story.  On our trips to Philadelphia, Father introduced me to Leary’s Book store.  A devoted reader in elementary school, I was in heaven. He showed me juvenile literature — Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family, Jules Verne, the Hardy Boys.  I always came away with a book.

Father’s life revolved around family, work,  church, and hobbies.  Summer vacation was a  week at the Jersey shore, initially sharing a house with Uncle Frank and Aunt Ellen’s clan.  I remember one year father had the store truck filled with beach gear, playpen, crib, even an extra refrigerator.  A lot of effort for a week at the beach.  He’d take me flounder fishing although he really wasn’t a fisherman.  But I  should have the experience. He didn’t like driving either but discovered a trendy store in Rancocus.  I recall quite a few family trips looking at wrought iron hardware, candles and other “neo-colonial”  house wares.  Another South Jersey destination was Batso.  Colonial iron bog foundry.  The drive was about the same as a trip to LBI.  The kids should learn some history.

Although not overly adventurous, I was impressed when Father bought a small boat.  Twelve feet sticks in my mind, on a trailer, with a tiny outboard.  We putted around Burlington Island, sometimes stopping for a picnic.  At the time I knew father was out of his waters with the boat but admired his willingness to try something new.  Small steps.  In his childhood, kids swam across the river to the island.

In a similar way he supported my involvement in the Boy Scouts by signing up for camping trips.  Like boating and driving a car, camping would not have been a favored activity but he would support me in my interests.

He was a sports person.  Track and Field.  During the 1950s, he took me to the Penn Relays at University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field.  It was an exciting time for the mile race as runners attempted and did break the 4 minute mile.  I was especially fascinated by Ron Delaney from Villanova.  In fact Mom had once dated the team’s Doctor who took me to the locker room to meet Delaney.  Somehow I lost the signed program from that visit.

In high school I played basketball.  Father set up a  backboard in the parking lot behind our Mill street apartment.   Most weekends, he would join a group of local kids on the court.  He was in his early 40s and kept up with several starters from the Bristol HS team.  We soon learned that although short he jumped high for rebounds and you didn’t want to be hit with his swinging elbows.  I guess he attended some of my games but he was a player not a screaming fan in the bleachers.

Despite his aversion to driving, he took me to Boston College in our maroon Impala.  I remember his horror at Boston traffic.  This would not be something he would do regularly.  It seemed we found my off campus housing in Newton Square, unloaded the car, hugged goodby and my parents were gone.  If we went out to dinner that night I have no recollection. I had been raised to be independent.

My Freshman grades were mediocre. And  I refused to take some test to get a deferment.  In September I was back on campus and I got a induction letter.  I wrote the Bristol Draft Board explaining that I was registered and had paid for the first semester of my Sophomore year.  I got a deferment.  Decades later one of my sisters informed me the deferment was probably was granted since Father talked to someone, not because I wrote a letter.

Fast forward to the end of the school year.  Diane and I had become engaged.  I returned to Bristol in May with wedding plans for July.  Since I was only 20, I needed parental permission. One evening after dinner, Father announced that he wasn’t signing any papers, “I was too young to get married.”  The next morning, I packed a suitcase and hitch hiked back to Boston.  By July, Father had relented and we were married in late August. I asked him about his resistance.  He responded, “I was worried” he said, “how were you going to pay for college and support a wife.  I have nothing to give you.”  “That’s OK,” I said, “you could make us some furniture.”  Father had always done house repair carpentry.  He had tools.  Why not furniture making.

That Christmas, Father drove to Boston.  He was alone.  Mom had 4 daughters to care for.  In the Impala was a pine Cobbler’s Bench coffee table and a round, fold up, dining room table — the top could roll back making a seat.  He had taken my comment literally and began making furniture.  These would be the first of his many wood working projects.  Also squeezed into the car was a piece of green wall to wall carpet.  He laid it out in the living-dining room, measured cuts, marked on the back, and cut.  When he turned it over he went wild.  His cuts hadn’t accounted for the rug being upside down.  He was furious.  Always double check measurements he reminded me.

In 1976, Diane and I took a five week trip to Great Britan.  A house on Mulberry Street might be listed.  I told my father to make an offer, we would buy it.  When we returned he informed me that we had bought the house.  Although there had been no settlement or money involved, he was already doing some interior painting.  Problem was that Mom wasn’t talking to me.  One of my sisters explained that she felt that they should have bought the house.  I told my father to take it we could find something.  He  finally agreed but with the condition we move into the family apartment on Mill street.  We did and a year later with baby Jenny bought a house in Yardley.

Neither my father or his brothers were aggressive businessmen.  By the 1970s, suburban shopping centers and malls had drained Main Street business.  Thomas Profy and Sons GE appliances closed.  I got father a job as head of the maintenance department at HGP.  A decade or more later he retired from HGP.  The school hosted a party for Father and Eddie Beyer, a long time bus driver.  Although not a public speaker, Father agreed to say a few words.

He described how every morning he walked the halls unlocking classroom doors and turning on lights.  “I was proud,” he said. “I turned on the light, making it possible for those talented, smart teachers to teach their students.  I was contributing to their education.”  So perfectly, Father.

In his last years after Mom’s death and his increasingly fragile memory, Father remained smiling, with a twinkle in his eye, a subtle joke, and hugs for his children and grandchildren.

 

 

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Slow cooking

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I’ve been home from the hospital two weeks.  Haven’t done much.  Just feel tired, washed out.  Might be a bit mental.  I’m just tired of the entire recovery routine.  Haven’t felt like house walking for 15 minute stretches.  Appetite has been limited.  No cooking or baking.  Don’t clean up dinner dishes.  Then I began with some low grade fevers. Several were on days that I had sat in the sun.  Wednesday, no sun but fever in late afternoon.  Kovell recommended Penn’s ER.  No surprise, a urinary track infection.  Antibiotics.  Didn’t get discharged till after 1 am.  Thursday was nap, nap day.

Yesterday a PT came.  First visit since this surgery discharge.  She went through the routine.  And it helped with motivation.  Walked more.  Did a few minor projects.   In the mail got a new SCOBY for making Kombucha; believe we have milk to make yogurt.  In the kitchen, slow cooking.

When I people watch, I wonder.  At the beach, in a kayak or canoe, riding a bicycle, hiking (not just walking the canal, but climbing some elevation), full gardening, house projects — will I be back doing any of these activities.    How easy will it be to care for my appliances?  Travel, dressing normally?  I booked a Hampton in Ann Arbor for Libby Paglione’s wedding in mid August.  Will I be ready?

This morning I have something like a stomach cramp; gas pains.   I suspect activity in my colon.  Always something to make me uncomfortable.  My skin dries out and becomes itchy.  The chest incision from heart surgery is not totally healed.  Need a dressing now which I didn’t need a month ago.  Part of my left hand is still numb, another legacy of heart surgery.  Despite my anxiety, annoyance, I realize there are people with more serious, critical health conditions.

We have a house rented in Cape Cod the last week of July, first week in August.  It will be the 4th year on the Cape with Jen, Rob, Eli and Viv.  I feel confident I can make the trip.  Also we have airline reservations for Seattle in October to visit my sister, Marylee.

Everything moves slower.  In the ER the other night, there seemed to be an hour between every event — check vitals, take blood, an IV, see the ER doctor, see a doc from Urology.  I don’t watch TV.  I wait, think, question, plan.  Diane would say I worry  and sometimes I do.  At home I wait for the home care nurse.  I eat slower; and walk slower.

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Several days I have sat on the back deck.  Sun, warmth, some birds pass through the yard from tree to tree.  A light breeze moves through the wind chimes.  The sound of the large Woodstock recalls Nantucket.  One year the chime was missing, we immediately went out to purchase a replacement.  Depending on the time of day, I look at a  palette of greens.  I recall the Irish landscape, brushed with every shade of green.  Slow isn’t always a bad thing.

One or more times each day, I lay back, eyes closed, attempting to peer into the future.  I need to be self-sufficient.  The strain on Diane this past year has been too much.  I need to get back to year 1 of retirement.  In the early 1970s, I took a photography workshop with National Geographic photographer, Bruce Curtsinger.  In his mid 20s, Bruce was only a few years older than me.  Around a camp fire on a small Maine island, Bruce shared how in his lifetime he would only have so many photo assignments.  Some, shooting wolves in Alaska for instance, might end up taking one or more years.  He needed to choose assignments carefully.  This led to a discussion of limits — travel destinations, books read, movies seen — always limits.

Maybe the past year, this pause, has given me time to reflect.  I have many fewer years   than I had around the campfire in Maine. I need to make choices.  Slow cooking maybe ok for now.

 

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The miracle of pizza

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Hanging on the wall in front of my hospital bed the past two weeks was a colorful triangular drawing — yellow, orange, red, brown and a specks of green. Printed across the top in red, “After you get out of the hospital we can go out on a pizza outing!!  At the bottom of the page in blue, “Love, Eli.”  A similar drawing hung on the wall in February-March when I was hospitalized for heart surgery.

For me, my grandson’s pizza drawings function as a talisman.  Pizza has a special meaning for us.  The drawings have also served as a gatekeeper.  When nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff first enter my room, do they notice the drawing, do they make a comment?  “Who is Eli?”  “Beautiful.”  “Makes me hungry.”  ” Are you ready for some pizza.”  I smile.  “Eli is my grandson, pizza has a special meaning for us.”  Many will continue, “How old is Eli?”  “Nine, great kid,” I respond.

I lay back feeling good.  The staff that notice and comment on the drawing will treat me as an individual.  I will be “Vince” or “Mr. Profy.” They know I have a grandson Eli and we both like pizza.  I will be much more than just another patient on a hospital assembly line, “Here to check you vitals”  or  “I need to draw blood.”  On my first hospital stay in September, I wrote that staff need to be Competent, Confident and Caring.  The pizza drawing helps to separate the caring from the strictly functional (I won’t say non-caring).

For those that return, glancing at the drawing or continuing our conversation. I share,   “Eli has a sister, Viv.”  She drew the picture of connected hearts, stars, and abstract spirals higher up on the wall.  If they seem to have the time, I explain why pizza is so special for Eli and me.  “Eli had neuroblastoma when he was 4 years old.  After every treatment, chemo, surgery, radiation, when he came home, we went out for pizza.  I gave him a copy of Philadelphia magazines, 50 best pizza.  Taught him to use the GPS and off we’d go.  Usually after pizza, Eli liked an ice cream treat.  And maybe about 3 he’d ask, ‘Grandpop, can we get a hamburger?'”  I told them in 18 months of treatment, Eli never needed a feeding tube.  Pretty amazing for a 4-5 year old.  “Pizza has a special meaning for us.

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Our pizza outings included Pizza Palace (Bryn Mawr), Conestoga Pizza (Bryn Mawr), George’s (Wayne), Franzone’s (Manayunk), Sal’s Pizza Box (Phoenixville), Jules Thin Crust (Newtown), Brother’s (Langhorne). Vic & Dean’s (Wayne) was an Eli favorite.  The next day, after our trip, he took his father.  At Stella (2nd street) Eli sat at the counter and interviewed the guy at the wood oven. “Did you go to school for pizza . . . How long does it cook . . . How did you get this job.”  We concluded visits with a one or two thumbs up or down photograph. Eli usually grinning from ear to ear.  Ice cream stops were various daries on the Main Line or Bucks;  burgers were almost always Elevation.

 

Our pizza enthusiasm jumped to another level when I bought Eli traditional chef whites — double breasted jacket and toque.  We began to make pizza at home.  Eli learned to make dough and choose toppings, usually tomatoes, mozzarella, and canned black olives.  Maybe mushrooms or pepperoni.  My favorite video shot during this period was Eli dressed in whites, traditional Italian dance  muisic, with Viv, making pizza in their family kitchen.  Eli is intense, cooking is a serious activity.  As they near the end, Viv turns to the camera, dancing and eating mushroom pieces.  The 2 minute clips captured their emerging personalities.  Eli the studius, methodical, comfortable, at ease in adult roles, straight man.   Viv the actress, singer and dancer, joker, seeking her share of attention.  I named them George and Gracie.

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Eli has been cancer free for 4 years.  But our pizza outings continue.  We’ve been to DiLorenzo’s of Trenton tomato pies, Vetri’s of Callow Hill, and Caesar’s in Bristol.  Earlier this week I went to Santucci’s and have begun to make a destination list — Tacconelli’s (order your dough in advance), Pizzeria Beddia, Pizza Brain (we’ve stopped in but didn’t eat there).  A month ago Eli and Viv took a pizza making class at the Farm Cooking School in Stockton, NJ.  To guide our explores, I recently bought “Pizza: a slice of American History,” by Liz Barrett.  It describes different styles — like Neapolitan, New York, Tomato Pie, Sicilian, Deep-Dish.  Cheese on top; cheese on bottom, thin or thick crust, marinara sauce or margarita.  And today traditions give way to all kinds of gourmet toppings.

Pizza is special.  For Eli and his grandfather, pizza works miracles.

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Retirement: round three

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Holy Ghost Prep’s graduation was yesterday.  As the class of 2016 waited for their diplomas, I waited for wheel chair transport out of Pennsylvania Hospital.  Discharge is always slow on weekends.  Finally Trisha, my nurse for the day came with a wheel chair, “Do you want me to take you down.”  Diane headed out to get the car; Trisha and I chatted about travels, past and future.   And so began the third year of my retirement from HGP.

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Just after 1, we drove to Santucci’s at Woodhaven and Knghts Road.  Although the HGP graduates were headed home, the class of 1966 (a year after my graduation) were holding a reunion on campus. Should I stop?  No, a different plan.  I’ve had Santucci famous square pizza many times. It was frequently served at HGP on parent-teacher meeting nights.  But I’d never been to one of the family restaurants.   Joe and Philomena Santucci entered the pizza business in 1959 in Northeast Philadelphia.  Since then family members have opened Santucci’s in South Philadelphia, North Broad,  and Northeast locations.  All serve the  “original square pizza.”  I didn’t feel like a lot of tomato so Diane ordered a white mushroom and we decided to stop along the river in Bristol to eat.

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We detoured slightly in Croydon.  Somehow the night before my Internet searches discovered a new looking restaurant, High Tides, on the Neshaminy Creek.  What drew me to it was the large deck over the creek.  It looked like a nice place for lunch or just a drink.  As a kid I sometimes asked my father to drive along the creek to State Road as the way home to Bristol.  My trip to Santucci’s and detour along the Neshaminy were part of that impulse.  Retirement: round three might need to start with many short local explores; little adventures.

The waterfront in Bristol was busy with people walking dogs, kids running through the marsh path, families sitting in the sun and then there were guys that hang out in their cars facing the river.  The one next to us was watching TV.  Some day we’d go back to High Tides for a drink.  I thought our mushroom white was tasty; Diane thought it needed some basil and hot pepper. But we will return; small discoveries.

Year two of retirement just ending has been tough.  My medical problems started last June on my return from Italy.  A fistula (holes linking the bowel and urinary system was discovered.)   It was the result of radiation treatment I had at the University of Pennsylvania.  Sadly my Penn radiation was Proton, newer, promoted as safer, and one of the many cancer treatments experienced by my grandson, Eli.  For a while we were the same room although at different times for our Proton radiation.  Thankfully Eli is four years out with no identified side effects or return of cancer. But I ended up in the wrong (I’m told small) percentage.

Surgery to repair the fistula was held off till September — surgeon schedules but also the doctors gave us the opportunity to enjoy a planned vacation in Cape Cod with Jen, Rob, Viv and Eli.  My September surgery was 11 hours and within weeks had been identified as a failure.  I liked both of my primary surgeons, Joshua Blier (Colo-rectal) and Robert Kovell (Urology) but the failure was devastating. Both advised against further surgery.  It became clear that the best would be permanent colostomy and  urostomy.  My recovery was slow and I was hospitalized for two weeks; followed by weeks in a Lower Makefield facility (a nightmare).

Surgery to make my appliances permanent was planned for March.  (Family joke: Cousin Philomena questioned whether the new appliances would be GE.)  Kevin Steinberg, my Penn cardiologist, (I have a heart doctor now), discovered multiple heart issues. Triple by pass heart surgery (CABG, pronounced, “Did you have your ‘cabbage’ done here?” was necessary. One carotid artery was 100% blocked  (need to monitor the second one for life) and a bit of luck, possible valve repair was determined unnecessary. But there is always the possibility of complications. This time mine came in the form of an infected abscess at the site of the original surgery.  For days I waited as the Heart team demanded no infection before surgery; Urology and Colo- Rectal decided what to do. After a week I was taken in for minor surgical drainage of the infected area. Satoshi Furukawa was my cardiac surgeon.  He radiated an eastern calm and confidence. In and out.   I was amazed after waiting for over a week for the heart surgery, I was discharged within days.  Back to recovery in Yardley with the help of Penn Care home nurses.

The heart issues came as a surprise. Particularly the severity.  Prior to, I thought my heart was fine; no recognized symptoms of heart disease.  Lesson, a bit late, see a cardiologist, have a stress test. The discovery of my heart problems have been the silver lining.  March, April, re-scheduled for the new appliance surgery at the end of May.  A typical five day stay turned into a week, then two weeks plus, until my bowels straightened out and began to function.  But yesterday I got out of bed, dressed, and headed home.  Enjoying my small adventures, explores.

My weight is 163 pounds.  Last September I weighed about 208.  I have several healing wounds and two new appliances (not GE). I realize full recovery will be months but I am determined that Retirement: round three will be better than the second.  I’ve started making the list — what I must do to recover; to live; but also what  I want to do to enjoy living.

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Now it’s time for some breakfast and house organization.

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