Home

 

A week ago we returned from two weeks on Cape Cod.  As much as I enjoy travel, returning home is always a good feeling. My granddaughter, Viv, said as much, she didn’t want to leave the Cape but would be glad to be home.  Her brother, Eli, who came to the Cape after a month at Camp Pinemere in the Poconos said, “I’ll be glad to sleep in my oun bed.”

For many, home provides warmth, comfort, reassurance, security.  Home-made is good, tasty.  Home cooked is comfort food.  Home sweet home.  There’s no place like home. Home is where the heart is.  OK, maybe smaltzy; straight out of Hallmark.  But I decided to look up some additional  “home” quotes.  A few I liked:  “A house is made of bricks and beams. A home is made of hopes and dreams.”  “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”  “Home is where one starts from.” –T.S. Eliot.

 

Coming home. I rembered the summer of 1975 we spent it in Bethel, ME with Garret and Melody Bonnema who had moved from Bristol and opened a pottery studio.  The area was beautiful.  Several times a week we hiked in the White Mountains.  I spent a week doing photography on a Maine island.  We had a fantastic time.  But when we returned to Bucks County we commented on how good it felt being home.  For me we were actually living in my first home — the apartment in Bristol where I grew up.

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Bristol made me a small town person.  Main Street, although in Bristol it was Mill Street.  Four blocks of a classic commercial district; we lived in a large apartment over stores owned and rented by my grandfather.  My father worked in a family business, Profy’s  GE appliances, across the street. We shopped in town, on the street. Walked to school, library and church. Total small town.  Bristol recently has been enjoying a type of Renaissance, renewed interest in the waterfront, local businesses, festivals, and the relationships that make it a “hometown.”

 

Diane and I have had several homes. If I grew up grew up in Bristol, Diane was from Brewster later Carmel, her Dad’s business was in Croton Falls.  All small towns in NY. Our first home together was a third story apartment, Commonwealth Avenue, Cleveland Circle, about two miles from Boston College in Newton, MA.  The Peace Corps was an interlude.  We returned to Bristol, rented a house on Cedar Street.  I thought Tom Wolfe was right, “you can’t go home again.” And here we were in Bristol.  We soon moved to a Yardley canal side house that belonged to Sid Cadwallader who we met at Yardley Friends Meeting.  This was more us.  But not for long.  After a year we moved to Old York Road outside of downtown New Hope.  We rented again, but this time sharing the house with John and Barbara Paglione.  Back to the earth, communes, well, an intentional two couple community.  We had a huge garden, John and I worked on farms in the summer.  We spent some time looking to buy a home together.

John decided to go to graduate school (Ann Arbor). Our New Hope home broke up.  Diane and I began looking for a house; in the interim we returned to my parents.  In the summer of 1976 we went to England telling my father to bid/ buy a house coming up for sale.  On our return, we discovered he had secured the house but, Mom was acting strange. She wanted out of the apartment; she wanted a real home.  I told my father, you buy it.  His condition was that  we would live in the family apartment.  We did.  For about a year.  A strange year.  Jenny was born.  Her first home was my childhood home.  But the local movie theatre had become an adult gay movie house.  Fights erupted between gays and straights every weekend.  “Diane it wasn’t like this when I was growing up.”  But the good news: the Grundy Foundation bought the theatre and created a legitimate local theatre.  My hometown had a renaissance         Going home again, Tom Wolfe. But we moved.  We purchased this time.

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Our new home was 121 N. Delaware Avenue in Yardley Borough, River Road in front,  the canal behind us, across a small back street and empty lot.  “Location, location, location,” they say.  We’re small town people; we’ve been here 40 years. The house was a vacation cottage.  Quite small, the interior walls and ceiling were covered in tongue in groove boards, stained.  In the early 80s we decided 121 was too small.  But mortgage interest rates were 18%. We decided on an addition.  Construction proceeded for several years, my father and I doing the finishing after the shell was built.  We brought Cordiscos from Bristol for the construction.

We knew our home was in the flood plain (we paid insurance).  Our renovations revealed mud and wracked windows.  But we never thought a lot about flooding.  Ocassionally the river rose, even flooded sections of river road, came up a bit in our backyard. Until 2004, 2005,and 2006.  Although we never took first floor water, the basement flooded, we evacuated, and lost things, electric, heating system damage.  A mess.  In 2007 we decided to elevate rather than trying to sell at a loss.  Cost was $40,000, about the same as the original cost.

Now retired in our 70s, we are in our home.  But the steps seem endless, especially when we have a car filled with grocery bags.  Maybe we’ll move, it’s on the “to do” retirement list but 121 has and still is home.

 

Since returning from Cape Cod, I’ve been thinking about what makes a house, an apartment, condo, cottage, or shack a “home.”  Somehow it’s become part of us or we’ve become part of it.  I’m, we’re intertwined, connected to 121.  Better or worse.

There are memories:  Jenny playing, growing up with a neighborhood friend Katie.  Jen was a redhead; Katie was blonde.   Such fun strolling them into Yardley along the canal.  Jenny’s high school graduation picnic with our friends and relatives.  Dinners, and parties, in the unfinished addition.  Pickled river herring; Canal walks.  Cold days in front of our Vermont casting woodstove.  Involvement in hometown events, organizations and politics.   Even the floods hold many memories. Neighborhood spirit.

 

Homes are filled with objects that reflect and recall the past.  From the family room chair where I sit, I see the balsa wood boat, a gift from my parents on trip visiting Marylee in WA state.  There are Mercer tiles, a David Sears “Shad” painting,, a reading stand crafted by Rodney Hamilton, a wooden chest with the date of Lincoln’s assassination painted on the under side of the top, an old school desk (filled with daily journals) purchased at a Brown Brothers auction, pottery, glass, tiles, prints and paintings from many craft shows. A small ceramic donkey and cart planter that sat in my grandfather’s kitchen.  A wall clock my father constructed; a Mike Holman painting.  And this is only one room.

 

Since I’ve  been home from the Cape I’ve enjoyed garden harvests.  So many beautiful tomatoes this year; lots of peppers.  Fall seedlings are coming up.   Despite the high 90 temperatures, I’ve walked on the canal towpath.  I’ve enjoyed cooking in my kitchen; sitting, reading in my recliner; sleeping in my bed.  I’m home. I have objects and memories that sustain.  Travel is great, interesting, exciting, eye opening, but yes, you can go home, there is no place like it.

 

 

 

 

 

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River Road: Bristol to New Hope

 

 

“River road”  — conjures up a shaded, tight two lane, winding road running parallel to a scenic River.  There must be hundreds of river roads. Growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, our River Road follows the Delaware River.  Many associate it with Yardley or New Hope.  I’ve actually followed the river from Philadelphia — past industrial buildings, parking lots, railroads, parallel to interstate 95 —  Delaware Avenue, Tacony Street, then State Road to Croydon and Bristol.

 

I grew up on Mill Street in Bristol Borough about 70 miles from Delaware Bay, 22 miles from center city, Philadelphia.  The river was our back yard.  Let’s start our River Road tour in Bristol at Mill and Radcliffe, heading upriver. On our right is the King George, a colonial era inn and tavern.   Yes, General George Washington was a guest, as well as Presidents John Adams, Madison, Tyler and Filmore.  We’ve had many family dinners at the King George.  The enclosed porches in the rear have great river views. Although I thought it overpriced for a few years, the current owners have restored the qualily at acceptable prices.  During my high school years, the parents of a close friend managed the Inn (it was called the Delaware House for many years, Americans not wanting to hear “King George).  The family lived in rooms on the second floor; an invitation to dinner and we were served by a waitress.  John’s mom and dad were working, kitchen and bar.    We liked playing pool in the historic bar.  It was there that I last saw and talked my grandfather Profy. He was having lunch.

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Next door to the King George is the Bristol Riverside Theatre. Growing up it was the Bristol movie theatre.  I saw my first films there.  By 1970 it had become an “adult” movie house catering to a gay audience.  Diane and I home from the Peace Corps were living in the family apartment two blocks away.  Weekends there were frequent disturbances between straights and gays.  As I called the police I assurrred Diane, “it wasn’t like this when I was a kid.”  The Grundy foundation bought the building in the 1980s and a great regional theatre was born drawing New York talent.  I think the first production we saw was Pearl Bucks’s “The Good Earth.”  More recently, “Lost in Yonkers” and “Workings” based on a Studs Terkel book.  Anything we’ve seen has been a solid production.

Across the street is Annabella’s Italian Restaurant.  It’s very good Classic Italian, recently featured in the “Main Street — Small Business Revolution” program.  Another place for family celebrations; in fact the Profy’s are related to the owner, Robert.

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In Bristol, river road is Radcliffe street.  There is about a mile of historic houses.  My first introduction to local history, was reading Doren Green’s “Old Homes on Radcliffe Street.”  I knew families and had friends that lived in some of the homes.  It’s a book I need to reread.  One of the nicest homes is the Grundy mansion.  Joseph Grundy was the owner of a large woolen mill in town (the distinctive clock tower, a Bristol logo) and a United States Senator.  When he died in the 1960s, he established the Grundy Foundation which immediately built the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library.  Situated next to the Grundy mansion on the river, the library is a fantastic community resource for the town and county.  In addition to its collection of material, the library sponsors a variety of community programs.

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Continuing up Radcliffe we pass St. Mark’s RC Church, established in 1846 I thought the oldest Catholic Church in the county but recently learned it’s the second; the first in Ottsville.  Up the street, on the left is Cesare’s Restorante, a family classic Italian, another place where our family has had many gatherings.  Pizza is fantastic but also check out the homemade biscotti.  On the edge of the borough line at Green Lane is industrial property — ship building during WW I and airplane construction during WW I.  Nestled in the complex is the Radcliffe Cafe, a classic local breakfast hangout.

 

Leaving the Borough we continue through Bristol township, the village of Tullytown into a desolate area at a bend in the river.  US steel was located here in the 1950s; now its Waste Management with huge mounds of fermenting trash and garbage.  It’s also the location of Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s country estate.  As a kid we would visit the historic property but interpretation was extremely limited.  I do remember that there was a brewery.  Penn made beer.  Today the State does a better job of interpretation; there are several “living history” events including Holly Nights in early December — with crackling fires, candles, carollers, and mulled cider.

There isn’t a road close to the river but it’s possible to continue north-west to Pennsylvania Avenue which goes into Morrisville Borough.  The “Trenton Makes; the World Takes” bridge is on the right.  Here Route 32 is truly River Road although the Road name will depend on the municipality.  The next bridge is the 1884 Calhoun Street bridge construcked by the Phoenixville Bridge Company.   It’s about five miles to the Yardley Inn on the corner of Afton Avenue and downtown Yardley.

 

Since 1977 we’ve lived on N. Delaware Avenue (River Road) several blocks above the Yardley inn. Founded in 1832 as the White Swan, the Inn is an award winning Bucks County restaurant; survivor of the historic floods including three in the early 2000s.   In recent years, Chef Eban Copple has started a restaurant garden, foraged wild plants like ramps, and buys local when possible.  We eat at the Inn several times a year.

In the block before the Inn is Charcoal BYOB ( formerly Charcoal Steaks and Things) the local hangout that has gotten solid reviews from the Inquirer food critic Craig LeBan. A detour on Afton to downtown Yardley is worth the trip.  Enjoy Lake Afton, fishing and ice skating. The picturesque carpenter Gothic building is the “Old Library,” now the home of the Yardley Historical Association.

There are a number of downtown restaurants including the Continental Tavern and The Vault — a micro-brewery. The Continental offers decent pub food and a lot of local history.  Possible a station on the Undergroun RR, Frank Lyons, the current owner has been conducting some pretty sophiscated archaeology.  He’s unearthed a large hidden room filled with bottles (many from the prohibition era) and other artifacts.  A serious historian, he displays many findings in the bar and restaurant.

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Yardley is also a good place to start an explore of the Delaware Canal State Park.  It began in Bristol and continues for sixty miles to Easton.

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Back on River Road we’ll pass the Yardley boat ramp.  At the next stop sign, we will be in Taylorsville, Washington Crossing Park.  There is a visitor center with a replica of Emmenuel Leutze’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”  The original became controversial during WWII since Leutze was German and the river in the painting was the Rhine.  Displayed for a few years in the park it was eventually returned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.  A copy replaces the original. There are a number of historic buildings on the 500 acre State Park, opened for tours and special activities.  Decades ago we had a colonial cooked dinner in McConkley’s Ferry Inn. Unfortunately the park service has been less ambitious in its offerings.  The big event is the reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware on Christmas.  We’ve attended several years.  Weather and river permitting, reenactors cross the river in reproductions of the historic Durham boats that the Colonials used.

IMG_2751Just above the Park is David’s Library of the American Revolution.  It was founded in 1959 by Sol Feinstone, an immigrant in love with the revolutionary freedom.  The library is used by amateur and professional historians.  I’ve had several interesting days with pencil and paper reading about the Revolution in Bucks County.  They also present lectures and field trips. I took one following Washington’s route to the battle of Trenton.  During our first year of retirement, Diane and I attended a workshop on using the library for genealogical research.  Of equal interest was a presentation by the owner- founder of Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania’s s rye whispery distillery which is located in the old Grundy mill in Bristol. Fascinating history and tasty samples.

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We cross a red camelback bridge over Jericho creek, the crossroads of Brownsburg and arrive at the upper end of Washington Crossing State Park.  In the early 1900s there was a plan to create a greenway between the Crossing and Valley Forge.  What a grand plan but it never happened.  At this end of the Park is Bowman’s tower on a hill overlooking the river valley.  Growing up we would picnic in this area, climb the hill and then climb steps to the top of the tower.  Wow.  The state closed the tower for years and when it finally reopened about a decade ago there was an elevator and admission fee.  Some weekends in high school I drove an O’Boyles ice cream truck to the base of the tower and sold ice cream all day.

IMG_2740Also located in this section of the park is the Thompson Neely house, the house of decision where Washington made his decision for the Christmas crossing.  On the creek is a small grist mill — opened in 1976 for the bi-Centennial, closed for decades and only recently reopened.  Another great attraction at Bowman’s is the Wildflower Preserve, an interpretative center, trails, one of the best wild flower preserves in the country.  Diane and I frequently go to their annual native plant sale.

Growing up my close friend’s father, Doctor Romano brought us to bird banding programs at a house on the park grounds.  It was my first exposure to “birding.”  Many years later walking in the park I saw this large, yes, “woody” woodpecker.  My jaw dropped.  A park employee identified the bird, ” oh, that’s our Piliated Woodpecker.”  It’s my only sighting of one.

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Recently we had lunch at Bowman’s Tavern at the base of the hill.  It was a favorite in the 1990s (I was reintroduced to pork cooked on a wood fired oven after many vegetarian years) but as happens it changed hands and we stopped going.  We had a great meal and put it back on our list of not far from home spots for lunch.

 

 

If we take a left on Aquetong Road at the edge of the park, we will pass the home and workshops of George Nakishima.  During WWII, Nakishima, an architect, was in a concentration camp for Japanese.  A Bucks County architect sponsored him and brought him to Bucks County where he opened a furniture workshop studio.  He became one of the foremost furniture makers in the country.  I discovered Nakishima in the 1970s and have visited his studio several times.  I’ve seen one of his altars —  a huge oak table — in Saint John the Divine in New York City.  There is a studio in Old City Philadelphia that carries his work.  Although he died years ago his style and tradition is carried on by his daughter.  I am the proud owner of a Nakishima piece, an irregular polished piece of wood with holes for pens or pencils. It was a gift to our New Hope friend, Ragna Hamilton, that I inherited when she died.

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We can continue on Aquetong Road and enter New Hope from the back or return to River Road and on the New Hope.  The Aquetong route will take us past the old mill where Jim Hamilton lived in the 1970s.  Jim, a former New York set designer and owner of Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville died several weeks ago.  For several years we rented a house nearby on Old York Road with John and Barbara Paglione.  It was our back to the earth, intentional, communal living years.  Hamilton’s Grill in recent years has been our go to restaurant for special ocassions.

There’s a lot  in the New Hope area and up river.  But we’ll end this explore here and return to this River Road trip another day.

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Easter Tradition

 

 

 

 

1957, sixty years ago, I was ten years old.  Easter Sunday we came home from church and my mother noticed that a butterfly (a Swallowtail) had emerged from a cocoon on a branch in a large jar in my bedroom.  The previous fall I had placed the branch and a caterpillar in the jar.  Mom and I were quite excited.  She talked about the miracle of life.  “And,” she said, ” It happened on  Easter Sunday.

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Catholicism was an important part of our upbringing.  My four sisters and I had an Irish Catholic mother and an Italian Catholic father. For the most part we attended Catholic schools and attended church, Saint Mark’s in Bristol, every Sunday, holidays, weddings and funerals.  Starting maybe in sixth grade, I was an alter boy for about three years.  I served Sunday masses, an evening Sodality (women’s prayer group), and best of all weddings (usually weekends) and funerals (usually weekdays when we got to leave school). It was fairly lucrative since you received tips for the special events.   George Nelson and I had it sewed up for a year or two.  Easter week was quite busy with events on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday and of course Easter Sunday.

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This year I saw that Terrain at Styers, our favorite garden center in the Chester County, was closed from 1 to 3 on Good Friday, the hours Jesus is said to have sufferered and died on the cross.  In the 1950s and 1960s I remember many businesses on Mill Street in Bristol where we lived,  closed.  On the years when I didn’t  take part in a church service during those hours I had to find something to do.  One year I went to the Bristol Theatre to see “Toby Tyler.”  I recently saw it was on TV.  My Good Friday attendance at a movie was something I had to keep a deep secret — if my mother found out?  Several years in high school, I hung out in the surplus section of Spector’s Army and Navy store on Mill Street.  Time was spent looking at gear I might use camping and talking with the owner Mitchell,  a family friend, Jewish, so Spector’s didn’t close.

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In the weeks prior to Easter Sunday we all got new clothes.  For my sisters it meant a dress, shoes, white gloves and flowery hat, maybe a dress coat.  For the younger girls, the coat may have been a hand me down.  I think my grandfather Profy may have financed some of these purchases.  Interestingly although my grandmothers liked to see us dressed up; neither were interested in shopping.  However Grand pop sometimes was the one to take me shopping for a new suit, shirt, tie, maybe shoes and a coat.  Although there was a good clothing store on Mill street — Edward’s.  They were Jewish.  At first I didn’t understand, grand pop would say “Buy from your own kind.”   So we drove to Trenton, the well know boys clothing  store, Donnelly’s & Sons.  “Our kind?”  I assume they were Irish.  Several years he took me to Caucci’s in Bristol Township.  They were Italian.  “More our kind.”  If my father was doing the shopping we would go to South Street in Philadelphia where the merchants were Jewish.  I also remember 2nd floor places on Chestnut where you were asked for a secret password before admittance.  They made clothes with Wanamaker labels for instance but sold the same suit without the label cheaper.  The password entrance really made it seem like a great deal.

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Another Easter tradition was going to Grants, a 5&10 cent store on Mill Street.  In the basement, near the toy section, were the baby chicks.  Some were a furry yellow but others were green, blue or pink.  Easter pets.  Can you imagine.  I think one year I got several. My recollection was they grew bigger and father said he would take them to a farm. They disappeared.  My sister said mother would never allow us to get Grants chicks and that this memory is more likely a wish or dream.  I do know as the oldest, only boy in the family I got away with things my sisters could only dream about.

During the years I was a Boy Scout, I sold Easter candy from Warner’s candy on Route 13.  We earned a percentage profit which went to the cost of our summer camp.  It was a fun project, taking the orders and making deliveries.  I sold hundreds of dollars worth.

 

 

 

Saturday evening we dyed eggs.  Probably about two dozen. The next morning the eggs and Easter baskets would be hidden around the house.  When we got up, maybe before our parents, we searched for the eggs and our basket.  In the basket would be a chocolate egg (typically coconut) a rabbit (I liked the white chocolate), jelly beans, maybe pink and yellow marshmallow rabbits and chickens (hated them), chocolate balls in colored tinfoil.  A special treat I liked was a large egg that you looked through on one end into an imaginary scene. It came out every year.

I don’t recall St. Mark’s having a Sunrise service.  More likely in our new Sunday best we went to a 8 or 9 o’clock Mass.  For some reason even though it was only about 1/2 a mile, Father would drive us.  Getting dressed up took time.  But after Mass we’d walk the 3 blocks with our cousins to my Aunt Ellen’s house on Radcliffe.  If lucky we’d be offered breakfast.  At home my grandfather Profy might visit or we’d cross the street to visit him and my grandmother.  As mom prepared dinner, other relatives might stop for a visit.  Especially if Uncle Albert, Aunt Carol and the boys were visiting from Flushing, New York.  They stayed in the Bristol Motel or in later years had a RV that they parked near the river behind our apartment. It was always a big deal when they visited.

Easter dinners were usually late afternoon.  There were tulips or an Easter Lily plant that someone, maybe us kids,  had given Mom.  Some years Nanny (my mother’s mother) might attend or her sister Aunt Lucy.  Sometimes it was the NY Profy’s.  Mom usually served ham, maybe scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, a green salad and some vegetable, peas come to mind.  I don’t remember a particular dessert — although pound cake (with ice cream) was a standard for her.  My sisters and I might dig into the Easter baskets.

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After dinner we would probably watch TV.  Ed Sullivan was a Sunday favorite for Nanny. And she would get her way.  I usually hated it.  Some years there was a biblical movie.  This year I watched some of the 1965 “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”  Easter was always a quiet holiday; low key; family orientated.  The colorful flowers, eggs, chocolate, warmer weather, and longer daylight spoke to the change of season, renewal, rebirth. We were reminded of out Catholic heritage.

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Thankfully, some of the themes, beliefs and traditions of those early years continue this Easter 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shades of green

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The Gallagher girls with Nanny.

A few years ago, Viv and Eli  gave me a small planting of clover.  For a minute they perched on either side of the plant looking for a four leaf — a token of their Irish heritage?   It’s March again and Irish eyes are shining.  Diane sometimes places the Bryers Choice Irish dancer on the bow window.  I purchased it as a reminder the year my mother was killed in a hit and run on Radcliffe Street.  I like to remember that she was proud of her Irish heritage.  More so probably than Father’s interest with anything Italian.

Growing up in Bristol Borough in the 1950-60s, my sisters and I were presented with a  mix of Italian-Irish heritage.  Since Catholics attend the maternal church, we were baptized and attended Irish Saint Mark’s.  Saint Ann’s was the Italian parish.  I’m not sure why but I favored the Italian culture. Food was certainly better and we had some exposure to good Italian cooks — Aunt Mary Profy in Harriman, Mrs. Mignoni across the street, Mari’s pizza on the corner; Mom even made a decent spaghetti and meatballs.

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But in the mid 1970s, I  read “Trinity” by Leon Uris.  In his sweeping, epic style, Uris traces the history of Ireland from the Great Famine of the 1840s to the Easter Rising in 1916. It touched a nerve.   Some of Mom’s family were probably Catholic farmers from a small town in County Donegal.  Unfortunately none of the Gallaghers knew their exact origin. “Trinity” however was powerful, I wrote Mother and told her the Bristol divide aside,  I would forever embraced my Irish heritage.

It was in the early 1980s, Diane, Jenny and I traveled for five weeks in Ireland.  We landed in Dublin, rented a car and headed south, then up the western coast, to Northern Ireland and back down for a week in Dublin.  The Dingle peninsula, the rocky western coast with its narrow roads, the cliffs of Moher, and the Giant’s Causeway.  The countryside was beautiful — how many, so many, shades of green.  Some nights we camped — along the coast, our tent floor covered with rocks, insurance against the winds.  Other nights we we found a small  B. and B.  Ireland was enchanting; and the food wasn’t bad.

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Since I didn’t have any names or addresses of Irish relatives; not even a town, I borrowed “Gallagher” heritage from a close friend Bill Gallagher. In Ireland, we went to a small country house in Donegal asking for I think William (same as my maternal grandfather).  His wife said he was out but we could catch him in the pub come evening.  We did.  And we spent a delightful evening drinking Guinness and getting to know a William Gallagher.

 

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I have one photograph of my grandfather William.  That image came to life on the docks of Donegal.  Some of the fisherman had to be relatives.  I knew I was in the right county.  Grandfather Gallagher was a habadasher — that’s a dealer in men’s clothes.  His business was in a large building on the corner of Mill and Cedar streets in Bristol.  The background of his wife, Hannah, for us, was also sketchy.  She was Irish; had two sisters, Lucy and Allie.  Lucy was a domestic living in the homes of her employers;  Allie lived with her daughter, Mary, on Jefferson Avenue.   William Gallagher and Hannah Deviney (?)  were married and had three daughters — Ellen (the oldest), Cecelia (my mother) and Marie.  They lived on Buckley street in Bristol’s 4th Ward, the Irish district.

Growing up we were told that grandfather William died young.  When I coughed from smoking, my mother would remind me that her father died of TB.  Hannah, Nanny as we grandkids called her, lived in an apartment over the former habadashery.  I have no idea how she supported herself and the three Gallagher girls.  Unfortunately I never asked the questions or if I did my mother never had answers.

 

 

Marie and Cis.                     Cis and Ellen

My images of the Gallagher girls from the 1920s to the 1940s come from books and movies not from real stories.   I know they went to Saint Mark’s school and attended Bristol High School.  I suspect they had jobs during the war. For a while Ellen worked in a Bristol distillery.   Ellen and Cis married Italians from the other side of the tracks,  (Frank Mignoni and my father Vince Profy).  Both boys came from business families who lived on Mill street.  The youngest sister, Marie married Irish.  I suspect Hannah didn’t like any of their choices. She had strong opinions.

I’m not sure how my parents met.  But Bristol is the classic small town.  They both lived on the same 200 block of Mill street.  Vince in an apartment behind his father’s GE appliance store; Cis above the habadashery.  Although they both went to Bristol high school; they attended different Catholic churches — Italian or Irish.  Similarly Frank, Ellen’s beau lived a block away in an apartment owned by his family.

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Mother, my sister Cissi and me.

After the war, my father worked briefly in Rohm & Haas but left to work for his father’s store.  He and Cis were married at St. Mark’s in 1946.  Frank Mignoni was a realtor.  He and Ellen married.  Both couples lived on Mill street in family properties.  Small town.  They began families; worked and lived on Mill street and attended Saint Marks.  Vacations were a week in a shared Long Beach Island rental.

Growing up, St. Mark’s parish  was one sign of our Irish background.  It wasn’t really a strong ethnic parish.  Saint Ann’s several blocks away, for instance, had Italian speaking priests and celebrated Italian feast days.  Saint Marks was more subtle.  But as an alter boy I went with the priest to the Hibernian hall in the fourth Ward (remember, Bristol’s Irish neighborhood) after some evening service.  I sat at the bar with Father and picked numbered balls from a glass container — the weekly lottery.

We were also aware of “Irish” relatives that lived in the 4th Ward neighborhood.  Grandfather William had quite a few siblings and other relatives.   There are different numbers depending on who does the ancestry.  But we associated with a few.  I recall at least one house wake (prior to a church funeral I guess).  It was at Uncle Lawrence’s. There was a casket; a lot of eating and drinking.  Somehow I was aware of what was thought to be an Irish custom.  As the afternoon proceeded, I waited for them to take the deceased from the coffin and stand him in a corner with a glass of whiskey. Came close I think.

We weren’t real close to most of our Irish family.  An ocassional 4th Ward visit, a wedding or funeral.  I was aware of a bit of Irish brogue, aunts and cousins who had red hair and freckles.  Pretty stereotyped.  There were two elderly sisters, Nin and Hester.  Not sure if they were blood relatives or friends. Aunt Annie was a hair dresser who operated out of her house.  I visited her quite a bit. She got me collecting postcards, giving me many from the early 1900s. Another Aunt Alice lived nearby.

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Ocassionally with my mother we visited Aunt Allie on Jefferson.  When Aunt Lucy retired in the 1960s she moved into my grandmother’s apartment.  Hannah soon moved in with Aunt Ellen. Lucy was always interesting.  She was quite independent.  Would take the train on shopping trips to Wanamaker’s.  Always brought me a small gift.  She collected stamps and would share them with me.  Of all my Irish relatives, it was a bit of a shock, to learn about Nitter Ferry,  a homeless alcoholic, who lived along the river behind our house.

Aunt Ellen and Mom were extremely close.  Our families were in daily contact, shopped together, celebrated holidays and birthdays.  I frequently had lunch and Sunday breakfast at the Mignoni house on Radcliffe. Cis never learned to drive so depended on Ellen who had a car.  Neither Ellen or Cis were as close with sister Marie.

The Gallagher girls didn’t wear their Irish heritage on their arms.  There weren’t constant reminders.  But they were proud.    Food is often part of ethnic heritage.  Although Mom learned to make a decent spaghetti and meatballs for Father, we were served Irish stew — some beef, lots of potatoes, carrots, onions and spices.  I think we had colcannon — potatoes and cabbage.  Lots of meat and potatoes — baked, boiled, mashed.  My grandmother wasn’t much of a cook.  Don’t ever remember her ever cooking; even morning tea was more hot water and lemon than a real cup of breakfast tea.

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If Mom enjoyed Irish culture — music, art and literature it may have been because of our influence.  For several years in March we went to McCarter Theatre in Princeton to see The Chieftains.  I know we took Mom and Dad one or more times.  I recall giving her a copy of Joyce’s “The Dubliners” for Christmas.  At a family dinner at the Old City pub, The Plough and the Stars, we discovered Barrie Maguire’s painting “I Will Give You Ireland.” It’s shades of green.  An old women is sewing a quilt, it’s Ireland.  My sisters and I made arrangements to buy it for Mom.

Interestingly the Profy’s eventually rented the old Habadashery for an enlarged appliance store.  For several years my parents, myself and first sister, Cissi lived in an apartment on the 2nd floor.  Nanny lived on the third floor.  At some point my father and Uncle Frank Mignoni bought out grandfather Gallagher partner’s interest in the building.  I always thought it curious how my father rented from his own partnership.

Ellen and Cis may have married Italians with strong traditional views of marriage and a woman’s place in a relationship but  both could be strong; some might say they allowed Vince and Frank to think they were in control.  From my perspective, Mother was in charge of our house.  As kids we had to listen (and sometimes fear) her.  I only remember father getting upset once.  He caught me; shook me; “don’t annoy your mother” was the message.

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In the 1960s, Cis opened a dress shop.  It provided her four girls, my sisters, with fashionable clothes.  It asserted her independence.  Father’s interest in travel was limited.  To our amazement, Mom took off to Alaska with a local  group.  Later she would travel to Ireland.  Father stayed home.

Mom life was cut short on December 10, 2008.  She returned some books to the Grundy Library, a block from the apartment where she and my father lived.  She was crossing the street to visit her sister Ellen and was the victim of a hit and run driver. She was 86 years old.  Bagpipes were played at her burial, a sad reminder of her Celtic heritage.  Aunt Ellen has since passed; Marie is the last living Gallagher girl. A trace of our Irish heritage.

When I think of mom I think of how she influenced my own curiosity and independence.  Like the old woman in the painting, I see her sewing a piece of Ireland.

“May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. And rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Delaware Canal Memories

 

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For Christmas, Diane gave me “The Delaware Canal: from stone coal highway to historic landmark,” by Marie Murphy Duess.  It’s a typical History Press (2008) imprint.  There wasn’t  much new for me but refreshed many Canal memories.

I grew up near the Delaware canal and have lived near it most of my life.  Currently the canal is across a back street beyond our yard.  Since retirement,  I walk on it several days a week.  Growing up we lived in a Bristol Mill Street apartment over several store fronts owned by my grandfather.  The area behind us was part of the canal basin, the end of the line for many coal filled canal boats.  I have a foggy recollection of the basin being filled in during the early 1950s when the river was dredged to make way for iron ore ships headed for Fairless Steel, just south of Morrisville.  The area became the Mill Street parking lot.

There was a small section of the canal with water at the head of Mill street.  We played and fished it.  I also remember falling in one day.  Rather than being caught by my mother, I dried the wet clothes in a dryer in a wharehouse under our apartment.  My family owned a General Electric appliance store on Mill.  The wharehouse was filled with appliances.  I’m not sure if I used a new dryer or one that was hooked up for my mother in a small laundry room.  Whichever my fall in the canal was kept a secret.

 

Sometimes we walked the canal bed and towpath through town.  A large section was filled in the 1950s to create land for the new Warren Snyder Elementary School.  There were still coal bins along the right of way, for the canal or railroad spar that ran adjacent.  Years later  students in a Canal Camp that I organized interviewed Bristol residents about their canal memories.  Carl Nelson, who was about 90 at the time, sheepishly admitted to one 5th grader that he was the contractor responsible for filling it the canal in Bristol.  He no longer thought that it was a good idea.  Beyond the school was a section of watered canal that flowed past the Grundy Mill into the Lagoon — a small town park today.

I have several clear memories of a Boy Scout canoe trip I took on the canal.  Not sure where we started but the first night we camped right on the towpath near Woodside road.  The Scudder’s Falls bridge on I-95 had just been completed (1959) but was not yet opened for traffic.  In the dark we climbed up on the bridge and walked out to the middle of the Delaware River.  There must have been some lights but I remember it was extremely erie.

The last night on the way back we camped on the towpath in Washington Crossing State Park.  It started to rain and I don’t think we had tents, so we climbed under the canoes.  The rain pinged on the the canoes but we were dry and them someone called out, “Hey guys, these canoes are aluminum, lightening you know!”  I think we stayed under them.

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At New Hope we crossed into the river.  I’m not sure how far up river we traveled or where we slept the second night.  I will nerver forget the cross back into the canal on our way home.  We were dragging the canoes across a stretch of land at Chez Odette’s — the same place we had crossed the day before.  Only this time we heard a woman’s shrill voice. “Get off my property, get off, you aren’t allowed there.”  Our leaders informed us it was the French, singer-actress, Odette, who was opening a restaurant there. Even today when I drive past I can hear her scream.

The canal in the Bowman’s Tower section of Washington Crossing State Park was a favorite Sunday family picnic spot.  We would walk along the canal, climb Bowman’s hill and tower.   There was no elevator then.  Father grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.  I think picnics to this area ended after my mother was attacked by yellow jackets.  Years later I saw aa amazingly large woodpecker there.  A park employee told me, “Oh, that’s our Pileated Woodpecker.”  The first and only time I ever saw one.

In 1970 Diane and I rented a house on Canal Street in Yardley.  It was a small colonial    next to the original Borough Hall and lock-up.  We had been attending Quaker Meeting and met Sid Cadwallader who introduced us to the house and Helen Leedom who collected our rent from her desk in the lumber company at the head of the street along the canal.

Although we only lived in the house for just over a year, we have many pleasant memories.  There was one of the earliest Harvest festivals on the street. A Bucks County Guild of Craftsmen woodcarver, Maurice Ganter, set up in front of our house.  At the end of the day he gave us a small carved fish.  It still hangs in our bedroom window.  The house was charming with a workshop area ground level.  I actually ran a small summer camp for about 6 students in the room (I was teaching elementary school at Saint Michael’s in Levittown).

We had a fireplace and narrow curved steps that led to two rooms on the second floor.  We hosted at least one large party.  Diane bred and sold Labrador pups; the old library on Lake Afton was a favorite walk especially on cold snowy nights; we had a small flower garden.  Our neighbors had a canoe that we were free to use.  On our first canal trip we were attacked by young teens swimming near the Afton Avenue bridge.  I seriously thought they were going to tip the canoe.  We moved after deciding to rent a house in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione.

Our Old York rental was outside of town but we frequently walked on the canal towpath.  There were several shops and a canalside restaurant that we enjoyed.  We could walk south to Washington Crossing or north to Center Bridge.  We also discovered the Black Bass in Lumberville and the Golden Pheasant in Erwinna.  For our budget these were expensive but we ate in them several times.  We also took  Many bike trips; sometimes riding for hours.

In 1977 Jenny was born, Paglione’s moved to Ann Arbor, MI and we bought 121 N. Delaware Avenue in Yardley.  Our property was river front and the canal was across the street (Morgan Avenue) from the back yard.  Our access was through an empty lot or walking a block south to the Mary Yardley foot bridge. Built to access the trolley on Main Street and critical Today during floods.  We pushed Jen in a baby carriage into town, walked and rode bikes on the towpath. Sometimes all the way to Bristol or north to New Hope.  Jen had a kids’ seat on the rear of Diane’s bike.  On one trip there was another attack near the College Avenue bridge.  This time it was several Canada Geese.

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Around 1980 I answered a local Yardley News ad —  volunteers needed for Canal clean up.  I remember Rick, the Council President, in a truck as we picked up trash along the canal.  Near Lock 5 and the Railroad Bridge I pulled out an old tire, throwing it on top a pile of trash, it made a Courier Times photo op.  Meeting a number of community leaders led me to apply to council for a position.  I was initially appointed to an opening on the Cable TV Commission.  Within a year I agreed to run for Borough Council.

I served eight years on Borough Council.  My running mate was Susan Taylor who would get a position as Director of  the Friends of the Delaware Canal.  A position Susan still holds decades later.  For about 10 plus years I became active in several community organizations — the Yardley Historical Association, Community Center, Friends of Lake Afton and I served on the board of the Friends of the Delaware Canal.  There were many activities and issues.  Sometimes I helped lead the annual Canal walks; clean up days; membership programs and annual auctions. I shot a lot of canal photographs.

In the 1990s I was hired by the Friends (with a State grant) to develop educational materials about the canal.  The state educational interpreter was basically an environmental educator and the hope was that she could also be encouraged to do some historical interpretation.  For two summers myself and an elementary science teacher, Trish Rienes, piloted a week long summer camp for 4th and 5th grade students.  Trish and I spent a summer developing a variety of lessons and activities exploring the canal from Bristol to Easton.

Working on this project immersed me totally in the history and culture of the canal.  It was a lot of fun and I think the kids involved in the camps had a great experience.  We discovered a delightful age appropriate book, “Tune for the Towpath,” and developed a variety of reading and language arts activities.  We learned and then taught about material culture and archaeology related to the canal.  We hired an art teacher to have kids make a paper mural while riding on a canal boat in New Hope.  I interviewed a former lock tender and students interviewed senior Bristol residents related to growing up in that canal town.  We developed and took kids on canal centric walking tours of Bristol,, Yardley and New Hope.  We did environmental surveys of the canal and learned about local flora and fauna.  We visited the Canal Museum in Easton and rode on the canal boat on the Lehigh Canal.

Trish took our canal curriculum back to Pen Ryn where she taught and Bonnie Tobin, the state educator, and a few others used some of the material.  Our materials were given to the Friends but time passed and we never published the curriculum.  Some years later a formal canal curriculum was published by another educator. I used many of the ideas, activities and lessons in a college class, Teaching Social Studies in Elementary School, that I taught for many years at Holy Family University.  Hundreds of elementary school teachers learned about the Delaware Canal.

In recent years my canal related activity for the most part has settled into an easy pattern.  I’ve enjoyed introducing my grandson, Eli to fishing in the canal.  On his first time out several years ago he hooked a small sunny within ten minutes.  His sister Viv provided the worm dug from our garden.  Several years ago we turned our canoe into a fairy boat.  Eli and Viv with their father competed in the canal festival boat decorating competition. We’ve also had flooding from the canal in early 2000s.  The worse was in 2006 when canal and river met — our house was in the middle.

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Since retirement in 2014, I try to walk most days and it is frequently along the canal.  I’m slower but can walk to town (Eli and Viv like trips to Cramer’s bakery) or I can head to lock 6, or Woodside road, sometimes to lock 7.  Some days I’ll take pictures to post on Facebook — changing seasons, birds and animals, water abstractions.  Since my surgery I’ve been slower but try for an hour walk.  Diane gets tired of the same route and frequently takes the dog for a drive-walk.  The canal at Washington Crossing is a favorite. For the past few years we’ve enjoyed walking the canal in Yardley during Canal O Ween when locals compete and display hundreds of carved pumpkins.  It’s pretty amazing.

A drive along the canal and river is still an outing. We celebrated our 50 anniversary last year with a family brunch at the Black Bass. We’ve bought several original Bucks County oil paintings — several are canal scenes.  And several times a year we go to the Mitchener, always enjoying Bucks County art, including canal paintings.  As much as I enjoy to explore new things, I take total enjoyment in the familiar.  Each step I take walking the canal evokes a memory.

This reminds me, I  have a box of books and memorabilia about the canal in the basement that I need to sort and hundreds of slides.  More memories.

 

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