“Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back
Now that I have some direction
It sure would be nice to be back at home
Where there’s love and affection”- Stephanie Mills (Home)
Over the course of several months, I’ve dreamt of all things South Philly. I’ve dreamt of cheesesteaks and water ice, walking through 9th Street (a.k.a. the Italian Market), and ice, ice cold Yingueling Lagers. I could see Superior Ravioli’s neon sign glowing at night, the dark end of Percy and Christian Streets adjacent to the well-lit opposite end of Catherine Street. I saw and smelled all kinds of things, but I knew it was time to head home when I could see my Grammom. She was my Nurture Mother growing up. Her presence was lucid and warm. In those dreams I was so happy to see her that I would wake up and cry. Not the ugly cry, but I would get choked up and tears stung my eyes. Until recently it had been over five years since I had seen her and almost three years since I had seen the rest of my family.
Time zones not only hinder presence, they hinder communication. I am now three hours behind everything I knew for 28 years. Three hours behind growing cousins and a niece; behind positive urban renewal and negative gentrification. Three hours behind SEPTA schedules (which means I am right on time). I went on about my mundane life with its daily commute and weekend youth sports practices. The dreams became more intense with time to the point where I had to do something. So, I booked a flight and took off- me and my Little King.
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were really that simple? Just take off. Of course it would be, but it wasn’t. The week of my flight I was hit with a fever of 102°F…a fever of all the luck! I haven’t had a fever in over twenty years!
Needless to say I lost two preparation days. The day of the trip I felt better but I didn’t. It amazes me how adrenaline makes everything seem great. We didn’t sleep on our redeye flight or our layover. But who could sleep through so much excitement? And sinus pressure? And clogged ears? And a cranky 11-year-old?
We’re riding through South Philly without a heavy sense of surrealism or disconnection. Just a strong yearning for a nap and a cheese steak from Pat’s. And a pint of Lager.
I tell you without any exaggeration the first bite of my cheese steak (wit fried onions, Cheez Whiz, and mushrooms) was equal to the first time I laid eyes on my son. I shit you not, it changed my life forever. After a few pictures and stories about the neighborhood, I walk with my son and cousin through the Italian Market slowly so I can take in the familiar and the newness. We picked up flowers for Grammon and proceeded to the senior center to surprise her. A stroke survivor and dementia patient, I was nervous she had forgotten me.
When we walked into the room her face immediately lit up, warming my heart so much I thought it would burst. We cried, we hugged, and held hands for a while. The second best part of the visit was when my son and cousin (they are 11 and 4 respectively) volunteered to help with a raffle. The seniors loved it! My son had no problem beating a man seven times older than him checkers and my cousin enjoyed coloring with a few of the ladies. Before we left, I gave Grammom a hug. She held my hand, looked me in my eyes and said “I pray for you all the time. Don’t ever think I have forgotten about you.” So of course, I cry like a friggin’ baby. I love her so much.