In January, 1944, my parents got married in a simple ceremony in the rectory of St. Peter’s Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, their hometown. My mother was 18 and my father was 22. He had graduated from WPI in February, 1943, an accelerated wartime class, and was doing war-related work in Philadelphia. After a honeymoon in New York, they took the train to Philadelphia and started their married life there. They lived there for a few years, and it was a great adventure for both of them to be away from home for the first time. In my mother’s words, they felt like grown-ups.
My sister was born there in 1945, and they used to reminisce about their time there. I didn’t like hearing about it because I felt excluded from this part of their life. I especially didn’t like our annual visit to family friends in Philadelphia, when they kept pointing out places like the park where they used to walk baby J. in her stroller. On one trip, they took a picture of my sister at that park and suddenly I couldn’t stand it anymore and demanded to have my picture taken too. In the picture of my sister, she’s standing by the entrance to the park, smiling sweetly. In the picture of me, I am standing in the same spot, with my arms folded, my chin raised defiantly and my face a perfect picture of bratty jealousy.
When I was older, though, I liked to hear my mother reminisce about her time in Philadelphia. She talked about the cold that first winter and their drafty apartment. She used to walk everywhere to do her shopping while my father was at work, and she liked to treat herself to hot pretzels and roasted chestnuts bought from street vendors, good to heat but also good for warming her cold hands. My father had passed away when I was a child, so it made me both happy and sad to hear her memories of that special time when my parents were young and happy and just beginning what would be their all too brief life together.
I just spent the weekend in Philadelphia, and walking around I tried to imagine my mother arriving there this time of year, walking through the snow, feeling excited to be away from home and starting her new life with my father. A lot has changed in Philadelphia and I don’t know what part of the city they lived in, so I always picture her holding a bag of groceries, looking up at the magnificent City Hall Tower.