ALL THAT I REMEMBER about entering heaven is that it was raining like hell. They let me ride up in the truck with the moving men. It was like those great cowboy movies I used to see all the time at the Jackson theater, which we lived next to, three stories up on top of the drugstore where we shared an apartment with a family of rats.
Now we were the pioneers. The moving truck was our stagecoach, sloshing through the streets that weren’t paved yet into the wilderness of the new frontier of Northeast Philadelphia, a place where the homesteads were so big that you didn’t have to go to a park to see grass, you had it all around you, over nine thousand bucks worth of grass and bricks and status. That was a big deal back in 1949. For my parents, it was almost their life’s savings for the down payment after almost 20 years of stuffing dollar bills in the cookie jar. Now they were capitalists, blowing their whole wad. They followed the moving van up to the promised land in a Yellow Cab.
“This will be good for the grass,” my father said, looking out through the thunder and rain like a new farmer surveying his first crop. My mother, who had never seen rain like this in South Philadelphia, was a little more suspicious that this was a warning, the wrath of God telling us to stay off His turf.
The pavements weren’t laid yet, so my father, knee deep in the big muddy, had to carry me on his shoulders all the way up to the door. I never saw him move so fast.
The rains left us in a sea of madness for days. My mother was sure that our whole block was going to float down Robbins Avenue into the Delaware. When the sun finally came out, it took almost a week to dry things up. There was a new development just starting up across the Boulevard, my mother said. Maybe God had taken the rain there.
It was at the end of this week of innocence and light that my mother called to me from downstairs to go look out the front bedroom window to see what the workmen were doing. I just could not understand what I was seeing, these two men with what looked like a big roll of carpet starting at the corner and laying this two-foot-wide strip of green next to the curb all the way down the block.
“What are they doing?” I asked.
“They’re putting in the grass,” my mother said. “It’s already planted on the roll. All they have to do is lay it in place. It’s something new. I think they call it prefabricated.”
It was the first time it hit me, fool that I was, thinking grass was something that grew in the ground. There, in the yellow haze of a land I did not understand, I saw two men in work clothes putting Mother Nature on the run, rolling out the green carpet up to the plastic gates of a mass-produced heaven. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized this was what Northeast Philadelphia was all about.
BUT THEN THINGS HAVE CHANGED a lot in 21 years. The grass is growing by itself now, and the roses bloom every year, and that twig we planted in the backyard way back when has grown into a monster of a spreading apple tree. A couple weeks ago, a gang of punks from around the corner jumped the fence and nearly bared the tree of its fruit. My father went out to yell at them and they pelted him with apples. The ones that missed him splattered all over the garage. Read the rest of this entry »