NEW GIRL IN TOWN
Mine was among the hundreds of lucky families for whom acres of woods and fields had been leveled to make way for the sprawling, red brick maze of one and two-story apartments which became Lynnewood Gardens. The buildings would age gracefully to overlook landscaped walks and shaded lawns. But during the summer of 1951 when we moved into the curve of a u-shaped courtyard at 1941 Mather Way, many streets were still incomplete and buildings stood stark naked beside stretches of raw mud and clay.
Pop was busy at the new Israel Bonds office in Center City. Mom was busy with Carli, recently five, and Julie, barely two. I set about moving into the smallest bedroom. From the carefully arranged photos on the wall beside my bed, Jane Powell's light blue eyes twinkled approval. Where in the bookcase would I arrange the volumes of My Book House, the Winnie-The-Pooh series, a stack of Little Lulu comic books and the sets of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries? My homemade "Lady" magazines?
At first I missed our old apartment in Manhattan, and although shrunk to a quarter of its former size, my new bedroom was much cozier and looked out on the front courtyard. The staircase, perfect for tromping, had an excellent bannister for sliding down. Several times during the course of every day I was made to "Walk back upstairs and come down quietly" by my irritated, overburdened mother. Both parents had begun to sputter, "Aah-Ka-Ju!" like a sneeze, when in a hurry to call any one of us, a sound all of us answered to.
Everyone liked our new wooden floors and bright white walls heightening the unaccustomed lightness of the rooms. Mom especially loved the afternoon sunshine streaming in through the west window of our larger, better equipped, kitchen and through the glass of the back door. This opened onto a common backyard consisting of a strip of lawn to the driveway and a row of individual locking garages most residents used for storage.
A few yards from our kitchen door was a sunken black metal container with a hinged lid which, like others placed at regular intervals throughout the development, held compost, meaning organic vegetable matter only. "No paper," the notice to the tenants had read. Mom laughed about a neighbor who sent a tea bag to the rental office with a note reading, "please classify."
In the mornings we'd come downstairs and, after breakfast, try to amuse ourselves beneath the massive folded arms of Picasso's "Woman In White," her compassionate dark eye removed from the familiar city street to gaze out over raw suburbia. Only a few families had moved into Lynnewood Gardens and not many children were evident. I had nothing better to do than to log practice time for future babysitting jobs by watching my pudgy toddler of a sister struggle with her tricycle while my chatty clown of a brother dragged his beloved red wagon around behind him.
Carli seemed to talk all the time. He'd say something, screw up his face and ask, "What I said?" Normally sly and understated, as soon as someone approached with a camera he'd stick out his tongue and mug like crazy. More often than not I failed to appreciate his snide comments and tenacious competition for the last word. Little Julie delighted in everything, especially attention and rides, so I'd talk, or failing that threaten, Carl into hauling her around in his wagon.
Behind our apartment was a small playground where I'd monitor my brother, push my sister on the swings and scowl disapprovingly at both of them. The anger at my parents for wrenching me away from my beloved 83rd Street had cooled, but residual resentment for my shattered life shortened my fuse with everyone. Peevish and restless, I surveyed the unfinished view and found it wanting, not substantial and lush like my old playground. Nothing resembling "The Rocks" could be seen, but beyond the playground was a field, and beyond that some promising woods not yet spoiled by development.
As young families moved into the complex, my neighborhood became livelier and more interesting. A toddler moved in next door and as long as Mom was at home in case of emergencies I was able to earn 25 cents an hour babysitting. I applied for my own card at the Glenside Community Library. Like the newly planted trees of Lynnewood Gardens, I began sinking roots and finding my center.