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Philly Girl in Jersey

    I never wanted to move to New Jersey. I was born and raised in Philly. In my mind Jersey was a Sunday drive to visit the ‘Jersey cousins’. The attraction for me as a city kid was that each of my Jersey cousins had a pool and a large back yard, with grass and trees. We had a back yard too, but it was about the size of a cemetery plot, and required not much attention, just big enough to grow a few tomato plants in buckets. Trees were only found in a park. Even so, I always thought that New Jersey was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

    There was no public transportation in Jersey. If you wanted go somewhere, you needed someone to drive you if it was too far to walk, and it seemed everywhere was too far of a walk.

    I’m a girl from the ‘Northeast’ in Philadelphia. I married a guy from South Philly, A a section of the city I only understood by way of the maps on the walls of the SEPTA trains indicating stops beyond City Hall. When I first met Mike, he asked me what kind of car I drove. When I told him I didn’t have a car, I found out that he and most of his family felt that public transportation was ‘beneath’ them; as if it was something ‘other’ people of a lesser social status are saddled with.

    After we married and had our two daughters, we bought a tiny row house in the Kensington section of the city, exactly two blocks from the Frankford El. It wasn’t a perfect neighborhood, but it was the practical choice for that time in our lives as very young newlyweds.

    After thirteen years in Kensington, my husband Mike announced that he wanted to move to New Jersey, and that he had made an appointment to look at a house that seemed to fit our price range.

    “We’re looking at a house in Jersey on Saturday,” he said.

    “I have plans to go down the shore with Susan,” I said.

    “You just go to the shore. I’ll take the kids. I’m only looking,” he said.

    I sighed, and repeated my concerns about a move so far from my parents and the huge change of scenery for the kids. Our daughters were just starting their teenage years, preparing for high school, it would such be a big change. He was not thinking this through.

    My job was in Center City. I needed no car of my own. I took the Frankford El to 8th and Market, walked off the train, through a turnstile and through the revolving doors into the building where I worked. I never had to set foot outside if I didn’t want to, a real bonus in lousy weather. I could grocery shop at the Reading Terminal Market; I could catch a show after work with friends from work for a night out. I could buy lunch and a huge fruit salad from the street vendors and not even spend five bucks. I could run to City Hall on my lunch break if we needed something official like the official stuff that one gets done at City Hall. Why couldn’t he see that this worked for me?

    Our kids, Katie and Chrissie, were well rounded city kids. The girls were street-savvy and confident when travelling just about anywhere, with or without me. They knew how to navigate their way around the city by train or bus as well as on bicycle. Sometimes on weekends we would get on our bikes and ride to the Delaware River along the old factory and warehouse roads and take rest stops at some of the abandoned docks.

    Sometimes those bike rides would take us all the way to South Street. We’d stop for water ice and window shop the storefronts of some of the oddest merchandise, taking turns watching the bikes. It was fun for all of us.

    I was sure that my street-savvy, city-dwelling children would find the house hunting jaunt to New Jersey appalling and unfathomable. They had an appreciation for the outdoors in a natural setting because we were summertime weekend campers, mostly at Jersey campgrounds. It was nice to visit on weekends and to get the kids out of the city for break in their routine.

    But I knew they liked returning to our city home so much that they’d not even consider moving to such a rustic and barbaric setting, sparse of public transportation and no such thing as South Street. Certainly they would see the error of their Dad’s thinking and put on such an emotional uproar that he would just stop this silliness.

    With that confidence in my offspring, I went my merry way on my day trip down to the Jersey shore while my family kept their date with the Real Estate agent.

    When I told my girlfriend Susan, she thought I might be missing out on the house hunt with Mike and the kids. Susan already lived in Jersey, another Northeast girl married to a South Philly guy. She and I had been childhood friends, through High School and since; our husbands’ friendship went back even further. Susan had wanted to move to Jersey. She was used to driving everywhere she went, and was never fond of public transportation.

    I assured her that I had no intention of relocating to South Jersey and neither did my kids. “It’s not that bad,” she tried to convince me, going on about all the great places there were to shop and the many movie theaters to choose from and how nice it was to have some land. I knew all that, we travelled with her and her husband Anthony on a regular basis. Come to think of it, we were the ones who hiked over to Jersey to do those things with them. Trying to not sound petulant I responded, “Well, he can look all he wants. I am not moving to New Jersey.”

    Unfortunately for me, my street-savvy, city-dwelling children found the house in New Jersey much more to their liking than I could have imagined. I was betrayed. They had been seduced by a .75 acre backyard blanketed in green grass and trees! “Trees, Mom, there’s lots of big trees! And room for a pool! And a driveway, with a garage!”

    That was almost 25 years ago. This Philly girl was dragged, kicking and screaming to live in Jersey. It is the main chapter of the life I didn't sign up for. Life is full of twists and turns. Life is what happens when you tell the universe your plans and the universe says in response, "I don't think so." It's a tweak to your nose that you had better get with the program. Whatever that program might be.

    We moved to New Jersey that summer of 1988 and Mike promised that if I gave it at least a year, and was still hellbent on moving back to Philly, we would. As it turned out, fate handed me a direct drive down a Jersey back road to the home of our weekend traveling friends Anthony and Susan. Being so close to them was the main stabilizer for making life in New Jersey somewhat palatable. With longtime friends close by, who also worked in the city, we still spent a good deal of our weekend time with them and their pool in their backyard. Our summer weekends were like a family gathering. It was comfortable.

    Fast forward, life happens. Our daughters graduate high school, go to college, meet their future husbands, a wedding, a grand baby, a couple of job changes and I get the news that our friends are relocating south to Virginia. They were moving for a job opportunity. Soon after our farewells, I asked my husband if we could move now. He was surprised.

    "You really still don't like it here?" I guess I had been too compliant and passive those last 10 years. I've since lost that character flaw.

    He continued, "What about the kids?"

    “The kids are grown," I responded.

    "But now we have a grandchild," he whined. No really, he actually whined.

    That next year was an emotionally draining one, and the most life-altering in the course of events. My father died shortly after a cancer diagnosis. Soon after, grandbaby number two was born. The new grandbaby and his Mom, Chrissie, moved back home within two months of his birth.

    My Mom’s health was such that she was unable to live alone, especially in her three-story Victorian house in Philly. So she moved in with us, and our briefly empty nest became too crowded for multiple generations. So we traded up to a bigger house, with an in-law suite, in-ground pool, oversized grassy lawn, and even an extra bedroom that I unsuccessfully tried to turn into a Mom cave.

    But within two months of settling in, Mom died, and suddenly we had a lot of extra space. More twists and turns and more changes in the life we didn't sign up for soon segued into affirming my mantra that fate puts you were you are needed, whether or not you planned it.

    As it turned out, not long after my niece Bridget found herself overwhelmed and somewhat alone as a single mom, trying to work full time and continue her education. Moving in with her Dad and stepmom wasn’t a viable option, neither was it a practical option to go home to her Mom who lives even further than her Dad. She needed an extended support system.

    Since Bridget and her sister Theresa were thick as thieves with Katie and Chrissie, even as young adults, Mike and I decided to offer her the extra space. “Six months”, she promised. “Six months, tops.” O.K., I reassured her, halfheartedly.

    The short lived semi-empty nest was now full up with two toddler boys and their moms. It was busy and noisy and the days flew by. I was often asked by friends why my niece couldn’t live with either of her own parents and since it was really none of their business, I would shrug and say, “It doesn’t matter, besides, it’s what we do.”

    Shortly after it was clear we were well beyond six months, I suggested that Bridget get her driver’s license renewed for New Jersey, since that’s where she landed for the time being.

    “Why would I do that?” she asked, looking at me like I was suggesting she cut off a limb.

    “Well, you’re here for now at least, and probably a little longer. It just seems the practical thing to do until you finish your degree.”

    “But I have a Pennsylvania license.”

    “But you live in New Jersey now,” I said matter-of-factly.

    Also, her boyfriend and future (and shortly thereafter, ex) husband had just recently moved to New Jersey, from Philadelphia. It was just practical. On the day she did transfer all her vital information to a New Jersey residence she actually said with almost defeated resignation, “I guess I really am a Jersey girl now. My driver’s license says so.” Join the club, honey, I didn’t plan this either.

    Two years after Bridget and her son Sean moved in, daughter Chrissie got married and moved out to begin a new family life. The four of us remaining were comfortable and complacent with the way things were for about two more years. During that time, Bridget’s sister Theresa also became a Jersey Girl, buying a condo not more than a mile from our house. Theresa embraced her Jersey girl status with much less mournful resignation than her sister, getting a job in Jersey and earning her Masters degree at a South Jersey college. She even married a Jersey Boy, named Steve but affectionately called “Goon.” (And yes, it suits him.)

    And Bridget and Theresa’s younger sister Lindsay also officially became a Jersey Girl, after commuting from Hatfield, PA to spend every weekend with her boyfriend Alex. Living in New Jersey seven days a week did not hold the same charm, but having her boyfriend now husband and two sisters close by helped. She eventually married him—and also eventually found more things to like than not like about living in Jersey.

    After Bridget married and moved out, we were finally at the point in our lives where the troop of kids seemed to have their own courses charted, their own home bases. We made plans to downsize, and so put the big house on the market and found a townhouse in Mullica Hill. I did try valiantly to shop the Philadelphia real estate market, but to no avail. Mike is a Jersey Boy now. But I like Mullica Hill. It’s artsy and somewhat unpretentious. I could see me living in Mullica Hill. But the universe had other plans. Things have a way of working out for you when you think it’s all going against you.

    But the downsize plans were quickly snuffed by the crashing real estate market and a serious need for my oldest granddaughter to attend a better school system.

    That’s right, we are full up again in a multi-generation household with my eldest daughter Kate, her husband Scot and their two daughters, Tayler the Timid Teenager and Meghan, aka Todzilla the Tyrant. The thoughts of living through teenage years again don’t make me shudder half as much as life with Todzilla; she’s six but the name aptly applies, in most situations.

    So here I am, still a Philly girl but living a Jersey life. There are things I like about living in New Jersey, I like my grassy lawn and appreciate it even more as long as I can afford to pay someone else to maintain it. I like having a drive way and not having to jockey for a parking space after a long day at work. I like that a lot. I like the big swimming pool in my own backyard. I like the schools. I like my neighbors and as it turns out, most of them are Philly transplants. I like shopping for fresh produce at a Jersey farm. I like being able to watch shooting stars from my back yard in the middle of the night. It’s a free show from the universe and a gentle reminder that it can be really nice.

    There are some things I will always miss since not living in the city. I miss people walking with a purpose other than exercise or walking the dog. No one walks from their house to the store like WaWa or even Starbucks. There is a sports field complex within my development where ball games are played. Folks that live within our development still drive to that field! It can’t be the miles, because there isn’t a road that’s a mile long within our development. Yet they will walk or jog the development for exercise but drive to watch their kid play soccer.

    I miss the corner stores. Like the corner grocery store where as you walked in the door, you could smell barrel pickles and that had a four foot counter squeezed in a corner to buy lunch meat or hoagies. Although there are hardly any around anymore, I miss the corner luncheonette that made only burgers and cheese steaks, but always had a case full of Breyer’s ice cream that could be scooped into cones.

    I miss the corner bar. Not any corner bar, but a corner bar that you can walk to and the bartender knows what you’ll probably have to drink and has it half poured as hellos are exchanged and “howYOOdooin’s?” The corner bar, where half the patrons know something personal about you and your family and even though they might know it, it’s nobody else’s business. That’s proprietary information. The corner bar that you can walk to, and walk back home. The corner bar that has a wood shuffleboard table, with a well polished shellac surface and just enough wax dust sprinkled to make those metal quoits glide so silent down to the end of the board that the only sound is a light ‘clack’ on another puck. The corner bar that would offer to sponsor your softball team for the season, not just because of the business generated after the games. Well that probably had something to do with it, but it really was a neighborly and community gesture that reinforced a sense of belonging to our community,an identity as neighbors and friends. I miss the corner bar a lot, especially in the summer. It’s the meeting with no agenda needed.

    From the looks of the family that have settled in and around me in New Jersey, this is where I’ll be for as long as the universe allows. With the grown kids and their kids we have quite a comfortable network of family connected by our initial relocation of home base. I have become the accidental Matriarch of this collection of new Jerseyites. Being that matriarch isn’t something I planned or even assigned to myself, it just seemed to work out that way.

    It’s not perfect. In fact, there are days when I deliberately stay later at work so I don’t have to hear the noise that is my home life, a life I claim I didn’t sign up for. The reward comes with little unexpected gestures, like after a particularly bad day, the teenager who ‘hates her life’, puts her head on my shoulder as she passes by me and says, “I love you, Grammy.” Or once in a while even Todzilla comes through for me and squeaks out, “You’re the bessstt.” It’s not perfect, but it’s what we do and who we are, and it’s in New Jersey.

Date » 25 November, 2020    Copyright © 2020 by JoanneCostantino.com Login :
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