The Late Great Northeast

Growing up in Northeast Philly, I desperately wanted to escape its marshmallow blandness. Now — 40 years later — my old neighborhood has radically changed. Figuring out why I find that so upsetting just might open a new window into the most mysterious swath of the city

Because there is something left for me, I think, of those days that used to be. Something still very much alive, and very important, very Northeast, inside me, even if I am inelegant or obtuse in trying to get out precisely what it is. We are, after all, products of where we were raised. And no matter how much we couldn’t wait to escape them, our neighborhoods shaped us, made us who we turned out to be. To be indifferent to our roots, to not care about their fate, would be to turn our backs on ourselves. When I was growing up, the Northeast wasn’t at all what I wanted. But it was precisely what I needed: structured, ordered, safe. It was, captured in a moment, getting three quarters from Dad for three ice-cream cones. It was not the final pool in which to swim, but the bolted-down diving board into it.
 
Connie belts the close with suitable thrushiness, the organ thundering behind her: “I count them all apart … and as the teardrops start … I find a broken heart … among my souvenirs.”
 
Mom reaches over, places her hand atop mine on the seat between us. “We’ll always have this,” she says.

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