Wednesday, February 15, 2012

McDade Blvd.

"I did not emerge onto a blank slate of neutral circumstance. My life was already a canvas upon which older paint had begun to dry, long before I arrived. What I am trying to say is that when we first draw breath outside the womb, we inhale tiny particles of all that came before, both literally and figuratively. We are never merely individuals; we are never alone; we are always in the company, as uncomfortable as it sometimes can be, of others, the past, of history. We become part of that history just as surely as it becomes part of us. There is no escaping it, merely different levels of coping. It is how we bear the past that matters, and in many ways it is all that differentiates us." ~ Tim Wise

Did you ever read something and it hit you in the gut? Did you ever see something and say to yourself, "This is what I've been trying to say but have never been able to find the words?"

I found the above quote in a book over the weekend that I picked up at the lending library at the YMCA, while I was supposed to be playing the "uber excited sports mom" role. I try to do my best in that role, but quite honestly, all of the dads living vicariously through little boys is a little too much for my taste. And anyway, I much prefer to pick apart words written to explain the uncomfortable subject matter of racism in America and apply it to the story of my life (but the racism thing deserves and will get its own blog at a later date).

So, I see this quote in the second paragraph of a book called White Like Me and I have a visceral reaction. At the time, I wasn't even sure exactly what I was reacting to, rather I only knew that I should.

Fast forward to today....I'm scheduled to do a client intake in Darby, PA, which is in Delaware County, bordering on the town/city of Collingdale. It order to get there, I am required, if I want to avoid the heavy traffic that passes by Upper Darby High School and the Prendie/Bonner complex to make my way through the heavy traffic of McDade Boulevard, which is the last exit just before the Blue Route dumps out on to I-95. I jump off the Blue Route at the Route 1 (Springfield) Exit and turn onto Sproul Road, just a few miles from where we buried my father in 1982, my brother in 2009 and my mother in 2011. I am literally driving down memory lane. 

I forever will be left with a lump in my throat as I turn off this exit. It has become a viseral memory; one that needs no words to tell the story. Rather, there are flashbacks of a hearse, a purple flowered dress and a lot of grown men crying. The hearse returns 2 more times but the clothes change. The weather changes. The people crying (at least some of them) change. But the feelings remain the same. There are no words. There is no need for words.

I turn my car away from the cemetery towards Darby and make a left onto Woodland Avenue.It is at this point that the memories become a mixture of my own and of those before me. You see, I never grew up in Delaware County. I lived in the same rancher in Chadds Ford that my parents bought a few years before I was born until I was in my 20's. But, as I travel down Woodland Avenue, towards McDade Boulevard, I am reliving my history; the tiny particles of all that came before as Tim Wise so eloquently put it. Because the farther down the road I travel, the closer I get to my brother's life, my father's life and my mother's life. A life they led long before I was ever a thought. I pass by Moppert Brothers Collison Center, a building my father bought shortly before his death, so he could grow his ever expanding auto body and insurance claims business. My brother's friend, who worked for my father over 30 years ago, works there now.

As I pull up to the intersection of Woodland and McDade, I am at a crossroads of my history. Literally. To my right sits the building that houses my father's business when he died. It is a medical supply warehouse now but it looks the same. In many ways, that intersection is a frozen moment in time.

If I were to go straight through the intersection, I would drive towards the place my brother took his last breath. Where I stood over his body trying to gather up the courage to touch him one last time. He was always stuck between those two worlds. The one on McDade and the one back in Chadds Ford.

But, instead, I have to get to Darby, so I take a left and drive through Holmes, Glenolden and Sharon Hill. I accidentally look up at a stop light and realize I am sitting next to the building where my ex-husband's aunt used to run a florist shop. I look up to the second floor apartment and remember standing over his grandmother, who had passed away in her sleep. We had come to say goodbye before they took her away. It's a hair salon now.

All the buildings look the same as they did when I was a little girl and my mother would load us in the car to visit my father at his business. Many of those buildings carry the same names. I feel like I am time traveling, except I already know what the future holds. It is bittersweet.

On my way back down McDade, I once again pass my father's shop. I pass the bar my brother traveled to from Chadds Ford to play darts during dart season. I pass my cousin's restaurant and wonder if I should stop. Would they even know who I am? The answer is no. This is my past, but it's the part of my past I never lived through. It defines me, completes me, explains me and yet it is the silent part. The part only those who have come and gone will ever know about me. It's the old soul part of me. The part I keep largely to myself but think about always. Especially, when I drive down McDade.