saying good-bye and coming home again

It has taken me until today to write this.    Part of this weekend was a lot to process.  More moments in life.  I will start by saying that in fact, you can go home again.  And it was quite nice.

This past weekend was the memorial service for Joanna, the woman I went to grade school and high school with who passed away in January thanks to breast cancer.

It was hard for me to go to this memorial service.  It was hard because of the whole breast cancer of it all.   It is what took Joanna from her life and her family and beautiful children and when I walked into Old Pine Street Church   with my sweet man, feeling my own mortality was not something I could escape and it assailed me head on.  I kept thinking how but for the grace of God, this could have been me, and once again, how strong my affirmation is that I have so much life left to live.

In the pew to my left was one of my oldest friends Lauren and her best friend CeCe, with whom I also went to school both grade school and high school.  Behind us was my old friend Caroline and her sister Martha.  Caroline gave one of the eulogies and it was beautiful.  I had not seen Caroline or Martha since maybe 7th or 8th grade.

They say you can’t go home again, but this past Saturday I did.   It was for a sad reason, but I am glad I did.  And the memorial service was a lovely celebration of Joanna’s life.  For those of us who left her in childhood, we got to know her as an adult through a wonderful video collage of her life.

As I looked around this church it was quite hard at times for me at moments to keep my composure.  My head and heart just raced.  The whole breast cancer thing and what it does to families.  As much as this was a beautiful celebration, I was definitely sad.

But then, as I remembered whom I was sitting next to and how much I loved him, I calmed down enough to look around a second time to see a church full of people from my childhood:  the former children, now adults I used to play with.  Coming to pay their respect to Joanna and her family with their own children.    Also there were a lot of their parents, the parents of my childhood.  Older, grayer, just as dear and as nice as they once were.

As I sat there I could remember whose house I went to for what. I heard, once again, in my memory, the sounds of childhood as I had flashes in my head of visual memories not thought of for many, many years.

I remembered birthday parties and sleep-overs and I swear there was a baby-sitting co-op.  I remembered events at school, the Christmas pageant where we went into St. Peter’s Church in I think white robes.  The book fair where every year I got a book from my favorite children’s author, Marguerite D’Angeli.  Dancing around the  Maypole, weaving the ribbons in and out.  The kids who danced over the clay pipes crossed on the ground.  Picnics in the historic cemetery at St. Peter’s Church (and no it wasn’t scary, it was picnicking among Philadelphia history).  The annual fairs at Head House Square.

And those remembrances bought an odd feeling of peace as surreal as it was to be in a church I had not visited since about the 6th grade filled with people some of whom I also had not seen in that long.

But ours, while not perfect, was a magical kind of childhood, and those days in Society Hill?  More so than not they were very happy days.  It was a very unique place to be a child in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Society Hill was rising like a Phoenix from the ashes and seriously?  Even as a child it was very cool to be living in one the most historic areas of Philadelphia and watching historic preservation in action.

I can still hear the chatter of the reception after Joanna’s memorial service in my head.  And see the kaleidoscope of people from my childhood, all older, and so nice to see them.   Her children are beautiful, her husband so nice.  Her mother I think is very brave.  No parent wants to bury a child, it goes against nature.  I laughed at women my mother knew recounting tales of me as a little kid.  One of the most amusing things is apparently I could say the entire Pledge of Allegiance at two.  I was an early talker. (no comments from the peanut gallery.)

I left feeling very glad I had gone.  I make no pretensions that Joanna was ever my best friend as she wasn’t.  But she was just one of those people I always liked.  We went to many birthday parties together and school together.  She was just a nice child who grew into a nice woman from a nice family. I am sorry I did not know her as an adult except for the passing through on Facebook.

One thing that bothered me about this is I expected more of her classmates from her graduating class in high school (I was the class ahead of her) to take the time to come and pay their respects.  A lot of them are local, or local enough and they have their 30th reunion this year.  But they didn’t.  However, it is very hard for some people to go to funerals and memorial services, so who knows.

I sound like a broken record but it was hard for me to do this.   As someone who has lived the reality of breast cancer, how can it not be?  But it was nice for a few short hours to come home again to my childhood and I owe that to Joanna and her family for making that possible.

Life can be fleeting, friends.  So grab life by the tail and live it to your best ability.

I am fine.   It was just hard.  But seriously, there was a lot of beauty to the morning.  It was a good remembrance of a nice woman who was part of my childhood.  My friend Caroline spoke in her eulogy of things we all had to do as students at St. Peter’s.  There was this thing in particular she remarked on called “Declaration”.  We memorized poems and recited them in front of the school for prizes.  I won one year by memorizing and reciting Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe.  I still have the book somewhere that Miss Barlow presented to me. But that is not the poem lodged in my brain this morning.  But another one, we learned as little children is:

Dreams by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

On a personal note, I dream of a time when breast cancer ceases to take good people from us all.

About carla

Writer, blogger, photographer, breast cancer survivor. I write about whatever strikes my fancy as I meander through life.
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3 Responses to saying good-bye and coming home again

  1. Margery Niblock says:

    That was a beautiful piece. It brought me back to the era you were describing. Since I lived across the street from St. Peter’s Church, it was a delight to be reminded of the May Day celebration and the picnics in the graveyard. Yes, it was a wonderful time and a wonderful neighborhood. Your parents were two of the best that Society Hill had to offer, and I was very lucky to be included among their friends.
    I have just looked up and I saw the name “Joanna Putney Durdle.” I hadn’t realized who the Joanna was as I read your article. How awful! I remember I called the police because two boys were walking past my house with a girl’s bike that was pink, with a basket on it. I called because I knew that they’d just stolen it.
    It turned out that the police caught them with the bike, and they had just stolen it from Joanna Putney. I was very pleased to have been able to help.
    Oh, well. I guess I could keep writing for hours now that you’ve started me on this track of remembering my former life in Philadelphia.
    Thank you, Carla! I love you.

  2. Liza Bresnan says:

    Carla, this is beautifully written. thank you for sharing it.

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