The tragedy of returning to where I grew up

American Thinker: Try as I might, I can’t get the mass shooting on Fathers’ Day in Southwest Philadelphia’s West African community out of my mind.

The party at Finnegan Playground, 68th and Grovers Ave., was to celebrate recent graduates of area high schools.  One man was killed and five injured, including four teens.  A week earlier, another man had been fatally shot a block away on row-house-lined Dorel St.

I think of those victims and want to cry.

You see, I grew up on 65th St. in that Southwest Philly neighborhood, a three-block walk from Finnegan Playground.  My younger brother and I spent countless hours playing baseball and touch football at Finnegan.  We had friends on Dorel St.  An girlfriend at the time lived at 69th and Dicks Ave.  My father worked at the sprawling General Electric Switchgear facility at 70th and Elmwood Ave.  Heavy industries like GE, Westinghouse, and Baldwin Locomotive were backbones of the local economy.

Violent crime was unheard of.  Often, we forgot to lock our doors at night.

Many families were first- or second-generation Irish and Italian Catholic.  My family’s parish, St. Barnabas, was a block from our house.

I hadn’t revisited the neighborhood in decades.  An invitation to a St. Barnabas parish reunion a half-dozen years ago prompted my return.

Arriving on a crisp January Sunday, the neighborhood was simultaneously the same yet different.  The sensation was one of passing through a once bustling town that had seen better days: quiet streets with little traffic, few pedestrians, abandoned cars, vacant storefronts, once lovingly cared for homes abandoned or in disrepair.

A cyclone fence surrounded the St. Barnabas compound of church, elementary school, nuns’ convent, and priests’ rectory.  Doors to parish buildings were locked.

St. Barnabas was no longer the St. Barnabas of my youth. Like the neighborhood, it was the same yet different. more


Out of curiosity, what are your *home towns like today, compared to your youth? Better? Worse? The same?

*Don’t add the name of your home town in your comment if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.

31 Comments on The tragedy of returning to where I grew up

  1. For the most part, the neighborhoods where my friends lived were really nice. Most of those neighborhoods now range from dangerous war zones to just old. The nice area of town moved west. The nice area now is new construction and high dollar. The street I grew up on is still high dollar and premium but it is the 1% exception to the declined neighborhoods from that age

    It is sad but that is life. Things grow old. Things loose appeal. Life goes on. People want new houses and nicer ones than the nice from 60 years ago.

    People want new houses, not nice old out of date ones.

  2. I have only seen images and heard some reports from people who have been through Green Oaks (relatively recently) and a once quiet, suburban, middle class subdivision has gone pretty shitty. I was there during that period of my life when I was becoming aware of stuff and still have (one good brain cell not withstanding) memories of it. Starkville, MS was a strange but comfortable little town in the early 60s.
    “Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.” Geo. Orwell

  3. I have the opposite story.
    I grew up in Potomac, MD. My family had 200 years of history there. It was a quaint little town outside DC in the 1960s before the wealthy diplomats and lobyists drove us out.
    It’s an overpriced shithole now, overrun with white collar crime.
    (The nutcase Christine Blasey Ford lived there in the 80’s)

  4. home was Cleveland inner city, west side (west and east “inners” then separated by steel mills). I was a kid. House broken into while we slept. Car stolen once. Brand new picnic table in the backyard gone by morning. Didn’t that happen everywhere? What did i know? If that was bad, it’s worse now. Now people die. Never remember that when younger. I now live 50 miles away in a rural county.

  5. Air Force Bases were my hometowns. Gary AFB, San Marcos, TX; Loring AFB, Caribou, ME; George AFB, Victorville, CA; all closed. Then there were the ‘hometown’ bases, in Ramstein, Weisbaden, and Hahn, Germany. Never have gotten back there.

    I seem to have an aversion to going back to ‘hometowns’. Too many schools, too few friends.

    High School reunions are held all over the place, because my graduating class in H. H. Arnold HS in Germany, was one amongst many in Europe that shared a year book.

    Home has a very different meaning and in most ways, I feel lucky. They can stay as I remember, in my wonderful memories that include the opportunities of travel, never getting bored, and if a place was horrible, we’d be moving on.

  6. My original hometown, Portage, Indiana, was a great place in the 70s, considering that sometimes could see the red glow fron U.S. Steel in Gary on the horizon. Now the street I grew up on isn’t much more than slum, my sister says.

    The tiny town in deep southern Illinois we moved to when I was ten had a population of about 1,050 when we got there. Now it’s down to about 800. It’s a time capsule where nothing moves except people moving out, and the Ohio.

  7. My youngest brother was telling me recently that the Junior HS kids are still settling fights after school behind the water tower across the street from the school just like we did 50 years ago. This was just up the street from my house so I guess some things never change in Junior high.

  8. The small town where I grew up hasn’t changed much, except most of the stores on the short Main Street have gone out of business. Better roads making quick travel to shopping centers 30 miles north or south of the town leading to their demise. But the barber who cut my hair when I was 12 y.o. Is still cutting hair on Main St. only in a different building across the street from where his barber shop once was. I’d be financially set if I had 10 cents for every hair cut he has done. I’m guessing when I was a kid a hair cut was $2, they’re $10 now.

    However, I spent my summers on a farm in a neighboring state, Ohio. Ten years ago I visited the old farm place, long vacant, after not seeing it in 20 years. The old farm house and barn were still standing, barely. Both had been built by great grandpa. Most of the wood siding had been stripped off the post and beam framing of the barn. Probably recycled into panelling in someone’s family room. The aluminum siding put on the house by dad stripped off too. Most of the slate roof tiles still in place.

    What stood out during the short visit ( short & quick because the land is now owned by a hunting club, private land, so technically we were trespassing ) to the old family farm was that the house and barn were closer together and smaller than I remembered them being.

  9. We moved a lot during my school years.
    I graduated H.S. in ’65.
    Most places I grew up in are now under liberal control, the rest is history.

  10. I grew up in a small town in the northern part of GA. It had a population of about 7,500 in the 1970’s and 80’s and had several thriving industrial concerns including textiles which was a large employer for a lot of small southern towns. I moved back (on a temporary basis) to take care of my mom and dad before she passed several years ago. My dad is still living, so I am still taking care of him and the property. My family on both sides has lived here since at least the mid 1700’s.

    The town is dying a slow and painful death with a population of about 4,000 now. Textiles are long gone and illegal aliens have taken over much of the local workforce (which makes it difficult for natives to make a decent living). About a third of the houses on the street I grew up on are empty and another third have become poorly maintained rental properties. Drugs (mostly meth and heroin / opioids) have created a lot of crime that was nonexistent when I was growing up here.

    It is bittersweet for me – I’m glad to be able to take care of my dad, but it’s also sad to watch most of the neighbors die off and see a once nice, middle-class neighborhood go swiftly downhill with little hope for improvement. There are no decent jobs anymore to draw in good people and that is reflected by the poor state of the local school system and a lot of shuttered businesses.

    It’s pretty much the same story for a lot of small southern towns.

  11. Last year, my husband and I took a drive through my old neighborhood in West Michigan. It used to be made up of blue collar families.
    Now, the highschool is made up of Hispanic and black gangs.
    My childhood home has been ‘decorated’ in third world graffiti style and drug deals are routine on the cul de sac where we kids used to play.
    I don’t get too nostalgic for the green, green grass of home any more.

  12. Like Bubba’s Brother, I relocated back to my small hometown in order to take care of my parents, and because my wife wanted to. I could recount my experiences and impressions, but it would be easier if you just re-read Bubba’s Brother’s comment.

    It’s good to be back near family, but I knew it would be a mistake to come back because I had great memories of growing up. Even my wife, who had been pushing for years to come back, now realizes how depressing the area has become.

  13. I grew up on an island with a summer tourism economy. Great lifestyle.

    But then the Shoobies realized that they could live there year-round and commute to Filthydelphia. That’s when the island lifestyle went into the shitter and real estate prices went up more than 10x.

  14. Used to be more peaceful until the locusts from Maryland and DC swarmed in. I remember when NOVA did not stretch all the way to Fredericksburg and my high school mascot was Johnny Reb, they dropped him when I was in high school for crossed sabers and now it’s some stupid lion. Too many people, too many leftists, too many illegals. I am constantly reminded my hometown disappeared long ago.

  15. Parts of my town are unrecognizable to me from my youth. Civic improvement has removed a lot of the character I remember as a kid. The river where I grew up spending my summer swimming and snorkeling in is totally changed. What use to be cement plant and rail yard and aggregate storage where the big lake freighters use to dock and unload has become a big public parkway with fancy houses. If you like fireworks check “Ship Cam Port Huron” as they will start around 10pm and should show on camera. You’ll see a river park in place of where my stomping ground once was.

  16. I was in Golden Beach, MD, which in the 70s was blue collar, safe, and normal. We left in ’83. By the time I was a telephone man in the middle 90s it had become a seething low income shithole, and by the time I left MD in 2017 it had gone back to blue collar, safe, and normal.

  17. When I moved to MN in early 80s, I intended to stay maybe 5 years and come back when employment situation improved. I went home most every year and nothing changed much. Mom and Dad lived in the same house in a western suburb of a city of 50,000.

    After Dad died and Mom sold the house, I never went back. I don’t think much changed, but I don’t want to see the house I grew up in. Call me sentimental, but I will always be able to remember it as it was.

    Mom moved to the town where my two sisters lived. When I moved back to MI, that’s where I settled and am still here. For now.

    Don’t know what my future has for me, but I have no desire to go backwards. My hometown isn’t so bad, but it’s not for me.

  18. My town of Los Altos Hills, CA is still beautiful, my old house is still lovely and the fence my dad built is still there. Something about that makes me very happy to see the current owners didn’t tear it down. The trees are bigger, of course. I wonder if the fruit tree orchard is still in the back next to our horse pasture. The town is still horsey with trails all over the place. I was very fortunate my parents chose LAH when my father was transferred by his company from Wisconsin. My dad worked hard to make the money necessary to buy a house in a place where his family was safe. I have so many great memories of growing up there with my horses. I was a lucky girl, for sure. And that Wisconsin house close to Lake Winnebago is looking great and the neighborhood is still a lovely place. It would be sad to see the places deteriorated, but the memories are the important thing.

  19. Bronx, NY, 10465, the projects first, then we moved ‘up and up’ to 10475, a place called Co-op City when I was 10, just off I-95 for those travelers, designed and built by 1960’s socialists and planners like Robert Moses.

    But, I think, I made it out okay and very proud of the place, met the Mrs and my best friends to this day there. Yeah think of East European Tower like living in the 70’s.

    Now I live in a house where I can see, in winter, the silhouettes of the Co-op buildings, keeps me grounded even though there in lies the non-whites now.

    Quite strange.

    Have not been back really since my mom had to leave about six years ago. Drive by all the time though to pick up the troops at aunties house, and Pelham Bay Park has a great bird sanctuary.

  20. Thanks, ConservativeCowgirl! I was worried I was the only one whose old home is still intact. And, yes, actually better. The house my Dad and Mom bought for 27K was recently sold for 2.7M. Yeah. Crazy. But the neighborhood is pretty much the same. The intersection where we played baseball until 9 or 10 at night in the summer is still there. You can still walk to the beach and I think I would let my grandkids roam around by themselves. We were talking today about why it was so free back in the 50’s. Well the crazies were locked up, the perverts were in jail. Now they are wandering the streets in the big cities. My granddaughter wants to invent a time machine so she can go back with me to that place. But we both have to be 10 years old! Sigh.

  21. I wrote that Golden Beach had gone back to “blue collar, safe, and normal…”

    Allow me to amend that. In the 70s and early 80s we were climbing trees, finding frogs, bee moths, and real bees.

    By the 2000s the kids didn’t go outside unless with their parents. The kids spend most of their time, these days, watching a TV and playing computer games. It’s NOT the same, but at least the demographic changed from low-life scum back to blue collar. It IS hard to differentiate their kids. My generation raised kids who can’t do long division or read a clock with hands. My nieces and nephews (most of them) are dumb as dogshit. I imagine there always has been people who can’t accomplish simple things… but 9 out of 10 being dullards? It’s by design, I know, but still 90%?

  22. lucky, I guess. my half-brother lives in the house my Great-Grandfather built back in the ’30’s (DC suburbs), a mile away from the farm he built when the US Government took it over for a WPA project (Greenbelt, MD). the core of that town is basically the same w/ few changes … I still recognize the same places I grew up in early.
    we moved to another county because my dad was accepted there as a motorcycle policeman (the dream of his life). today, that area, where I went to elementary schools, is an MS 13 shithole. a couple of years ago, after a funeral of a close relative, I had the privilege to take my granddaughters & She Who Must Be Obeyed on a tour of my former haunts. the physical area is not much changed, but the culture has. so has the crime. these areas have been totally controlled by D’rats since I was there.

    we are witnessing our own demise. we have blissfully done it to ourselves. we, on the hard work of those that preceded us, have given away our heritage on the whims of equal outcome (instead of equal opportunity) & guilt of success.

    instead of leading by example we have acquiesced to sink into the misery of commonality

  23. Worse than you can imagine. Rival Mexican gangs, crime rampant. Kids are still crossing the border to go to school. Of course the high schools principal was a border crossing student. As the high school is the second oldest in the county, the principal knows none of the history. Car thieft common, murders frequently,vandalism the new morm.

  24. My upstate NY blue collar smallish city had GE & carpet mills as the main employers. Population was mostly Polish, Irish, Italian. Now its about 20% Hispanic. Homes that were owner occupied and well-cared for are now rentals by downstate/absentee owners. Unkempt lawns, garbage strewn, generally untidy and people don’t seem to have the money to keep the houses from falling into disrepair. Fast food containers, drug paraphernalia, dirty diapers get tossed out of cars. Used to have a nice quaint and fun downtown, but local govt. decided to plunk a mall in the middle of it in the 70’s, which is now just offices and a derelict condemned parking garage. A fitting tombstone for my dead city. The Mr. & I live smack dab between the kids & grandkids, and my parents still live here and need our help, so we’ll stay for the time being. But I miss my old city.

  25. It is always so terrible to hear this kind of story. There should be more strict gun law so these sick people wouldn’t have any access and do this kind of crime.

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