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Monday, February 20, 2012


According to "The Free Dictionary” on line, one of the definitions of number is: one of a series of symbols of unique meaning.

For me, 4336 embodies that definition. That number is the house number of an unassuming row house ("twin," actually) on a neat little street in an enduring Philadelphia neighborhood. To spare this unique address any unsolicited attention, I am leaving out the street name. But for me there is no other place like it in the whole wide world.

where I was whisked when my sisters Diane, Theresa and Barbara were born.
where I watched Shirley Temple movies afternoons sprawled on the living room floor and "Double Chiller" late nights in bed with my cousins and the covers up to our chins.
where I first had galompkis and kruschiki and pierogies.
where I watched teenagers dance to The Geator in the basement "rec room" and yearned for the day I'd be one of them.
where I learned to apply false eyelashes and to put a bra on "backwards."
where I emigrated when I had a fight with my parents or my best friend.
where the middle bedroom became "my room" when I came to visit after moving to Cape May.
where I have always been welcome, along with all of my dogs and most of my boyfriends.

You see, I had already lived in five places by the time I was nine years old. And my parents moved twice since I have been all grown up. Now, my mother lives in a very sensible, small apartment.

I, too, travel lighter than most people I know. I have always kept moving. My houses have been more like "rest stops" than "home," especially in the Martha Stewart sense of the word. I often wonder if all that moving at such an early age is what set me in motion for the rest of my life.

One recent afternoon, though, as I settled in for a nap at 4336, it hit me. Though my own life has been one of seeming perpetual motion, this address has never changed.

For over 50 years I have dashed up the same front steps, sat at the table in the same kitchen (with a few renovations), and looked out the same front window at the same row houses across the street. I can find my way through these rooms blindfolded. Even my dogs, every one of them, sensed when we were approaching. Each would awaken from a dead sleep whether we were coming off of I-95 or over one of the Delaware bridges: they, too, knew the magic of the place.

My Aunt Renee and Uncle Nicky had been married 60 years before she died. They spent every one of those years at 4336. Even the phone number has been the same in all the years I've known it. Through births and deaths and love and loss, this little place has embraced their history. Such constancy always amazed me: so antithetical to all I have become.

And yet...
so much a part of all I have become.


  1. What an enjoyable post! I'm the opposite, so grounded in where I am that I've never even moved to another county from the one where I was born, so the things you mention are ones I take for granted.

    Yet I have unsatisfied wanderlust in my soul...

  2. Thank you Mary! It reminds me of the home of my paternal grandparents in Hartford. They were Lithuanian and Russian, and the food was exotic! Unlike my maternal side, which offered pretty "non-descript" Irish "cooking." Seems like centuries ago, and in fact it was a half-century ago! "Those generations" seemed more geographically rooted, in spite of many of them having left their homelands in a total leap of faith! I guess when they landed, such adventurishness was completely used up! Current generations often move for similar reasons (economic, economic), but it is usually several moves over a lifetime. You may know, one huge reason I decided to work for the City was so I COULD NOT move again! Much to be said for deep roots. Glad you still have, and treasure 4336.

  3. Mary, what a great story! Those of us who grew up in chaos can look back with a grown-up's perspective and remember the sweet and stable times as you have done here.

    My growing up houses have been completely bulldozed over and replaced with highways. I've been trying to do the same thing with the painful memories of what took place between all those walls. One house was literally replaced with an overpass. The metaphor of "getting over" these painful times is not lost on me.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Libby, love the overpass metaphor.

      mary, your post brought back so many memories, 612, 624, 2933...all homes I loved to visit as a child. and of course 224, my childhood home. Those numbers will always stir up memories for me

  4. The neighborhood reminds me of where I grew up in Albany, NY. You brought back some fond memories. Thanks!

  5. Mary, Reading this post made me think about my childhood home, but in a completely different way. After my dad died 5 years ago, my mom moved to a retirement home in her neighborhood. I remember thinking at the time, that it was not an emotional parting. None of us cared about leaving that house on Brill Street that we had known as intimately as you know 4336. I think the house represented my parents as a couple, and once that was over, the house was just a package. I look at my own house today, part of my life for 25 years, and wonder about permanence. Will I be sitting at this kitchen window in 15 years, or will I choose to find another view?

    I like the poetic feel of this passage, the imagery and the way it makes you think,


  6. chris, I did not know you grew up on Brill Street - another way we sort-of intersect. And speaking of intersecting, Jim has a snapshot of the street signs at the intersection of James and Brill Streets.

    Mary, your post makes our world smaller reminding us that even though it may have been a different number or street or town, many of us have a common bond when it comes to sense of place.

  7. Mary, what a beautiful reflection on family, on constancy, on the effect a loving environment can have on everyone who enters. I'm reminded of a phrase I love, "raise children wherever you find them." It sounds like your aunt and uncle did just that. What a gift.