I grew up in three different towns. The first was Upper Darby, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. We lived there from the time I was 2 until I was 8. We lived in a row house with a two-level alley in the back, and we had a postage-stamp-sized back yard. I have many memories of that place. It was all concrete except for the tiny back yard, which was mostly dirt, and the front yard, which was almost as tiny, but grassy. I thought the whole world was covered with pavement until we took a trip to Valley Forge. I'll never forget the first time I saw vast expanses of grass and trees. I was stunned. It felt like another world, and I wasn't sure I liked it.
I still remember the wonderful smells in Fine's Delicatessen up the street from our house, and the fabulous submarine sandwiches we got there. I loved going downtown on the El shopping with my mother. And my father would take my sister and me for a walk every Sunday to a big park where they kept the horses for the mounted police. My mother made the best picnic lunches, and we would take them with us to the Philadelphia Zoo, which was a wondrous place to us.
The second place I grew up was in North Billerica, Massachusetts, a town between Boston and Lowell. My father was born there, and my mother lived in Lowell as a girl. I loved it there. By that time, I was used to grass and trees. We had a big yard and a barn in back of the house, where my girlfriends and my sister and I would play. We were there from the time I was 8 until age 15.
There was a railroad station not far from our house, and my father would take the train to Boston and back for work. Sometimes we would meet him at the station. I loved being close to the locomotive and feeling the ground shake when it arrived.
My sister and I had a time understanding the way people talked at first, even though my father had a New England accent. We were raised by a Canadian who was also a grammar Nazi, so we pronounced our rs, or else. Sometimes it was pretty funny, especially when we couldn't understand our friends, even when we asked them to spell the word.
My favorite foods were fried clams, french fries, and lobster. And clam chowder.
We loved going to Boston on the train to shop or eat in a nice restaurant. When we were in Junior High, my girlfriends and I would go to Lowell on the bus and try on clothes in every store, buy nothing, and spend an hour or two drinking milkshakes at Page's drug store. We could be pretty obnoxious, but we had a great time. When my sister and I were younger, my father would take us to the beach on the train. It was great. Then our aunt and uncle rented beach houses in New Hampshire and Maine, and we would spend a week or two with them in the summer. Paradise.
When I was 15, we moved to Kirtland, Ohio, near Cleveland. It was culture shock. Complete strangers told you their life story, people went to the movies in jeans, and everybody said "Hello" wherever you went. And there were only 25 kids in my class and not many more in my sister's. We were flabbergasted. Gradually, we became un-formalized and learned to enjoy the spontaneous friendliness and casual lifestyle of these mid-westerners. And we now had a car, which was different for us. You couldn't get anywhere in Ohio without one.
Life in Kirtland was kind of a letdown in some ways, however. Swimming in Lake Erie wasn't the ocean. Our parents had to listen to my sister and me whine about that for a long time. No more fried clams and no more ice skating, either. And school wasn't much of a challenge. But I got to be on the decoration committees for the dances, and I was a cheerleader, which I had been in Junior High. The music and art programs were better, too. So I guess it evened out.
I appreciate all the places where I grew up. But my favorite was North Billerica, Massachusetts.