The Linnet's Wings :Take All My Loves, My Love - Page 93

The Linnet´s Wings While we lived in South Philadelphia, the neigh- borhood was broken up by Italians, Irish, and what was then known in that area as Colored. Each nation- ality was at war with the others. The division was by street corners. You could go six blocks in one direction and still be in safe territory, but one block further be on enemy turf. When it was necessary for Zia Maria to walk with my sister and me through various off-limits South Philly neighborhoods, she clutched her pock- etbook under her arm tightly as if it held the family jewels rather than her well-worn coin purse with scant bills and change. Being the more rebellious child, her hand held mine so firmly the indentations were still there an hour later. No one trusted the cops in our neighborhood, so if you were in trouble, it was the last place you sought refuge. The gossip hags were content to sit on polished stoops off and on all day, to keep the guard. No movement escaped their watch, or their tongues. While they were a constant source of ridicule and complaints for their nosiness, most people in reality relied on them for reporting the comings and goings of everyone, while keeping a constant vigil on the kids. If you did something bad on the street, an hour later the whole neighborhood knew it. Worse, your parents or guardians were immediately notified, and punish- ment was swift. *** When we moved to West Philadelphia, the neigh- borhood we moved into was mostly Italian for many blocks in all directions. Mary and I were allowed to explore the surroundings. People sitting on rockers on their porches overlooking lawns and fences covered with heavenly scented roses or multicolored hydran- gea would smile and wave as we passed, two little girls, one rosy and blonde, the other dark and wan, holding hands and skipping along. 93 Not long after we moved there, we found an emp- ty garage in the neighborhood with a fire escape lead- ing to the roof. We loved playing there, and it was an ideal place to survey the neighborhood. One day while Mary and I played with Old Maid cards on the roof, a cop heard us laughing, and began walking up the fire escape, yelling for us to come down at once. Mary and I were so afraid of cops, we ran to the other side of the roof, and jumped to the alley below, narrowly missing the steel spiked fence of the house next door. I can still recall the feel of my feet landing squarely on the ground with every nerve ending buzzing in shock. In spite of the pain, we took off like lightning. Our feet swelled, turned black and blue over the next few days, but neither one of us reported to Zia Maria what hap- pened, not wanting to reveal our special hiding place. The following week, Mary missed playing with our deck of cards, and found courage to climb the fire escape steps to the roof top, with my role as the look- out. It had rained, and a few cards had scattered off the roof from the wind. The rest were a soggy mess, so she left them there. A couple months later, some- one left a pack of regular cards on a park bench, and I quickly snatched them up. In life I grew to learn there were always small compensations if you took the time to notice and acted quickly. Coming in from playing late one afternoon, we found Zia Maria kneeling on the floor praying, thumping her chest, and thanking God. She told us that she received news about her hated cousin, whom she often cursed, and sent the malocchio (evil eye) each time his name was mentioned. He had fallen dead from a fatal heart attack while boarding a plane to the United States. We were at once dispatched to the Acme for cake and ice cream to celebrate. We nev- er learned what terrible thing he had done to her, but it must have been pretty bad, because she was a much more cheerful woman after that. ***