Two weeks ago I found something that had been lost since I was eight years old. As many of you know, I live in an apartment that has been in my family for forty years, so you’re all probably thinking that I found a toy lodged behind the couch or a book that had gotten stuck between the pages of another. But that’s not what I found.
I found my playground.
When I was younger, we used to come to Philly to visit my grandparents every summer. One day we discovered a little playground, with a red painted twirly slide, some swings and a sculpture of sea lions basking in the sun. We have pictures of my sister and me on that red slide, frozen at the ages of five and eight. Her braids are blonde, mine are brown and we are both giggling. Finding this playground was a a delight, because the park near my grandparents’ apartment didn’t have any play equipment. The only thing in Rittenhouse Square that even remotely resembles something for kids to play on is a painfully uncomfortable sculpture of goat on which every child in Philadelphia has posed for a picture, while the tufted bronze hide of the goat impales them in the crotch. I know, I was there once myself.
We stumbled onto this little pocket playground later in my childhood years, it was one of the last summers we spent in Philly. I’m not sure if we even went there more than once, my memories are so thoroughly entwined with the pictures we took that day. When I moved Philly three years ago, I couldn’t remember where this park was and never once did it cross my path as I walked the city.
Recently, on one of our daily phone conversations, I asked my mom if she remembered where the playground was. She thought it was somewhere near Logan’s Circle, but didn’t remember the exact location. My childish sense of direction had planted it south of Rittenhouse Square, so the conversation ended with me no closer to figuring out where the red twirly slide had gone.
On March 29th, I went out to dinner with a friend for his birthday. He lives in the Art Museum area, and I met up with him at his place so we could walk over to the Cherry Street Tavern (he argues that they have the best hot roast beef sandwiches in the city, they weren’t bad) for dinner. Well, as we wandered down Cherry Street, there was my park, placidly sitting in the middle of the block between 21st and 22nd, as if it had been waiting for me to return after all those years. My own personal Brigadoon! I’ve walked and driven and run and biked up and down both 21st and 22nd, but Cherry has never become part of my pattern of streets I travel. It made me feel so light, so happy, so infused with gleefulness to rediscover a place where I had played and laughed and experienced delight.
There is a unique joy for me that comes with being an adult who is able to walk in the footprints of my childhood. Philadelphia amplifies this for me, because living here, I’m also given the opportunity to travel the same streets that my mom and her mother and her mother and her mother did. They were children and young women here. The paths they traveled have crossed and blending, forming a web that brought me back here from across the country, back to my home.