Maria Jiunta Heck
Along with premium coal and Stegmaier beer, I’m a genuine by-product of Wilkes-Barre. Born and raised there until that wench, Agnes, came and swept away everything we owned in 1972, including our home, my father’s pharmacy and my new Skipper doll.
Because the current news showcasing my old neighborhood distresses me, I decided to persuade/force my kids to join me on a trip down Memory Lane last Sunday to take a look-see.
As I wrestled my car through the tangled city streets, I became fixated on my past. I had not revisited the old neighborhood in years, partly because I’ve never had the desire and partly because it now requires its visitors to keep their pointer finger on the top button of a mace canister while street roaming. There’s been a cataclysmic metamorphosis in the metropolis and it saddens me. But not enough to stop a spirited game of “Remember When.”
“Look!” I squealed, “There’s the church where I had Brownie meetings!”
“Remember I told you about the time my brother forgot to pick me up after my meeting and it was really dark and I had to find my way home in the asphalt jungle with nothing more than my savvy street smarts and my trefoil badge to guide me? And I was so scared I wet my pants and when I got home, no one even realized their fifth child was noticeably absent at the dinner table? Remember that story?”
Heavy, beleaguered sighs, accompanied by thumbs clicking on phones.
I decided to further coast through the old ‘hood and swerve past our beautiful, stately childhood home. What happened to her? The new owners converted it into an apartment house and there was no character left to the old girl. It was tattered and frayed and not nearly as majestic as I recalled. And where the hell was my banana seat bike I left in the front yard 43 years ago?
Memories are a slippery slope. My kids hate “Remember When.” But, yesteryear was a fun, carefree time — a bygone era when “trans fat” meant obesity on a bus and no one slapped a powdered doughnut out of my hand. The neighborhood was alive and sparkly and vibrated with the giddy sounds of kids on see-saws and freeze tag. No one was concerned with me walking seven blocks from my Brownie meeting because it was safe and everyone did it. Without GPS on a cell phone.
My life was normal and I had nice stuff like a Slinky and a sweet Easy Bake Oven. I didn’t have thick ankles, varicose veins or sagging jowls. I had roller skates that took me anywhere I needed to go –trespassing on the convent lawn at St. Aloysius (those nuns did not enjoy me in the least), or to Jiunta’s Pharmacy where I paid 25 cents for a York Peppermint Patty because we considered it a healthy alternative to MalloCups. Less trans fat.
My reluctant passengers had reached their peak of feigned interest and after an hour of our circuitous journey through Childhood, PA, my daughter remarked: “The year 1971 called. They want you to stop visiting and relocate back to 2015.” Party pooper.
When strolling down Memory Lane, be sure to take along traveling companions who’ll appreciate the expedition. Otherwise, they harsh your mellow.
Although I found the landscape of my youth forever altered, the memories remain bittersweet and intact. I remember when I used to remember with more clarity and less embellishment, but it’s the big, important things that I will never forget.
Like my banana seat bike.
Maria Jiunta Heck of West Pittston is a mother of three, a librarian and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life.