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Life Notes: South Jersey Love
How I gained a husband and a lifetime homeland

So there I was, a fifth-generation Philly girl, and I felt destined that Philly and its environs would be my home forever.

But then along came that blind date – a term I explained to my grandchildren who thought that meant my husband, their grandfather, was blind. No, he was not. But he was part of that early 1960’s era when boy meets girl through friends and relatives. Imagine that!

This young lawyer walked into my life, an hour later than promised. He was wearing a grown-up man’s hat and that threw me. My dad wore those. And he had crossed “the Bridge,” as we Philadelphians tended to refer to what was then called the Delaware River Bridge, from Burlington, New Jersey. I had never heard of that place.

He was a lawyer, a grown up. I hadn’t yet graduated from college. Our first date was at a South Jersey nightclub just over that bridge. I ordered a club sandwich. So that’s how my earliest aquaintance to the man I would marry a year later originally played out.

After a proper wedding at our family’s suburban Philadelphia synagogue, we settled down in a little Cape Cod house in Levittown (now Willingboro). He carried me over the threshold of our $13,000 house.

That fall of 1960, he went off to the law office, and I went off to my job as a first-year English teacher at the Levittown Junior/Senior High School, terrified. Nobody had told me at Penn’s School of Education that eighth graders spit, holler and have limited tolerance for new English teachers who thought grammar was relevant.

We learned about the challenges of South Jersey homeownership (like cultivating grass and a lawn while destroying crabgrass) and moved onto another rite of passage: parenthood. Within five years, we had three babies and had outgrown our Cape Cod. We headed for a larger home in Willingboro.

It’s hard to pinpoint when we fell in love with South Jersey. Along with feeling like pioneers, we loved the simplicity of the rural landscape alongside the emergence of sophisticated suburban communities springing up around us.

A thing called a “mall” in a place called Cherry Hill totally stunned us. You could shop on a pouring rainy day but never hit the outside. This was an entirely enclosed shopping center. Who could have imagined that?

Casino gambling? Wiser heads than mine said it would never ever happen in Atlantic City. Too many problems. The wrong demographic. Then-Governor Brendan Byrne, his head held high, gave no attention to the naysayers.

He did however pay keen attention to a little-known paradise called the Pinelands. I can’t count the number of glorious days our little family spent communing with nature in the forever preserved forests.

Our daughters tell their children they grew up having the best of all possible worlds. They lived near the seashore, near farms, near Philly and, adding to that bounty, they also had a paradise called “Great Adventure” practically in their backyard. We were also beneficiaries of South Jersey’s food revolution – and what a happy one that reversed the migration from South Jersey to Philadelphia as towns like Mount Laurel, Collingswood and Voorhees brought the foodies to our side of the river.

Still, the questions keep coming.

“So when are you and Vic moving back to Philadelphia,” our friends ask. Even my sister won’t give up.

I love the panorama of her urban view from her high-rise. Yes, there are more museums and theaters in downtown Philadelphia, and there are more businesses.

But then there’s my world. There’s the beautiful rides we take to destinations like Haddonfield, Mount Holly and the river towns. There’s a little spot near Moorestown’s Strawbridge Lake where the buds peek out from behind a cluster of leafy trees just when we need some shade. And there’s the seashore beckoning in our favorite months – May and October – when the beach is ours.

 

January 2020
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