Friday, February 16, 2007

Wenonah, now and then

Starting today I'm going to be writing a series of pieces on my hometown, Wenonah. Bear with me. Some of you know a little about my hometown, some a great deal, some more than me. These are my memories of a town that made me.
In order to talk about my town let me say this. I'm going to begin briefly with today, then go back to my first days in Wenonah. It's like a time machine without any distortion except my faulty memory. All of this is past. None is prologue.
I was last in Wenonah about six months ago but more meaningfully three years ago. I left for the second time on January 10th 2004. I arrived the second time October 31st 2001. When I arrived I was fresh from the hospital. I weighed 90 pounds. I still had some hair but that would soon end. I moved into the first floor of a house at number 4 South Monroe Avenue. My landlords were Rachel and Ralph Knisell. They lived next to me in a house on Mantua Avenue. Mantua Avenue is the main street of my town. They were devout Methodists. My apartment was one bedroom, a den, a living room, a bathroom, and a kitchen. I had access to a basement with a washer dryer. When I moved, my brother Mick lived across the street in another apartment on Mantua Avenue. He lived there with his two children, Louise and Doug. The second floor of my building was occupied by a man I'd known since childhood, David O'Connor. His family lived one block away on the corner of Jefferson and Mantua Avenue. I grew up two blocks away on the corner of Lincoln and Mantua Avenue. I knew almost everyone in town.
They all knew me.
The town was built, for the most part in 1888, 1890. A second section was developed in the early fifties by a man named Sinnott. One smaller section was finished in the latter part of the 1960's. Wenonah is one mile square. It's population has been at or around 2000 since it's founding. It was built originally as a vacation destination around the newly built West Jersey Railroad. It became a bedroom community for people working in Philadelphia very soon after it's founding.
It was and is a town of white middle and upper class Americans.
When I moved there I was recovering from complications of AIDS. I was close to dying. Obviously I didn't die. When I moved there the first time it was 1958. No one had AIDS. Homosexuals were invisible. Black people were invisible. The town looked remarkably like it did when I moved back in 2001.
In two days we will go back in time to 1958. Buckle up. It's a wild ride.

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