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Dave Komarnicki

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Dave Komarnicki's Recollections of Growing Up in Chester

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"It's Mothers' Day. I'm remembering." Mother's Day evokes special remembrance

By DAVE KOMARNICKI - Daily Times Community Adviser, May 17, 2001

Driving on Edgmont Avenue this past Mother's Day, I instinctively slowed down as I passed the Chester Rural Cemetery, then whispered thanks for my mom and dad, buried just 20 feet beyond the wrought iron fence.

Decades have not faded the murals painted on memory's long corridor, and images of the past - as nostalgically alive as the harmonic notes at a campfire - seemed to pull me on a sentimental journey to 151 E. Seventh St. in an attempt to evoke the ghosts of childhood.

Eminent domain long since razed and turned into a municipal parking lot the three-story, pre-Civil War home where our family of 12 once lived. Cars and trucks dripped years of oil stains on the ground where one afternoon long ago I peered into the bay window of our kitchen and watched Pop pare the skin of a Winesap apple into a single glistening strand, while Mom wrapped spoonfuls of meat and rice in wet, shiny cabbage leaves.

I remembered Mom nudging Pop away from her countertop, and I saw him kissing her warmly on the back of her neck and whispering the affectionate words, "Hanushka bebka (my darling Anna)" before he retreated from the room.

I remembered yanking open the back door and entering the warm kitchen, ready to inhale the snack that Mom prepared for me: a bologna sandwich, Campbell's vegetable soup, a slab of Russian rye, a glass of Ovaltine, and a hug.

As I stood all those years later in the parking lot that had once been our home, I leaned on the hood of a rusty Chevy and let the rest of that long ago afternoon flood back to me.

Fortified by my snack, I'd let curiosity carry me into the parlor, where Pop was struggling up the musical scale with his favorite gospel hymn. He seemed pleased to have me in his audience, and I waited for him to sing his closing line before I asked my burning question, "Pop, where did you meet Mom?"

"We met at church wedding," he answered in his heavily accented English, "the same church in which we married one month later."

In a voice thick with emotion, Pop told me the story of how Mom, at the age of 15, defied her father's plan for her pre- arranged marriage to a neighboring farmer in her Ukrainian homeland. Had instead come to America, to the city of Philadelphia where her uncles preceded her a few years before, so that providence could place her in that church where he would spot her across a crowded reception hall and say to a friend, "See that girl? I'm going to marry that girl."

In the decades since that afternoon, I've often reflected on Mom's courage in leaving her family, her friends, and her homeland. I've imagined her casting one last backward glance to look through misty eyes at her own mother for the last time, then walking away into the unknown.

I've imagined the two long weeks she spent crossing the Atlantic in steerage, wearing her name and destination pinned firmly to her garment, able to speak only in her native Ukrainian. Sick in body, crushed in heart, but resolute in spirit, she came by destiny to Philadelphia where Pop waited to win her heart, to make her his wife, and to take her on the epic journey of motherhood.

As I stood leaning on the hood of that Chevy in the municipal lot, I reflected on Mom's life. Many of her 10 children have traveled the world, while she never left the neighborhood. One of her sons serves on a college faculty, while Mom herself never attended school. Her children and grandchildren write stories and poems and text books, while she could not even write her own name or read a simple sentence.

As I stood lost in thought of decades past, the owner of the Chevy appeared in what was once my back yard, ready to move on.

Before he started his engine, he asked me why I was staring at the oil stains on the ground, and I replied, "It's Mothers' Day. I'm remembering."

2001 David Komarnicki, all rights reserved.

 


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