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Living on your own? Accept help from angels

We recently visited my stepdaughter, Lindsay, and her cousin in their new apartment in Indiana, Pa., where she started college this fall. It’s a lovely affair with a nice-sized kitchen, and even has a washer and dryer. The girls are well-equipped for college life in 2003, with cell phones and computers. Lindsay seems to be making the transition into adulthood with far more confidence and grace than I possessed at her age.

For better or worse, I always seemed to do things the hard way.

The morning after our visit, in a reminiscent mood, I dug out an old picture of myself around Lindsay’s age. It shows me standing in the stairwell of one of my first apartments in the heart of South Philadelphia, circa 1980. The lower walls are cracked and spotted with hastily applied patches of plaster. Above them hangs cheap, scarred, brown paneling. And, below that, a balding, brown shag rug, peppered with cigarette burns. I am wearing a worn-looking navy blue pea coat and an ironic and determined grin. Peering at the picture, my mother once remarked that I looked like a member of the French Resistance Underground during World War II. I took pride in that.

At 18, I really wasn’t at all sure what, exactly I wanted to do with my life; I just wanted to be out of my parents’ quiet neighborhood, in the city and on my own. I wanted adventure. So I took a clerical job in Center City Philadelphia with a company that provided tuition reimbursement, found an apartment and attended accounting classes at Temple University part-time in the evenings.

On the first morning of my new life, I rode to work on the crowded 12th Street trolley still sheepishly clutching the transparent bag of trash I’d meant to drop at the curb for pick-up.

It was later that evening I learned from my new neighbor (who scrutinized the comings and goings of our block from her beach chair) that my landlady’s husband was serving jail time in connection with a crime involving the Mafia, something about a body being found in a trunk with firecrackers in its mouth.

“But he had nothin’ to do with that,” my landlady, Eileen, reassured me when she came to collect the first month’s rent. “Ya know,” she would say, leaning in and wagging her cigarette, “He’s lucky I’m stickin’ with ‘im, I could be doin’ this time from a bar stool.

“It ain’t easy,” she said, looking away and flicking a lit ash on the carpet.

She left me with the phone number of her handyman in case I had any problems. His name was Mel Moore and he became a kind of guardian angel.

I finally met Mel when my pipes froze one morning in January. Whistling as he came up the stairs, he rapped my door twice and announced cheerfully in a southern twang: “Meehlmoore!” It was the start of a fast friendship. He told me great stories and shared his topless lady lollipops with me. And he never told Eileen about the broken toilet.

My mother insisted I needed a new toilet seat, so one weekend she bought one, came over with my father’s tool box and went to work. Unfortunately, the bolts attaching the old one were rusted so badly they couldn’t be budged by either one of us.

My bathroom was tiny and cramped and my mother was getting frustrated. Issuing a single obscenity, she hit the toilet hard with the wrench.

It parted slowly with a sickening crack and we stood there horrified as untold gallons of water were unleashed into my bathroom, kitchen and onto the tenant directly beneath me; who happened to be shaving at the time. And that’s how I met my neighbor, Jack, who became another good friend and guardian angel.

A visit and a picture stirred such memories.

Now its Lindsay’s time.

I sometimes wonder how she and I would’ve gotten on if we’d met at the same age. Her path will be much different from mine, but she’ll have her adventures and sorrows and, I hope, find her guardian angels.

Linda Fondrk of Gilpin is a community columnist for the Valley News Dispatch. Her column appears monthly.


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