Monday, October 27, 2003
My brother is, incredibly, 65 years old today (actually tomorrow as I write this, but you get the idea). There are all kinds of reasons why he and I are so different, but that's one of the primary ones, the very large age difference between us. He was born before World War Two and lived through the war, while I was born towards the end of the postwar baby boom. He was from a world so different from the one I grew up in. In his words,
I grew up in Richmond, a section of ethnic northeast Philadelphia located on the Delaware River in a highly industrialized area. In those days the EPA didn't exist, and the factories poured forth each day noxious fumes that clouded the sky, dirtied my fastidious grandmother's curtains and laundry and fouled my nostrils with a penetrating odor that reeked of unnamed poisons. It didn't seem to actually hurt me (or anyone else I knew) in any permanent way, but having to endure the awful smells day after day gave me what perhaps was my first indication that we might be poor. Even as a child I couldn't believe that anyone with more choices would live there willingly. At any rate, I must have had a more delicate nose than was probably good for me, because no one else in my family or our acquaintances ever complained about it.
Now by the time I came around we had moved to the suburbs, and we only went to Richmond on Saturdays. For me, as a sort of tourist to that bizarre place, it was, well, exotic. The cobbled streets that ruined the suspensions on cars, the odd, stinky foods, the same sickening industrial smells that Joe described--the worst was the long-gone Old Hickory whiskey factory on Delaware Avenue, which produced this appalling funk of rotting vegetable matter that made you automatically wince every time you drove by it.
In the fifties, my father had gotten the job at Curtis Publishing and I grew up in a completely different plane of existence, in Delaware County. I am so different from him, in fact, that it took me until much later in my life before I could really appreciate what he's done with his life, and admire him for it.