Parkchester, Celebrate Me Home by
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Prompted By My Hometown

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My hometown?  Like many of us I guess I can claim more than one –  born in Charleston, SC but bred in the Bronx with idyllic summers spent at our family-run hotel in the Catskills.  (See My Game Mother)

Then after grad school a year upstate in snowy Buffalo, NY,  then back down for several years in New Rochelle,  NY,  and then a fabulous year in foggy Londontown.  (See Laundry Day in London)

Then to Manhattan and the same upper eastside apartment for the past 45 years.  (See (The Lion, The Witch, and) The Wardrobe,  Moving Day Blues)

And for the past decade or so,  weekends in Torrington,  CT in the Berkshire foothills.  (See Sheltering in Place,  Wisdom in the Weeds)

All places I’ve been happy to hang my hat,  here’s a bit more about two of them.

I first heard the Kenny Loggins lyric Celebrate Me Home at a Lifespring retreat my husband and I attended many years ago.   Part of the human potential movement,  Lifespring was,  as I remember,  a kinder and gentler offshoot of Werner Erhard’s California-based program known as EST.

After that first Lifespring weekend we went back to take what was known as “the advanced course.  Although our son told his friends we had joined a cult,  those weekends didn’t change our lives as promised.  Yet they did make me think about the meaning of home.

I was born in South Carolina where my father was stationed during World War II.  He was an Army doctor and shipped out from the Charleston port of embarkation,  escorting soldiers to the European and African theaters of war.  Then he’d return with the wounded,  treating them on shipboard,  and bringing back the dead for burial.

Like many WWII vets,  my dad didn’t talk much about his war-time experiences,  and my parents seemed to lose touch with most of their Army friends.   And although they often spoke about going back to Charleston to visit,  they never did.

But anxious to show my husband and son my birthplace,  one spring we went to Charleston.  We found the street where my folks and I had lived,  and delighted in the fragrant magnolia trees in bloom everywhere in the city.

And happily we found old Charleston friends of my folks and put them on the phone together,  and it felt like a homecoming.

After the war when my parents returned to New York they bought a house on the GI Bill on McGraw Avenue in the Bronx.  My dad’s medical office was on the ground floor,  and our family’s living quarters were on the two floors above.   And in tribute to their Charleston years,  my folk planted two magnolia trees in front of the house!

Our shady street bordered Parkchester,  the apartment community that had recently been built by the Metropolitan Live Insurance Company.

Parkchester was an oasis in the midst of the city,   and on it’s 120 landscaped acres were the artfully designed buildings,  many with lovely Art Deco statuary on the walls,   and the shops,  restaurants,  offices,  movie theatre,  library,  schools and playgrounds that encompassed my childhood world.   Divided into four quadrants –  north,  east,  south and west – Parkchester was planned around Metropolitan Oval,  a large, oval-shaped pond with spouting fountains and giant goldfish,  and surrounded by benches and well-tended flowerbeds.

It was within Parkchester’s safe environs I went to school,  learned to ride a bike,  and took piano lessons.   And it was there I first went to the  movies,  tasted pizza,  and kissed a boy.   Historian Lloyd Ultan,  writing about that time and place called it  “the Bronx in the innocent year”.

In May 2010 I went back with hundreds of others for a Parkchester reunion.   It was a wonderful day of nostalgia,  renewed friendships and homecoming.

The workshop leader at that Lifespring retreat years ago had said,   “Home is not a place you go back to,  it’s a place you operate from.”

Parkchester,  celebrate me home.

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!
www.WorldThruBrownEyes.com

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Tags: Home, Homecoming

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Dana, this was delightful learning about your Charleston roots. I had no idea that Parkchester existed. Sounds like a wonderful little village inside a big city!

  2. I love “Home is not a place you go back to, it’s a place you operate from,” Dee…a nice companion to “Home is where the heart is,” which is sometimes misunderstood. I’ve been to Charleston a couple of times…one of my favorite cities to visit, stroll, and shop in. Not sure how it would be to live there but I have the fondest memories. Thanks for another story, and for the lovely ear worm.

  3. Suzy says:

    Dana, I’m so glad you shared this story about your childhood hometowns, a nice companion piece to the two you wrote about Manhattan, your adult hometown. I am especially fascinated to learn about Parkchester, a planned community built by an insurance company. It actually sounds like a great place to grow up! And your father’s medical office was attached to your house, just like mine was! Didn’t know we had that in common. Great pictures too!

    • Thanx Suzy for encouraging me to post that 3rd story when I realized New York wasn’t my only hometown.

      And fun to hear you also lived “over the store”, I can write lots about that and I’m sure you can too!

      And by chance today I spoke to my Berkeley cousin who suggested we spend some time in California this winter – when it’s safe to travel of course!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Dana, these are wonderful stories! As others have commented, I’ve heard (though have not personally discovered yet), Charleston is supposed to be lovely. Scenic, gracious, good food. I, too, love the magnolias (we have beautiful ones along the Back Bay). But, as others have also said – nice place to visit, not to live right now.

    Parkchester does sound like an oasis inside the Bronx, particularly as you describe it when you were growing up. And how fun that you had a recent reunion! I love the concept of “Celebrate Me Home”. That’s just what happened for you. Thanks for adding to your hometown stories. You were nurtured by many locations.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    So glad you shared this, Dana. These were great stories about the places that were formative in your life. I love the pictures you included.

  6. Thanks, Dana. I learned quite a bit about you from this post. It’s great you got back to Charleston and probably equally great that you got out of the Lifespring thing. A Catskills resort, woo hoo, also sounded like great territory for a kid. Those big postwar housing projects, grand or practical gave rise to such fascinating cultures. I was born in a less glorious one in Jamaica Plain, and know the saga of the Los Angeles housing program and how it was subverted. Quite visionary, so many of them like Parkchester. Your father’s wartime commute across the Atlantic sounds like it had to be a difficult time. He probably didn’t tell you about the threat of U-boats in the midst of it all.

    • Thanx Charles, my dad did explain that a lit cigarette on deck at night could be seen by U-boats thru periscope miles away, and that the night I was born he was celebrated at the officers club – that’s about all I remember him telling me about his war years. Had he had sons rather than daughters, perhaps they’d have asked more – in fact my husband and he did speak about it a bit, certainly more than my sister and I did.

      Stunning to me now that I didn’t ask my parents more about those years, and what was known here about the camps and the Final Solution. And hard to imagine their emotions at the time. I’m grateful they’re not here now in Trump world.

  7. I often think of friends and family I’ve lost in the context of the last four years.
    Signed,
    Still Glad to be Alive 🙂

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