Things That Used To Be; City Style

When you look at the neighborhood around you, do you wonder what it used to be?

Did it used to be busy, or was it quieter? Is it safer than it was or a tad seedier? What kind of people roamed the road and what kind of wheels rolled down your street? Do your views today make you long for the past or yearn for the future?

Old Philadelphia, courtesy of thingamababy.com

We took a stroll around a pretty neglected area of Philadelphia over the weekend. We had no real destination. My pictures fail to capture the atmosphere unfortunately.  It’s something I’m learning to figure out as an amateur. I like to find the beauty in what “was”, and I like to dream about what used to inhabit the buildings and sidewalks that I walk.

When I see areas that are abandoned and half demolished, I wonder if the area is going through a transition to be rebuilt again or if the crumbling bricks are a true metaphor for the neighborhood. Time will tell.

I’m not foolish enough to think that the past was glamorous. Crime, corruption, drugs and heartlessness have always lurked in corners of every time period. There are still sights to be appreciated and customs that are appealing, particularly when we don’t know the pitfalls. The revolutionary buildings that I admire may not have seemed so beautiful with excrement being flung out the windows out into the alleys below.

There are times we can’t experience and life to be enjoyed today.  Generations will pass on, scenery will continue to change and traditions will be altered. That is how time works and it always will.

Marriage: Better Than the Wedding

With the first anniversary of Will and Kate’s Royal wedding just behind us, I started thinking about our own wedding.

Ugh.

Here is the vital information to gather from this post:  I’m happier with my marriage than I am with our wedding.  I’m learning to be ok with this because ultimately, that is all that matters.  Yet there is evidence that remains, in the form of wedding pictures and they haunt me.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I still have buried resentments and hostile feelings about the wedding and the time leading up to it as well.  There were lovely people who took part and wonderful moments that I’ll never forget, but there were also selfish people and such petty behavior that can really put a damper on what is supposed to be the happiest day in one’s life.

First of all, I’m glad to say that wasn’t the happiest day of my life and I’ve had many outstanding days since, but unfortunately this one costs a lot and creates a hassle for so many people.  If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t; not that way anyway.  The thought of having a wedding makes me squeamish.  If I could, I’d have eloped or I’d have paid for our parents to join us far away or even not far away.  I would have said “screw you” to every nitwit who made our lives difficult and would have taken more time to be grateful for the people who took their love for us and the joy of our wedding more seriously.

I would have taken more responsibility to recognize who matters and who doesn’t, and acted accordingly.  And I would’ve moved the wedding from the west coast to the east coast so my Grandmom could’ve been there.

If you’re reading this and you’ve yet to be married, I cannot stress enough; do what you both want.  We did but it wasn’t easy.  Do not try to people-please and do not let people spoil the moments that mean something to you.  Do not let them take anything precious from a moment that sincere people are happy to spend with you.

And do not let the Church cram your Dad’s girlfriend into the pew next to your Mom, where she can’t get pictures and enjoy a good view of her only daughter’s nuptials.

Though I’m sure it doesn’t sound like it, I have gotten over quite a bit of my aggression and I’ve learned to forgive but I just simply won’t forget.  I realize the “what ifs” and regrets are pointless.  I’ve even developed relationships with the people who hurt me and I’m able to look past what I consider to be their mistakes because in the end, regardless of what that one day meant, we are happy and no one can take that away from us.

Gee Shan, thanks for delving that all up.  Try to push out the memory of children throwing Bibles in the Church while their parents laughed because they are “cute”, as the Church planner and your family gaped in horror.  Forget the bullying when our decisions didn’t meet the expectations of others.

By the way, if you have a choice, and you should because you’re paying for it, for God’s sake, make a “do not play” list.  Unless you really enjoy the Chicken Dance or the Macarena, do yourself that favor.  That was one of the best moves we made; that and getting out of the country for a couple weeks after the wedding.  Those days…were some of the best days of my life.

Generations of Inconsistency

Studying ancestry is one of the things I’m truly passionate about.  I spent the day yesterday at an Ancestry Day workshop in Philadelphia, sponsored by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Ancestry.com.

Yeah, I know, I’m a dork.  I spent the day with hundreds, actually, I’d say at least over a thousand old people.  I mean ancestry enthusiasts.  And I say they were old, only to add to my point that I’m an old soul, because honestly, I got along with them swimmingly.  We laughed, we joked and discussed how young people just don’t get it.  They must see me as old too; I’m only 28 mind you.  It was a swell day.

(“Swell” by the way, is a fine word to use but apparently even though I’ve tried to revive its popularity, even Microsoft Word is unsure of how I’m using it.  I’m not letting them stop me or change it to “swelling”.  That just doesn’t make sense.)

The main point of this post however, is that I’ve realized the inconsistency of my ancestors and maybe that’s why I’ve lived such with such colorful stories so far myself.  When I look around though, I have friends who have done the same thing, gone to the same church, same school, same, same, same as their parents and their parents before.  I don’t mock this, because I honestly admire tradition and all it represents.  Instead, I come from people who never really seemed to know who they were or what they wanted.  Even if they did, what they relayed the family about themselves was untrue anyway.  Despite that, I’ve found so many pieces to our family’s ancestral puzzle, but they were not the type to play along and do as you’re supposed to.

The numerous speakers gave ideas on how to further genealogical research; where to search and what kind of odd records could be of assistance.  I realized how neither side of my family had ever consistently practiced religion, stayed in the same place and joined organizations for any extended period of time.   They really didn’t leave a paper trail of any kind unless it was required for the government every ten years in a census.  Even then, like most families, the data is screwy.  The most consistent thing about my family, as found through records, is that they were inconsistent.  I realize the times were different long ago, but for research sake, sometimes I do admire the people who had boring families.  But then again, when I find a truly fascinating puzzle piece, man am I glad the people in my past were interesting.  I wonder if they were inconsistent out of choice or out of circumstance.  Still, I hope one day I leave generations sifting through my records saying, “Wow, that Shannon was a swell character”.

That’s right; I’m bringing the word “swell” back.  One day, it’ll be “cool” again.

I Belong to Nowhere

I visited an old friend last weekend and she was asking what my husband and I were up to, and if we had any future plans.  I told her that depending on what happens with my career, we wouldn’t be opposed to moving to Europe or some authentically historic American town, but we’ll see what happens.  She said how she could never do that, just pick up and leave, but it’s something that we have grown accustom to and maybe it’s slightly hereditary.

I’m an avid ancestry enthusiast.  Every key member to my family tree, at least going back a few generations, had the same defining quality; the ability to be fearless and never look back.  This to me is a quality because I admire their courage and ambition, to pick up from their place of birth and independently find a new home in a new state, country, continent, etc.  And they did it alone.  They all did.

This is a blessing and a curse because combined; these adventurous ancestors gave me life.  Had they not, I don’t want to say “ran away”, but rather “looked for better opportunities”, I wouldn’t exist.  It’s a curse because, as a researcher, it’s very difficult to track them.  I run into possible distant connections and it appears my ancestor was always the black sheep who left and never wrote home.  There never seems to be hostility or a tragic story that I’m aware of based on family stories, they were just ok being independent.

That being said, I began frequently re-establishing myself early and being the “new kid” by changing schools throughout my youth.  Not by my choice, but my parents, due to transportation, tuition, educational factors and eventually a move just before high school.  I settled in well for the most part at each place and sought my own adventure to California after graduation.  I never truly felt like I fit in anywhere. Though I did find myself back in New Jersey a few years ago, close to family and old friends, I really don’t feel that I have a home.  The town I grew up in until I was 13 would probably be the closest thing to a “home” feeling but most of the people who lived there are gone or have passed away.  If you remember, I was friendly with the elderly people.  Sure I had friends that were my age, but they’ve since grown and moved too.

Today we live in a town close by, which feels like a neighborhood that people grew up in, finished school, started to grow their own family and then moved back in.  There is a sense of community, but not for me.  I am friendly with people here, but my roots weren’t here.  I think it is why I find the idea of moving anywhere that feels comfortable, so appealing, because I don’t need to stay anywhere out of obligation.  No one else in my family has.

My husband and I are the same way.  Having grown up in Iowa, and then joined the military, it caused his zip code to change more than a few times.  We come from heritages that we didn’t technically belong to.  My family has strong Irish and German tradition, but I don’t necessarily belong there.  My family for generations lived in Philadelphia and I was even born there, but then became the first to be raised in the suburbs of New Jersey.  Although it’s only minutes away, I didn’t grow up in a row home with a corner candy store or play baseball on the asphalt, so I can’t claim that as home either.  I grew up in a house where people had their own space and minded their business.  They were people looking to remove themselves from city culture; maybe culture altogether.  I don’t want to come off as ungrateful, I’ve had a fortune life with loving parents, but the circumstances have just left me feeling a little lost as an adult.

We aren’t tied to anywhere and maybe we’re not quite sure where home is yet.  I suppose we’ll have to find it together and make it that way ourselves.  We can be the “new kids” together.