by Patience Rage
I’ve lived in Germantown-Mt. Airy for many years, but I grew up in North Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion section. When I see snow on the bare branches of trees, roof tops and the hoods of cars near my Haines Street home, it reminds me of my childhood and leaner times. I would love to dedicate this essay, “Snow Pudding,” to my mother, Mary P. Fields, who at 83 years old just stopped working last year.
We had tight times during my childhood in the 1960s in North Philadelphia. However, winter brought a surprising pleasure. My mother would get the softest fresh-fallen snow and add sugar, milk and vanilla until it was a big beautiful bowl of Momma’s snow pudding.
I was the second oldest of five girls and two boys, and I can remember the excitement of us grabbing our bowls and spoons. I recall my mother’s long, thin brown fingers, scooping up the fresh fallen snow. My mother somehow managed to keep her hands nice, nails filed and polished, even though she did day’s work for a family in Oreland.
She worked three days a week for $8 a day. That was our dinner money. It gave her enough to buy hot dogs and pork and beans and a long loaf of Strohmann’s bread. There were about six of us then.
Sometimes there was enough money left for my brothers and me to get a lunch tray at school the next day at the cost of 35 cents, which included something like a bologna and cheese sandwich, a container of milk, a cookie and or/a piece of fruit with the choice of a few tablespoons of fruit cocktail. It was nothing good, but to have the lunch tray I had to walk to school. I couldn’t have bus fare and lunch both.
One day it was horribly cold. I was shivering walking home form school in my lightweight coat. I could barely move my fingers, which were stiff with cold because I had no gloves. I stopped a police car and told the officers that some kids were chasing me to beat me up again, and that they would probably catch me. The officers gave me a ride home.
It was only half true. The way I knew it would work was that I got a ride home from the police the week previous because I had been hit in the eye with an ice ball! It was the only way I could think of making it home in that cold. I knew I could freeze to death.
Besides the cold, trouble could come in the form of a knock on the door. I got to know the different knocks. I could tell when it was the rent man, the insurance man, Stern’s clothing or the man my mother paid for our shoes on the installment plan. It wasn’t a regular knock. Our family and friends had a different knock.
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that some people lived better than we did. That they lived in less crowded conditions, that they set themselves apart from us in the way they dressed and the way they spoke. They were black like us, but their speech didn’t sound as southern as ours. I was teased that I sounded like I was singing when I talked.
But in North Philly, we were mostly all poor and working class. Now, in Germantown, I’m aware that there are all different classes of people, different races, ethnicities, value systems and religions. In North Philly when I was a child, we only had Baptist churches and synagogues.
We liked going to Fairmount Park. It was like our beach. We would take our blankets, balls, lunch and hula hoops. There was a street light at the corner of 33rd and Berks streets, where you could push the button and make the traffic stop so that you could cross 33rd street. My aunties, cousins, brothers and sisters all raced for that light. When it turned green, we’d run across the big street and keep on running up the hill and not stopping till we reach the reservoir. And there in the park we’d stay all day.
In winter, we didn’t play in the park, but we had snow pudding. I have a few more resources now than I had then, but I haven’t tasted snow pudding in years. It is poor folks’ ice cream.
Patience’s story, “Better Than,” was recently published by Cornell University Press in an anthology titled “Class Lives,” in which a range of authors (four from Philadelphia) contributed essays and memoirs about their experience of class. For readings or more information about Patience, who says she “earned” her unusual last name, contact her agent, Deborah Yarock, at 410-407-0132.
More information at http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOl=80140100908610