“That Night on the Old Girard Avenue Bridge” by Ken Romanowski

In the early 1960s we were a young, row home family. Dad was employed while Mom was a homemaker. My parents saved enough money to take the four of us, including my younger sister and me, to a Big Five college basketball game in West Philadelphia. For us, this was huge.

Our destination was the Palestra, located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). This 8,700-seat arena was the hub of the Big Five, which included LaSalle, Temple, Penn, Saint Joseph’s (St. Joe’s), and Villanova.

That night, St. Joe’s was playing against one of its Big Five rivals, though I can’t remember the name of the other school. St. Joe’s was my Dad’s alma mater.  Like many men of his era, he served in the Navy during World War II, and after the end of the war, his GI Bill paid for his tuition and provided a small stipend so he could attend St. Joe’s.  

It was normally a 30-minute ride from our home in Olney to the Palestra via North Philadelphia. En route, we needed to cross the Schuylkill River. That night, Dad, with Mom, our navigator, decided to drive our 1956 Plymouth Savoy sedan across the Girard Avenue Bridge. We sat comfortably in the Savoy with its bench seats and roll-down windows, rolled-up that night to keep us warm. Our winter coats also kept us cozy.

The trip was uneventful until we began to cross the nearly 90-year-old iron bridge. What happened next was a blur though I remember that our car broke down about halfway across that Victorian-era span.  Our attempts to get out of the car were hampered by curbs so high that we were unable to open the doors on the passenger side. Dad eventually got out, dodged traffic, and assessed the situation. Potholes were everywhere, the cause of our two flat tires. Somehow, Dad crossed the bridge and found a service station where he bought a tire and rim. He rolled the new tire back to our car, promptly and carefully replacing both flats with the tire he had just purchased and the spare. Meanwhile, tow trucks were removing other vehicles with flat tires that were stuck in their place.

We started driving again, but once we continued, I noticed that instead of moving deeper into West Philadelphia, we circled around and were heading towards home. I asked Dad what was happening, and he told me that he’d spent the ticket money for the extra tire and rim, so we couldn’t afford to go to the game anymore. At that moment, I learned that the unexpected could happen at any time or at any place. It was an important lesson, but the fact that I couldn’t see that game with my family hurt nonetheless. I was a very disappointed eight-year-old. Everyone else must have felt the same way I did because the ride home was quiet.

Dad and I eventually returned to the Palestra. We developed a friendly rivalry in terms of sports when I attended Temple University. In his later years, I returned the favor of games long past, and took him to the Palestra to watch our teams play again. The hardwood floor, the vaulted ceiling, the distinctive buzzer, and backless stadium chairs were still there, as was the magic. I will carry the memories of those games, even the missed game from so many year ago, for the rest of my life, and remain thankful to Dad for creating them. 

Ken Romanowski is a person of many and varied interests. Capping off a 45-year career in the business world, he teaches Finance part-time at Rosemont College, where he has found fertile ground to develop his teaching and writing skills. His love of the arts has been nurtured since childhood, and more recently, his inspiration is his wife, Linda, who is completing her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction at Rosemont.   His previous writing projects focused on technical issues.  Going forward, he will concentrate on creative non-fiction, especially as it relates to early American finance and lifestyle.

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