“The City I Knew” by Sarah Gallagher

Grand mom had a row home on a city street with a corner store. There were bars on her windows and double bolts on her doors – but that’s not why I remember her home, the house where she raised my mother.

I remember playing seesaw with my sister in the park across the street and my family and their friends all down the block in one direction or the other. I remember the little, white ceramic tree with lights in her window at Christmas time and banging pots and pans on the stoop every new year.

Grand mom was a cookie baking, card playing, chain-smoking matriarch with an open-door policy who let me be a kid in a changing world. She taught us that there were not so nice people who ruined our playground and kinder people who fixed it up. She let us play in the hose and sent us down the block for ice cream but never let us go anywhere alone at night.

Back then, the four block radius around her house belonged to us. Everybody knew each other – the people were struggling, but the people were good. But as the years went on, the neighborhood changed – heroin overtook those streets and ripped through the neighborhood leaving behind fatherless children and mothers shedding tears. It ravaged my family too, but grand mom never wavered.

Still, it felt like the neighborhood didn’t belong to us anymore. I don’t like to remember that city or see my memories through the lens I view the city through now, the one that’s filmy, the one that’s gritty.

The city I knew loved everyone. It was my weekend home with spaghetti dinners every Sunday and neighborhood gossip over cheese Danish for grownups at a Formica kitchen table. A vibrant little world light years ago in a small bubble of Southwest Philly, the city I will always miss.


Sarah Gallagher is a social media manager for the City Key. She’s an outgoing introvert who likes to spend her alone time lighting incense and writing poetry or reading memoirs and literary fiction. She likes pop surrealism, traveling, antiques, horror sketches, kitschy diners, and getting lost in movies. She has a Bachelors degree from St Joseph’s University and belongs to three honor societies, serving as a Chapter Advisor for the National Society of Leadership and Success.

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