Over ninety modest row homes occupied the two and three-hundred blocks of East Sheldon Street. Situated between C Street and Rising Sun Avenue, the homes formed a continuous line on either side of the street. The houses across from us were older, taller, and had a small flowerbed in front, whereas our homes, newer and smaller, had a small lawn in the front and back. Our block was flanked by C Street to the north and Rising Sun Avenue to the south.
Before we moved to Sheldon Street, we lived a few miles away on a block of even smaller row homes. It was there that Mom began to send me on errands. So, around five years of age, I started riding to the corner grocery store on my tricycle. Holding my little sister, Mom stood in the doorway with her red bandanna, light cardigan, and dark-colored slacks and watched me. I would ride my bike in my rolled-up dungarees and tee shirt and return with the goods in a basket secured behind me.
As I grew older, I graduated to the next level of independence and responsibility. So, when it was time for me to get a haircut when I turned eight, I could walk to the shop by myself. Nevertheless, there would be an impediment to reaching the barber shop — Rising Sun Avenue. John’s Barber Shop occupied a small storefront on Albanus Street near the other side of the Avenue. Albanus was not very wide, and its one-way traffic emptied onto Rising Sun, which was three times as wide as Sheldon with heavier and faster traffic. Driving it proved challenging to all because two sets of trolley tracks dominated its center lanes. Mom didn’t drive, so walking was my only option.
At one time, John cut hair at a hotel, but now, he was on his own in our neighborhood. An ebonite ashtray with the hotel name, a memento from times past, graced the ledge of his shop along with the instruments of his profession. He posted his motto on a small sign on the store-length mirror: “It Takes Your Head to Run My Business.”
The day of the haircut, the plan was for Mom to call John and tell him that I was on my way. Mom and I would then walk along Sheldon Street until we came to Rising Sun Avenue where she’d make sure that I crossed safely to the other side. When we finished, John would briefly leave his shop and customers to watch me safely scamper to the other side of the avenue. I’d then head back to Sheldon Street.
Our plan didn’t unfold as we’d expected.
To find John’s number, Mom pulled out the phone book, which in Philadelphia was about two and a half inches thick at the time. Those White Pages were the go-to listing for telephone numbers and addresses. Mom proceeded to look for John’s, eventually coming to the right page and gliding her finger to the listing for what she thought was John’s Barber Shop. Mom was not wearing her reading glasses when her finger landed on John’s.
She called the number, and John answered.
“Hi, John, how are you doing?” Mom asked.
“I’m fine, thank you,” he said.
“I’d like to send my son over in a few minutes,” Mom said.
“Ok,” he said.
“And when he’s finished, could you help him across the street?” Mom asked.
After a brief moment of silence, John responded, “Huh?”
“Is this John the Barber?” Mom asked confused.
“No, this is John’s Bar!” John answered.
Both had a hearty laugh when they realized what had happened.
Mom then called John’s Barber Shop, made the proper arrangements, and proceeded to walk me toward Rising Sun Avenue. I safely crossed the busy thoroughfare and was on my way to getting my haircut by myself.
Mom guided me in those early years when I needed her most. Years later, we laughed as we remembered Mom calling the wrong John that day. That day was part of the process of many steps to maturity. I would eventually cross Rising Sun Avenue on my own, and years later, drive the family car along its embedded rails. When I became a parent and helped our daughter cross her own avenues, I fondly recalled the times when Mom was there to see me cross my own.
Ken Romanowski is a person of many and varied interests. Capping off a 45-year career in the business world, he is on the adjunct finance faculty at Rosemont College. Here 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 recently completed her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction at Rosemont. He concentrates on non-fiction, especially as it relates to early American finance and lifestyle. He is also a regular contributor to online finance publications MoneyGeek and WalletHub.