“The Eagle and Mrs. B.” by Linda Romanowski

Many a Philadelphia area college student spent those post-Thanksgiving/Pre-Christmas days working at one of the “Big Three” department stores in Center City: Strawbridge & Clothier, Lit Brothers, or John Wanamaker’s. Due to my mother’s influence, I thought working at Wanamaker’s was the best of all worlds. After all, who could resist the classy interior and exterior window displays, the jagged mountain range stroke of the owner’s signature on the side of the building, and the transportation proximity?

Two other striking figures claimed the store’s signature distinction: the Wanamaker eagle and the annual Christmas fountain and light show. The serene and imposing gilded bronze aviary statue was the focal point for gathering, for claiming  “lost parents,” and for bon voyages until next time.

Lifting one’s eyes to the sights, sounds, and waving fountain streams of the hourly Christmas performance stopped shoppers in their tracks and delighted the minds of wide-eyed youngsters who rarely cried during those few minutes of awe. My first recollection of seeing the aqua wonder made me fearful, thinking at any moment, the fountains would fall from their upper stage perch and drown the audience below, extinguishing the prancing lights in the process.

Not every pair of eyes welcomed this holiday diversion. My first Christmas working season in the children’s department in 1972 provided a novel view of the saleswomen employed at the makeup counters. The daily music grinding of “Frosty the Snowman” did nothing for their business. No cash registers rung in harmony with “O, Christmas Tree.” Gazers leaned on their pristine cosmetic display cases; their backs turned away from the porcelain faces of Estee Lauderettes, who resorted to makeup remover to erase the handprints and elbow marks on their precious encasements of promised beauty and glamour. No allure of scented bottled blossoms could overpower the lofty sounds and scenery above the audience. It must have been the bane of their existence, their dreams of pocket money ruined by lit-up distraction. One year, I counted viewing thirty-six performances of Rudolph’s very shiny unpowdered nose glowing across the ceiling.

*****

Every college student on Wanamaker’s holiday payroll hoped to work for the main floor supervisor, Mrs. B., known for her kindness. She was a smartly dressed, middle-aged Jewish lady, brownish-black hair coiffed to perfection, with no-nonsense eyeglasses attached to a pearl chain that hung elegantly around her neck. Her high-heeled pumps that coordinated with every outfit gave her an acceptable height, appearing taller than she was. Her trim figure clicked in tandem with her stride. Mrs. B. took the time to acquaint herself with several of us. One afternoon, during the height of the Christmas rush, she announced that she would retain us for the week after Christmas. We were delighted, as it meant money for next semester’s textbooks would be less of an issue. All we needed to do was follow her instructions without variation.

When we punched in on the time clock on December 26th, Mrs. B. led us to an unfamiliar store area, one at a time. We were placed separately in obscure areas of dressing rooms and stock areas, out of the view of the “suits” who might sniff through the aisles looking for post-holiday imperfections. There were close calls, but none of us were spotted. Had we been “caught,” we would say we were Christmas shopping to maintain our ruse. During that week, Mrs. B. was ubiquitous, her eagle eyes surpassing that stony sculpture’s glance on the first floor. We functioned seamlessly as the suits paraded the aisles, praising Mrs. B. for her diligence and attention to detail. I’ll always wonder if the Wanamaker eagle suspected her and kept the secret, among all the others, under its ornate-clad feathers.

Linda M. Romanowski is a graduate of Rosemont College, in 1975 with a BA in Psychology and Elementary Education, and this past May as an MFA graduate in Creative Non-fiction. She was assistant editor of Non-fiction for Rathalla magazine, Rosemont’s literary publication. Her Italian heritage-based thesis, “Final Touchstones”, earned with distinction, is scheduled for publication by Sunbury Press within the coming months. Several of the essays from her pending book were published on City Key, Ovunque Siamo and the Mario Lanza Institute Facebook page. She recently reviewed Ellen Stone’s poetry book “What is in the Blood” for the online Philadelphia Stories 2021 Fall issue. Her poem, “Seen In Translation” was selected for inclusion in the Moonstone Arts Center Protest 2021-100 Thousand Poets for Change.

“Christian Street Caruso” by Linda Romanowski

A quest in the present can help us to access eras, events, and people who are meant to live on forever. My pilgrimage to the Mario Lanza Museum was such a quest, evoking memories of one of the greatest tenors of all time. It would include visiting the museum, the Mario Lanza mural, Lanza’s birthplace, the Italian Market, and St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church. 

The most recent South Philadelphia location of the Mario Lanza Museum at 7th and Montrose Streets was sold to a developer. The new location at 12th and Reed Streets was scheduled to open during the late spring of 2019. My cousin lived across the street from the now “former” museum, and I called her and excitedly told her about my upcoming pilgrimage. She would join my husband Ken and I on our visit to the church.

Continue reading “Christian Street Caruso” by Linda Romanowski

“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.

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

“Pot It’s Not” by Linda Romanowski

One of my Grandfather’s greatest pleasures and talents was his green thumb, which, because he was so tanned, I’d jokingly refer to as his “Italian Brown Thumb.” In the mid-seventies, when he came to live with us in Roxborough, my father and uncles made a small garden patch for him at the side of the house, and every inch yielded vegetables, plants, and flowers – there wasn’t a seed which wouldn’t grow for him. Grandpop’s favorites included the Italian herbs, oregano, parsley, basil, and rosemary. His summer harvest yielded far more than we and our neighbors needed, so he decided to dry the herbs and bottle them for use during winter months. He’d methodically cut the herbs, wash them gently, and then string each leaf with needle and thread in a long strand, hanging them on the clothesline, rigged up from our garage door to the end of our driveway. The herbs which dried best were oregano and basil.

Continue reading “Pot It’s Not” by Linda Romanowski