Nancy Berman and friend Nancy Holmes
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
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Interviewees: Nancy Berman (NB) and friend Nancy Holmes (NH)
Interviewers: Wendy Moody (WM) and Ellen Sheehan (ES)
Date of Interview: February 14, 2019
ES: This is Ellen Sheehan recording Nancy Holmes and Nancy Berman for an oral history interview on Thursday, February 14, 2019. I’m here with Wendy Moody and we are going to conduct our interview with these neighbors who grew up on the 3300 block of West Queen Lane.
WM: Thank you both for coming. Nancy Berman, we’ll begin with you, and Nancy Holmes feel free to interject if you’d like. Why don’t we start with when and where you were born.
NB: Absolutely. September 3, 1946. Roxborough Memorial Hospital. My parents were both living in East Falls at the time – James Turner[AA]1 and his wife, Eleanor[AA]2. Her maiden name was Quein and they lived in the business and home of my grandfather at the time. And there was also a housekeeper/cook, Lila Vaughn, who was also an integral part of our family.
WM: And where was your grandfather’s business, and what was his business?
NB: It was at the foot of Midvale and Ridge – at the intersection where there is currently a gas station – 4170 Ridge Avenue – and it’s now a gas station!
WM: And what was the business?
NB: Well, we were a multigenerational family of undertakers so some of my first memories are playing underneath caskets in what would have been the living room of what would have been a family home right there on the Ridge, and my kindergarten teacher at Park Congregational – I think on Midvale, it’s still there — used to thoroughly enjoy all the flowers I would snitch from the baskets and take to her until I was prevented from doing so, once she found out where they came from. [AA]3
WM: What was the name of the business?
NB: It was Turner Funeral Home.
ES: What was the name of the flower business?
NB: Well, they used all sorts of flower companies – the families around here, so I don’t really remember that. I was four or five years old when this was going on. I know that one of them used to be in business right there above the hospital on the Ridge. Nan, do you recall their names? I don’t. I used to know them but I don’t anymore.
WM: Can you tell us a little about your grandfather and his wife, and the housekeeper that you had, and all you can remember about his business?
NB: Ok. My grandfather was very much the patriarch and he was a holdover from the Edwardian period.
WM: His name?
NB: His name was William Mills Turner – and he dressed on the outside and the inside as if you were someone walking the streets in London. And he did it morning, noon, and night because of the family business. So he was an anomaly – he would wear a cutaway and vest, a top hat, corsets and spats. I remember each item of clothing distinctly, and a cane maybe – it would fit, but I don’t remember that part.[AA]4
WM: Do you know how he happened to get into that business?
NB: It could very well be that there was a member of our family before he was running it. But I’m not clear about that part of the history. As someone who loves history – I’ve been doing a lot of online research – I know that large numbers of our family came from Blackburn, England, and the surrounding countryside had a lot of farmers and carpenters and weavers and beer makers, brewers, and it could be that, as it used to be the case, farmers would do carpentry on their farm – that entailed making coffins – and it could just be that that was the segue. That’s historically accurate but I don’t know if it’s individually accurate.
WM: Right. About what year are we talking about that this business existed?
NB: Well, I know that I have the date of my grandfather’s birth in here somewhere and I think he had been in business with someone else at some point, whose name is now lost to me, but maybe someone else could come up with that. But it was in full swing when I was born in 1946 and had been going on for years before that and it carried through all the way with my father and uncle. For a while they had two locations – one in East Falls and one in Roxborough – a much bigger one, two buildings, much grander.
And so my uncle Mills and my dad Jim, or James, and my brother also ran it. And I was invited to be an undertaker but it wasn’t in my nature to do so. So it ended when my brother inherited the family business – my father died – and he sold out to West Laurel Hill. He worked for them for a while with his license and the property was torn down, which is really sad because it was a beautiful old structure at the top of the Ridge and it became a strip mall. So both funeral parlors suffered an ignominious end.
WM: Going back to the one in East Falls, tell us a little about your grandfather’s personality and then, also, can you describe what the funeral parlor looked like?
NB: He was quite the ladies’ man, I am told. He was charming and dapper and he drank too much.
WM: You said his wife had died young so he was…
NB: Caroline, I think, was her name. I’m not completely sure what happened to her but there is some mythology that the doctor had prescribed morphine? And I don’t know the details and I don’t know the accuracy of that, but that was just never talked about. I was too young – it was the kind of topic children were not told about back then.
But he always presented himself beautifully and whatever drinking he did didn’t affect his business life. Lila was there to help raise the boys because she (Caroline) died fairly early into the marriage and left behind two sons, one of whom also died fairly young. And I think around the same time – it could have been typhoid, or something like that, whatever illnesses might have been sweeping through, or the flu – but I could be making that up too. But they did startlingly die right around each other.
WM: So they had two sons. One of them died and the other was your…
NB: Three sons.
WM: One of them was your father?
NB: Three sons. Two survived and one died quite early – Wallace. And James and Mills survived, Mills the elder. And they ran, pretty much, the new funeral home up at Roxborough.
WM: Now can you describe the one in East Falls?
NB: It was, I believe, a converted family home. Please consider my apology because, again, I’m so young. But I remember stairs, I remember a kitchen – perhaps in the back – and my father used to play poker back there with a lot of his buddies from the war. And Lila would come in every day – a holdover from when grandfather was alone with the boys – and she would cook all the meals and clean. And then as you would go upstairs, I recall pictures of me in a crib in the bedrooms upstairs and a deck out back where you could see the river. And you could see elderly gentlemen fishing along the river. And what we used to call – pardon, pigeon-shitbridge– it always needed a paint job. (Laughter).
WM: The first floor was the funeral parlor and you lived upstairs?
NB: Yes. Where the embalming occurred I’m not at all clear but it had to happen somewhere!
WM: So tell us a little about the business. What was the clientele?
NB: Typical Protestant, East Falls citizens – the lower level of the hill all the way up and following the economic strata with it. The thing that was most different back then is that, as I recall, my father complaining mightily about all the stairs he’d have to climb because funerals were done at home back then. They weren’t done nearly so often in the parlor. That became more important with the newer, second location which had two grand parlors but the ones in East Falls, I’m not sure, that they had one. I think it was strictly done out of people’s homes.
NH: And you said the living room was full of the caskets on display.
NB: But maybe they were pushed aside and something was done to accommodate the ceremony there on those rarer occasions when they would be held. A wicker basket, which I remember distinctly, was used to carry the deceased, perhaps to the medical examiner’s office if that needed to happen or perhaps for the embalming to take place and then back up the steps again. And there were candelabra – I still have two candlesticks, floor to ceiling, in our family, which I gave to our daughter – carved of wood for the Catholic ceremonies, which were rare because the clientele were almost always Protestant because that’s what we were. It was a very political and religious divide among the demographics of who would go to which undertaker.
WM: And what was the other undertaker?
NB: Well, the McIlvaines were one of them – I don’t recall the names but there were a number, since driven out of business because funeral parlors have been bought up by corporations pretty much now. But we were a distinct family business and the charming, sad thing was, because there were no credit cards back then, people would pre-purchase and they would become very much a part of our lives. They would drop in the funeral home and add to the fund to pay for their burial. And they would do that for family members as well so there was a lot of camaraderie, a lot of gossip would occur, it was one of a number of ways that the community shared history.
WM: That’s so interesting. And where were most of these people buried?
NB: East and West Laurel Hill would probably be two of the stronger examples. I would hear the names of cemeteries over the dinner table floated as general conversation all the time.
WM: Now you mentioned McIlvaine’s – was there competition between you?
NB: Extreme. (laughter)
WM: Can you talk about that?
NB: Lots of curmudgeonly back-biting going on. It’s not a conversation that most people are privy to because the veneer of the service is such, and the event is so important to the family that’s experiencing the loss, but what would go on behind the curtain would be things like: “I can’t believe he got that one” kind of conversation. (laughter). There would be crossovers, where people would go to competing Protestant undertakers, so there was a lot of competition and racking them up, and keeping count of how many people died that year… it was such a very different atmosphere that I was seeing both sides of that curtain all the time.
NH: Some of the McIlvaines are at Henry and Midvale.[AA]5
WM: Before we move on, is there anything else about that business that you would like to share with us?
NB: I think not. (laughter)
WM: Ok. So do you have brothers and sisters?
NB: I do. I have one of each. A brother and a sister – Lisa and Jim. They since moved far away and have no association with the neighborhood.
WM: You lived here from what age to what age?
NB: I was born here and I stayed in East Falls after we moved to Queen Lane from the funeral home. Grandfather bought a house at 3307 West Queen Lane and he lived on the top floor, my parents and my younger brother and I, with Lila coming in every day, lived there and I was about 13 when we finally moved to Lafayette Hill.
WM: So we’re very interested in what you remember as a child as far as schooling, the stores and recreation. So could you touch on each of those?
NB: That’s the fun part! I distinctly remember Tilden Market as a very important part of my life, even though I wasn’t doing any grocery shopping because it was Nan, who’s going to talk next – Nancy and I and Sally, who also lived on the block…
NH: Sally Hanna .[AA]6
NB: Sally Hanna. We would be wild and free and unsupervised for almost the entire day. The way children are raised now is completely different from how we were raised. I ran from the house and I was thrown from the house. Everybody was happy with the situation. I was allowed to get dirty, scrape my knees, drive my bike anywhere I wanted to go, or roller skate any street that felt good to roller skate.
WM: What were the good roller skating streets?
NB: Penn Street![AA]7
WM: What about Tilden Market – what was your memory there?
NB: It was a bike stop because they had popsicles and ice cream cones in the freezer section and candy bars and all that good stuff.
NH: Also the drug store. Tilden Drug Store. Dave and Shirley.
WM: Is that who owned it?
NH: Dave and Shirley Petnick.
WM: And who owned the Market?
NH: Al Bralow, who lived up here on the corner.[AA]8
WM: And what other stores do you remember?
NB: Well some of the poker-playing crew included the owner of Buchanan Pharmacy and, let’s see, Norman Diehm – his dad did art restoration and he lived around here somewhere and I wish I could remember his father’s name – he also painted pictures. He was an artist – not Norm, but his dad was an artist. Norman dated for a very long time, but never married, Mildred Tregea. She worked at the Reading Railroad. She lived behind the library on a small street on the hill there and I remember her taking the train in every day to get to the Reading Terminal to do her job and she was also a babysitter.
WM: Going back to Buchanan Pharmacy, where was that located and what do you remember about that?
NH: Indian Queen Lane and Bowman
NB: I remember the smell of it.
WM: Which was…
NB: …unlike any other building that you go in, because of all the pharmaceuticals. Do I remember correctly that they also did sodas there or am I wrong about that? And it was a mysterious place because when you have a child’s brain and you’re trying to knit together what you’re seeing through your eyes and process it with a brain that’s not ready to do that, everything was a mystery!
WM: Where did you go to buy clothes?
NB: Well, my mother had a sewing machine so she did a great deal of sewing on her sewing machine. And there was a ragman who would come down the street with a wagon collecting old fabrics and recycling them and turning them into paper. I think Rowell’s Department Store was a huge deal when it finally opened, and Allen’s in Germantown. And it was a big change for her to get those plate credit cards – those little metal plates that you put in a leather sleeve and off she’d go and buy things at Allen’s and Rowell’s. [AA]9
WM: You mentioned the Five & Ten? Can you tell us about that? Where was it?
NB: One of my favorite memories as a very small child was grandfather – with his cigars, and the ashes dribbling down his vest – would take me after kindergarten, either Park Congregational or St. Timothy’s, I don’t recall which, over to the Five & Dime every once in a while, and let me run wild through the aisles. They had wooden floors.
WM: This was at Ridge and Midvale?
NB: Yes, on the corner directly across the street from our home.
WM: Where Le Bus is now?
NB: Yes, Le Bus is in there now. I can still hear the wooden floors creaking and they had large square display counters in the middle of the store just piled high. It was an artless form of selling. It was very much a general store sort of place. You could get everything and anything because there were so few shops.
WM: What did you like getting there?
NB: I don’t even remember, but I was given a small amount of money – we’re talking dimes here – because it was a five and dime, truly, and I was allowed to run around through all those aisles and finally pick something and go home with it.
NH: Crayons. Coloring books. Trinkets.
NB: I’ll go with it – whatever you say.
WM: Did you go to any restaurants?
NB: Oh! I’m remembering those things you used to put your fingers in…
All: Chinese tortures!
NB: Maybe an Etch-a-Sketch thing, but that may be later; I’m not sure.
NH: Are you sure about the corner? I thought it was the opposite corner.
ES: A hardware store was across.
WM: Did you ever go to restaurants?
NB: Yes, but there wasn’t anything around here. I don’t recall any restaurant.
WM: What was the general flavor of the neighborhood? What do you think of when you think of East Falls in the late Forties and early Fifties?
NB: Eyeballs! (laughter)
WM: Meaning what?
NB: We were watched but we didn’t know it! It was the glorious way you were allowed to run free, but we were also being observed by everybody and anybody, as kids. They all knew who we were, whether we liked it or not or whether we knew it or not. And there was a lot of over-the-backyard clothesline talk and I remember that and there was a lot of history going on – where it was very much a small town and everybody knew everybody’s business, whether you liked it or not or whether you wanted it or not. Whether it was even true or not. They did!
WM: Did you ever go down to the river and play down there? Or McMichael Park?
NB: McMichael Park was huge for us, not the river.
WM: What did you do in the park?
NB: (laughter) We rode our bicycles over there and Nan and I would pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or maybe rolled Lebanon baloney with cream cheese and an apple or something like that and climb the trees. Or Lila would walk me over there and we would pick the buttercups or make clover chains to wear as wreaths on our head.
NH: We took our picnics up on top of the monument – it was so tall then, now it looks really tiny.
NB: It was the equivalent of Mount Everest.
WM: But not the river so much…
NB: No, you’d have to cross East River Drive to get to the river.
ES: How about McDevitt? (ed. note: the local playground)
NB: There’s one more memory of the park Nan and I also shared. Fourth of Julys we would take our bicycles and put bunting on them and then we’d go over to the park and be part of the big parade. Soldiers would come with their flags – up the Ridge with their flags and their uniforms.
NH: Up Midvale…
NB: Up Midvale, and wind up at the park. And I remember they’d shoot off their guns in salute and stand there for the ceremony.
WM: Were you affiliated with one of the churches at the Fourth of July?
NB: Ummm… they tried with me…we started me out at the Baptist Church but some little boy punched me in the stomach and I cried and I decided that wasn’t the place for me. So I marched myself off to the church of The Oak Road and I joined the choir and became a member there, and joined the youth group and it was where I first dated. It was a lovely place to learn to become a young adult.
ES: And where did you go on a date?
I actually went to McMichael Park once with some young man who was into rockets and he shot up a rocket in the park during the whole Sputnik thing where everyone was going wild about rockets. I dated a young man later who was a Quaker. He went to Germantown Friends. We’d go to each other’s houses or go bowling or to the movies. That was pretty much it.
ES: Do you remember the Alden movie?
NB: Yay! I feel like I’m getting all the heavy hitters here. Yes, I want Nan to be able to talk about this stuff too. But, yes, the Alden Park movie theater was huge. Cowboys and Indians.[AA]10
ES: So you went to Lankenau School (for Girls)? (ed. Note: 3201 West School House Lane)
NB: Yes, we did together.
WM: Was that your grammar school?
NB: I was there all through kindergarten, first grade, all through 11 & ½ grade when we moved to Lafayette Hill and I was done with the commute. I did not like going there by car every day. My brother attended Penn Charter and he was across the street. It was a huge part of my life for many, many years. So I had a huge experience with Lutheran values, Lutheran services, as it was run by Lutheran deaconesses.
ES: Were the sisters there? Did they call them sisters?
NB: They did. German Lutheran. Run by Sister Lydia, [AA]11,founded by Mr. Lankenau, who founded the hospital. [AA]12 Mrs. Ida from Russia used to take us on nature walks in the Wissahickon. And it’s one of the last places – we were members of the last generation where little girls were shown how to pour tea and do a sampler and embroider and all that stuff, along with history and science and math.
ES: How large were the classes?
NB: They were teeny tiny. As I recall, I think 12 was a lot in the lower school grades, and we used to be educated and taught and do classes and events in all these buildings that used to be private homes. The stable – the gym used to be a stable. Gym was a pretty hideous experience. Nasty gym clothes that you never washed out of a point of honor. Clearly wasn’t a structure built to be a gym. So to be asked about sports, ugh, we did field hockey but I loathed it.
WM: Can you tell us a little about life on Queen Lane & describe what it was like?
NB: Back to the eyeballs and the bicycles again!
ES: Do you remember neighbors who lived here?
NB: Sure. Nancy would be good to talk about them more than I. The colorful part to add that is important for me is just that freedom and wildness, and to be able to be very young for a very long time, like running across yards and gathering fireflies in a jar and leaving them by your bedtable. And there they’d be in the morning and releasing them. There was such a calm innocence and protection going on around here. It was amazing considering we were all being trained to hide under our desks for the A Bomb.
WM: Not many cars?
NB: Cars were a huge feature but only because they were so unique. There were very few cars in the earlier years of our youth. And when Nancy’s family got their first family car, and when I got mine, that was a big thing to be talked about. Also, who got the first TV and what was that like.[AA]15
WM: Early fifties?
NB: Yes, watching Howdy Doody on television. Motorola, I think.[AA]16
WM: Did you use public transportation at all? Do you remember the train station or the trolley?
NB: When we got older, we would be allowed to – again, questioning the safety of it all – get on the A bus and go into town. Or we walked to Germantown on our own and go to the Dairy Maid and have ice cream sodas.
WM: Where was that?
NH: Germantown Avenue, just south of Chelten.
WM: People walked so much more then.
NH: I didn’t walk there – I took the 52 trolley.[AA]17
WM: Did you know the Kellys?
WM: Can you tell us about your connection?
NB: It was slight. It was peripheral. We were well aware of them. It harkens back in some ways to the Catholic-Protestant divide going on in the town. But my dad knew Mr. Kelly, and later in life when I worked for the City, I knew of, and traveled, in the same circles as John Kelly, Jr., and I would see him in some places. But Grace went to Ravenhill, and her life was more of a mystery to us. We have a friend, Nancy and I, Tina, who lived on the street and who went to Ravenhill, who may be able to tell you more about her.[AA]18
WM: Had you meet Grace growing up?
NB: No, I met a relative of hers that lived across the street from the school. It’s so vague I shouldn’t even be talking about it because it sounds like I’m trying to do a “me too”. They were around.
ES: That’s Grace’s sister (Peggy Davis)
WM: Any memories that your parents or grandparents had of East Falls that they told you that you might want to share with us?
NB: Tons of them and nothing in particular. Just being on the top floor of our house with Grandfather, listening to murder mysteries at night in his bedroom, and being able to look out of the window across the street here at 3307 and see the lights of the cars on the expressway, which was all new and quite exciting. And City Line Avenue. And just the changes that were getting made all around us, even though they were subtle.
We were also very much a part of it, party lines on the telephones, for instance – that changed over — IV3-0568 (laughter). There’s so many memories because we lived here and it was just the air we breathed.
WM: Did you use the library?
NB: I did, but not nearly as much as Nan.
WM: Any memories of that?
NB: No not really, oddly enough. I became a deep reader but I’m not so sure my parents were.
WM: Thank you. Feel free to join in with Nancy. Do you want to lead it, Ellen?
NB: You have to ask the same questions – maybe you have things that popped up while talking that you want to feature and share and add.
Interview with Nancy Holmes:
ES: Well we thank very much, Nancy Berman, and we’re going to interview your dear friend Nancy Holmes, who grew up at what address?
NH: When I was born, my grandparents were living at 3314 West Queen Lane, and when I was 2 or 3, in 1949, we moved across the street to 3315.
ES: Why did you move across the street?
NH: The house became available. The Kelly family moved out and they knew that my parents were looking for a house. I think having both generations in 3314 was a factor, I don’t know, but we were right across the street and we were back at 3314 every Sunday for a Sunday dinner, with the roast and the bone-handled carving set. I was the youngest until my brother was born so I got the meat juice-soaked bread that was under the roast.[AA]19
ES: Were these the Holmes grandparents who lived there?
NH: Yes, my father’s parents. And my grandfather, since we’re talking vocations, my grandfather built two houses on Henry Avenue, the same block as the Kellys, the same side of the street. Is that the 3800 block?
NH: 39. I’m thinking 3919 and 3923, the two houses that share a driveway. And my grandparents and my parents lived there before I was born.[AA]20
ES: Was he a builder?
NH: No, he was in the baking business, the wholesale baking business.[AA]21 It just seemed like a good investment. And one picture that I have that I found just recently – because Ancestry.com informed me that I have a new cousin – I have a picture of some of this family in the house at 3919 and you can see behind them that Henry Avenue looks like dirt. It was really new – no vegetation.
WM: What year are we talking about?
NH: I’m still trying to pin that down, whether it was in the 19 teens or the 1920s. I’m not sure exactly when it was. Wait! My father and uncle were, I think, about 10 and 7, so that would have been in the teens. 1914-15, somewhere in there. 17. How about 1917, based on this picture. And then finally my grandfather sold those houses, after my father ran over and nearly killed Grace Kelly, but that’s another story.[AA]22
WM: Tell us that story.
NH: That’s about all there is – he was backing down the driveway onto Henry Avenue one day and she went sailing by, as little kids do, on her bike and he nearly hit her. That would have changed history.
ES: Oh yes, indeed. How do you feel about her son buying the house?
NH: Well I think it’s good and it’s certainly his to keep private and set up the foundation; I think that’s nice. I would love to see him open it up to some events that aren’t private events. We neighbors could go take a look. But that’s good, that’s nice. And as far as Grace Kelly, she was born in 1929 so she would have been graduating high school right before we were born. And then she was off to Hollywood and beyond. So it’s not surprising that we didn’t interact with her very much.
My grandfather, this grandfather, used to pile us into his old Desoto car and drive down the little alley that runs behind the Henry Avenue houses and the bushes would whip in the windows. It was like, “We’re going to take a ride in the jungle – yay!” That’s my memory. And we remember when Henry Avenue was extended, first to Walnut Lane – what is that, Roxborough Avenue? And then finally pushed through toward Andorra and all those houses were built.
NB: It was quite controversial. What are they doing?
ES: So you were confined, in a way, to this geographical East Falls. You were surrounded by two rivers –– and there was no road up to Roxborough, even.
NH: To Roxborough, there was the Ridge Avenue.
ES: Ok. So what do you remember about the stores in East Falls?
NH: Not much. I remember the 5&10. I don’t remember that we did much down on the Ridge, so I’m not as familiar with lower East Falls.
ES: How about Conrad?
NH: Conrad sure. And near Mifflin School, where I went to kindergarten through 8th grade, there was a little penny candy store on the corner of Conrad and Penn Street – Bob’s. I remember Bob. And we’d buy all kinds of strip candy with the little colored dots on it, marshmallow this and that[AA]23, whatever. Not very often though.
ES: Do you remember any of your teachers who taught at Mifflin School?
NH: Sure. Miss Murphy was kindergarten. She was later Mrs. Sellers but I was older then. She was blonde; that’s all I remember (laughter). And she had – well, the kids had a Tiny Tears doll that had – not real hair, but hair that had texture; it wasn’t painted on. I remember asking my parents: “Please get me a Tiny Tears doll!” and they did, but it was the one with painted hair, so that didn’t count.
WM: What are your memories of Mifflin? Do you remember assemblies? Tell us a little about that.
NH: Oh sure! Assemblies most I remember in 6th, 7th, 8th grade in what were called the cycle. We didn’t have a homeroom teacher – we moved around to the different classrooms for art and science and sewing and math – and I remember those teachers. I remember my 1st grade teacher whose name slips my mind at the moment but – it seems to me to be a one syllable name and she was old. My mother had her in school, I think that was the story, not here at Mifflin – I don’t know where she was. Mrs. McAllister in 3rd grade. Mrs. Devita in 2nd grade. I remember learning Adeste Fideles in Latin – that’s never gone away. 4th grade was Mrs. Fishbein. 5th grade was Mrs. Smith[AA]24 who lived in the 3400 block of Penn Street – she was a dear. With a story that stuck in my memory. Around that time, she came home and there was a man sitting in her living room – she came home from school. And he had broken in and was just sitting there – she didn’t know what he had in mind but she had the presence of mind to walk over to her stairs and call upstairs as if her husband were there – she was a widow – and say, “John, will you come down here please? There’s a man here who wants to talk to you.” And he disappeared quickly. (laughter)
WM: Great story!
NH: That has always stuck in my memory.
WM: Was Mifflin mostly a neighborhood school?
NH: It was. And of course there was St. Bridget’s. And there were St. Bridget kids and Mifflin kids who lived in the neighborhood and my Mifflin classmates – a number of them came from the projects – Abbottsford project. Abbottsford Homes I think they were called. Including my second boyfriend. My first boyfriend, at age 5, was Freddy Castellano across the street[AA]25 at 3305 West Queen Lane. My second was Brian Riffert from Abbottsford.
WM: Did the two schools interact much?
NH: I don’t remember that they did, to the point where the Catholic kids who were sprinkled in the neighborhood and the rest of us had no interaction. And at one point my next door neighbor, Sally Hanna, who lived at 3319 West Queen Lane, got friendly with Walter Higgins – red haired Walter Higgins from the 3400 block of West Queen Lane. And they’d go bike riding around the neighborhood – sort of boyfriend and girlfriend at age 7 or 8 or 10, I don’t remember how old we were – and it was like Huh! I don’t know anybody there except Kathy Hibbs who was my classmate.
WM: Anything else about Mifflin you remember before we move on?
NH: Yeah. You asked about the assemblies – they were great because Mrs. Sypher, [AA]26 who was the cycle English teacher – and music as I remember – would lead the assemblies and we’d do rounds and 2-, 3-, 4-part harmonies – the whole big room! – and that was great fun – I loved to sing. Also, as kids were filing in, classes were filing in for assemblies, there would be records playing. Whatever music. I remember taking lots of records – long playing records — from home, and they’d be playing at the start and I’d get to stand up in front of everybody and say “That was whoever.…”
WM: Do you remember the McClenahan brothers?
NH: I don’t.
WM: They live near me and they have that same memory – they were the ones in charge of the record player so they were quite proud of that.
NH: Well thank them for me!
WM: How about the library?
NH: Mifflin Library?
WM: East Falls Library.
NH: East Falls Library? I loved it! We went there a lot after school. I remember the little children’s section and feeling finally, when I was an older child, that I was confined there – that I wasn’t allowed to go and browse around the adult books. But I loved it!
WM: Do you remember the librarians?
NH: Just as figures. A woman who was thin and seemed old but probably wasn’t. I don’t remember names.
ES: How about holidays? Did you have any traditions for Thanksgiving or 4th of July?
NH: Thanksgiving was very much family. I’m sure we were at my grandparent’s house for a long time. I was at the baby table.
4th of July – just a little bit more to add to what Nancy Berman said and that was our bikes and bunting when we got a little bit older, we’d start way down on Midvale Avenue where everyone was assembling and we’d march or ride all the way up Midvale Avenue to McMichael Park for the festivities but it was great fun to have all this bunting on and riding and streamers on the handlebars.
ES: What about sports? Were you involved in any sports in school or in the neighborhood?
NH: I don’t remember if Mifflin had any teams or anything. I don’t remember that. Just gym class.
ES: How about when you went to Lankenau for high school?
NH: I did. For four years.
ES: You already knew Nancy because she lived on your street?
NH: Yes, and then she left! The nerve! (laughter)
ES: Did you both graduate from Lankenau?
NH: I did. Nancy had already left by then and was at Plymouth Whitemarsh.
NB: I grew up hearing all about how wonderful public high school was from my parents and from watching Andy Hardy movies, and I’d been in private school my whole life and I decided I wanted to find out what it was like, so I upped and left.
WM: And what was your impression?
NB: I waited too long. By the time senior year was over, I was just beginning to fit in. I was just beginning to have a circle of friends and I was just beginning to date. Boom. Done.
NH: And the school was really big, I remember.
NB: It was huge.
NH: You were saying you had to get from this class at one end, to gym class at the other end.
NB: I went from all girls and classes of 12 to 24, or something like that, to suddenly hundreds and hundreds of kids yelling and screaming and carrying on in the in the halls and in the cafeteria. And football and all of it. It was a lot.
WM: Very different.
ES: So what do you remember about Lankenau? Do you remember any of the teachers there? Any of the Sisters? They were called Sisters?
NH: Yes they were. Sister Lydia was very proper and very loving, although she seemed stern. I liked her.
NB: We had a nickname for her – Twitch. Because she had the most abbreviated smile you could ever imagine – so it went like this – you won’t be able to see it on the recording but… (laughter)
ES: I understand the nickname now.
NH: But I liked her. There were a couple of teachers – Sister Ruth who taught math.[AA]30 No. I don’t remember.
NB: No, she taught religion, didn’t she? Sister Lydia did also. And the rest were lay teachers.
ES: Can you describe the building? It’s no longer there.
NH: Some of it is. The main building – the main house that was torn down was not one we had classes in.
WM: What’s the location?
NH: 3201 School House Lane. It now belongs to…
NH: Yeah right. Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, slash…
WM: Now where is that on School House Lane? Is it near Ravenhill?
ES: It’s near the Tuttleman Library.
ES: When we came out of the library, Stan Gorski said that is the foundation of Lankenau School.
WM: How interesting!
NH: The little gate house is still there that led down the drive to the main house – a big, I don’t want to say gothic, but…Victorian.[AA]33
NB: It was one of the heavy-duty Victorian mansions that were absorbed into the school. So there are quite a few buildings. –Mergner Hall, am I remembering? And then they built the new – now very old, dated I’m sure, upper school which had a chapel in it.
NH: That’s still there. That building is still there. The other buildings are still there except for the old house, the main house.
NB: The one that got torn down was especially lovely. We would gather every day in there for luncheon – and the Sisters prepared the luncheon back in the kitchen. It was usually the worst food you could imagine – Jello mold with fruit in it.
NH: Cottage cheese and apple butter.
NB: The Lankenau special was white bread with stewed tomatoes on it![AA]34 We had the best manners going. Sister Lydia would sit up at the head table….you talk about it, Nancy…
NH: Well, it was a table for 8 or 12, I think, and we’d be “invited” – command performance – to sit at the head table. (laughter)
NB: That was a long week!
ES: Was there a building. – one of those buildings called Redcay?
NH: I don’t remember that. Maybe it’s been renamed.
ES: Maybe it was torn down.
NB: The art building is still there, but it’s been repurposed. My daughter graduated from there – got her Masters degree from that school.
NH: Not Lankenau.
NB: From Textile, that became Jefferson, and whatever it was in between.
NH: Philly U.
NB: That’s when she was there – Philly U.
WM: What are your other memories of East Falls growing up?
NH: – Nancy’s writing me notes – it’s more immediate stuff, because mostly we hung out in the West Queen Lane neighborhood. Nancy and I – we had one property between us – the Edwards property between Nancy’s house at 3307 West Queen Lane and mine at 3315. The house sat vertically – horizontally, I want to say — on Queen Lane, so the yard was really deep behind that and Nancy’s bedroom and mine were opposite each other. At one point we tried to string tin can telephones across there (NB laughing) until that didn’t work for very long.
We had a swing set in the backyard – 2 swings and a slide – and we did lots of play. My yard went all the way through to Penn Street so we did a lot of playing back there. And trying to hide in Freddy Edwards’s bushes, and he didn’t like that either.
WM: So when you rode your bikes, you would go all over the neighborhood?
NH: Anywhere and everywhere. Down on Vaux, Penn Street. Not so much Midvale because it was busy. Henry, Tilden…
NB: We’d sled at the reservoir and we’d sled over on Warden Drive at the hill.
WM: Did you skate on Gustine Lake?
NB: Sometimes. I went with my brother.
NH: My dad and his family did, but, did I? I had ice skates, but… also sledding at the golf course, Walnut Lane and Henry. It’s been blocked off; you can’t do it anymore.
WM: Where did you sled at the reservoir?
NB: Just down the hill.
WM: At the end with the road going down?
NB: Not Midvale, Vaux St?
NH: It was right at the corner.
WM: Queen Lane and Henry?
NB: I don’t remember going up that driveway because it was blocked off pretty close to the street. But at that corner the hill was steeper than going down the little hills towards the stone wall on Queen Lane.
So we’d trudge up there and sled down to the driveway. With the traffic now, you couldn’t do it.
NB: And it was very common for us to walk along the wall top over there too. We’d traverse that.
NH: My grandfather used to walk me along there. I’d be on the wall, of course, and he’d be on the sidewalk. I remember when the first of the small brick, at that point, one and a half story houses were built and we walked over there. It wasn’t blocked off at all so we walked all around the building and looked in the basement and checked out the architecture.
ES: How has the community changed? You were part of our walking tour recently, were there many changes that struck you?
NH: Not up here, and not on The Oak Road – that was the tour that we were on – oh, I mostly was remembering: “Oh! The Hanlons used to live here, and Peggy Bishop used to live here!” Everybody had changed except the Mathers – they are still there. But people on Queen Lane have changed too, so I walk around and I’m seeing ghosts. “Jesse Richardson lived here.[AA]35 The Albas lived here…’ [AA]36
NB: Corky Senneker
WM: Did you go to the church on The Oak Road? (Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd)
WM: Can you tell us about that?
NH: I don’t know that I have anything to add to what Nancy Berman said, but I did go every Sunday – the young people met with the deacon, John Mason. He had a little discussion group for the kids who were too cool to be in church all of the time or wanted to talk about lofty topics. That was fun.
WM: Was Reverend Coombs there?
NH: Oh, before that. R. Dunham Taylor.[AA]38
NB: Before they changed the liturgy. And before the mold set in. Oh, the church is in sad shape now.
ES: So you were disappointed?
NB: Yes, it was a very sad experience for me – all the water stains and the flaking plaster. Because of Lyme Disease, I’m hypersensitive to certain things so I walked in and the mold just hits you in the face. There’s something serious going on there.
NH: In the church sanctuary itself or other rooms?
NB: Wherever. Just walking in to the church proper, or in the back, it was alarming for me. I couldn’t be in there if the doors weren’t open and the windows weren’t open. I wouldn’t have lasted.
ES: May I just ask you, how do you feel about coming back to Queen Lane?
NH: I want my house back! (laughter) and all my friends!
ES: That’s a wonderful note to end on.
NH: Well you asked – this is not directly East Falls, but my grandfather at 3314 started a wholesale pie-baking company.
WM: In East Falls?
NH: It was not in East Falls – it was in what’s now called Grays Ferry. 2621 Morris Street, down beyond Penn.
WM: What was his name?
NH: William T. Holmes. He wasn’t from Philadelphia; he was born and grew up in Illinois and worked as a teacher in a one room school in Nebraska [AA]39 and then somehow ended up working for a New York pie company.
NH: I think, actually he may have been in New York, but I’m not sure about that. My grandmother was from northern New Jersey so I’m thinking they met up there. And then someone said “How would you like to go to Philadelphia for New York Pie Company and be, I think it was, the bookkeeper. And within a year or so he was the manager of whatever they were doing. And then in 1929, propitious year, he opened his own company – Puritan Pies – and ran that until he died and my uncle[AA]40 died – suddenly within two weeks of each other, in 1956, and my father was left running everything. He sold to Smith’s, Mrs. Smith’s, in 1974, I think. But I remember, it’s not a memory – I remember being told, that during the Depression my grandfather would feed whoever came to the door. I’m not sure it was many people here on Queen Lane, more likely it was people showing up at the bakery, but I don’t know about that. But the bakery did wholesale pies and cakes and jellyrolls to the School District, Linton’s Restaurant, over here on Chelten Avenue and Germantown.[AA]41
NB: You could never go into Nancy’s kitchen and not see pies.
NH: And I remember one time my father came home with some package mixes and he actually went in the kitchen and made these cakes to see how they were compared to his company.[AA]42
WM: How interesting.
NH: They weren’t as good.
ES: What that his main profession then, the pie business?
NH: Yes, I think it’s not something my father would have chosen for himself. He went to Episcopal Academy for just one year and then was pulled into help at the bakery. [AA]43
WM: I just wanted to quickly ask if either of you had a career, and what it was.
NH: Nancy did all kinds of things. Nancy Berman.
NB: It was varied. I did not know who I wanted to be when I grew up. I was supposed to marry a doctor and have children. Ultimately I did that, but before I got to that part I bounced around in so many different jobs. I was a travel agent for about 6 months with Concannon Travel Agency up in Chestnut Hill; I worked at the Kenmore Art Gallery selling art, so I got to learn a great deal more about prints and art and what it takes to run a gallery. Each job was for a very short period of time and then I worked for Herb Denenberg at the University of Pennsylvania before he became Insurance Commissioner and I got to learn about research with him. He left – I didn’t want to go to Harrisburg, so I wound up taking a job with Hillel Levinson. He volunteered himself to the Rizzo for Mayor campaign. I was not a Rizzo supporter but I didn’t want to find a job again. And in a few months, still being quite young and curious, I said “Ok I’ll do that too. So I became one of Rizzo’s three secretaries during the campaign. Hillel became Managing Director. I was his Administrative Assistant for a few years and, bored out of my mind buying ashtrays [AA]44 in a city limousine – it was basically what that was like – huge private office on the top of Municipal Services Building – but bored out of my mind so I started cheffing. I got a job at the Frog because I love to cook.
NH: When it was new.
NB: Julia Child was everywhere and everything and I said, “Well I’ll see if I can do that,” so I kept my city job during the day and I worked at the Frog[AA]45 at night. And after six months they asked me if I wanted to do salads and I said yes. And a year later I was a chef. And I did that about 10 years – didn’t know women weren’t supposed to do that, [AA]46 had a kid, had to stop working – I wanted to raise her and do well by her – and my husband was getting a PhD. We had no money so I started thrift shopping and I turned that into a career.
NH: Didn’t other restaurants come in the middle there? You were a chef at a number of them and ran La Terrasse [AA]47
WM: And quickly, Nancy Holmes, what was your career path?
NH: Mostly editing. I did a few things. I studied abroad in France and, after college, a college friend called and said we have to live in Paris and I said, “That sounds good,” so I cashed in all my money and quit my job, which was editing at that point for something industrial. And then she couldn’t go, so I went by myself and stayed for five years, and was in Paris for a year, and then Monaco, which was where I met Grace Kelly – didn’t remind her about my father nearly killing her… [AA]49
WM: Well we certainly want to hear about meeting her – can you quickly talk about that?
NH: It was Thanksgiving where the Royal Family set up this beautiful banquet for everybody[AA]50.
WM: A public banquet?
NH: Yes, anyone who wanted could go, and everyone dressed up, and they came and had dinner.[AA]51
ES: What did you say to her? Did you mention East Falls?
NH: I said “Hi, I’m from East Falls” and she said “Oh that’s nice” or something.[AA]52
WM: What was your impression of her?
NH: Gracious. Beautiful, that’s all I have to say.
ES: Let’s end on that note.
WM: Thank you both so much. You were terrific.