Your hometown… The pandemic has caused us to re-think many aspects of our lives. For me, it has also left time for reminiscing and rediscovering some of my favorite things.
I grew up in Elkins Park, a quintessential suburban neighborhood in Cheltenham Township, about 10 miles north of Center City. It was a great place for a kid to be a kid. We had our choice of fields close to home that we could run around in, play baseball and shoot some hoops. And, when we got tired of “competitive” athletics, we could always wreak havoc by riding our stingray bicycles or skateboards recklessly through the quiet streets.
For a small community, we were fortunate to have three drugstores to choose from: Farber’s, Entine’s and the Susan Pharmacy. Mr. Farber, the pharmacist, was a kind, patient man who indulged me as I spent (what seemed like) hours foraging through his selection of model cars. I would always leave with one in my arms (and the requisite Testors glue), so I guess Mr. Farber didn’t mind if I camped out in the store for a while. And, of course, I would satisfy my chocolate fix by purchasing a Kit-Kat or Hershey bar with the model car. My room was filled with all types of model cars–a dusting challenge for my mom.
Entine’s Pharmacy was just around the corner from Farber’s. I could never understand why there were two drugstores in close proximity, but they each seemed to have their favorite customers. From a competitive standpoint, Entine’s had two attractions for kids that Farber’s did not–a soda fountain and “Rex.” Rex was a gorgeous, gentle collie who would roam the store. I would pet Rex from head to tail for good luck each time I came in to order a chocolate coke at the soda fountain.
Nearby was the “commercial corridor” of Elkins Park, located on Old York Road between Church Road and Spring Avenue. Several revered Elkins Park businesses lined this bustling strip, including the Chuckwagon, John’s Seafood and (last and least) the Ripplewood Bar, affectionately known as the “Rip.”
We were blessed with two fine eating establishments. The Chuckwagon was a cafeteria-style deli which featured favorites like corned beef, salami and tongue sandwiches (for the adventurous). Obviously, no one had heard of cholesterol back then. The best thing about the Chuckwagon was the “fixins” table in the back of the restaurant, fully stocked with crispy dill pickles and coleslaw. Rumor has it that some of the neighborhood kids would sneak in the back door and help themselves to the treasure trove. John’s Seafood, a nondescript, no-frills takeout shop, was famously known for its delicious french fries. To this day, I think John’s french fries (served in a Chinese takeout container) were the best I ever had in my life.
The Ripplewood Bar was a quaint little gathering place for the neighborhood dignitaries, such as “Kelly the bum,” to discuss world events and play a little pinball. For some neighborhood folks, the Rip was an oasis; for others, it was an eyesore. Enough said about the Rip.
Finally, my reminiscing would not be complete without a shoutout to Ogontz Junior High. High up on a hill (literally), this striking edifice was originally the home of Cheltenham High School (go Panthers). I have many fond memories of playing pick-up basketball in the appropriately named “pits,” located in the lower level of the school, and performing in the orchestra at concerts in the grand auditorium. Sadly, some years after Ogontz closed its doors, the entire building was destroyed by fire. The former site of Ogontz is now a lovely 11-acre park named, affectionately, High School Park.
So, as the Bon Jovi song goes, “Who says you can’t go home”…even if it is only in your mind during a pandemic!