Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving...Gray's Ferry Style!

I always have fond memories of Thanksgiving in Gray's Ferry. One especially important reason is simply because when you live in an urban neighborhood, everyone is quite frankly an extended family member. Of course, Saint Gabriel's Parish has always been know for it's close family relationships. You were always running into first cousins, distant relatives and pseudo-related and intermarried kinfolk all of the time. No one really ever left Gray's Ferry, they just got married and changed their names...but they stayed until the last. Perhaps, that is the reason that the Parish life of Saint Gabriel has always been so strong and productive.
 Recently, I had the chance to read something from Saint Gabriel's past...namely, The History of Saint Gabriel Parish, the First Eight Years, written by an earlier parishioner and edited by Fr. Patrick Mellon, the founding pastor.
It is amazing how all of the familial names are the same as when we lived there in the 1960's. The activities of the parish included carnivals, holiday celebrations, 50/50 chances and building campaigns for various buildings of the Saint Gabriel complex. When building the church, and rectory, Fr.Mellon was asked if the contractor should charge extra to dig the foundations of the church and rectory. Father Mellon responded simply," No we dig our own foundations here at Saint Gabriel!'"  What a remarkable spirit and tenacity our forefathers had when it came to supporting each other and the Catholic Church. My own suburban parish, has abandoned the traditional pre-Thanksgiving Mass and distribution of food to the needy in favor of an ecumenical and interfaith service at the local Presbyterian church. Nothing like that would happen in the Thanksgiving period at Saint Gabriel's then or now. Thanksgiving for Catholics at Saint Gabes was about giving thanks and making sure everyone was able to share the feast with our fellow neighbors and friends.
Another memory of the celebration was this: We did not live in the Martha Stewart world of make believe holiday celebrations. Our parents, grandparents and great grandparents were hard working, blue collar people. Some were welders, some were policemen, some were firemen. Others worked at the various utilities that surrounded the area, PECO, PGW, Sun Oil and so on. Quite often, our fathers and grandfathers worked multiple shifts on holidays, because their work kept the gears of industry and public safety grinding away so others could have the entire day off. My own father and grandfather were Philadelphia policemen and worked most holidays. It was a rare occasion when my father was present at our Thanksgiving celebration, or was awake....after working a night shift, graveyard shift or a double shift to keep Philadelphia safe and secure.
Regardless, our fathers and families knew the real meaning of the Thanksgiving celebration was our overall thankfulness for our Catholic faith, our families, our neighbors and our friends. The holiday was really about appreciating each other in our ethnically isolated enclave in Gray's Ferry.
Growing up in the concrete urban jungle, makes me appreciate even more the great hardships our ancestors endured for the survival of the Catholic faith, their families and their manner of living in an Irish Catholic neighborhood.
I miss having multiple Thanksgiving meals, one with each set of grandparents, one paternal the other maternal...where food, laughs, whiskey, beer and cigarette smoke filled the rooms, blended with a great appreciation for life both here and in God's heavenly kingdom.
Thanksgiving in Gray's Ferry meant either watching the parade on TV or being lucky enough to make it to Market Street...where the real parade went by Gimbels waiting for the finale of Santa climbing into Gimbels to start the holiday season.  Tradition has it that Santa was always one of Philadelphia's finest firefighters, that would scramble up the ladder and climb into Gimbel's second floor window. That Santa might have been one of Gray's Ferry's finest...doing his job while others celebrated the Thanksgiving season.
Faith, Family and neighborhood and friends were always the hallmark of the resilient multicultural residents of Gray's cultural diversity even before the term and the concept were conceived...
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone that was part of my Thanksgiving celebration growing up in Gray's Ferry.
When we sit down and give thanks today, and devour the meal...don't forget to thank all of those countless friends, relatives and neighbors that are now with God for the great blessings they showed us of our Catholic faith, our cultural heritages and the tenacity of our ancestors' immigrant dreams.
Pray especially for Fr. Mellon, whose remains are still in Saint Gabriel's Churchyard under the massive Celtic Cross. Thank him for making us a community of faith, a neighborhood of good people that contine to inspire past, present and future generations in and from Gray's Ferry.
Slainte! Happy Thanksgiving to the diaspora of Gray's Ferry everywhere....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sustaining Gray's Ferry!

Recently I received an email from Katrina Fernandez, a student at the University of Pennsylvania in the Master's Degree Program. She is also taking a class called, Sustainability in Action which is associated with the Gray's Ferry Farmer's Market with the Food Trust.
As part of the class project, she would like the opportunity to meet with residents of Gray's Ferry to raise awareness about the Farmer's Market and the importance of local/seasonal healthy food for Gray's Ferry residents.
A few weeks ago, I happened to read a story regarding the success of the Farmer's Market at 29th and Wharton that had taken place over the past summer. It seems the Market was quite successful. The students at the University of Penn, would like to plan and develop the Farmer's Market for even greater success next year.
My suggestion is that the students approach the Gray's Ferry Community Council and Saint Gabriel Parish to explain their goals and seek their assistance.
A reason for writing this blog is to remember our Gray's Ferry neighborhood and to assist residents that still reside that same neighborhood.
The notion of a community Farmer's Market and other nutritional outreach programs seems like a great idea that will help the community all over the Gray's Ferry area.
If members of your family still reside in Gray's Ferry, please ask them what they think about the potential for such a project. Ask them if they would be willing to assist these graduate students with their service project.
I look forward to helping them any way I can.
If anyone at the Gray's Ferry Community Council reads my blog, please let me know if the Council would like to participate in  this valuable project on family health and nutrition.
Feel free to email me if you want to know more. I will forward the info on to the University of Penn students involved in the program.
Finally, as we approach Thanksgiving and the Christmas season, learning about the nutritional needs of our friends, family members and neighbors in Gray's Ferry and literally everywhere else is not a bad project in which to become involved.
Saint Gabriel's parish members are always generous in their time and resources when it comes to sharing with other people. Perhaps this outreach program will make a great project of community interest for the Summer of 2011.
If you want to know me at and I will share the information with all of you as I receive it.