The East Coast Diaries, Part IV

It happens this way …

Tuesday, July 2: My dear sister/friend, Bernadette Pape who works for the Jesuits in Merion, Pennsylvania, came into town for a stroll and breakfast at the Reading Terminal Market. Although we hadn’t seen each other in over 30 years, it seemed like yesterday. These kinds of history-sharers are so special.


Then, Kathy and I met at the African American Museum. The top two floors are art museums; the lower, interactive spaces for children to draw and learn history.



“Whole Hole,” 2015 made with plastic pocket combs


“Mother’s Wisdom or Cotton Candy,” 2011. Photograph.

This re-enactment actor was telling a room full of school children the story of a young slave girl who saved George Washington’s life. She had prepared his favorite sweetpea dish and saw a strange man sneak in and sprinkle something on it. She didn’t know the man or what he had done until she heard Washington’s aides discuss the possibility of spies in the area. Just as George was about to eat the dish, she put two and two together, grabbed the plate, and threw it out the window. Of course, the men in the room were astonished and were going to arrest her until they saw the chickens out in the yard eat the peas and drop dead. What would have happened to history without the young slave who paid attention?


The Second Bank Portrait Gallery houses this incredible statue of George Washington and portraits of many of the men who shaped the young republic. We heard two of many free lectures on the history of the time delivered by well-informed Park Service Rangers, the caretakers of sites like these.


Kathy got tickets for a 4:00 p.m. tour of Independence Hall. Another Park Ranger gave us more insight into the arguments and compromises the Founders battled through. The forgotten art: compromise! Although most of the pieces of furniture are replicas, the original chair Washington sat in was the real deal.



Take a moment to read this. It is revolutionary — and still a work-in-progress.



Washington’s chair sits in front of this room where delegates hammered out the details of the Constitution. The top features a half-sun. Benjamin Franklin is purported to have wondered if it was a sun-rise or a sun-set since the future of the new government was still so precarious. However, he concluded that, indeed, it was a sunrise, giving the “American experiment” a positive spin. We’re still experimenting, no?

A violent thunderstorm hit the city tonight, so we were happy to hunker down and regroup for the next day’s activities.

The East Coast Diaries, Part III

It happens this way …

If you thought we were finished on Monday, July 1, you would be so wrong! We discovered that the new Museum of the American Revolution was free, so we moseyed over there at 5 p.m. only to be informed that all free tickets were gone. Playing rebels ourselves, we were not daunted. We were invited to watch a 15-minute documentary about the Revolution as a consolation prize but, when it was over, we joined lines of people heading up the stairs to the exhibits. George Washington would have been very proud of our prowess! And four cheers for New Jersey and its role in the war.

As we stood at the exhibit in the bottom right photo, we met a beautiful young Haitian woman who teaches history here in Philadelphia. She enlightened us. “We are not responsible for the past, but we are for the present.” I needed to hear that. She also told us of the important role Haitians played in helping the colonists’ cause. Where is that in any history book?


And we weren’t finished yet! An evening stroll led us to the Chinese Lantern Festival a few blocks from our hotel. What a perfect way to end an extraordinary day!


Finally,  off to bed!

The East Coast Diaries, Part II

It happens this way …

Monday, July 1: First full day of Philadelphia site-seeing. We started with the Liberty Bell and met a delightful couple from Limerick, Ireland: Patricia and Donal Sexton. They love coming to America – which was good to hear.


Then we took a bus tour of the city. We love getting the overview of the land and its history.


Independence Hall


Betsy Ross’s House


People line up to get a photo with the Rocky statue


The “Rocky stairs” at the Art Museum


City Hall


The entrance to Chinatown

In the Visitor’s Center, we did some fun things.

Lower left: Kathy sits in a replica of Washington’s chair.

Lower right: Benjamin Franklin got it right!

To be continued in Part III.

The East Coast Diaries, Part I

It happens this way …

The second trip of 2019 took us to New Jersey and Philadelphia. We spent June 28-June 30 at the Mt. St. Mary House of Prayer, a lovely retreat center run by my dear Sisters of Mercy.

On Friday, I shared the lectern for a poetry reading with my long-time friend and teacher, Sister Maria Cordis. We read to an appreciative group in the beautiful chapel at McAuley Hall, the Sisters’ nursing home.


On Saturday, I presented a poetry workshop to a group of former students, sister/friends, and area folks who love poetry. As always, these students taught me a few things about poetry – even my own — that I hadn’t thought of before. That’s the mystery of art: it keeps unfolding even after the artist thinks a piece is done.



Sister Linda, Me, Sisters Rosemary, Carole, and Mary Jo cracking up on the front porch. I’ve known Linda since 2nd grade and the other beautiful women since I was 18. Lots of history together!


My former students from Mt. St. Mary Academy: Diane Celentano Leahy (’72), Ampy Pikarsky (’72), Mary Lou DiDia (’72), and Eileen Burke (’75). What astute students — still!

On Sunday, June 30, I met my mom and brothers at the Washington Crossing Inn for a reunion brunch. We hadn’t been all together since 2005. John will retire next year from teaching Social Studies at Marist High School in Atlanta at age 70. Gerry is a lawyer who is the go-to-guy who lives near mom and is on-call when she needs help. But, at age 95, her motto is “I’ll do it my way” and she figures a lot of things out for herself.


Me, Gerry, Mom, John


A thought about the first leg of this trip: You can go home again if you remember to be the new and improved self you’ve become after you left. I’m pondering that.