Mom’s Old Neighborhood

Today, my cousin, Lisa, and I went on an adventure to find our parents, Carolyn Mary and Hank Lariccia, family home in East Orange, New Jersey. Their cousin, Joannie Maly, had told me it was near the corner of North Park and Dodd Street.

We arrived at the corner, and immediately, this little green beauty fit the bill. It was a skinny, two-story that could have contained the barbershop in the front. It also had the garage in back and the driveway alongside, just as Lisa remembered, but could we be that lucky? So many houses in the area were gone–look at the open lot next door.

There was a salon on the corner with the owner out front, so I went to talk her hoping, maybe, she knew something about the previous owners. She said she bought the building in 1991 from an Italian family–it used to be an Italian neighborhood, but my grandmother would have sold in the late 1960s. We also tried to check the public land records for ownership, but the online records only went to 1996.

We then left for the next part of our detective search–the local park. My mother would take us there when visiting my grandmother at her apartment and would tell me that her childhood home was nearby. I can recall, with a vivid memory, her pointing in the opposite direction of my grandmother’s building and saying, “Our old house is right over there.” On one occasion, I am sure she walked us there, but I can’t be sure if that house is it.

Soverel Park is right there–right between the two. We couldn’t go in–it’s closed because of COVID, so this sent us walking around it to try to find the playground my mother would take us to while visiting her mother.

And that is how we found our grandmother’s apartment. We thought it was on Washington, but as we drove around the park, we came to the back of an apartment building that looked identical to our Nanny’s place, this unusual ramp with park benches around it.

Sure enough, when we went to the front of this building, it was EVERYTHING we remembered. The address was the one I now recalled writing on several birthday and Christmas cards.  Lisa pointed right to where the Shop Rite used to be, and the little bridge we would cross on our walks there was to the left of the building just as I remembered.

We still weren’t entirely sure about the house until I spoke to my mother’s cousin Joannie tonight. I told her what we saw. I asked her how far from the corner was the house. She responded, “Three, four, five houses…it was 183.” What? The little green one was 183 North Park Street.

Tomorrow we’ll go back to put some of my mom’s ashes at the tree in front. It felt so good to be there–all those familiar places, I’ll be seeing you, mom.

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