All God’s Creatures

When you see a flying roach, what do you do?

If you grew up in rural America, you’re used to seeing and interacting with a great number of God’s creatures. Horses, pigs, and cows were common. If, however, you grew up in an urban city such as Philadelphia and especially the north part of the city, where factories were abundant, the only cows and pigs you saw were at the A&P.

In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, you might experience an occasional horse when a man with a camera talked your mom into letting you ride it. But for the most part, your constant companions, aside from cats and dogs, were roaches, maggots, and rats. Oh. And pigeons.

I grew up in the Kensington section of North Philadelphia. In those early days, it was a wonderful place to grow up and work. There were abundant factories, especially those that dealt with textiles.  With the jobs these factories provided came special visitors, namely the southern roach, and some of them could fly. Every house experienced roaches, no matter how much you tried to eliminate them. They weren’t only in the houses; you could find them on the street as you sat on your steps in the hot summer or were hanging with your friends on a corner.

The most fearful roaches were the ones with wings. Yikes, nothing could initiate screams from both boys and girls more than a flying roach. More than once, one came into our house when a door opened. And what ensued was a frenzy of screaming and trying to catch it.  

Maggots! I would guess that most kids now never see maggots (those little white screamy things) except in the movies. When I was a kid, we had to put our garage in special pails, and it was collected once a week. Maggots are fly larvae, and there was a wealth of flies, well, everywhere. If you opened that garbage pail a few days before collection, it could be full of maggots. Ugh! Imagine what the inside of the garbage truck looked like.

Speaking of garbage trucks, that was another “wonderful” experience. How often were you stuck in a car behind a collection truck full of the rotted remnants of thousands of meals? It was enough to stymie your appetite, at least until you saw a guy on the street selling soft pretzels.

I can’t say I remember seeing many rats in the house, but once when I was about ten years old, we had a visitor- Mr. Rat. I remember my grandfather grabbing a broom handle and hunting one that got into our basement. I went with him for the experience. He was a good hunter and caught the poor rat and sent him (or her) to heaven. As young teens, we would walk the abandoned railroad tracks or dumps carrying our bows and arrows, looking for rats or even an unsuspecting rabbit. We saw many but never shot any.

Pigeons were both cute and a pest. I liked pigeons, and I want to apologize to all the pigeons I tried to shoot with my peashooter. It was a phase, like wearing and coonskin hat, when I was a kid. Every kid had a peashooter and an ample supply of dried peas. When we weren’t shooting at our friends, we took am at pigeons. I recently read that peashooters were first used in the 1800s in merry old England. Every morning a man or woman would shoot peas at windows to wake those that subscribed.

Spiders, somehow, really create fear in many people’s minds. I don’t remember, as a kid, seeing that many spiders. Maybe the rats, pigeons and roaches ate them. As an adult, I have seen many, especially in Vietnam, where spiders, roaches and rats seem to take growth hormones.

Now I am kinder to our pesty friend, and we have a capture and release policy in our house. Oh, did I tell you I now live in Atlanta, where the Philly factories imported cotton and roaches from? So occasionally, when a roach invades our home, I am reminded of my childhood days growing up in Kensington.

Okay, so I toiled early in the morning to write this peach, and the talk about pigs and cows got me hungry. I think I’ll go make some eggs, Taylor’s Ham, bacon, toast with real butter and plenty of condensed milk in my coffee. Oh, wait. I forgot I’m old now. It’s avocado on toast, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. Coffee still, but with Almond milk creamer. Oh well, maybe I saved a pig’s life somewhere.

Typical garbage can used in Philly back in the 1950. It is for sale on ETSY for $195. Wait, what!

Vintage Philadelphia Postcard

Mural located on Front Street in the Kensington section of Philly.

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