Fabulous Philly Sundays With Dad
Note: I chose some images that relate to this article. You can see the other 35 images, plus over 1200 other images of historic Philadelphia, at https://mercyrow.com/pages/philly-tales-photos.
My Grandfather died when my Dad was only 11 years old. This left the family destitute, and my dad quit school in the eighth grade and found a job to help his mother. He worked on an ice truck and in a factory making baseballs. Dad was born and lived most of his life in the Kensington section of the city of Philadelphia. He became a bookie sometime in the 1930s after he married my Mom, but gave it up at the beginning of WW ll.
He was a hard drinker in those days, and my Mother’s father would often go with him to bars and recover the money my Dad left on the counters. He stopped drinking and smoking in the late 1940s. I never saw him smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol. During the war, he was too old for military service, so he worked at Budds, a factory that made airplanes. I believe he was a metal shearer. At the time, he was strong enough to bend a half dollar with his finger and thumb.
I’m laying this groundwork to help you better understand what happened when my brother and I were finally old enough to hang out with our Dad. We didn’t see Dad much during the week because he worked at a poolroom until late at night and left for work before we got home from school. He oversaw ten tables and a back room where high rollers (at least as high as was possible in Kensington) played poker. He would come home for dinner by 5 o’clock and then leave to go back to the poolroom.
On Sundays, everything was different. You would think my Dad would have been more interested in sports because his father played professional baseball for the Phillies from 1883 to 1903, but he wasn’t. As far back as I can remember, until I was about 13, our father had a ritual. He would load my brother and me into his Hudson car, and the first thing we would do was drive to one of Philly’s many cultural attractions. We went to the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Franklin Institute, the Rodin Museum, the Japanese Pavilion, the Aquarium, and the Museum of Natural History. You name it, and we went there.
I especially liked, but was afraid of, the big heart at the Franklin Museum. You could actually walk through the heart to see lifelike details. I also loved the old train from the 1800s. The Museum of Natural History was cool as well, with its displays of sabertooth tigers and cavemen. The little aquarium we went to was just off East River Drive in the waterworks complex next to the Schuylkill River. They had a turtle that was 100 years or older who I never saw move. The Art Museum was great and was Dad’s backup if he couldn’t think of a better place. My brother and I eventually got tired of going to it after so many visits.
After becoming more cultured, we would drive to Horn & Hardart’s Automat downtown and put a nickel in the slot and pull a piece of pie out. Then we would go through the line and get a cup of coffee. Yeah, you heard right. Kids drank coffee back then, at least with my Dad. After our repast, we would walk around the corner to the Morrow’s Nut House, and my Dad would buy each of us a bag of candy. One of my favorite candies was small pieces of licorice coated with a sugary paste. Each piece was a different color; some looked like little sandwiches.
There was an arcade on Market Street, and dad would give us a bunch of nickels to play the pinball machines. Sometimes he would give us a lesson. He had a knack for getting the little metal ball in just the right place. The fact that he was a Champion pool player helped.
If I remember correctly, the Fox, Boyd, and Goldman theaters (among others I can’t remember) were on Market and Chestnut Streets. Dad always saw movies downtown because they were shown first in those theaters and later released to places such as the Wishart, Kent, Iris, and Midway theaters. The theater was the only place he would let us eat our candy, and we had to eat it while we waited for the movie to start, so we didn’t make noise.
After the movie, we would jump in our Hudson and drive north on Fifth Street, turn on Allegheny Ave., then Mascher Street, and lastly, Wishart Street, where we lived. My Mother and Grandmother always had our special Sunday meal of roast beef or pork, mashed or roasted potatoes, and vegetables ready by the time we got home. After dinner, Dad would go to the poolroom.
Dad was not formally educated, but he was a math whiz. He also read a lot, mostly science fiction, but also many other genres. He had a knack for knowing about health trends before they became popular. When he was older, he started eating oatmeal every day for breakfast, and we laughed at him when he told us why. Some doctors who came to the poolroom told him it was healthy for his heart. He also started drinking orange juice with apple cider vinegar. This was in the 1970s, and, of course, both are considered healthy foods today.
Dad was called “the Gentleman” by the folks who frequented the various poolrooms around Philly. Some of his old cronies told me he always treated people with respect. He even showed respect to the people he won money from while playing pool. He was a champion player and pool hustler. Dad was like an M&M candy, a bit hard on the outside but soft in the middle.
I said goodbye to my father when he was 77. He and my mother, sister, and brother-in-law visited us in Atlanta. I got to play pool with him one last time at a place I found in Sandy Springs, GA. That evening my mother woke us up at 2 AM and said something was wrong with my father. My brother-in-law Dave and I rushed to his room and found him lying on the floor. Dave gave chest compressions while I gave mouth-to-mouth.
The EMTs came and took him to a local hospital. Fifteen minutes after he entered the hospital, the doctor informed us that Harry Mark Hallman, Sr. had passed away. As heartbreaking as this news was for us, I knew my memories of those fabulous Philly Sundays we spent with him and those special Sunday dinners my Mother and Grandmother made will never pass away.
Originally posted on the Kensington Neighborhood Alumni and Old Images of Philadelphia on Facebook.