Ties that Bind
“Ties that bind” is an English language idiom that generally refers to shared beliefs that connect people emotionally. Religion would be one tie, family another, and so on. For instance, no matter where one’s family members live, one generally remains connected to them. Kensington, the section of Philadelphia where I grew up, is a shared connection expressed in numerous posts and comments on the popular Facebook group Kensington Neighborhood Alumni.
It’s easy to understand how people can have ties that bind them to each other. After all, we have a brain and can express ourselves to each other in words and emotions. It’s also understandable how we can create ties with our pets, but is it possible to have similar ties with non-sentient, inanimate objects? I am not a psychologist, but I think that we can.
My first experience of feeling a tie with an inanimate object was when I was eighteen years old and left Philadelphia to join the U.S. Air Force in 1962. It was four years full of travel, training, and action, so I didn’t realize how tied I was to “things” at home. That is, until I disembarked the train at the north Philly station. I was excited to be home with my family and friends, but it was more than just that. The first thing I wanted was a Philly soft pretzel, and the ties that bound me to them were strong. It was the first food I ate when I arrived home, followed by a hoagie and a steak sandwich. I felt an affinity with these foods.
For weeks, I found reasons to walk the streets of my childhood neighborhood. I wanted to experience them again, and they were calling my name. Up Howard Street to Westmoreland, then west to Mascher Street, then up to Ontario and Tioga streets I walked. Then I headed east to Front Street, past Jack’s Camera, the 25th District police station, and the A&P where I once took orders. The strings kept pulling me as I passed the myriad of stores on Front Street and rounded the corner onto West Wishart Street. This was my street, the street where I played handball, threw balls to hit the electric wires, and chalked the street to play bottle caps.
I would walk past the red brick homes on Wishart until I arrived at 125. My home! I didn’t own it, my mom and dad did, but the strings were strongly connected. Then I would walk up the steps I used to play step ball on and through the foyer and the French door I once broke fighting with my brother. On the right was the fake fireplace upon which I hung my stocking at Christmas. Up the steps was a bedroom room, my bedroom. It was so small that it barely fit a bed, a small dresser, and a metal closet. I shared that room with my brother for 18 years, but it was still my room. So many things bound me to Kensington, and even now, in my twilight years, I can feel the tugs on those strings.
Over the years, I have owned a couple of cars, homes, and “things” with which I have made that kind of connection, but no connection has been as strong as the one I have with Kensington.
My grandmother was born in Kensington and she lived there her whole life; she never wanted to leave. It was a rare occasion to get her to go to Wildwood, for even a day. The strings that bound her to Kensington were very short. I had a recent event in my life that revealed to me how my grandmother felt.
On July 6, 2020, a very large red oak tree fell on my house. The year before, we moved from a home we lived in for almost 40 years, and we were just getting used to our new place. No one was hurt, which was a miracle, but the damage was so bad we had to move out. It took seven months to reconstruct, and we had to obtain a temporary place to live. It was a nice place, but it wasn’t our place. On January 26, 2021, we were able to move back. It’s odd how I felt. I’m a pretty rational person, but somehow I felt safer, more comfortable, and at peace for the first time in seven months. It’s because it was MY house, and the ties that bind were in place again.
It’s the same feeling I had when I came home to Kensington in 1966, after four years of military service. Those old Kensington strings are still attached, even if I cannot physically be there. My memories and the ties that bind keep me connected.
Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.