In September, I traveled to my grandfather’s hometown of Frankford which is northeast of central Philadelphia. I had toured the area a few times before while doing research for the book, so it was nice to revisit the place where my grandfather’s WWII story began.
The trip was to promote My American Odyssey at the Frankford Historical Society (FHS) and I was very grateful for the invitation and the reception I received. That day, I was welcomed by FHS Director Mr. James Young, who gave me a tour of the Society’s many treasurers which include items donated and collected in order to preserve and honor the history of the area. Authentic fireman tools and helmets, colonial swords and rifles, and even artwork created from human hair.
This presentation was different from those I have done in my hometown area in northeastern Pennsylvania. I had to make connections…see the relevance of people and places of Frankford and my grandfather, Donald Byers. I had briefly mentioned Frankford in the book but for this presentation I had to do a little bit more research and think deeper.
That day, I arrived in Frankford a few hours early so that I could walk the streets my grandfather had walked. It’s hard to tour an area where you have few if any connections – my family no longer lives in the Philadelphia area and if I have a cousin or any other relatives there I am unaware of it.
I walked to Frankford Hospital to use the restroom and ask for directions to a decent restaurant. I was told there were no restaurants there, at least no where to sit down and eat – the locals just order food and eat while they walk (usually throwing their trash on to the street). I was also warned to watch myself since there had been a fatal shooting a block away an hour before I arrived. It was frightening and sad to hear that my grandfather’s blue collar neighborhood has changed so drastically.
Despite the warning, I decided to walk Frankford Avenue to experience the place where my grandfather lived and worked. I tried to envision him walking arm-and-arm with his girlfriend Ann, eating at a diner with friends, and working at the store next to his home on Wakeling Street. It was like summoning ghosts from their slumber; these people and places that no longer exist.
During my speech and afterward, those who attended my presentation told me more about the people and places of Frankford and a few had a connection to my grandfather in some round-about-way.
It was a wonderful experience for me and I plan to return to Frankford and the FHS in the future to learn more about the place that my grandfather reminisced about while away at war.