In attempting to evoke a palpable experience of the culture and atmosphere of the Philly, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and South Jersey areas, I purposely peppered Part One of Water Signs with references to popular brands enjoyed by residents of the Delaware Valley. Complemented by the addition of ethnic favorites like Italian wedding cookies, provolone cheese and tomato pie, this was highly effective in drawing readers into Ken and Maddy’s world.
In Chapter 9, Maddy tends to a recuperating Ken, who has injured his leg in a work accident (something that did happen in real life, although many of the events of this chapter have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes). It’s here where I first introduce readers to some Philly-area favorites:
“Thank you, sweetheart!”
Ken had awakened to find Madeline busily setting up a tray table with a turkey and cheese hoagie from Wawa, a pickle and a bag of Herr’s potato chips. He looked adorably groggy as he rubbed his eyes and sat up on the couch.
“Damn!” He laughed. “How long have I been out? And what smells so good?”
Placing the tray in front of him, Maddy smiled. “Hmm, well I’d say at least an hour and a half, to answer your first question. As for the second, I am attempting to make my Mom’s mussels marinara sauce for you. There’s plenty, so you can have some tonight for dinner and freeze the rest. I’m also leaving you chicken cutlets and a pan of eggplant parm. Wouldn’t want you to starve or anything, just ‘cause you have a bad leg.” Her tone was playful as she unscrewed the lid to a cold bottle of Turkey Hill iced tea.
If there’s one thing I really wish we had in South Florida, it is Wawa convenience stores. A cut above similar retail chains like 7-11, Wawa offers fresh homemade soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as various pots of steaming hot flavored and regular coffees, soft pretzels, Tastykakes and other on-the-run refreshment. Oh and yes, in Philly we call them hoagies, not subs.
Lancaster-based Turkey Hill products are also sorely missed. Whenever I go north for a visit, my parents’ refrigerator is always stocked with fresh-brewed Turkey Hill iced tea and lemonade, and the freezer with their fabulous ice-cream featuring team flavors for the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies. As for Herr’s potato chips, they’ve been on the Philly scene for as long as I can remember, just like soft pretzels and another area favorite, water ice (known to the rest of the county as Italian ices), as mentioned in the beginning of Chapter 7:
“Here you go sweetheart,” Ken said with a smile, handing Maddy a small cup of one of her favorite treats—lemon water ice.
“Ooh, it’s even got little pieces of lemon in it, awesome!” she enthused, taking a spoonful into her mouth. They were sitting on a green-painted wooden bench, facing the ocean.
“You know, I really could have splurged on a large, Madeline Rose,” he remarked, giving her a playful nudge. Then, just as she was about to speak, added, “Oh, I know, I know. We have to watch our calories!” He was teasing of course, but Maddy took slight offense.
“Hey, just ‘cause you don’t understand what it was like to be the ‘chubby girl’ in school, don’t make fun of me! I wish I didn’t have to be so careful, but I was never one of those naturally thin girls like Carmen who can eat whatever she wants and not even have to exercise. It’s just the way it is.”
As she spoke, her eyes followed the graceful trail of a seagull as it rode the evening air currents. Ken lodged his plastic spoon back into his slushy cherry flavored concoction, and then turned her shoulders so she was looking squarely at him.
That scene is reminiscent of countless hours spent sitting on a bench on the boardwalk — either alone or in the company of family and friends — enjoying a cold water ice while gazing at the ocean. I can picture the seagulls, the waves and the colorful umbrellas dotting the sand even as I type this. It was so easy to place Ken and Maddy into various situations like this, regardless of whether or not the real Ken and I had actually done the same thing back in the day.
In a future post, I will delve into a character study of Madeline, complete with all of her insecurities including excessive worry about her weight, as evidenced in the dialogue above. I’ll also take a look at some of the real places that provide the settings for much of the interaction between the characters such as Frisanco’s Restaurant (now out of business), Taj Mahal Casino, The Ship Inn, Acapulco Grill (which no longer exists), Arturo’s Restaurant and The Boca Resort and Club.
We’ll also explore the use of popular music to help keep readers abreast of the current year throughout a long, 16-year journey; the development of technology to denote the progression of time; and more comparisons between fact and fiction.