It’s really hard to describe The Longest Day event that I participated in yesterday June 21st. Its name may be self-explanatory as June 21st happens to be the longest day of the year, a perfect time to take on a meaningful cause such as raising funds for the Alzheimer’s Association and awareness of the disease. It was the perfect event because participants could choose the activity they wanted to participate in for any or all of the 16 hours of daylight. That was cool!! Of course I chose to walk, because both my Mom and I LOVE to walk!!
Where to walk was the big question! I wanted it to be meaningful for myself and my Mom, and to take into account the fact that we are 5th generation Washingtonians. I decided to walk to all of the meaningful places in DC in my Mom’s life. I created six routes – one that focused on where she grew up and hung out, one where she worked, one where she went to school, where she raised her kids, where she took us to shop and learn and everything else that didn’t fall into the other categories. I looked at many pictures from Mom’s life and really studied them, looking at the background, who was in the photos and tried to figure out what the scene was all about. I tried to put myself into the picture and what was happening.
The Longest Day was supposed to start at sunrise, so at 5:43 am I was outside my front door getting my picture taken as the “official start” to the event. I got in my car and headed to the first stop, Half Street SW where my great grandmother Luray lived and where my Mom took us frequently after church. It was 6:05 am when I arrived and even though the area around the Nationals Stadium has changed dramatically over the past two years, the block I was in still isn’t the best of neighborhoods (especially at dawn). I recognized the neighborhood immediately, as if I had just been there yesterday. I really wanted to sit and reflect on all of the memories that were flooding into my mind, but instead I took a few photos from the same vantage point of some of poses my great grandmother stood in and then moved on to the next place.
Right then, it struck me that this day was going to be much more emotional than I had anticipated. I tried to prepare myself, but for what exactly?? Here is my summary for the 15 hours and 15 minutes I spent on The Longest Day.
818 New Hampshire Ave NW / Foggy Bottom and Georgetown – 818 was the house where my Mom and her siblings were raised by my grandparents. That was so cool. The house is currently empty and for rent, so we actually had time to look around and linger. I tried to put myself in my Mom’s place. It was a really run down area back then, but the fact that my grandparents had a home and could feed their kids (and some of the neighbors too) had to be very comfortable for the Perritt kids, especially for my Mom was was the oldest. .
Visiting St Mary’s church where my grandparents spent most of their lives always is emotional for me and it wasn’t a fun place for my Mom either, but I couldn’t do a walk without including it, especially since my Mom spent much of her childhood there. She was in the choir, sewing club and Sunday school. My high school was also in Foggy Bottom and my Mom supported any and everything I did there. It’s now owned by George Washington University and being transformed into a dorm, but the workers were nice enough to let us take pictures of the lobby.
St Luke’s church on 15th Street which my Mom transferred to as an adult which was a place she felt welcomed and came to love. The Georgetown Library was great to see because my Mom loved going there as a kid and reading and learning as much as she could.
Francis Junior HIgh and Cardozo High Schools – Visiting both these schools were very emotional for me. In spite of the fact that my Mom talked a lot about great times at Francis Junior High and shared a few stories about Cardozo, I actually had not actually been up close to either school. So walking where my Mom walked, (especially since they were places that she Loved) was amazing and brought tears to my eyes.
Department of Education – formerly Health, Education and Welfare – I anticipated that this location would be emotional, because even though it was Mom’s workplace for 25 years, I also spent a great deal of time with her there, especially in the summer when I was out of school. I loved going to work with my Mom, because she gave me tasks to do and I always felt that I was helping her a great deal.
4217 8th Street NW – This is the house I was born in and was the most difficult stop of The Longest Day. I’ve been there several times in the last few years, but today was different, more special somehow! When I got there, it had just started to rain, so I wanted to hurry and get my pics. When I got out another woman was there on a scooter. I was taking pics of the house and she asked if I wanted my picture taken too. I said YES! When I turned about and she saw the front of my shirt, She explained that her Mom died of Alzheimer’s and then we both started to cry. That was tough, but I had to move on to other places as well so we said our goodbyes and she wished me luck on the rest of the day’s journey. .
Petworth Neighborhood – The Longest Day was a great time to walk around in the neighborhood where I spent 25 years of my life!! I visited the Petworth library when I spent countless hours with my Mom reading and learning. Petworth elementary school was also on the tour. it closed years ago and is now a Boys and Girls Club, The old Safeway that I went to thousands of times with my Mom is gone, and a huge new Safeway will be opening in just a few days with a huge apartment building above it. I went to the church that housed the Nursery School I attended. I couldn’t tell if they still operate a nursery school today. I also went to St. Gabriel’s church where I was baptized at four months old and also belonged to a Girl Scout troop there for many years. The best part was seeing the old Billy Simpsons restaurant, a place that was declared a historic building in 2009 because of it’s owner Billy Simpson and his contributions to the Civil Rights era by bringing politicians and citizens together in an upscale restaurant, which unfortunately stands empty today. Billy Simpson’s used to mean so much to me as a kid, as it was a place we went to for our birthdays and other celebrations. My Mom saved a lot to be able to take us out to eat. I appreciate that more today than I ever did!
Downtown DC – I walked to all of the places that used to house the stores where we shopped, especially 7th Street where Kanns, Lansburghs, and our favorites Hecht’s and Mortons used to be. Mortons was the most economical store for the middle class, and was the department store that introduced lay-away to DC. We used lay-away all the time, and I assumed everyone bought their clothes that way. Morton’s owner was a leader in the Civil Rights era. He didn’t have separate bathrooms or dressing rooms for African-Americans and Caucasians and was very much criticized for it. He also was the first store to hire African-Americans and to allow them to try on clothes. It was also great to see the site of the old Garfinkels store where my Mom worked for years after her retirement, and the Woodward and Lothrop store, part of our name (just didn’t include any money!!). Both of those sites still bears the name of the stores because they are historical sites.
My journey through downtown also included the Mall and Capitol Hill and the Smithsonian museums that Mom took us to often, and the Library of Congress which became one of my favorite places thanks to Mom, It gave me a chance to reflect on all of our family time too, walking to the places where Mom used to take us to see our Aunt Frannie, Diane and other relatives for holidays, celebrations and just plain old visits. .
Tenleytown – My Mom spent 10 years in Tenleytown where she live at the Friendship Terrace Retirement Community, now known as Seabury. That was very emotional for me, because my sister and I helped her move in, and then I was the one who made the decision when it was time to move her out. I looked up at her old room, and just about lost it. Thankfully Kim and Kendal were with me, and that made things so much easier. It was great to walk to all of the places my Mom loved in Tenleytown – the library, Iona Senior Center where she took many classes, St. Columba’s church where she made sandwiches for the homeless, and the CVS and Safeway where she shopped weekly.
Oxon Hill MD / National Harbor – My journey then moved to Maryland where Mom now lives. We went of course to Mom’s current home – Mamie’s Loving Care where she’d definitely treated with care. Mom came outside and we took pics. It was getting late in the day and time for her dinner so our visit with her was short, but truly meaningful. She was thrilled when I told her what I had done and showed her some of the many pictures I had taken.
As part of The Longest Day, we considered two choices for dinner – the Cheesecake Factory near her old Tenleytown neighborhood, which was her all time favorite, and the National Harbor, where Mom loves to eat and walk with me. We chose the Harbor because it was close to Mom’s house and gave us the priceless opportunity to spend a few minutes with her before the group home residents retired for the evening. Walking the same places at the Harbor where I walk with Mom on the way to and after dinner was so special for me!! I was very emotional throughout the evening but so loved the fact that my family, Tim, Kim, Kendal and Herb joined me for dinner and help create new memories for us! For example, we sat outside the restaurant overlooking a free concert by the Navy band on the grassy area below. Before the concert began the band asked everyone to rise for the National Anthem. Even those of us outside in the restaurants rose as well. Kendal had never seen this, so Kim taught her how to place her hand over heart during the playing of the song. She looked so cute, and stood so still it tore my heart to pieces. Just so many memorable moments of the day.
I learned yesterday that I need to walk more outside and to rely less on my treadmill. There’s a lot of life going on outside and so many memories to be made. I could write a book about my 15 hours on the streets of DC, and how much history I learned about the city that I didn’t know. I was praying that I’d be able to get to all the places I wanted to as part of The Longest Day without being too exhausted or too emotional. I accomplished that and it didn’t feel like the Longest Day at all.
It simply felt like one of the Best Days of my life. Love you Mom!!!