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The Avon Ladies

March 31, 2015

Written by Marykate O’Malley, mother of three wonderful children, Gladwyne PA 


I had the tremendous gift the other day of reuniting with my childhood friends. A dear mother from my old neighborhood had the wonderful idea of bringing together the mothers and daughters from Avon Road, the street on which I grew up. My own mother, a nurse, was scheduled to work, my sister on Long Island would have also loved to be there but couldn’t. And what I was able to do was reconnect with surrogate mothers from my childhood, and childhood friends who always felt like sisters. To see the faces from your childhood resurrect before you is a tremendous gift. I felt like Alice, as if I was able to slip through the looking glass into my childhood, to visit one more time.





The Avon Ladies 


We sat around the carefully decorated table, elbow to elbow. 9 women: 3 mothers and 6 daughters. Jelly beans sprinkled across the linen tablecloth, a centerpiece of keepsakes carefully set with silverware delicately tucked in napkins, china and lace, every detail and nuance presented with grace, with love. There are some people who make everything beautiful, and Mrs. Small is one of them. As my friend Gina remarked, it is as if every act is done with reverence, like a prayer.

Homemade breads, and a savory soup, salads and ham on biscuits, all prepared by the gift of an artisan, a meal to be savored and remembered. And then the deserts and cakes, and food served on exquisite platters that her daughter, an artist, made. And Mr. Small, kind and jovial, the same easy smile I remember from childhood, peeking out from his post in the kitchen, serving us coffee and lunch and gracefully being the only man in the midst of all those women, laughing as a table of women predictably does. And the women. The women. Circled in love, and protection, and kindness, all these years later coming together again.

9 women who laughed until the tears came and remembered neighbors who passed, mishaps, and memories. We savored food, we savored the past, we savored one another. A street shares life together, through ups and downs, and always remains constant despite the ebb and flow.

We remembered a neighborhood where no one locked their doors. And the one family that had an alarm had the instructions visible inside the kitchen door so you could peer in, read the code, and enter. A neighborhood where children ran from house to house, and played until Mrs. Small rang the dinner bell and children would pop out of trees, and houses, and yards and head home for dinner. We remembered the thrill of Ghost in the Graveyard on warm summer nights, long after it was dark, July 4th celebrations, and the plays we used to have in a garage with a sheet for the curtain complete with programs, and music, and costumes. There wasn’t summer camp, or scheduled activities. We played tag, and baseball in the street, pausing to let cars pass. Summers were long, and magical, and wild.

Later that day, after I collected my children from friend’s houses, and was telling my sister about the magical lunch, it occurred to me that we all became who we are from the seeds planted on our street. 6 daughters – 3 art teachers, 1 music teacher, 1 always fashionable chic friend, and me, a writer. Like tributaries, we could be traced back to a vibrant flowing river. It was the influences of the creative parents we grew up with that gave birth to our gifts.

Mrs. Small would hold art classes for the children on Avon Road and her home, and everything she did, was done with impeccable care and beauty. Mrs. Kaz, also an artist, now with a studio of her own, would talk to us about art, and her job as an interior designer. I remember long conversations about her artist friends and pieces she loved and why. My own mother, a gifted artist who loves water colors, a talent nurtured by her father. Mrs. Cosio ever kind, and ever warm, serene, and constant.

And then the music. There was Mrs. Rudolph across the street who gave piano lessons in her home. And the “two ladies” as we called them who were classically trained musicians for the Philadelphia Orchestra. On summer nights, when the windows were opened, music flowed with benevolence and grace onto the children playing in the street below.  And my dear friend Gina, still inspiring to this day. I remember going to her concerts at the Bryn Mawr Conservatory and the gift of hearing piano music in her home. I was so inspired by her that my children now take lessons, on a piano that was a present from my mother.

And my great love, books. I recalled later that day that I owe my love of words to sweet Katie, and her father, Mr. Small, a high school English teacher. Katie was a generous and veracious reader and books would travel downstream from Mr. Small, to Katie, to me. Books became my constant companion and to this day, I remember “Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry”, “Where the Red Ferns Grow”, and “Sarah, Plain and Tall” with deep fondness, like old friends resurrected from my past. My love of reading gave birth to my love of writing, an outlet I am humbly grateful for.

Like constellations from stars flung against a midnight sky, the connections of our present have roots in our past. These parents shared their gifts with us, and nurtured them, and the seedlings grew to become oak trees. As we sat about the table I felt such kindness, and support and was able to remember how deeply blessed I was to grow up with such people. Mothers, daughters, shoulder to shoulder, and elbow to elbow.

Anais Nin said, “we write to taste life twice.” That wonderful lunch was tasting life twice and charting our destinations back to hidden treasures, quietly tucked away to be discovered in present day. What a gift to be savored, to step back into your childhood, with gratitude for all the love and kindness shown to you.




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  1. Cathy

      on April 1, 2015 5:03 am

    Wow. I LOVE this idea!! I would love to reconnect with childhood friends from my neighborhood!! And marykate, your writing- the way you weave words together – beautiful my friend!


  2. Cathy

      on April 1, 2015 5:09 am

    One more thought, after visiting you last summer, your own kids are growing up in a ‘magical’ life-giving neighborhood too! What a gift they will one day cherish, as well.


  3. Marykate

      on April 2, 2015 10:13 pm

    Thanks Cathy!!! And it is – my street is so much like the street on which I grew up. It makes me happy for me, and my kids. It’s a gift. XXOO


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