My chosen family — or “framily,” as I call them — are the neighbors from the Queen Village block that I lived on for almost 20 years. I actually stayed in three different houses on the same block because I couldn’t leave this group of people.
It’s a unique part of the city, for many reasons. The principal street, Bodine Street, is a dead end on both sides, and so narrow that any car that dares to drive down it can’t go faster than a crawl, inching past side-view mirrors and other obstacles.
Our homes are small, ranging from 800 to 1,100 square feet, so our living spaces extended out into the street. We call it “Bodinestreetopia,” and spent many days and nights playing with our dogs, then our kids, and always each other. Fire pits, late night Ping-Pong, street Rock Band, and organized non-permit block parties for every holiday. One time it rained and we sat huddled under umbrellas, a tree, and the hatch of a neighbor’s SUV, just to hang out together.
But it’s not all just hanging out. We rely on each other for emotional support, to watch our children or pets when we are having an emergency, shovel snow, or pick us up or drop us off in a pinch.
When I moved on the block for the first time, I was in a relationship. We were together for about eight years before splitting up. She was part of the group too, but one of us had to move. I was the lucky one who got to stay. The neighbors all watched me go through the breakup, and I stopped hanging out as much. My house was central, so everyone would still spend time outside my window. I wasn’t in the mood to be social, but just knowing they were all there, right on the other side of the wall, made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
Eventually I met the love of my life, and she moved in with me on the block. We decided to get married and wanted a small ceremony at the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. We didn’t know how we would pay for the down payment, and before we could even begin to figure it out, a neighbor knocked on our door. She handed us a check for the full amount of the down payment and said, “I don’t want you to have to worry about how you’re going to pay for this. Pay me back when you can, I’m not taking a no.” With our mouths hanging open, we accepted. We repaid her a few months later in full and with a bottle of Dom Pérignon. After our small, private wedding at the Magic Gardens, we hosted a large wedding reception on Bodinestreetopia to fully embrace and symbolize how our “framily” structure centered on this urban utopian ideal, which was an integral part of our wedded union.
I sometimes wonder how we wound up together. Many of us have different backgrounds and interests, with a mix of gay and straight. Somehow, we manage to connect on a deep level. This collection of chosen family members who all met through Bodine Street, most of whom have since moved away, is more functional and cohesive than the family I was born into.
We have our hiccups, but handle them like any family would — we’ll confront it, or just complain to each other about it. And we’ll always — always — get together.
Kate Stephan is an occupational therapist, now living in Melrose Park. Jaclyn Smith-Spade, high school principal and former resident of Bodinestreetopia, helped with the essay.