Ronnie Polaneczky: Hey, killer: This is who Frances was
DEAR HIT-and-Run Driver: On Monday, Nov. 30, you killed a woman at Church and Old York roads, in Elkins Park. She was crossing the street at 5 p.m.
DEAR HIT-and-Run Driver:
On Monday, Nov. 30, you killed a woman at Church and Old York roads, in Elkins Park. She was crossing the street at 5 p.m.
The weather that rainy night was awful, and the woman was tiny. So perhaps you didn't notice her as she stepped off the curb.
But you must have seen her after the impact, when you hopped out of your white work van, then scrambled back inside and fled east on Church Road, leaving her like roadkill.
If you've been watching the news, you know that your victim was Frances Gordon and that she died on her 85th birthday of the injuries you inflicted: a torn artery, a lacerated liver and a broken leg and collarbone.
She had a pulse when rescue workers sped her to Abington Memorial Hospital, but she'd died by the time her family made it to her side. Unable to believe she was gone, they sat with her for 12 hours, sobbing goodbyes.
I can't imagine you've been sleeping well since that night. I'd be a wreck, waiting for the authorities' knock on my door. Cheltenham police Lt. Joseph Gruver tells me that finding you is a priority.
That's why police were at the intersection yesterday, hoping their electronic message boards about the hit-and-run would jog someone's memories about you.
Anyway, you probably won't sleep any better after you read this, because I'm going to tell you who you killed. Maybe then you'll know the magnitude of the hurt felt by her loved ones, who can't shake the mental image of you abandoning her, dying and terrified, on the dark, wet road.
I knew Frances, thanks to her daughter and son-in-law, Eve and Mark Goren. Their son and my kid are buddies, and the Gorens often brought Frances with them to my house for birthday parties, end-of-school barbecues and holiday celebrations.
Frances loved a party, and she often outstayed her own family at these shindigs. So trust me when I say she was no retiring dowager. She looked 70, acted 30 and was never, ever sick.
Frances was born Fanya Sherewshewsky, in Bialystok, Poland, delivered on the kitchen table with the help of a passer-by, Eve Goren says.
Frances, an only child, and her parents went into hiding during the Holocaust. They changed their last name to Shear, fled Poland and eventually settled in Canada, where they lived in grinding poverty.
But at least Frances was alive. Her entire extended family - her mother's nine sisters, her father's 12 siblings, her cousins and grandparents - perished in the Holocaust.
The experience of losing everything but her life gave Frances - all 4 feet 9 inches of her - a will of steel. Ignoring her parents' plea that she become a secretary, she worked her way through McGill University, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in social work.
She met her future husband and the love of her life, Milton Gordon, at a singles dance. They moved to Philly, where Milton taught English at Girls and Benjamin Franklin high schools.
Frances stayed at home until her children - Judith, Daniel and Eve - were school age, then was hired at Albert Einstein Medical Center as a social worker. She walked from her home in Elkins Park to Einstein's Olney campus each morning - a four-plus-mile hike - and had Milton retrieve her at night.
"My mom walked everywhere," says Eve. "We called her 'Iron Legs.' "
After four decades at Einstein, Frances resigned at 72 and relaxed into happy retirement with Milton. They doted on their grandchildren, walked the neighborhood and reread favorite works by J.D. Salinger and Anthony Trollope.
Their contentment was short-lived. Diagnosed in 2002 with pancreatic cancer, Milton died within six months, leaving Frances bereft and at odds about what to do without her partner of 50 years.
Ever the survivor, she eventually re-embraced life, says Eve.
"People are what kept her going," says Eve. "She would talk to anyone. One time, she was standing on the sidewalk outside of a wedding and she got talking to the family. They liked her so much, they invited her to come in. She actually ended up in the wedding photos."
As friends her own age died or got too sick to keep up with her, Frances found younger people to pass time with.
She made friends at the Elkins Perk coffee house, where she was a regular. She became a beloved member at Young Israel of Elkins Park, an Orthodox Jewish community that delighted her, though she wasn't Orthodox.
And, to her kids' astonishment, she enrolled in classes at the Academy of Social Dance in Center City, where she became quite fleet-footed.
"She was just in a performance at the Union League," says Eve. "She wore long gloves and glamorous eye makeup. I cried when I saw her dance."
See, Mr. Hit-and-Run, that was the thing about Frances: She worked hard to stay in the game of life, despite the game's inevitable losses. People couldn't help being inspired by that.
"She was happy," says Eve, who spoke by phone to her mom 20 minutes before the accident, to confirm a visit the next day.
You should know that Frances is survived by her children and their spouses, 12 grandchildren, scores of friends and, yes, detectives on the Cheltenham Police Department who are determined to find out who you are and why you didn't stop long enough to see if Frances was OK.
Which is what Frances would have done, if it had been you lying in the street.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-854-2217.