N May 17, the community of Port Richmond held a Mass for Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski at Nativity BVM Church. I was asked to speak at the end of the Mass on behalf of the people of my neighborhood to address the Liczbinski family. This is adapted from what I said.
Let me tell you about the corner of Almond and Schiller streets.
You don't just pass by Almond and Schiller; you have to be going there. It's an intersection of porch homes and minivans, kids playing hockey in the street, people sitting on their front steps.
And now it's infamous for something else.
When Sgt. Stephen Lizcbinski gave the ultimate sacrifice on May 3, I found comfort that he was at Almond and Schiller streets.
Sure we want the good guys like Stephen to pass away of old age, in their sleep, after having a dinner of steak and ice cream, and watching the Flyers win the Stanley Cup. But he died on May 3 at the corner of Almond and Schiller in Port Richmond.
He took his last breaths and spoke his last words to Erik and Tom Krajewski, and Kevin Pettacio. He wasn't alone. Nancy Barton's kitchen towels were held against his chest and her prayers were said for his soul. He didn't die alone.
In times of devastation and violence, it's human instinct to run away from the danger. But the people of Port Richmond ran into it. Stephen Lizcbinski didn't die alone on that corner.
Ruthie Gaydosh ran toward the shots when a police officer was lying in the middle of her street. She had a tough question to answer when she got home.
Her son asked, "Mom, why did you go outside? You always told us to get down and hide if we ever heard gunshots."
Ruthie told her son: "We went to help the police officer. He was hurt and he needed our help."
This is a window into what the people are really like in Port Richmond. Human kindness is overflowing at Almond and Schiller streets.
We are not Society Hill. We are not Rittenhouse Square. We are not Chestnut Hill. We are Port Richmond.
We send our children to the school that we went to, and our parents went to. We still have corner stores were we buy the milk and the bread. We play the daily number, but not with the state lottery, if you get my drift.
Our kids still play at the Rec and we know who has the wrench we're not supposed to have to turn on the fireplug on a hot summer day.
Our kids get baptized and make their First Holy Communion, but we know the only way they're getting into heaven is if Father Dan Moriarity gave them a lollipop when he saw them in the neighborhood.
Everybody has a parking spot, legal or not. We live on water ice in the summer. Sitting on the steps out front is more entertaining than "Dancing with the Stars." In fact, we bet those stars aren't up to a polka by the Polish American String Band.
We over-decorate our homes for Easter and Christmas and St. Paddy's Day and Halloween.
Don't knock on the door during an Eagles game on Sunday.
Our kids play for the Tigers or the Leprechauns or at the PAL with Officer Ernie. We go to church. Our grandmoms still wear the plastic babushkas when they sweep their pavements or when it rains.
We take the 60 bus and then the El to get into town. We know all the dirty words in Polish. If there's dirt on our pavement, we sweep it up. Our corners have a bar, a pizza place, a beauty shop or a deli, and that's OK because we go to all of them.
Sneakers hang from our telephone wires and clothes still hang on our backyard clotheslines. We never got reception for Wi-Fi Philadelphia, and that's okay, too. Our kids aren't sitting in our parks on the Internet on their laptops - they're riding bikes or shooting hoops.
We are Port Richmond. Our rowhouses are so close together, we know when our neighbors are going to have a baby before the OB-GYN does.
And Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski died in our house - but he didn't die alone. And he told those who held him in their arms at Almond and Schiller, "Tell my wife and kids I love them" because he knew we would. And he knew he didn't die alone. Because Port Richmond takes care of its own.
Joey Vento, of Geno's, held a 24-hour marathon selling his famous cheesesteaks with all proceeds going to Sgt. Liczbinski's family. It was about 9 p.m. when I took my new dog, Porkroll, for a walk to Almond and Schiller.
A van pulled up and two boys dressed in their Port Richmond Tigers uniforms hopped out. They had a cheesesteak in their hand, and asked the police officer standing guard if they could leave it at the memorial for Sgt. Lizcbinski.
So they left a cheesesteak atop a bouquet of roses. I walked up to the memorial and genuflected, kissed my hand and then touched the police barricade and proceeded to walk home. Half a block later, I notice that something was in Porkroll's mouth. It was Sgt Liczbinski's cheesesteak. Needless to say, later that night when Porkroll had gas, I blamed it on Sgt. Liczbinski.
There is an old Polish proverb that goes something like "It's hard to find a poor man's friends and family when he dies."
The outpouring of love and support we've seen stretch over Port Richmond and the city since May 3 proves that Stephen Liczbinski was one of the richest men in the world.
On behalf of the entire Port Richmond community, God bless Sgt. Liczbinski. And God bless Port Richmond and the people at an intersection called Almond and Schiller streets.
They're good people. Always have been, always will be. *