Thursday, July 16, 2009

Phil Seidman: A Facebook Memoir

When I was growing up in Somerset, New Jersey, we never called Somerset Park Pharmacy by name. “The Pharmacy” or just “Phil’s” was enough for everyone in town to know exactly what you were talking about. The tiny, cramped store in the row of four set back from Easton Avenue near Foxwood Drive was an institution. In the 1970s, before K-Mart, Target and Staples (and even after they showed up on the retail scene), it’s where we went for school supplies, cosmetics, birthday cards, gift wrap, band-aids, bubble gum, baseball cards, small gifts and, of course, prescriptions – antibiotics, cough syrup, inhalers, acne creams and the like – all filled by Phil himself. A handwritten sign in the front window gave a phone number – probably Phil’s home number – in case a medical emergency made it necessary for a prescription to be filled after hours. Thankfully, my family never had to use that number.

Sadly, I was reminded of Phil’s yesterday when I saw my high school classmate, Bruce Weinstein’s status update on Facebook, which said: “Loving the stock market rally today so much, I’m going golfing! Fore!!! RIP Phil Seidman!”

Bruce Schwartz (who I assume also grew up in Franklin, but I don’t know personally or on Facebook), seemed as incredulous as I was upon seeing the news, and commented thusly: “Phil Seidman passed away?”

When there was no reply, I repeated the question: “Did he?”

“Yes,” said Daniel Morris, another Franklinite who was a few years ahead of me in school and worked for Phil as a delivery guy.

“Very sad…” I said, trying to internalize that yet another piece of my childhood was no more.

“Wow, sad indeed,” commented Bruce Schwartz. “I have such great memories of him in the store.”

We all do.

Bonny McClain from around the corner on Summerall Road chimed in with this: “I remember Phil as he was the only place to buy batteries on Christmas morning when Santa forgot them.......he was also very nice to my parents in their elder years. Thanks for posting, Bruce.”

By then, I’d emailed the news to my sister who, although she has neither the time nor the inclination to play around with Facebook, replied with this: “I'll always remember the image of that very cramped store with the claustrophobic aisles and John Harsell (her friend and the eternal pharmacy assistant) and Phil at the back watching everyone who came in...”

Amy’s reply reminded me of the very same thing…and so I continued the conversation: “The store always seemed especially cramped to me at back-to-school time when the spiral notebooks and pens were piled in boxes in the aisles between the cosmetics and the gift wrap. A bygone era...”

Then came Stuart Rosenthal from Tripplet Road who recalled, “Baseball card buying memories at Phil’s (THE Drug Store) for me.”

Next was Joanne Silverstein-Bacon (I can’t remember exactly where she lived, but I think it was over near Appleman Road. Am I right, Franklinties?) who said, “The best thing about the first day of school was going there for supplies.”

Last was Pam Boullé Gunter (I recognize the name, but can’t put a face with it…it’s been a lot of years), who said: “Phil from the Pharmacy? How sad. Marcy and what was the son?”

“Mitch,” I said.

In the same way that we all have remembered Phil and his store, may Mitch and Marcy’s memories of their father and his pharmacy sustain them and their families during these difficult days and be a blessing to them always. And, as Bruce Weinstein, who started this entire conversation said, “Rest in peace, Phil Seidman.”