Friday, April 20, 2012

A to Z Challenge - R

R...      Reading, Pennsylvania

I was born and raised in Reading, PA. There is a bit of irony in that, given my book blog, though its pronounced like the color (Red-ing), not like the activity. I grew up in East Reading, in a valley between two mountains called Mount Penn and Neversink Mountain. But do not be confused, I grew up in row homes and urban sprawl, not in the country.

I hated PA, but I was a kid then and stupid. As an adult, I can see what a wonderful place it was to grow up. Though it was urban, it was still relatively safe. There were stories of abductions and murders, but none of us actually knew anyone who had experienced such a thing.  

We used to walk to school alone, my sister and I, starting in first and third grade. We played at the local parks, Pendora and Neversink, which hired staff to entertain the local kids all summer with box-hockey and crafts (God, I loved those big green boxes of goodies that only the high school kids seemed to have keys too!).  We returned home when the street lights went on and sat out on the front stoops with our neighbors in the summer and bought ice cream from the man in his freezer van with the jingling bells. 

We used to walk down a few blocks of the Reading street grid and walk up a steep hill to my grandparents' and great-grandparents' homes, row homes which happened to share a backyard. When we got older, we sometimes took a bus to the newly built mall, but most of the time we walked into Reading center and shopped in local thrift and discount stores.

We walked a lot back then. My mother and father were divorced and a car was not in the budget. I recall middle school was a 45-60 minute walk from home, but we were not within the "busing zone" and therefore, I made the walk every day to and from school until I moved to Boston. I visited the local library weekly, more often if possible.

Within the past five or so years, I went back to visit family.  Though most of my family has moved from their original homes, some still remain in-state. I told my future husband that I wanted to take a drive around the old neighborhood. He was very sweet and agreed. But when we got there, he demanded I park. We had to walk around, he said.

So we did. We walked past various houses we rented and I described the layout of each. We walked to the local convenience store, still family-owned, and bought penny candy...because we still could. We sat down at the counter at the local, oft-visited sandwich shop, which is still there, and had lunch (the best salad I have ever had). After sitting for a while, the waitress started chatting with us and she remembered my mother, my sister and I, by name! 

We then drove by my grandparents' old house and visited the local park. I pointed out the local dive my grandparents used to frequent and talked about all the Easter egg hunts they held for us kids. I showed him where I was swinging one day and caught my shoe under the foot-rest and broke my ankle. We drove up to the Reading Pagoda and walked around. It wasn't open, which was perfect because in all the years I lived there it was never once opened when I visited.  We took pictures of the breath-taking view.  We drove by the school I attended for most of my grammar school years and lamented the graffiti.

Like many places, Reading has changed. There seems to be more crime and poverty than there was back in the 1970's, though maybe that's not true...maybe there's just more awareness of it.  They now have a graffiti abatement program to help clean up the city and even a crime-mapping program on their website. Can you say..."uhhh"?!

But honestly, it doesn't really matter. As an adult, I see Reading differently than I did as a kid, and yet it really isn't that much different. Reading will always be my hometown, despite where I spent my high school years (which I actually think of as home too, lucky me I get two).  I will always look back on those years, and Reading, with the blind joy of a child.

I love that place.