This week Alex Rodriguez finished his rehab from an injury that kept him from the first half of the baseball season. He was playing with the Reading Thunder, a Class AA affiliate of the Yankees, and his appearance there led to an article in the New York Times — “In Minor Leagues, a Rich Man Visits a Frayed City.” I read the article with great interest, forwarded it to my cousin Jill, who is also a Yankees fan. Jill remembers going to minor league baseball in Reading when they were a farm team for the Phillies. We have a connection to Reading, PA, having spent a good deal of our childhood there visiting one or both of our aunts who lived just outside of the city for the better part of their adult lives. Jill and her sisters, Andie and Maxine, spent more time there than I did but our visits often overlapped and it wasn’t until we were adults that we realized what a tiny house Aunt Millie had. I now understand why we were constantly being sent outside or taken to the Berkshire Country Club where my uncles played golf.
Reading is in southeast Pennsylvania and was once a hub for the Reading Railroad and for the textile industry. I remember very well going to the Berkshire Knitting Mill to buy sweaters and bathing suits. We walked on streets along the railroad tracks that ran down the center of town and bought socks and buttons. We always brought home large amounts of pretzels and Reading is still the home of Bachman Pretzels. The Reading Glove and Mitten Manufacturing Company, from which we bought winter gloves, became Vanity Fair and in the 1970s the original factory became the first outlet mall in the country. Unfortunately, Reading entered a decline from which it never recovered and currently has the most people living in poverty in the nation.
What memories that one article stirred. My Aunt Millie took us to The Pagoda which was on the top of Mount Penn that overlooked the city. So many times when we drove into Reading we looked up at the Pagoda and wondered who built it and why.
I remember the excitement that was generated by the idea of going downtown to have lunch at The Crystal, a restaurant at which all the Reading businessmen gathered for lunch. Women (and children) were relegated to a separate area of the restaurant and it was there that I had my first Shirley Temple. Downtown Reading, once we were old enough, was reached by a bus that we took to go to the movies or to visit our uncle who owned the local fur store. Pomeroy’s, the downtown department store, was the destination for my father to get his chocolate covered pretzels. Whether visiting as a child, teenager, or adult, I have very fond memories of Reading and am saddened to read about its current difficulties with crime, unemployment, and poverty. In my mind it will always be a special place of which I have wonderful memories. I remember walking down the street to a tiny basement shop where we could buy candy when sent to pick up milk for dinner; I choose to remember the fun of the pool at the country club and being able to order lunch and sign for it with a member number; I was excited about exploring the attics at both Aunt Millie’s and Aunt Rhetta’s houses. Most of all, as an only child, I loved being with my cousins. It’s funny how an article meant to evoke negative images did just the opposite for me.