We lived in central Reading less than a year when my parents moved us to the outer limits of the city to what I remember as being a pleasant neighborhood called Glenside (not to be confused with the more well-known Glenside adjacent to Philadelphia). There my folks had rented an apartment in what we would call “the projects.” We lived at 1120 Ave. D, where the red “X” marks the spot.
I presume now that the projects were public housing, although I do not recall any noticeably poor living there. We had some foreign families living there — one from Germany and one from Italy. The father in the German family had a job and the Italian family was an older couple, Mr. & Mrs. Monday. Mrs. Monday fascinated me because she would carry her wash (that she was going to hang out to dry ) in a basket on her head. She talked my parents into allowing her to take my older sister and me to church and Sunday school.
The projects have changed since we lived there. The area directly below Ave. B was, for the most part, a parking lot. The buildings on the far right side of the Ave. D apartments were not there. That was an uncleared field.
Train tracks cut through the picture at the lower right. I spent many an hour walking those tracks, collecting discarded spikes, coal, and other interesting novelties that fell off the trains or were discarded by whatever means. One of my favorite pastimes was to try to identify as many railroad logos as I could. Another fun thing was to watch the hand cars (aka pump trolley) as they transported gandy dancers up and down the tracks, .
The large open space to the right of the projects provided an arena for playing cowboys and Indians, snowball fights, chasing rabbits, and general exploring. In the winter, we built large snow forts and igloos from which to conduct our snow wars.
Pigeons were a great source of amusement for some. Some of the men raised them as a hobby. There were pigeon coops everywhere. Now and then, an owner would open his coop and allow his birds to fly free. I did not understand then and still do not understand how they knew to come back and why they just didn’t fly off to freedom. The owners took great pride in their birds and competed against each other for the best looking bird as well as in aerial feats. I do not know if these birds were homing pigeons or racers, or what.
Periodically, I would see a man pushing a metallic garbage can on a two-wheeled cart. He would walk from one end of the projects to the other picking us trash. Local governments should reïnstitute that practice. It would give some bloke on welfare something constructive to do.
A group of Mennonites would come into the projects sometime during the summer with a sound truck, usually a panel truck or wagon, with two fore-and-aft speaker horns mounted on the roof. The Mennonite women, dressed in long dresses and bonnets, would tell Bible stories. I don't remember any of the stories nor do I remember any attempt to convert us. What I do remember was that they would give each of us kids a beautiful color bookmark in the shape of a parrotfish. I had quite a collection at one time.
Some of our neighbors had ice boxes, although most had refrigerators. The ice man came in a horse-drawn wagon. The ice-man would grab his tongs (search on “vintage ice tongs” and select "images" to see photos) and carry the ice into the house. Often, he would have to chip away at a block to get the size right, and us kids would get a few chips of ice to suck on.
Others that would make the circuit were the green grocer, the rag man, and the newspaper and cardboard collector.
Milk, bread, and pretzels, and potato chips were delivered door-to-door on a regular basis. From time-to-time the Fuller Brush man would make his appearance.
Summertime also meant lots of unusual airplanes would make their appearance. I didn't know why at the time, but it was because of the Reading Air Show. Pan American Airlines always had their Constellations there. They were huge airplanes with three rudders. My favorites were the sky writers. Sometimes it would be a single airplane, sometimes three or four, writing their advertising message across the sky with smoke. It always fascinated me, even though it was normal fare during our school vacations. Also to be expected each summer was the visit of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. My dream, never fulfilled, was to be a Weinermobile driver.
Evenings in the projects were also fun. Chasing fireflies kept many of us busy. We'd collect as many as we could in a glass jar, releasing them when we were called in for the night. Then there was the ice cream trucks. They didn't come around in the daytime as they do now. They always came at dusk. Most of them were panel wagons. Always an off-white color. I was particularly found of Fudgecicles®, which I'd usually have to share with one of my sisters. That was easy because, in those days there was a depression down the middle and two sticks, one on either side, making it easy to break. Mom often made popcicles, too, which we consumed in the afternoon.
Glenside was nice. I was young and had not a care in the world. I reveled in being allowed to roam free and my imagination rejoiced in the many games it could invent and engage in.