Nineteen forty-nine saw the addition of another member to our family. In early summer my sister Bonnie was born. Even though I remember my sister Margaret’s birth the previous year, I have absolutely no memory of Bonnie — and no further memory of Margaret — for almost another year.
That summer saw another change. We left Long Island for Reading, Pennsylvania. Reading, by the way, is pronounced “redding.” I have a vague memory of waiting in a train station and the next thing I know is we were in Reading. Why we left the Island and moved to Pennsylvania I do not know.
The first few days in Reading we stayed in a downtown hotel. I do not remember much about it. I do know that while we were there my sister Bonnie slept in a dresser drawer; she was but a few weeks old.
One of my earliest Reading memories is of eating breakfast shortly after we arrived. Mom had taken Pat and me to a restaurant next to the railroad tracks. Restaurants in those days were more utilitarian than they are today. Unless you went to New York, Philadelphia, or Washington, D.C, ambiance was not a consideration. Décor was virtually non-existent. The term, “greasy spoon,” was often descriptive. This place was no exception.
Across the length of the front was a long counter with stools having swiveling seats. If one turned around a large picture window glazed with dust and grime cut down on the sunlight doing its best to illuminate the restaurant’s interior. To the left were booths with padded seats and backs and a table adorned with red marbled plastic laminate to match that of the lunch counter.
My eyes lit upon a row of small cereal boxes. Corn flakes, Frosted Flakes®, Sugar Pops®, and other varieties vied for my attention. I wanted Sugar Pops®. Mom said, “No.” I wanted to eat my cereal from the box, designed for that purpose. The front was perforated so all you had to do was press in at the lines and pulls the newly-made flaps out. The cereal itself was packed in an aluminum lined container to hold the milk. But again, Mom said, “No.” It tasted just as good in a bowl.
While we were eating a passenger train rolled by — a behemoth, fire-eating, smoke belching, steam-powered monster of a locomotive. The ground quaked, the windows trembled, the dishes chattered in fear. And I did all three.