Written May 25, 2010

My minds eye, memory of Pottsville


Leonard A. McHugh

About a year ago, I was walking downtown Pottsville with Toga, my Freedom Guide Dog and while waiting to cross a street this very friendly arm came around my shoulders. It was Dr. Peter Yasenchak, a guidance counselor from my old high school days. He just stood there for a few moments and then told me that there is something to be said about losing my eyesight, as he was looking around the area. He then explained that if I could see downtown now I most likely would be upset. He went on to say that many people no longer have any pride in the way that they dress and most of the businesses are gone. We were standing near a parking lot where an old movie theater once stood.

Thinking about what he said did make some sense. When I was in high school 1962-1965, there were two movie theaters, two skating rinks, seven jewelry stores, eight shoe stores, two department stores, dress shops, menís clothing stores and a few 5&10 cent stores. Now there is one jewelry store, one menís clothing store, two drug stores and a bridal shop. All of the other businesses have become just warm fading memories.

One of my most picturesque memory as a kid was going downtown to do some Christmas shopping for my family. I was standing on the corner waiting for the cross walk light to turn on. The crisp air was filled with Christmas music from the Salvation Armyís booths and the city was all decoratively lit. There were many shoppers walking around. It had just started to snow with very large flakes gracefully floating and dancing. There was a woman wearing a bright green long coat and the contrast of the pure white snowflakes falling with her green coat as a backdrop was beautiful. Before I started my shopping endeavor, I first had to visit Sears Toyland to admire the electric train display. Next on my agenda was to go across the street to watch the animated window displays at Pomeroyís department store. I then walked past one of the booths that the Salvation Army had set up from which they would accept donations and broadcast the Christmas music. I never had a lot of money but always managed to give them a few coins. The woman in the booth was always so pleasant and sincerely grateful for any donations. Even now sometimes when I am at Center and Market streets I can still hear that music and see the woman with the bright green coat.

Back to what Dr. Yasenchak said to me, I am really grateful for the ability to still picture downtown Pottsville as it was about fifty years ago. I remember how lucky I thought that the people downtown were because they did not have to shovel snow. There was city steam heat pipes underground. This kept most of the street and sidewalks clear of snow. I also can still hear the sounds of the car tires hitting the old trolley tracks and the wooden block street near Garfield Square. I have very fond memories of the dances for the kids at the YMCA, the Pottsville Moose and at the one skating rink. I can still see the hula hoop contest on 2nd Street behind Greenís 5 and 10 cent store. Also there were summer street dances at the city parking lot. There really was so much for us kids to do and I think at the time none of us truly appreciated it.

When he mentioned about how people today do not care how they dress, it brought back some additional fond memories. I remember in the late sixties and seventies that on Friday and Saturday evenings most women wore dresses or skirts and high heel dress shoes. During that time period I almost never went out of the house without wearing a coat and tie. I had to dress that way for work and carried it through for almost everywhere I went. Funny, a few friends and I were going out for the evening so I wore my favorite jacket and tie. We decided to first stop at the bowling alley. Here I was in the bowling alley wearing a coat and tie. That night was the best thing that ever happened to me. I met Karen, my lovely wife. We still joke about the guy who wore a coat and tie to the bowling alley.

What is most amazing is that these memories span the last fifty years and they can all be recalled in an eye blink. I know that technology has progressed exponentially but there is a lot to be said for the old stores in downtown USA. I am quite confident that my memories are not only for my home town of Pottsville but are indicative for small towns all across our wonderful United States of America. Indelible memories are often made. The day that Dr. Yasenchak put his arm around me, made one of these wonderful memories. I can no longer think of Pottsville without the warm memory of him putting his arm around me and remembering what he so eloquently said. It is a very recent memory that is beautifully linked to the past.


I am dedicating this story to my loving wife Karen. Today is our 36th wedding anniversary. The memories in this story are no comparison to all of the wonderful memories of Karen standing beside me. She has always supported me in all of my endeavors. I think that coat and tie that I wore to the bowling alley made a lasting impression on her . Karen, I love you.

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