Most experts say that adults cannot remember anything that happened before the age of about three. For me, I would say this holds true. My early childhood memories are fleeting and I only remember specific times, and not the context or what else was happening in my little life. However, here is an account of where I lived, then and now.
To many, Pennsylvania is a sea of rolling hills and mountains, capped at each end by the cities of Philadelphia on the east and Pittsburgh on the west. The stat is sliced through the middle by the Appalachian Mountains and therefore, the Appalachian Trail. Much of rural Pennsylvania is dotted by rolling hills and farms, and small industrial towns and even smaller rural villages and communities.
I lived in an area of Pennsylvania called Berks County, which is situated at the foot of the Blue Mountains, which is part of the Appalachian Mountain Range. Berks County is situated near the famous bucolic Lancaster County, which is known for its Amish population and streets dotted with horses and buggies. These were regular sights for me as a child, even if it was a foreign way of life.
Near my home town, we had communities of Amish, Mennonites, and other similar communities who dressed plainly, kept to themselves, and for most of the Amish at least, did not use electricity or drive cars. These folks were just part of our local community and we really did not think too much about how different our worlds were. After all, living at the foot of the Blue Mountains felt much like being in a world that was not much connected to the world I saw on the television back then.
My Home Town
My home town was like many communities near where I grew up. The town is an old rural industrial town. Back when I was a child, the town had thriving industries. We had Price Battery, Coca Cola, Hahn Motors, The Hamburg Broom Works, and The Plow Works foundry, to name a few. There were also a few knitting mills, Windsor Knitting Mill and Burkey Knitting Mill (and others), where many of the women in town worked.
The town itself was a bustling small town where industry thrived and the streets were filled with activity. There were restaurants that supported all the workers in town and stores that supplied all the needs of those who lived in town and nearby. Most people did not venture too far for their needs and the local stores had a thriving business that the community fully supported.
Life in my small home town was by all standards quaint and sheltered from most of the outside world. Everyone knew each other, many folks did not lock their front doors, and people looked out for their neighbors back then. We felt safe from crime and kids roamed the streets by day and parents never worried that something bad would happen to them. It was a great place to be a kid!
How “Progress” Changed Things
During the 70’s, life in my home town remained fairly simple and not much changed. It was not until I was in high school that things started to really change in my town, and not for the better, either.
Along with computers, trade agreements, and advances in industry came a lot of changes for this old industrial town. Many plants started to close. People started to be laid off and unemployed, and many of them were middle-aged or older and this is the only life they knew. They had no marketable skills in this new age of business and poverty started to set into the community and grow like a fungus.
Many older folks who never ventured too far from home were forced to commute to the closest city for work causing many of the restaurants to lose business and eventually close. The once thriving downtown with its quaint shops and stores that once supplied the community with its every need started to become a ghost town. Many mom and pop stores were forced to close businesses that had been in the family for generations.
Many of the homes came into disrepair because residents did not have the income to support repairing their homes anymore. This once thriving community was changed forever. For me, it was really sad to see my home town deteriorate into a has-been town with empty factories and foundries dotting the community like flies on flypaper.
What I remember as a teenager is just being really sad and not being able to wait to get out and into a world better than where I was. Technology advances and workforce changes changed the safe world I knew as a kid into one that had so many unknowns. Life in my home town would never be the same.
Life changed. In the 90’s not much changed in my home town. By then, I had moved to a different state, but I came home to visit my parents frequently. Every time I drove through town, I felt the sadness of times long gone. Things did not change much from year to year and the same buildings were closed and boarded up as they had been for years. Then one day, the things changed dramatically.
For years the town fought off allowing big box stores into the community for fear they would further deteriorate the small businesses that still remained after the town’s industrial devastation. But in 2003, Cabela’s opened just outside of town, bringing some jobs back to the community. In the years since Cabela’s opened, many other stores opened int he attached shopping community right on the edge of town. This brought a little life back to the Hamburg area and more recognition to the town itself. As a matter of fact, many people I meet in Philadelphia know of Hamburg simply because of Cabela’s.
Today, Hamburg has had a (sort of) comeback with busy shopping areas, anchored by Cabela’s and Walmart, and local events such as the Hamburg-er Festival that draw thousands of people each year to the community. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of fallout from the industrial age in my home town, but there is also more promise there than there has been for a few decades.
So why should you care where I am from? Well, maybe you don’t. But I am writing this book and blog from this place. This is MY personal background. We all carry things from our past into our futures. We all have memories that we take with us for a lifetime. We all are shaped by where we live, what we saw, what we experienced, and feelings we have felt along the way. These are the things that are ingrained in us and shape us and mold us into who we become. This is the place from which I write my account of MY story of my life in an addiction household. These are things that shaped me. This is who I am.