I was kind of holding my breath as the commemorative service got underway in Smith Plaza yesterday morning. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, scanning the good-sized crowd, trying to gauge how many were there, and whether their numbers would swell or dwindle as the daylong community events, spearheaded by the Pottstown School District and the Pottstown Arts and Cultural Alliance, played out.
After heartfelt speeches, memories of that fateful day in 2001, the honoring of service and rescue personnel, and a moving poem by Ron Downie, I headed up High Street with fellow blogger, Mo Gallant, who writes Pottstown’s Blog. I’d already set up my puzzle- and community-building activity at the Pottstown Regional Public Library and we were going to finish setting up on the sidewalk in front of The Gallery School.
While School Board member Michele Pargeon coaxed passersby to check out the inside of The Gallery, a few determined puzzle-builders got busy with the first pass at puzzles of The Gallery, the Middle School, Borough Hall, Churchill’s and Smith Plaza. Bill Krause emerged from The Very Best next door and shot the breeze with us for a couple minutes. Council President Steve Toroney and his wife came by, so did Dave Kraybill, Executive Director of the Health and Wellness Foundation after picking up a free bike at Tri-County Bicycles through the Bike Pottstown program. Periodically, Mo and I would look up and down High Street and say, “They’re here. People are really here.”
That feeling of wonder only grew in strength as the day unfolded.
After putting some stuff in my car, which was parked for free all day in front of the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, Mo and I popped in for a quick hello to Executive Director Marta Kiesling. Then, at an outdoor table at Juan Carlos Fine Mexican Cuisine, we indulged in the sublime Mexican egg rolls with honey jalapeno dip and their spicy Mexican Caesar salad.
Skateboarders from Bentley’s Boards Skate Shop kept us entertained on Penn Street. Mayor Bonnie Heath, her husband Mason Craig, Borough Manager Jason Bobst and Main Street Manager Leighton Wildrick were at a nearby table, and that outdoor spot was perfect for people-watching, saying “hi” and meeting new folks. As lunch was winding down, I realized that I was in the midst of a perfectly balanced, lively urban/small hometown experience. Great food, people of all ages on the street, full trolleys passing by, and outdoor dining in a place where “everybody knows your name.”
As it got closer to three o’clock, Mo and I bid farewell (Thanks, Mo! Thanks, Michele, for looking out for the puzzles!) Then I headed to the Library to make a quick stop and see how things had gone over there. On my way up High Street, I slowed down to take in the crowd and the thumping salsa beat in front of SwingKat and Grumpy’s Handcarved Sandwiches. Music! Joy! Dancing in the streets! This was Pottstown on September 11, 2010. Mark it on your calendar. Imprint it on your souls.
The puzzle report from Mike Packard at the Pottstown Regional Public Library was thumbs-up. If you haven’t been to the library recently, it’s got a whole new look inside, with the fiction downstairs and popular and current fiction on display. Check out the way-cool teen room downstairs. And there was popcorn! In the library! The smell was heavenly. If they keep this up, they’re going to give the big bookstores a run for their money.
I made my way to the high school where school district volunteers and staff had lined the cafeteria and halls with tables for any community and school group that wanted to participate. I set up my puzzles and free book raffle in the cafeteria and never got a chance to see the hallways filled with people, including elected officials from both Borough Council and the School Board. In addition to all the families and young puzzle fanatics who stopped by, there was Erica Weekley of the Borough’s economic development staff, and Tim Phelps of Tri-County Area Chamber of Commerce and his family.
John Armato, Director of Community Relations for the Pottstown School District and Superintendent Dr. Reed Lindley both stopped by to chat and thank me for being there. It wasn’t just me – they were talking to everyone. It’s obvious that these leaders are real people-persons and that they are “for real.”
In closing, I’d like to hearken back to my blog post of August 8 – The work of the community. From a community revitalization perspective, yesterday was a HUGE bump up to the next level. The community sees the positive and good things it’s capable of. You never know when that’s going to happen – that breakthrough – but once it has, in a lot of ways there’s no turning back.
While yesterday provided the community with a long moment of harmony, where the results of true teamwork were visible and palpable, every day isn’t going to be like this. But the more of these moments that you can string together, the better prepared you will be to get over the rough spots in between, together, with ultimate faith and trust in each other. Congratulations, Pottstown – you’re awesome!