russell copeland, city of reading | born: 1953
by jennifer hetrick
the 300-block of south eighth street in the city of reading
is where i grew up, nestled in an italian neighborhood.
we were the only black family there. my neighbors used
to give us tomatoes from their backyards. i didn’t know
prejudice, and sharing your harvest, what you’ve raised
from seeds or small plants bought at a farm market,
watered with daily dedication, is a heart’s translation
of not only respect but simple, wholesome, vast love.
and that matters a lot—is awfully necessary, in this world.
months ago, i heard the news of flames wrapping their
way through the letisse, inc. building, where i cleaned
sewing machines in my teenage years, swept wooden floors
after school with a push broom. those letisse handbags
are now sold as vintage on etsy.com. my mom operated
a machine there but only for a few years before becoming
a licensed nurse practitioner at berks heim in bern township.
i worked on the fourth floor, the top one. i dated a girl named
bonnie who had short brown hair, thin eyeglasses. inquisitive,
she asked question after question, a quiet type. but flurrying
inquiries brought out the louder curiosity in her personality.
she’d wait for me after my shift in her olive green station
wagon, parked along south eleventh street at night—sitting
in it like a pretty flower. bonnie became my first girlfriend
who had a car, and i might have been 15. my granddaughter,
kamena, has a round toy box her mother—tarra, used as a kid,
three generations of us knowing it now, from when i worked
at continental can company at 720 laurel street in the city.
i made the bands for the tops of drums, which kept covers
on tightly. the lid is plastic, but mostly, we made metal lids
to match the fiber drums, the barrel-like containers. others
were used for grain, powders, flammable or non-flammable
liquids. later, i did smoking of meats second shift for berks
packing company, inc., by riverfront park, and i welded
at cartech for 10 years, missing family, working long hours.