The Suburban and Wayne Times
Reader of the Week: Jack Myers
By Sam Strike 04/14/2005
Jack Myers has lived in Wayne for two decades but spends a lot of his time thinking, talking and writing about "the old neighborhood."
For Myers, that elusive, timeless place is the Kingsessing section of Southwest Philadelphia decades ago when people didn't lock their doors, and an errand for the lady down the block could earn you a dime.
He tells how things used to be in his book "Row House Days: Tales from a Southwest Philadelphia Childhood." He had been thinking about writing such a book since he was in his early 20s, six years after moving to the suburbs. "People kept saying 'someone has to get these stories down'... It was a culture," Myers said.
It wasn't until Myers was in his late 40s and read "The Old Neighborhood" by Ray Suarez that he starting seriously working on it. Suarez captured some of the essence, he said, but it takes an insider to really capture the times. Myers said he wrote in the style of Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes."
He started in 2000 and finished a first draft by 2002, working page by page, one hour at a time. During that time, Myers returned to the old neighborhood in researching the book and was struck by how claustrophobic he felt in the narrow streets and endless row homes.
"I'm looking at it as a suburbanite - it was alien to me and that's kind of disturbing," he said.
In writing the book, Myers had to deal with certain emotions that come from digging up events and people that have been buried for decades. He made connections and talked to old neighbors, hearing many success stories from the baby-boomer neighborhood.
Myers was born in 1955 and moved from Kingsessing in 1970. He's hoping to publish a book explaining how the place evolved to where it is now. Toward the end of the book he foreshadows the time when things started to change on the 5600 block of Litchfield Street.
But before a change in industry brought a new lifestyle and economy and the labor jobs that sustained neighborhoods across the country disappeared, people worked at plants and factories, as welders, trolley drivers and steam fitters. They were "people who got their hands dirty" and who did "honest work," he said.
Whether you were Catholic or not, the area was widely known as MBS for the reigning parish, Most Blessed Sacrament. The area was about eight by 12 blocks and heavily populated.
The physical structure of the neighborhood determined the social structure. "Everyone knew each other, looked out for each other, and were loyal. Here, you are disconnected."
The book is a chronological series of stories that are both personal and indicative of the time. He readily tells them in person, from how he was not a tough kid to how he adjusted, or didn't, to life outside of Kingsessing. One day he was at West Catholic High School and the next day he was at a suburban public school unwittingly wearing his uniform. "They thought I was a Mormon, student teacher or a narcotics agent," he said.
"We moved seven miles to a different world."
In a mass migration of Irish, Italian and Jewish families from West and Southwest Philadelphia, they moved out to southern Delaware County to places like Chester Pike, MacDade Boulevard, Upper Darby and Lansdowne. The Myers family moved to Norwood.
Myers seems sad when he reports, "There's no short-term hope for the neighborhood."
There's a weeded lot where his house once stood. The former home of his grandmother who adored and spoiled him is a burnt-out shell filled with garbage.
He met his wife, Joan Potterfield, a systems analyst at Lockheed Martin, at a five-mile race in 1983. Myers was a top distance runner in Philadelphia and was invited as a guest runner. He saw her and made a mental note to talk to her after the race. She has really been the only brunette in his social life, and his setting a course record that day must have impressed her.
He said he has won more than 60 road races over his life.
Myers has worked as a technical writer in Valley Forge for 15 years.
ŠThe Suburban and Wayne Times 2005