50's Article:


"Here's a dime", my mother would have said on any day in the early Nineteen Forties. "Go over to Elm Farm and get a loaf of Wonder Bread", and I would get my blue bike with the balloon tires and pedal up Belcher Avenue to Belmont Street, turn right, and in a few pedal strokes would be at the store, get the bread, and pedal back to the house, but homeward was on the downhill then all the way, and an easy coast into what was, originally, a barn, set back from the two-decker house we lived in then, and sufficient to park three cars in relative comfort. We had but one car, a 1940 Chevrolet four-door sedan my father, a lawyer in Brockton, had purchased from Lalli Chevrolet. And prominently displayed on a wall in the barn was the "hoss blanket"--a faded old quilt--hanging there ready for the coldest days of winter, when my father's last ritual before closing the barn door for the night was to put the quilt over the car's hood to keep the engine warm and the oil from solidifying.

When the Forties began, on January 1st, I was seven years of age and a student in Miss Stevenson's First Grade at Whitman Elementary school, the building still standing in the faded yellow brick I remembered after all these years, when I made a recent visit to the old hometown. And when the decade ended, on December 31st 1949, I had passed through the halls of Whitman Junior High, already had my driver's license for a year, and was two years away from graduation at Brockton High.

What of those years in the Forties? Well, at the beginning, it meant a short-cut on the way to school, as the neighborhood kids of all ages traipsed the same way--across the yard of the Partridge's house on the opposite side of Belcher Avenue, then over to and through the tall grass of Callahan's Field, at Doris and Kenilworth, and down Belmont Street, past the little store owned by "Milton and Mary", next to the fire station, then around the curve in the street, past "Millet’s" variety store with the dark green-painted screen door with the squeaky hinges, and the penny candies inside, to school. Housewives along Belcher Avenue bought fruit and vegetables from old Mr. Webby, who had a horse and wagon; bread from Mr. Sher, who drove an old Chevrolet truck. There was home delivery from Cushman's Bakery, which meant sweet treats for the kids, and cupcakes were six for 25 cents. And during the summer, the treat that was best during the hot and humid days was snitching pieces of ice from the back of the wagon belonging to the Brockton Ice and Coal Company, as the deliveryman went to his customers, after chipping off blocks of ice and hurrying in to the homes on the street. Berquist Farms delivered milk and cream to the back door.

We would visit "Parker's" in West Bridgewater for their luscious ice cream. Or, on the drives to New Bedford via the old Taunton Road, my father would stop at the "Frates” Dairy ice cream outlet, a unique building in the style of the Thirties-- in the form of a giant milk bottle, with serving windows around the circumference of the building.

We made weekly visits to my grandparents' three-decker house on Plymouth Street, on the East Side, hardly waiting till we could run down the yard's lawn and throw stones into the Salisbury Brook.

There was, of course, "The Fair", with the sideshows, Kelly The Candyman's stand, the smell of hot dogs grilling, and a daredevil driver named Lucky Teeter doing the grandstand show with his old black cars careening around the racecourse.

The early to the mid-Forties were, of course, the war years with ration books and saving fat in cans, and doing whatever we could for "the war effort". After leaving my father's office in Barrister's Hall, at the corner of Belmont and Main, we would drive home via Legion Parkway, which gave my father the opportunity to read the war headlines posted in the front windows of the "Enterprise" newspaper before turning left on Main Street and heading up the Parkway for home. Places I recall along the route? Well, the movie theatres for a start--the "Brockton", the air-conditioned "Colonial" (and the Chinese food restaurant, the "Nanking” upstairs), and the "Rialto", though the "best" movies were at the "Modern Theatre", off Main Street, where a dime would get you admission, and 25 cents was enough for a ticket, a candy bar, and fare home on the Belmont Street bus. The "Modern" showed two movies, a couple of cartoons, a Pathe or Paramount newsreel, "selected short subjects", and "previews of coming attractions"--quite a bargain for a dime, later 12 cents with the wartime entertainment tax.

There were the stores--"Edgar's", "Kennedy's" and "Bessie Baker", "Kay Jewelers" and, on the corner of High Street, Kresge's department store, which always smelled of hot oil used to fry the doughnuts that skipped merrily from extruder to hot oil, then flipped over and dried, and lastly, were dusted in sugar, cinnamon, or left plain, by a lady employee with a white uniform and cap. At the Main Street entrance to Barrister's Hall was a tiny "Schulte's" cigar stand, with an open gas flame to light your cigarette or cigar.

Summertime meant visits to Nantasket Beach, or a pond outside of Brockton called "Brown Betty", or visiting grandparents and relatives in New Bedford, getting fresh sweet corn from Packard's or Gerry's Farm for 25 or 30 cents a dozen, and for a rare eating-out treat, there was "Producers' Dairy" up on Belmont Street where a shopping mall now stands, which had excellent ice cream, and tasty grilled frankfurters, to boot.

I worked a couple of summers digging ditches for the city. And I recall sharing a dirt-lined trench with Rocky Marciano, who was "working out" between fights, and seeing Rocky in a "victory parade" in a convertible, driving down Main Street as I was sitting in Dr. Rankin's dentist's chair on the third floor of Barrister's Hall, with the view directly out the window below us. The view from my father's office window, which overlooked Belmont Street, was the "Central Stores" corner appliance emporium; Jenk's "Oyster Bar", which I doubt ever, saw a real oyster, and the barbershop of Gus Garcia. Every June, just after school was out, my father would give me a fifty-cent piece and send me over to Gus' for a haircut that was designed to last the summer.

In a "rite of passage" that happened when I was 16, like many other Brockton boys, I started my working life by caddying at Thorny Lea golf club, for $ 1.50 for eighteen holes, plus a usual tip of 25 cents. (Other summer jobs found me at the Brockton Cut Sole Corporation, and Ward Machine Company). I was also the "High School Reporter" for the "Enterprise", with a salary of five cents a column inch for each story the paper accepted.

In October 2001, I was at Thorny Lea again, for the 50th reunion of the BHS Class of '51. The old caddy shack was gone, and the old clubhouse, so I was told, had burned to the ground a few times in the intervening years, but the tall pine tree that was next to the caddy shack was still there. And at the reunion itself, there was still the warmth and fellowship that came with the memories of "the old days" in Brockton, and the recall of people and buildings and places now gone, but always fondly remembered.

by Nat Shapira

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