Call Me Mike.
I, Mike, approaching ninety, daydream quite a bit and that leads me to sometimes think about my early life.
By my early life I mean ages three to six. It is quite possible that some of these events or observations occurred outside these age
parameters; since I was unable to write at the time, there are no documents available to verify what you read here.
Ages 3 to 6
I was a toddler, we lived on the corner of a side street, Rock Street, and the main road in Avon. In the early thirties, the main
road, East Main Street, was and is Route 28, which passes through town from Reading to Orleans, traversing the nearby towns of Milton,
Randolph, the Bridgewaters and the city of Brockton. The road was referred to in town as the " white cement road" which distinguished
it from others made of black asphalt. This was a convenient way to give directions: " Take the white cement road until you come to
a split to the right and you will find West Main Street, a black road."
When I was about three, my mother used to give me a stern warning
when I went outside. Since she had two concerns she wanted me to think about, she probably felt I could only absorb one. She was concerned
about the cars on the main road and the guy who lived across Rock Street on the other corner. Of the two, the guy was her prime worry.
His name was Willis. He was a huge man, at least from my perspective at three. He could have been anywhere from his twenties to his
forties. He thought he was three and I was his playmate. He had a lot of toys I had fun playing with. His collection of toy cars and
trucks would put Toys RíUs to shame. Everything would be fine until he got bored, which was after about five minutes. This would be
when he wanted to insert me into one of his trucks. He would pick me up with one hand and hold the truck with other. It was
like trying to force a package into a letter slot. If my mother didnít get there in time, his sister
would. Poor Willis would cry.
I always felt bad for him.
Rock Street was aptly named since it was there that the Big Rock was located. About 100 yards from our house,
set back from the street, was the site of many hours of enjoyment. Just climbing one face of the rock gave us the feeling we were
scaling a mountain. It was especially fun to slide down in the winter. One day, after having enough of the Rock and possibly because
I was hungry, I decided to go home alone, without any friends to accompany me. Suddenly, right there in front of me was my most feared
nightmare: Billy Johnson. He was covering the road and wouldnít let me pass. If I tried to go back to the rock, he would run and get
behind me and prevent that maneuver. In short, I was trapped. All the kids heard the stories about Billy Johnson. We heard he carried
a big knife and he cut his brother. To us, he was Machine Gun Kelly and John Dillinger wrapped up as one. He was
a twin brother of
Ernie Johnson, who was the nicest kid you could find. I was really surprised to see him that day because there was a story in the
neighborhood that he was seen chasing his mother out of the house with a knife in his hand. He didnít show me a knife but he sure
scared the wits out of me. He must have got bored and decided to go home. A few days later, the word was that Billy wouldnít be around
any more. He went to a hospital and we
never heard anymore about him.
The stonewall was just the right height for a kid about
eight or nine to jump onto and sit down. The top of the wall was constructed with flat stones to give it a smooth appearance and texture
for a kidís backside. The stone bordered the Bowsís driveway and was built by their neighbor, Joe Belmore. Joe never spoke to anyone.
He never smiled and he never made eye contact. What he did do was walk up East Main from East Spring Street where we lived at the
time, to Gearyís Bar and after a while, walk home. He was never seen staggering and we heard he never had conversations at the bar.
He probably just signaled to the bartender when he wanted another beer. Joe didnít like kids sitting on his wall. He used to scare
us off just by walking near us. One day, he set up his tools for a modification to the wall. He spread a layer of mortar on top and
inserted pointed stones that looked like large arrowheads into the mortar. That solved his problem of the wall loiterers. But, he
had more problems when it came to Halloween, in the days when there was no trick or treat. Just trick.
There are railroad tracks at
the end of East Spring Street.
The tracks border the town of Holbrook. On the Holbrook side a small shanty was located where a gate
tender was stationed.The gate tender was Mr. Kelleher, my friend Bobby Whittemoreís grandfather. Kids used to love to sit in the shanty
and talk to Mr. K.In a whole afternoon one train might go by. Mr. K would be out there with his lantern after cranking down the road
When the train passed he would crank up the barrier and signal for the traffic to pass. Most of the time there was no traffic or any
car in sight, but that didnít seem to bother Mr. K. On cold winter days, with snow everywhere, it was fun to sit in the shanty next
to Mr. Kís potbelly coal stove. He had the knack of holding a piece of bread over the flames to make a delicious toast. He would coat
it with jelly and hand a slice to each of us. There has never been any toast like it.
On the return trip from the railroad shanty,
we used to slow down when passing Mrs. Porterís house. We were hoping she would appear in the doorway and invite us in for some cookies
she just baked. They were always the same. They were the most delicious sugar cookies imaginable, pale yellow, about the size of a
silver dollar, thin with a slight brown crust on the circumference.
It didnít occur to us, because she was blind, to wonder how she
was able to reproduce each batch. We would thank her and go on our way. One day, a kid was told by his mother to stop eating them.
She was afraid that since Mrs. Porter was blind she might
reach for a wrong package in her cupboard and we would all get poisoned.
The kid gave up on the cookies but the rest of us were willing to take the chance. I remember one time falling down and gagging with
blood curdling screams about how I was going to die. The others didnít think it was funny.
When Pa decided to change the wooden stairs
leading to the front of the house on Spring Street to concrete, he didnít realize how many stones he would need. He built a form that
would be quite wide and provide for a landing and three steps. If one were to do this job today, he would probably order pre-mixed
concrete and have it delivered by truck. All that was needed then was a good supply of stones to take up space in the form, a pile
of sand, cement in bags, and assorted tools. The kids in the neighborhood, who pulled them in wagons and lugged them by hand from
nearby fields and back yards, supplied the stonesAt first, the kids attacked this project enthusiastically, but after a while they
found they had to go further afield to find any. Pa was getting anxious and pressuring us to ď find more stones!Ē There was one kid,
I donít remember who it was, who showed up with wagon-loads of stones, when the rest of us couldnít find a pebble. Pa, of course,
was delighted and promptly dumped them into the form. The stones were kind of unusual with colors and shapes not generally seen. It
wasnít until many weeks after the concrete hardened that the source of the unusual stones became known. Sam, who at the time was a
student at Bridgewater State, asked everybody if anyone knew what happened to his rock collection. Sixty-five years later, the rocks
still in the steps and in just as good condition as the day they were embedded.
The steps were near a tree that gave a delicious fruit.
At the time, I didnít think of pignuts as a fruit, but I did know they were delicious. I have been told the tree was a variety of
hickory, which seems strange, since I thought of hickory trees as indigenous to the South .The tree didnít interest me as much as
the nuts. The core, which had a hard shell about three-quarters inch in diameter, was enveloped by a green soft jacket about one-quarter
inch thick. Most of the time, when
the ripe nuts dropped to the ground, the soft shell split open and the nut would bounce a few inches
on the concrete.
The blow of a smooth stone was all that was needed to expose the inner portion, which appeared to be similar to a
pecan. The pignut did not yield its goodness as readily as a pecan. The ridges that surrounded the meat were harder and the meat itself
was skimpier than a pecan. The smoothest of stones and smoothest portion of the steps would not prevent the meat impregnating the
pores. The small blade of a jack-knife helped retrieve the small pieces along with an occasional gritty
particle of concrete .
in September 1938 put an end to the long afternoons of pignut enjoyment when the hurricane toppled the tree. Besides, I was getting
too old to spend my time cracking nuts.
The year was 1935. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was up for re-election. FDR was an icon in our
neighborhood. Every kitchen had a wall with at least one place where the plaster was broken. It was over that spot that you would
find a photo of FDR. In the parlor were ashtrays made of bronzed white-metal in the shape of FDR as a sea captain at the helm. Radios
heard blaring,Ē Happy Days Are Here AgainĒ. In the evening, families were huddled around the radio to hear FDR give one of
his fireside chats. Everybody knew about his family and even his Black Scottie Dog, Falla. Two houses down we had a neighbor who one
day showed up with a bumper sticker on his car that read LANDON For PRESIDENT. The bumper sticker was unusual because
it was rare.
If that sticker could be found today, it would be worth a bundle. Adults would have long conversations on their porches about the
guy who was going to vote for Landon.It was decided that because he was a mailman in town and the postmasterís job would only open
up if a Republican was elected, he was going to side with Landon.Landon carried his own state, Kansas and Maine. It was a long time
before the poor guy was re-accepted into the neighborhood.