by Robert S. McCarthy
I figured Adams Street and the South End were just fond memories. I was mistaken.
Adams Street in the primarily Italian South End runs northeast three city blocks from Main Street to Ashmun Street. Joe Morello, later the drummer for The Dave Brubeck Quarter, was raised there, but I remember it for three lesser known but to me equally memorable figures.
Dick Smith was the first. He lived with his parents and two sisters in an apartment block at 71 Adams Street. I met Dick at the convenience store run by his grandparents a few blocks from my house in the Forest Park section of the city. Jocko, Ball, and other friends and I hung out at the store and sidled up to Dick because he had his own car, whereas we had to beg permission to use our parents’ cars.
In addition, Dick had what they called a “wild streak.” He had no qualms about sneaking a candy bar or two while his grandparents were waiting on customers and he vowed that soon he would soup up his ’56 Chevy into world-beater class. Moreover, he was always mooching, especially when he needed gas money to take us to A&W for root beers and burgers. If we balked, Dick had a Plan B.
Dick’s dad, nicknamed Moon, drove a sedan delivery sedan for a local dry cleaner. At night, he parked the car in a garage across the street from the apartment. Dick would coast west down Adams Street in his Chevy, put the car in neutral and glide up to the curb. With a length of garden hose and a gas can, we would creep up the driveway to the open-air garage. Then Dick would siphon gas from the delivery sedan. Back in his Chevy, he would drive down to the intersection of Adams and Main Street with the lights off. Then he would stop and empty the purloined gas into his tank.
Secondly, I remember Mr. Wood, whose automotive machine shop, H.B. Wood and Son, sat at that same corner of Adams Street. Later I would become even more familiar with that company. A former high school classmate of mine was working there and when he decided to enroll in the police academy, he recommended me to take his place.
I had some experience working for an auto mechanic and after being interviewed by Mr. H.B. Wood and his son Brad, they offered me the job. It was a small shop with counter space in the front and shelf after shelf of auto parts, such as sparkplugs, brake linings, air filters and more. In the back, where I worked, was the machine shop. There I would perform valve jobs, grind cylinder heads, rebuild clutches and related tasks.
At the time, there was numerous independent auto mechanics in the county and Brad would make the rounds taking their orders and selling the company’s machine shop services. His father, H.B., ran the front end and waited on the walk in traffic. He had a little office away from the counter and when a customer would come in, they would ring the bell on the counter and say, “How about a little service?’ H.B. would reply, “Why? Aren’t you getting little enough?” It was a running joke.
After a couple of years, Uncle Sam beckoned. I opted for the Navy; attended electronics school for nine months, and after graduation, was assigned to a facility in California. I figured Adams Street and the South End were just fond memories. I was mistaken.
I had a cousin on my father’s side that lived across the river in the town of West Springfield. We were close in age and hung out together occasionally. I was scheduled for annual leave, so I wrote him and asked if he knew any girls I could ask for a date while I was home. He wrote back and mentioned a girl named Carol.
I remembered her. I had dated one of her girl friends and the four of us had double-dated. I wrote her, re-introduced myself and asked if I could call her when I got back there. She said yes. A couple of days after I arrived home, I called Carol and asked her out. Two nights later, I borrowed my dad’s car and drove from our home in Forest Park down to the South End and the single-family house at 66 Adams Street.
This was the 1960s and as befitting the dress code of the day, I wore the three-piece suit I had bought at Carson Pirie Scott in Chicago while I was stationed up the road at the Great Lakes Training Complex.
I parked the car, climbed the steps and rang the doorbell. The door opened and there stood Carol, a cute blonde haired girl of Italian heritage. She ushered me in, I crossed the threshold to 66 Adams Street and was greeted by her parents and two younger sisters.
After we shook hands, her father invited me to take a seat and then complimented me on my spit shined shoes. All I could do was quietly thank the Navy for helping me make a good impression.
That evening Carol and I went to The Meadows nightclub in East Longmeadow, a suburb of Springfield. Come to find out, we had both graduated from the same high school, but I was three years ahead of her. After graduation, she enrolled in a technical institute and graduated as a licensed practical nurse. She had worked in an intensive care unit and was then working in a long-term care facility.
As we talked over drinks, we discovered that we had much in common, including music, movies and cars. For the remaining week of my leave, we dated every night, sometimes going out to eat or to one the popular night clubs of the day, including The Red Gertrude or the Jolly Jester.
Carol had two personality features I liked right away: she had a sense of humor and she was candid. It was easy to talk with her and to let down my guard and share personal peccadilloes I had never let any other girl see. I felt I could trust her.
The Sunday before my leave ended, Carol took me to meet her extended Italian family at the regular breakfast at her maternal grandmother’s house, which was two doors down from Carol’s. I had never seen so much food and so many people crammed into a kitchen and living room. It put my family’s Irish gatherings to shame.
I returned to California for the eight months left to serve on my active duty commitment, but Carol and I kept in touch. Besides writing letters regularly, I send her mementoes from my trips to San Diego, Los Angeles or the tourist traps on the Mexican side of the border.
I was discharged from active duty, and for the next two years, we dated as I worked summers and attended college the rest of the year. We spent more and more time together, such as Sunday dinners with her family or weeknights watching TV together.
There was no formal engagement, but we decided to set a date in May 1971 to be married and we were. We honeymooned at Provincetown on Cape Cod and set up housekeeping on the fourth floor of an apartment in Springfield. Looking back, our life since Adams Street has been both memorable and fun, with two sons and a granddaughter who will help us celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in May 2021.