From the Editor

New essay & poem at New England Memories

Otter Lake Mountain Laurel
Photograph by Linda J Thomas

As spring arrives and we venture out into our communities again, I’m happy to announce new work at New England Memories:

Thank you to Robert and Brenna for sharing their work!

Please note: New England Memories is currently closed to submissions. You can subscribe to this blog for news of opportunities in the future.

Wishing you the best of memories,
Linda Thomas, Editor

 

 

 

Creative Nonfiction, Featured, Robert S. McCarthy

Adams Street, Springfield, MA

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.

Brenna Manuel, Contributors

Brenna Manuel

Brenna Manuel’s childhood education began with reading Dick, Jane and Sally and ended with watching riots in Detroit. In 1971, she packed a large box and headed to the Northwest to see the Noguchi sculpture on the college campus. Her focus on academics waned, and she began visiting Indian reservations and canning beets. Nine years later, she received her B.F.A. in painting and moved to Brooklyn. She put up sheet rock and fought legal battles, and eventually got her M.F.A. in Sculpture from the City University of New York. She occasionally writes stories and poems in New Hampshire now, and she teaches college kids.

Read Brenna’s poem in New England Memories:

Brenna Manuel, Featured, Poetry

Lake Host

by Brenna Manuel

“You know bass fishermen…,”
he goes on. He cranes
his angled cheek up to look
one eye closed my way.

His torso bends
forward straight to make
perfect “L” to outboard motor
with blades that glisten
sharply in the sun.

He pauses, sputters,
“Best engines…,” he goes on.

My brows go up-
confused, I pull
my empty archives
on bass fishing boats and gear.

I am here to look beneath the boat
for crawling, alien species from Asian Seas.
I inspect for hardened mussels, sea flora
shaped like Christmas wreaths,
or single strands of seaweed lost
that make the ocean voyage,
desperately grasping hulls.

I don’t know why a clam would travel far
or a man would cast and haul all day
for pounds of fish to weigh and toss away.

Contributors, Robert S. McCarthy

Robert S. McCarthy

Robert S. McCarthy was raised in western Massachusetts and lived there for most of his life except for time in military service and graduate school. In the 1970s, he began freelance writing, initially writing video scripts and later articles for regional magazines.

During the ensuing years, he also worked in house for regional manufacturers and as assistant editor and then editor for business magazines. Robert also has an extensive portfolio of collateral materials he developed for clients.

He has lived in southwest Florida since 2012. View his LinkedIn profile at:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/robert-mccarthy-ba614832

Read Robert’s essay in New England Memories:

From the Editor

New prose & poetry at New England Memories

I’m pleased to welcome Leslie Vogel and Linda Warren to the list of contributors to New England Memories with Leslie’s essay “Climbing Mount Monadnock” and Linda’s poem “Great Blue Heron on the Swift River.” Also, Elaine Reardon has added to her work at the site with two poems: “Winter Sounds” and “Easter Cherog.”

As I write this post, it’s been a year since the pandemic began—a year of loss, challenges, and much New England ingenuity to persevere. Thank you, Elaine, Linda, and Leslie for sharing your work while we wait out the storm.

Take care,

Linda Thomas, Editor
New England Memories

Elaine Reardon, Featured, Poetry

Easter Cherog

by Elaine Reardon

Sleep and stillness cling to my eyes.
Morning light trickles through pine branches
into the kitchen where yeast has raised
soft pillows of cherog dough overnight.
I slide the fragrance of warm yeast
into the waiting oven.

I kept the fire going last night
to coddle the dough,
to be kind to myself.
Now I sit at the window as early fog lifts
in wisps and sip tea.

The world here is quiet, aside from
the faucet dripping and the ping of
the oven as it heats.
Strong tea mingles with the aroma of
rising dough.
Do we not all rise with some redemption,
new each morning?

In other homes people are moving toward family gatherings
or waking to a jumble of legs and arms in unfamiliar beds
while I sit with my ancestors baking this bread.

I receive the old ones and the fragrance and the taste.
I listen to the small kitchen sounds against the quiet outside—
the complete stillness of each branch and leaf,
the warm cup in my hand.

Elaine Reardon, Featured, Poetry

Winter Sounds

by Elaine Reardon

We’ve gotten used to sounds
deep in a winter night,
a sharp ping of the wood stove
reaching some cooler temperature,
muffled tumbles of a smoldering log,
the creak of floorboards
as if someone walked quietly.
Downstairs the refrigerator
hums, the water heater readjusts.
What is shifting inside this house
I wonder, content, then roll into sleep.
Wind buffets the metal roof, snow
falls off in a grand whoosh, louder
than any wild animal out there.