The columnist takes a brief glimpse at the sights, sounds and lifestyle of 1958 Mansfield through his own eyes as a 10-year-old boy.
"Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end.
We'd sing and dance forever and a day. We'd live the life we choose; we'd fight and never lose, for we were young and sure to have our way." (Mary Hopkins, Those Were The Days)
The street lights flickered faintly, pulsating, struggling to knife through the last remnants of dusk; their siren call summoning the faithful; the playmates; the summer warriors armored in grime, grass stains; scraped knees; torn jeans, sweat.
The streetlights; our guardians, ruled the night. "Come in when the streetlights come on," was my mother's rule; the law of summer.
I jumped the fence and raced up the driveway. "See ya tomorrow, Dave," I shouted. "Don't forget the baseball cards. We'll clothespin 'em to our spokes. I'll show ya how."
"Good game today, Bobby," Dave replied, running up onto his front porch. "Yeah, I'll bring 'em. See ya."
It was 1958. I was ten years old and the world was a magical place; warm and safe. We lived on South Main Street, three houses before the corner of Spring and South Main if you're traveling south. It was a great neighborhood; lots of kids. The Connors lived next door; John, Gloria and their six boys. John was Irish. Gloria was Italian and so was her mother who lived in an upstairs bedroom in their house. I thought that was cool. That was pretty much the make-up of the whole town back then – Irish - Italian and a few other nationalities thrown in here and there. Everyone got along in those days, or so it seemed.
The Connors were Catholic and their kids went to parochial schools all the way through college. I wasn't really sure what parochial school was, but my mother told me that's where they went and that was all I needed to know. Those were the days when you'd ask, "why" and your mother would say, "Because I'm your mother and I said so, that's why" and that was pretty much all the answer you needed.
Mr. Connor owned The Mansfield Garage on Chauncy Street. I think his father had started it back when a lot of people were still riding around in horse-drawn carriages. That was before my time, although I did ride on the back of Kenny Fletcher's milk wagon quite a few times. Kenny would pass by our house on his milk route and a bunch of us would jump up on the back and hitch a ride to Park Row School. Kenny stuttered a lot. My friend, John, told me it was because he'd been hit by lightening – twice! I wasn't quite sure that was true, but I wanted to believe it because it was a cool story. John always told cool stories.
I was Irish. My grandma on my dad's side came over to Ellis Island on the boat when she was a young girl. I didn't know what 'the boat' meant, but my dad always called it 'the boat', and I didn't ever question my dad; that wasn't the thing to do back then. My mother said it was about respect.
I was also Protestant, although I wasn't quite sure what that meant either, but that was what I was. I guess I wasn't sure about a lot of things; I didn't really care. I only knew that most of my friends would go to CCD class and I didn't get to go. It didn't seem fair. I wanted to be with my friends.
I asked my friend, Artie, what CCD meant, and he said, "Christian Doctrine, stupid!" I asked what the other 'C' was for and he just mumbled something and took off with some other kids. I'm pretty sure he didn't know.
Summer time was amazing, endless. A bunch of us would spend much of our day catching crayfish down at the river on Spring street; the one that runs out of Kingman's Pond. We had a blast. We used corn for bait; sometimes salmon eggs that we bought at the Western Auto downtown when we could scrape up a few cents. We took the crayfish back to my house, put them in a metal bucket filled with water from our hose and started a fire in the incinerator in my back yard. An incinerator was a fifty-five-gallon barrel with the top cut off. We'd throw all our trash in it and burn it. There was no politically correct, environmentally proper way to do much of anything back then. We didn't even know what that meant. We just did what we did and that was it.
We'd fill the incinerator with newspaper and whatever we could find; sticks, busted up wooden pallets, all kinds of stuff; and we'd get a huge fire going. We'd drop the bucket of crayfish down on top of the fire and get it boiling and let it set until we figured the crayfish were cooked; then we'd dump the water and the crayfish out onto the ground, rip their tails off, tear them open and pop the meat into our mouths. They looked like lobsters, but they tasted terrible. We'd all act like we thought they tasted good because we didn't want to be called a 'sissy'. Being called a 'sissy' or 'chicken' was like a death sentence in my neighborhood. No one would pick you for a game of Wiffle-ball.
The first time I tried crayfish; I lay in bed for hours that night thinking I was going to die. I didn't.
Another great thing to do to pass the time in the summer was to go up to Memorial Park. The town sponsored a summer program back then; free of charge. My mother would make me a lunch and off I'd go at eight in the morning. I'd spend the whole day at the park. It was great! There were all kinds of programs and sports teams; baseball, basketball and volleyball. We'd play Knock-Hockey until our fingers would bleed.
Mansfield was a great town. I knew most everyone in town and they knew me – knew my family. People cared. People mattered. We looked out for one another...
I threw open the back door, raced into the kitchen and took off my muddy Keds. My mother was putting the dinner dishes away in the cabinet above the sink. "You almost didn't make it this time, Bobby," she said. Those streetlights have been on for quite a while."
"I was on the porch. Sorry, mom," I replied half-heartedly.
"What were you doing out there for so long?" She asked. "You're always daydreaming. I just don't know what's going to become of you; all that daydreaming!"
"Maybe I'll be a writer," I mumbled under my breath.
"What?" she bellowed. "I can't hear you. Speak up."
"Nothing, mom. G'night."
I slipped out of the kitchen, across the living room and into my bedroom. I was tired. It had been a busy day. I threw on my pajamas, jumped into bed and pulled the covers up over my head. I listened to the clickety-clack, clickety-clack of a freight train rumbling through the distant woods, a cool breeze blew through my window. I dreamed of fishing -and baseball - and knock-hockey – and climbing trees – and all the things that dwell in the dreams of little boys.
Those were the days.
Special thanks for pictures provided by Wayne Garriepy, former Mansfield resident and owner of imagesdv.com. Wayne is currently working on a documentary about Mansfield entitled, 'A Town in Time: The Chronicle of an Uncommon Community.'
Editor's note: CCD is the abbreviation for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
About this column: Bob Havey is a freelance writer and a Mansfield native, currently living in Easton