Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Hurricane and a Home

In the fall of 1937 I entered the second grade at Grove Street School. My teacher was a young, new teacher and Spencer native by the name of Miss Margaret McQuaid. I don’t remember too much about the second grade. I guess that I was a decent student and my school year was uneventful. (Incidentally, Todd and Keith, Miss McQuaid’s brother, Frank, though he did not graduate, attended Syracuse University in the 1920s. Frank McQuaid married Miss Rachael Dufault, who was my grammar school art teacher.)

One day as I was walking home from school, Dad picked me up in his first brand-new car. It was a 1937 Hudson Terrraplane, with tin instead of cloth upholstery on the inside of the doors. Did I think that car was the cat’s meow? The car before the Hudson Terraplane was a 1930 Essex that I guess left a lot to be desired.

Life moves on that year. The Kimball family, who lived above us on the second floor at 48 Cherry, moved to one of the yellow houses on East Main Street, across from Frank Kimball’s job at Sibley Farms (now Ragsdale Chevrolet). Uncle Nathan and Aunt Gertrude and baby David move from Phillip’s on lower May Street, to the apartment above us. The Spencer Savings Bank sold 48 Cherry Street to Wilfred Cournoyer, who had a market on Chestnut Street, but had started to speculate in rental property. (Wilfred Cournoyer was the grandfather of Bobby and Steve Kowal, and Jimmy Latour.) One of Mr. Cournoyer’s (whose nickname was “Beaverboard”) first projects was to convert the barn in the back of the house into apartments. Maybe the time was coming to relocate, but not for a little while.

The family business is beginning to do a little better. Mother stays in the store, and Gertrude comes in to work even though most of her time is taken up with her infant son. Dad and Nathan peddle on the road to the outlying towns. Dad covers North Brookfield, South Barre, Gilbertville, and West Warren. Nathan covers the Palmer villages of Thorndike, Bondsville, and Three Rivers. Civin’s Specialty Shop is supporting two families -- not lavishly, but we are all eating. Don’t forget, this is still the depression.

I also start to go on the road with my father on Saturdays. What fun it was for me! We would start in North Brookfield, then go on to West Warren. Most of Dad’s customers on that route were Polish immigrant farmers and mill workers. I used to marvel at the way my father conversed with his customers in Polish. I guess I forgot that he came from the same part of the world they did, though I think he most likely spoke Yiddish in Russia, not Russian or Polish. It was on these Saturday trips when my Dad used to tell of his days in France with his 306th Infantry. I knew, when I grew up, that I was going to be a soldier just like my father. Lunch was always brought from home, eaten by the side of the road, but the day always ended with a treat at Tony and Annie Holda’s Diner in West Warren.

There were many places around Spencer that a boy could enjoy on a warm day — but not Peloquin’s Beach. “No Dogs, No Jews, No Niggers Allowed” was the policy of this beach, located on the south side of Lake Whittemore, in back of where the Dairy Queen now stands. Peloquin’s bigotry hurt me a little bit when I was a kid, but it could have been worse. I still had a place to swim and picnic with my family, in Luther Hill Park. This park was a beautiful place, with tall pines, picnic tables, and stone fireplaces.

Disaster stuck in September 1938, when the Hurricane of 1938 destroyed (among other wonderful things and precious people) Luther Hill Park and every one of those beautiful pines. What a terrible hurricane, one of the worst storms of the century! One of the two big pine trees adorning the side of our sidewalk at 48 Cherry Street fell. I remember the morning after the storm, climbing over trees lying across Irving Street. One of the tragedies of that day was the death of a farmer by the name of Rich. (Remember that there were no warning systems in those days.) Mr. Rich’s farm was where Bob Welch’s house is on Greenville Street. During the storm he noticed that his cow barn was about to blow down. He ran into the barn and tried to hold it up so his cattle could get out. He was successful. However, the barn however collapsed on him, taking his life.

After the hurricane, my parents, Uncle Nathan, and Aunt Gertrude decide that it was time to look for a home to buy. During the winter of 1939 they found a vacant Victorian house at 26 High St. It was owned by Richard Sagendorph, the son of Arthur and Martha Sagendorph -- who owned the mansion at the bottom of High Street -- and the grandson of Noah Sagendorph. Noah had the house built in 1876 and moved in with his bride, the former Emma Sugden. Emma was the daughter of wire manufacturer Richard Sugden, who generously donated the library to the town. The Sagendorph family in 1939 owned Alta Crest Farms, a beautiful 1,000-acre spread, where they raised Ayshire cattle. Richard Sagendorph lived on and managed the farm. Alta Crest was purchased by the Trappist order in the 1950s, and is now St. Joseph’s Abbey.

Uncle Nathan and my father went to the Spencer Savings Bank and asked for a $2,900 mortgage, the price Dick Sagendorph was asking for the house. Mr. Walter Prouty, treasurer and manager of the bank, denied the mortgage, saying the house had been vacant for a long time, was in disrepair, and was just a bad risk. J. Henri Morin was on the Board of Directors of the Southbridge Co-Operative Bank. My father went to see J. Henri Morin to see if he could help. Morin called his bank, and a 12-year mortgage was secured for the house at 4%. Thanks to their friend, Henri, the Civin and Israel families were now homeowners. I am told that, back in those days, many families who could not secure mortgages from the very conservative Spencer Savings Bank secured their mortgages through the Southbridge Co-Operative Bank, thanks to Henri Morin.

We all moved onto High Street in March 1939. The house was a mess, with broken windows from the hurricane, and an accumulation of dirt and grit that had collected from many years of vacancy. There were downed trees everywhere. A small orchard, completely destroyed by the hurricane, had occupied the backyard. Everybody’s work would be cut out for him or her for some time. But, it wasn’t all grim news. As Dad was cleaning up fallen limbs in the side yard, he was chopping up the magnolia tree that was lying on its side, a victim of the storm. As he was about to pull up one little sprig left in the ground and was still growing, my mother walked by. She said, “Oh, don’t pull that up, let it stay.” Thank you, Mother, for the spectacular magnolia tree. It has been a joy for over 60 years.

The house was very much in need of paint, and much work and cleaning had to be done on both the exterior and interior of the property. Nathan, Gertrude, and David lived upstairs. A kitchen had to be put in up there, and the walls plastered in that area. They used the beautiful front staircase to access their apartment. The only difference on the outside of the house is that the windows have shutters. The shutters were removed a few years later, because they rattled when it was windy. They are still in our possession, stored in the attic. A big coal boiler in the cellar did heating. Hot water had to be heated on our kerosene stove. When we took our baths, mine was on Saturday night. Dad heated a big tub of water in the kitchen, and carried it into the bathtub in the bathroom. On cold winter nights he used to heat bricks in the oven, wrap the brick in a towel, and place the brick under the covers of my bed to keep my feet warm.

Being the spring of the year, a large vegetable garden was planted. My mother planted just about every vegetable that could be grown locally. We even had watermelon and cantaloupe. We had blackberry bushes, currant bushes, and an herb garden. My mother canned a big enough supply of vegetables and fruit to last us most of the winter. Father made great pickles in a crock, using dill from mother’s herb garden. The crock my father used is on the floor in our kitchen. Oh yes, flower gardens; they became grandma’s love until she was close to 80.

Next to the house there was a barn of the same architecture, even with the same rod-iron gingerbread. It was two stories high, with stables and a place for carriages on the first floor. On the second floor there was a complete theater with a snack stand and projection box for the movies. A few years later Bob and I raised Rhode Island Red chickens in the basement of the barn. We even peddled eggs in the neighborhood and joined the 4-H poultry club. A young poultry farmer headed the club by the name of Eddie Thibeault, Sr.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Other Side of Mechanic Street

Let’s take a trip up the other side of Mechanic Street and meet some more of the business people. Starting at Cherry Street and going up mechanic on the right-hand side towards Main, The first store was the occupied by the Laplante 5 &10. Those were the days when 5 & 10's really did sell a lot of items for a nickel and a dime. Joe Hamelin’s grandmother owned Laplante’s. The head salesperson was Mrs. Laplante’s daughter, Leone. Next to Laplante’s was The Ben Franklin Store, also a 5 &10, run by some people who had moved to Spencer from Illinois. 

This was Huestis Mills and his wife and two children; Donald, who was a year older than me, and a daughter, Susan, who was a year or so younger than me. The family lived in an apartment in the back of the store. When the Mills became a little more prosperous they moved to the house on the south corner of Prouty and Pleasant streets. Donald Mills, the last I heard, lives in Florida, where he was a traffic controller at the Miami airport for many years. His sister married a boy from Spencer by the name of Larry Dennis, who graduated from WPI. Larry and Susan Dennis, I believe, settled in New Jersey. The Spencer Pizza Shop now occupies the former Ben Franklin Store.

Here is the name Lamoureaux again, the next store being occupied by Lamoureaux’s Gift Shop, and managed by Donat Lamoureaux, whom Dad always referred to as “Doughnut.” It was in the gift shop that the founder of the company, Moise, Sr., sat in a chair by the window, and held a meeting every morning with his dutiful sons.

The next building is still in use by the by the telephone company. When I was a boy there was still a local telephone operator, a woman by the name of Mrs. Chamberland. You could call locally, but if you wanted to call out of town you had to dial 0 for operator and she would forward your call through her switchboard.

Going up the street from the telephone building was Morin’s Gift Shop, run by J. Henri Morin with the help of his daughter. If there was ever a man of taste, class, and compassion in Spencer, it was J. Henri Morin. He came to Spencer from the province of Quebec at the end of the 19th century to tend bar at the New Windsor Hotel at Chestnut Street. Shortly after the beginning of the 20th century, he became a licensed embalmer and established the Morin Funeral Home, still operating to this day and run by his grandson and great grandchildren. Henri Morin told my father that the first customer he had was in East Brookfield, before East Brookfield was a town. East Brookfield was part of Brookfield until 1927. He had to bring the body back to Spencer, on a snowy night, by horse and sleigh.

The upward mobility of the Civin family in Spencer was due in many ways to this fine gentleman. I do hope you remember the incident I wrote about earlier regarding the house dresses, when our family business moved to 10 Mechanic St. When the Spencer Savings Bank in 1939 would not grant us a $2,900 mortgage to buy our house, it was Henri Morin -- who was on the Board of Directors of The Southbridge Co-Operative Bank – who had a mortgage for us in hours. He told the bankers that we were “honest, hard-working people.” Henri Morin’s word meant something: They just had to hear from him. When Henri died in the early 1950's, and his wife gave up housekeeping, my parents bought his dining room set. It is the set Dorothy and I still own. When I think of my boyhood, I so often think of him.

The next store walking up Mechanic Street, sharing the building with the Morin Gift Shop, was Berthiaume’s Shoe Store. It was as well stocked with shoes for the entire family as any shoe store in Worcester. Proprietor Bill Berthiaume also served a term as the Republican state representative from the area in, I believe, the early 1940s. His youngest son was the late Capt. Paul Berthiaume, a graduate of Norwich University in Vermont and a professional soldier. He was killed in action in Vietnam in the late 1960's. Paul’s name is etched on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.

A driveway, and then the long building known as the Marsh Block, its frontage on Main Street. It is where the Bagel Inn is now housed. The “Bagel Inn?” Back in the 1930's, I bet 99% of Spencer didn’t even know what a bagel was. Mrs. Fortier ran an electric shop in the first store after Berthiaume's. She had a crew of electricians who worked for her on various jobs throughout the area. Her son, Edward -- who I guess would be called mentally challenged today -- helped her in the store. She owned the house on High Street that’s now owned by Eddy Gallant.

Most of the downtown business people ate next to Fortier’s, at Bob Young’s Doughnut and Sandwich Shop. He used to have a machine in the window turning out doughnuts. It was quite an attraction. Bob Young -- who ran the shop with his spinster sister -- was originally from Pennsylvania. I haven’t the faintest idea what brought him to Spencer.

On Friday and Saturday nights Teddy Slota’s Shoe Shine Parlor jumped; you had to wait for a seat.. Teddy didn’t have the only shoe shine shop in town -- there was a two-seater on Main Street, run by an ex-symphony violinist by the name of Dumas-- but Teddy’s was where the action was. Teddy shined shoes during the week in Kleven's as they came off the line, and on evenings and weekends he plied his trade in his shop on Mechanic Street. The shoeshine parlor had six high seats, with a brass spittoon beside the arm of each chair. No self-respecting man would ever go on his date, or for some dancing at Wedge’s Café, without first going to Teddy’s and having that rag snapped across his gleaming shoes.

Teddy used to live in the back room of his shop until the late 1950's, when he built a little house on Thompson’s Pond and gave up his shop. I remember that, when I asked him why he was closing his shop, he said, “Marty, there just ain’t enough sports left in the world.” Do you think that maybe he had it right? Teddy passed away a few years ago. He was close to 90. He never married, and was survived by his nephew, Martin, a Webster selectman. During World War II, though he was in his 40's Teddy served in the Army, and his brother and Martin ran the shoeshine parlor.

The last store in the Marsh Block was the barbershop of Mr. Menard. (Melanie, he was the grandfather of the Valerie Menard who lived on the corner of Pleasant and Lincoln streets.) He was a very stout man, with a thin hairline moustache. I think I got a haircut from him once. All I remember about him was that he used to grunt as he cut hair.

We will return again to Mechanic Street, but let’s move on.

Behind the Memories: Meet Dutchy

My mother told me that when my father first started to drive, his skill maneuvering a car left a lot to be desired. One Friday evening back in 1933, my mother was alone in the little store at 48 Mechanic Street. Into the store walked the most handsome police officer she had ever seen. My mother froze; she was sure that the officer had to notify her that my father had met with an automobile accident. No, there was no accident. It was just the newly appointed chief of police, coming around to introduce himself. Louis Grandmont, Spencer’s former Police Chief, had just been appointed bailiff at the Worcester Superior Court, and the Board of Selectmen had appointed Charles (Dutchy) Meloche the new police chief, a post he would hold for the next 35 years.

I have often said that Franklin Roosevelt was the right president for the times. If Dutchy Meloche were chief of police in today’s fast-paced and violent times, he would be eaten alive. Like FDR, Dutchy was the right man for those slower and quieter days. When my mother first met Dutchy that Friday night over 65 years ago, he was just 30 years old, but he looked like a matinee idol out of central casting. He was about 6’ tall, with a muscular physique. Though still young, he had hair that was prematurely white, his eyes were sky blue and gentle, his skin was soft, and his cheeks were rosy.

Most of the time you could find Dutchy in the center of town, in front of the Kleven Shoe Factory. When the factory closed at noon for lunch Dutchy was there to direct traffic. When the whistle blew in the morning to come to work the chief was there, and at closing time he was there to get his people across the street. Not a kid would pass Dutchy without greeting him with a big “Hi, Dutchy,” and you can bet he greeted the kid by his first name. These were his kids.

In the ‘30s there was a lot of vandalism done by children on Halloween Eve. Dutchy put a stop to it asking the Spencer merchants to contribute to a large parade and a stage show at Town Hall. Duchy was parade marshall for the next 30 years. He marched right in front of his favorite Worcester Kiltie Band. Everyone loved that man, both law-abiding citizens and people who weren’t so law abiding. I used to hear people say that if you broke the law, Dutchy would lecture you and give you a second chance. If you still didn’t behave you were punished, but once you had served your punishment, your misdeed was forgotten. Rehabilitation seemed to work in Dutchy’s town. Dutchy retired in 1968 and died in the late 1970s. He was a part of everyone’s life in Spencer.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Merchants of Mechanic Street

As first grade got underway for me in 1936, Mechanic Street no more resembled the depressed street that you see today -- with its vacant and boarded-up stores -- than an apple resembles a hot dog. The street was teeming with people on their way to work in the shoe factories, or doing their shopping at noon and walking in the evenings after a hard day plying their trades in the shoe industry. 

Mechanic Street was where you met your neighbors and shopped and socialized. If a person was more comfortable speaking French than English, so be it. You used to hear as much conversation in Canadian French back in those days as you did in English.

It was during this period that Civin’s Specialty Shop moved to a new location. A store at 10 Mechanic St. had just been vacated by Morin’s Gift Shop, which had just moved across the street to a newly remodeled store. To survive, our family store had to move from the little hole in the wall to larger and more centrally located quarters. Ten Mechanic St. was a large business block situated where the Post Office is now located. I will tell you more about the store and building shortly when I take you on a trip up and down the rest of Mechanic Street, introducing you to some of the business people along the way. 

Many years later my mother told me she was very reluctant to move to 10 Mechanic St., because Mr. Morin was such a nice man and we sold competitive merchandise. She did not want to offend him. My father and Uncle Nathan felt that business was business, and the move was made. On the morning of the opening of the new store, the first person to greet my mother was none other than J. Henri Morin. Mother said her heart sank as she did not know what to expect. During the Depression $2 house dresses were a big part of a clothing store’s sales. J Henri Morin wished my mother luck by saying, “If you people do as much business in this location as I did, it will make me the happiest man in Spencer. I have also decided to stop selling house dresses; I will send my house dress customers to you.” I will tell you more about J. Henri Morin later; he was quite a man.

In the 1930's, 40's, and 50's, Spencer had two main business streets; Main and Mechanic, with Chestnut following in third place. The stores opened at eight in the morning and stayed open until six in the evening Monday through Thursday, and until nine on Friday and Saturday. Main and Mechanic Street were always busy with shoppers. People would occasionally go to Worcester on the Shortline Bus that ran on an hourly schedule, but as a rule they did most of their trading in Spencer. There were not many automobiles in those days; not every family owned a car. Noontime in my parent’s store was always a busy time, because the factory girls from Kleven's Shoe would have time to kill on their lunch hours. Friday was the busiest day. That was payday, and the workers were paid in cash. Mechanic Street of 1936 in no way resembled the Mechanic Street of today.

Let’s take a walk down the street, starting on the west side. On the corner of Mechanic and Main streets, where the flower store now is, was Peter Richard’s hardware store. Peter Richard was quite elderly at that time, and his son, Hugo, ran the day-to-day operations. Hugo was a big man, about my father’s age. He had just one son, Charlie, who was a year ahead of me in school. He graduated from Worcester Tech moved, to Seattle, and I believe became an engineer for Boeing. (Peter Richard was also the grandfather of registry inspector John Cote.) Next going down Mechanic, on the same side, was Saldini’s Fruit Store. It was a combination fruit and candy store, plus a soda fountain. Mr. Saldini worked there with his daughter, Gina. Gina never married, and I am pretty sure she is still alive and well into her 80's. Going down the street, next was a big part of the social life of Spencer, The Park Theater. There were three Park Theaters, one at Webster Square in Worcester and another in the Greendale section of Worcester. The Spencer theater was managed by a gentleman by the name of Charlie Kane, with a woman by the name of Mrs. Collette selling tickets. Movies changed three times weekly, with a continuous cowboy serial every Tuesday night. In addition to movies every night, there were matinees on Saturday and Sunday. A ticket for a kid was 15-cents.

Going down the street, next to the Park Theater was 10 Mechanic St., one of the biggest business blocks in Spencer. I don’t remember any of the tenants in the upstairs apartments back in the 1930's, but I do remember most of the businesses in that block and their proprietors. In the first store in the block, next to the movie theater, was The Spencer Fruit Co, owned by Luigi Piagentini and his wife, Edith. Louie’s -- as we kids called his store -- is where we always bought our popcorn for the show at the Park. In addition to fruit and popcorn, I bought my first smokes from Louie a few years later. Louie used to accommodate us kids by selling us cigarettes for a penny apiece, if you did not have the price of a full pack, which sold for 15-cents. You could buy Wings and Marvel brands for 10-cents a pack, but we used to say that they tasted like ground horse manure. Louie Piagentini was also one of the most henpecked men I ever knew. Edith was constantly brow beating him in Italian. Many years later, when we were teenagers, Louie said to Scott Gerrish and me; “It’sa no good boys, I’ma sorry I marry that someama bitch.” So it went with the Louis Piagentini the statue maker from Italy, who now made his living selling fruit and popcorn. Once in a while I will ask some of the old-timers in Spencer if they can remember the brand of ice cream Louie sold. If anyone is interested, it was Velvet Ice Cream.

Meet Sam Kanen, the tailor, whose shop was between Spencer Fruit and our store. Sam used to do his hand sewing sitting on a table with his legs crossed, and the garment he was sewing lying across his legs. He used to send his customers’ clothes to Worcester for dry cleaning, but they were sent back to Sam for pressing on a huge steam-pressing machine. A teenage boy then delivered the cleaned and pressed clothes to his customers. The boy would walk to the customers’ homes, carrying the garments on his back. If you had the money, Sam would make you a suit, and believe me, he was a master tailor. Sam also had the reputation of being the snappiest dresser in Spencer. I never saw Sam unless he was clothed in a suit, shoes shined to a mirror glow. Old timers in Spencer still mention Sam’s diamond ring, yellow gold with a beautiful blue/white diamond. A confirmed bachelor, he lived in one dreary room on the third floor of the Massasoit Hotel for more than 40 years.

The late State Senator Phil Quinn, who owned the Massasoit and watched out for Sam in his last years, told me the story that Sam was confined to the Memorial Hospital in Worcester, and Phil went to visit him. Sam -- who seemed to be doing pretty well in his recovery.-- said to Phil, “Call Perlman the undertaker, and tell him I want to see him right a way”. The undertaker came to Sam’s hospital room, Sam told Perlman exactly how he wanted his funeral, and then asked, “How much is it going to cost me?” Perlman gave the price, and Sam -- who was illiterate -- took his checkbook out of the end table next to his bed, and said, “Phil, write him a check for the amount of my funeral.” Sam died the next day. That was about 30 years ago. He is buried in the B’nai B’rith Cemetery in Worcester.

Let us leave Sam Kanen and go to the store next door 10 Mechanic, the home of Civin’s Specialty Shop. The family store was now rising up in the world and starting to do business. It was supporting two families, I’m sure not in style, but we were eating. Uncle Nathan and my Dad were still peddling on the road, and my mother and Aunt Gertrude were holding everything down on the home front by putting in long hours at the store. I do not remember an awful lot about that store except that it was long and narrow, and also heated by a potbelly stove.

The next store in the block was one that was vacant a great deal of the time. The Spencer Flower Shop occupied the last store in the building. Leo Hebert, nicknamed “Flowerpot,” and his wife, Antoinette, established the company that is still operating today with a different owner. The Spencer Flower Shop is now on Main Street and owned by Timothy Lee. When the Hebert's first started their business, they were so poor that they lived in the back room of their store. Leo later became one of the biggest landlords in Spencer, and he became extremely wealthy. However, he was known for his stinginess, hating to spend money. Leo has been dead for many years, though Antoinette is still alive and is in her 90's.

As you crossed the driveway leaving 10 Mechanic and headed towards Wall Street you came to Wedge’s Café at 12 Mechanic, run by Ludivic Aucion and his wife, Nellie, known as Ma Wedge. Wedge’s Café was a vital part of the Spencer business scene. As a kid, I used to see my father and Uncle Nathan sneak into Wedge’s occasionally -- maybe Nathan more frequently than my Dad -- but they both used to go there for a cold one. Ludivic Wedge, I am told, ran a speakeasy next door in the basement of 10 Mechanic and, according to his son, also ran bootleg liquor from Canada during Prohibition. Twelve Mechanic went legal when Franklin Roosevelt repealed Prohibition, after taking office in 1933. (The Wedges were the grandparents of the McNamara's. Ma Wedge also would have been the great aunt of the Ensom boys.) In addition to serving beer, ale, and booze, Wedge’s Café used to serve lunches to many of the shoe workers at Kleven's and Allen Squire. It was the social center on Mechanic Street, featuring a band and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights.

Of course, there was no television back in the 1930's and 40's; consequently, heavy drinkers did their drinking in bar rooms. I have been told that Ma Wedge was always happy to take care of some of the men with drinking problems via their pay envelopes. On Friday night, after being paid the alcoholic would buy a meal ticket at The Puritan Restaurant on Main Street, pay for his room for the week at either The Windsor or Waldo hotels, then give what was left of his wages to Ma Wedge. He would drink from what was left of his wages until it was gone. Let me explain meal tickets. A restaurant would sell you a ticket for a certain amount of money. It worked like a pre-paid telephone card. Every time you would eat, the waitress would punch your ticket for the amount of the meal. The Windsor Hotel was on Chestnut Street and on a slightly higher social plain than the Waldo, situated on Wall Street. Men with drinking problems occupied both hotels. The Windsor had a bar, where in the 1940's naughty women were known to take off their clothes. The Waldo had rooms to rent, but it also rented cots in an old store in front where probably 10 or 15 men resided.

Continuing down Mechanic Street, next to Wedge’s Café was the A & P (The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company), the food market giant throughout the United States back in the 1930's. Spencer had three A & Ps; one on Main Street where Whitco is now, another store on Chestnut Street, and one store next to Wedge’s Café, in a building no longer standing. There was no such thing as supermarkets back in the 1930's; supermarkets did not start to appear on the American scene until the late 1950's and early 1960's. When you made your food purchases, you stepped up to a counter, and a clerk waited on you.

There was a driveway separating the A& P and the Lamoureux Hardware Store, and no story of Spencer during my formative years – or of Spencer commerce -- would be complete without this honorable family. Moise Lamoureaux, whom I remember quite well from when I was a boy, came to Spencer from Quebec in the 1880s. He established a crockery business on the corner of Cherry and Mechanic Street, later expanding into the largest furniture store between Worcester and Springfield. (Keith, Moise was the great-great grandfather of Billy Rock.) The Lamoureaux retail enterprises consisted of the hardware store, the furniture store on the south corner of Mechanic and Cherry streets, and a separate gift shop across the street from the hardware store. They also owned many business blocks and tenement houses throughout Spencer. My parents rented a retail store at 20 Mechanic St. in the 1940s and 1950s. My mother used to say that they were just wonderful landlords.
To help manage the Lamoureux holdings, Moise’s sons -- who were part of my parents’ generation-- ran various segments of the business. Moise, Jr. ran the furniture store. Donat, a World War I, veteran ran the gift shop. Hector, if I remember correctly, was sort of an all-around man. (He was the grandfather of Lionel Lamoureux, the proprietor of Lamoureux Ford.) The hardware store was managed by his son, Etienne, and Hector’s grandson, Lionel. (Etienne is the father of the architect, Richard Lamoureux, and the schoolteacher, Miss Susan Lamoureux.) Ernest Lamoureux, a bachelor and another of Moise’s sons, did odd jobs and ran errands for the business.

Twenty Mechanic St. started the next building with a dry goods store, run by two elderly ladies whose names escape me. Next door in the same building, a shop was occupied by a barber by the name of Berthauime. He ran the shop with the help of his son, Gerard. These were the Depression years: Though Gerard worked as a barber, he was college-educated and trained as a teacher, but could not find a job in his profession. I remember that there was something about Gerard that used to puzzle me, a six-year-old boy. Why did Gerard carry an umbrella even when the son was shinning? He had a girlfriend, but on his meager salary he could not afford to marry her. Gerard’s girlfriend, Miss Mary Madden, was a very beautiful young lady in her early 20's who taught first grade at Pleasant Street School. This was 1936, the first year Mary taught. At the outbreak of World War II, Berthauime was drafted into the Army and shipped to England. He married a British woman. He came back after the War and became a teacher in Vermont. Gerard is now retired, and a Spencer friend of his recently told me that he is again barbering in Swanton, VT, a small town on the Vermont-Quebec border, so that he can be close to the culture in Montreal. I wonder if he still carries an umbrella on sunny days?
Walking down on the west side of Mechanic Street you came to the building occupied by Mahan’s Café on the first floor. On the second floor was a boarding house for single men, run by a Mrs. Thompson, wife of Scotty Thompson, the bartender at Mahan’s. This Mahan’s looked like something out of an old-time western movie. It had swinging louver doors, a highly polished, dark-wood bar, and shiny brass fixtures to draw draft beer. On Friday and Saturday nights many a drunken shoe worker staggered home to his wife and kids after blowing his week’s pay.

On the corner of Wall and Mechanic was the shop of Ferdinand Phaneuf the haberdasher. (Mr. Phaneuf was the great grandfather of Billy Breault, whom I believe was a classmate of Todd’s.) My mother once told me that when she, Uncle Nathan, and Grandpa went into business at 48 Mechanic St., Mr. Phaneuf took bets that their business would not last a month. One of the things I remember about Mr. Phaneuf was his liking of a raw egg in his beer. Mr. Phaneuf would walk up the street, heading to Wedge’s café, carrying a raw egg to put in his glass of beer. I don’t know if he would not buy an egg from Wedge’s because he did not consider their eggs fresh enough, or that he was too frugal to purchase an egg.

Behind the Memories: The Millers: Such Beautiful People

How do I describe the Millers? Let me start with Mrs. Miller, considered the ultimate Jewish cook and mother. (The proof: Mrs. Miller tried very hard to arrange a romance with the Dr. Daniel Sidenberg and one of her daughters.) On Sundays, thanks to Mrs. Miller, her home was a gathering place for Jewish guests from all over Worcester County. But the story of the Millers and the Civin's began with my grandparents.

As I mentioned before, my grandfather and grandmother (Israel) on my mother’s side were divorced. (My Grandmother Civin died shortly before I was born, and Grandfather Civin was killed in 1932 by a car while crossing Blue Hill Avenue in Boston. I was a year old.) Grandmother Israel ran a clothing store with the help of my Uncle Max in Warren, where they also lived. Grandfather Israel had a few rooms upstairs in the Miller residence on Maple Street in Brookfield. He had one room for sitting, one for sleeping, and another to store the merchandise for his peddling business. In the barn he kept his Model T truck with sliding doors. Thinking back, though I am sure he was satisfied, it was a pretty drab existence. Grandpa also ate all his kosher meals at the Millers’.

Joe Miller was a junk man. I guess there aren’t any more junk men. They started to disappear from the American scene after World War II. Junk men used to go house to house and buy old metal, rags, burlap bags, and other scraps from home owners for a few pennies or dollars, fill their trucks, and sell to what we would call re-cyclers today, for a profit. Dorothy’s grandfather, Jacob Sigel -- known as “the giant” -- was a ragman. He did his business in a horse and wagon. Dorothy has told me that sometimes when she was a little girl, her grandfather would drive her to Belmont Street grammar school in his wagon. She said she used to be so proud riding way up high beside him.

Getting back to Joe Miller, at best he made a meager living driving his old Chevrolet truck house-to-house collecting junk. Joe Miller was a very simple man, but he used to brag to his customers about his $7 million. His riches were Irene, Goldie, Hilda, Miriam, Beatrice, Edith, and Nancy — the seven daughters of he and his wife, Sarah. In addition to the Millers’ seven daughters and my grandfather was Bubbe Miller, Joe’s mother. Bubbe Miller used to live in a room off the barn, where Fannie the Guernsey cow was stabled. I remember Bubbe Miller as very old, and wearing a wig. It was the custom of religious, Orthodox Jewish women from Eastern Europe to shave their heads at the time of their marriage.

Come Sunday afternoons Mrs. Miller fed her many Jewish guests in style; I don’t know how she did it. They had very little money. I suppose with their large garden and their cow, they somehow managed. She made her own farmer cheese that she would also barter with merchants on Water Street in Worcester for groceries. She made pickles, strudel; I have yet to ever taste potato or lokshon kugel (noodle pudding) as good as her’s. Her blintzes melted in your mouth.

The Millers’ seven Depression-raised daughters did okay in life. Irene, the oldest, worked in Kleven Shoe in Spencer for a few years, then went to Washington, DC, where she obtained a job with the Federal government. She married late in life, retired from government service, and is deceased. Goldie married a man from Boston, was widowed recently, and still lives in Boston. She is 82 years old.

Hilda graduated high school and went to work in Kleven Shoe. At the beginning of World War II Hilda enlisted in the Army, and served for the duration of the War, being discharged as a sergeant. She married a Worcester taxi owner by the name of Morris Witkas. Long ago widowed, I believe she had three children, one of them now a rabbi who lived quite a few years in London, but now resides in New York City.

Miriam was the first Miller girl to graduate from college. She graduated from UMass Amherst about 1940. She went on to teach at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. She is now deceased. Edith became a cadet nurse during World War II, graduated, and married a man by the name of Sam Sadowsky, who managed retail discount stores. They have lived in Baltimore for over 40 years. The Sadowskys had three sons; a doctor, a lawyer, and an accountant. What more could a Jewish mother want?

I almost forgot Beatrice, who came between Miriam and Edith in age. Beatrice was a secretary for Chicago Dressed Beef, a large Worcester meat packer now out of business. Now widowed, she and her husband ran a janitorial contracting business. Nancy, the youngest Miller, graduated from UMass and is married to a very successful attorney in Boston.

Joe and Sarah Miller ended their days in The Jewish Home in Worcester. Sarah suffered from Alzheimer’s and died in her early 80's. Joe Miller lived to be well into his 90s, running a little convenience store in the Jewish home. I have many fond memories of the Millers. While I am writing this, please don’t anyone look; there are some tears running down my cheeks.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Off to School (and Other Adventures)

In September, 1935, I am 4-1/2 years old. Kindergarten is not compulsory. In fact very few children went to kindergarten, but my parents thought I should start my education. Prosperous parents sent their children to Mrs. Ferguson’s. A year at Mrs. Ferguson’s kindergarten allowed some of her brighter students to skip the first grade. My pal, Scott Gerrish, was one of her students. Her school was located on Cherry Street, two houses below Ash Street and next door to the house where State Rep. Ann Gobi ‘s office is located, along with the office of Attorney Andrea Gordon.

But, my schooling was to start at the WPA kindergarten. In back of where the Maple Street School now stands were two red-brick, two-story buildings, one occupied by Spencer Junior High, the other by the kindergarten on the second floor. All I can remember was they used to serve us a glass of tomato juice and some saltines each day and that we used to pull each other around in cardboard boxes. The only other students I can remember were Pete Cote (brother of John Cote, the registry inspector) and a cute little blonde girl by the name of Dottie Snow. (You all know her as Dot St. Dennis).

It was during this time that, one fateful afternoon, my mother I am going to use the word “insisted” -- that Bob take me to the movies. I would say that I must have been about 4 years old. I am sure that Bob was not at all happy about having his kid brother tag along. The star of the movie was a very popular juvenile actor by the name of Jackie Cooper. I do not remember the title of the movie or what it was about, but I will never forget the incident that happened next. Folks, I shit in my pants, and did it stink. I was smelling up the whole Park Theater. Poor Bob had to leave in the middle of the movie, and take me back to the store. It has been over 70 years and I don’t think Uncle Bob has forgiven me to this day. He commented not too long ago that he never did find out how the movie ended. By the way, that was the first movie I had ever been to.

In the fall of 1936 I entered the first grade at Grove Street School, and brother Bob entered Maple Street Junior High School, which was located in back of where Maple Street Middle School now stands. My first grade teacher was Miss Hamelin. I remember very little about her ability as an educator, but I do recall that she had a terrible temper. She hit me with a pointer on the knuckles once because I was having difficulty making an A. Who knows, maybe she just didn’t like me. The year after I had Miss Hamelin as a teacher, she entered a convent and became a cloistered nun. I would guess that was the best place for her. She certainly had no business teaching first graders. If I had been lucky enough to start school at Pleasant Street School, I would have had Mary Madden as my first grade teacher, as 1936 was her first year as a teacher – ah, some things are not to be.

On Feb. 6, 1937, I had a 6th birthday party at our apartment at 48 Cherry St. Our bread man at the time was Kenneth Parker, and his son, David, was born a day before me, so we had our sixth birthday party together. David Parker now lives in Vermont, but we had fun discussing the party of so long ago at the 50th reunion of our high school class last year.

In the spring of 1937, I smoked my first cigarette. It would be some years before I became addicted, but it was the beginning of a habit that would last for 40 years. I did, however, get caught smoking that day in 1937. A buddy of mine who lived on May Street, by the name of Eddy Duquette, stole two “Spud” brand cigarettes from his mother. Eddy and I lit up our cigarettes as we were walking by Bill Swallow’s Garage on the corner of Cherry and Dale streets. Bill Swallow spotted us, came out of his garage, and made both of us put out our smokes. He then told us he was going to tell Chief of Police Dutchy Meloche that we were smoking. Boy, was I scared.

After finishing the first grade, the biggest and most exciting event of 1937 came about. On Sunday, Father's Day, June 20, Aunt Gertrude presented Uncle Nathan with a son,. David Eugene Israel, born
at Fairlawn Hospital in Worcester, attended by Dr. Alfred Brown, our family doctor.

Behind the Memories: Health Care the Spencer Way

We all hear so much about the health care delivery system in this country. Some people say that it works very well, some say that it does not work well at all. Back when I was growing up in Spencer, it did not matter who you were, or how much money you had, or if you were rich or poor. You got health care.

We had five medical doctors in Spencer. They all had daily office hours -- usually both in the afternoon and evening -- and yes, they all made house calls. The Civin family doctor was Alfred Brown, M.D. His office was in his home, a Victorian house where the parking lot of the Spencer Savings Bank is now situated. In one’s lifetime there are many heroes, some of them famous, perhaps most unsung. Dr. Brown has been dead for over 50 years, but he still fills the bill of one of my most admired people.

Doc Brown was more than just a good family physician; he was also your friend, your mentor. The family would seek his advice on matters other than medical. He was always there for you when you needed him. When he treated you, and you asked what you owed him, he would say, “Oh hell, give me two bucks,” or perhaps, “Get out of here, I didn’t do anything, you don’t owe me anything.” Doc Brown was a handsome man, about 6’ tall and very slender. In later life one of his legs was amputated as a result of a bone disease he caught as a young doctor working for the US Public Health Service in the jungles of Columbia. He used to entertain his juvenile patients by hitting the knee joint on his wooden leg with a mallet when he sat down.

Next door to the doctor’s house stood the Congregational minister’s home. Rev. Harold Bentley was the minister at the time the doctor got his first wooden leg, and the minister’s 6 year-old son knocked at the Brown door and stated “Doc, I am here to see your new leg.” Dr. Brown’s reply was, “ Do you have a nickel?” The boy replied that he did not. The doctor told him to get five of his friends, and he would be happy to show them the wooden leg six for a quarter. Six little boys came back to his house shortly, and Doc Brown pulled up his pants leg, showed them his artificial leg, and pocketed 25-cents.

When our family could not get Dr. Brown, most of the time we would call Dr. Romeo Cournoyer as a substitute. Doc Brown used to call Dr. Cournoyer one of the smartest young men he had ever known. At that time, Dr. Cournoyer was the youngest practicing doctor in Massachusetts. His office was on the corner of Cherry and Ash streets.

Dr. Austin (I don’t remember his first name) lived and practiced medicine in the house next door to Dr Brown’s. His house has also disappeared to make room for the Spencer Savings Bank. Doc Austin was a typical small-town doctor, whom his patients loved. He was portly, and as Irish as Paddy’s pig, with a weakness for whiskey.

Dr John Fowler’s office was in the house next door to the Sugden block. He was a very handsome man with snow-white hair, who chain smoked cigarettes. His wife used to always say that Dr. Fowler was just about the best thing to ever come out of the state of Virginia. Dr. Fowler’s nephew, Dr. Richard Fowler, took over his practice after World War II. Dr. Richard Fowler practiced in the same location until he died about three years ago.

I remember Dr. Conlin as a very jovial man and, though Irish, spoke fluent French. A widower, he lived with his sister, Kate Conlin, a chiropodist. Dr. Daniel Sidenberg came to Spencer in the late 1930s. He was originally from St. Louis, but had been camp doctor at the CCC camp. He left Spencer shortly before the start of World War II to become an Army doctor. He set up his practice in Worcester after the War, but many people from Spencer went to Worcester to see him for medical care until he retired maybe 10 years ago. I think that Dr. Sidenberg is still alive, though he must be close to 90.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

1934: Time Marches On

Time has marched on a bit, and it is now 1934. My mother no longer needs babysitters. I can hang around the store all day and if I need a little afternoon snooze, I can take it underneath the counter. Civin’s Specialty Shop is starting to grow. On a good day the business is taking in $11 or $12 and perhaps another $11 or $12 by my father peddling in the outlying towns.

Remember that earlier in the story I had said my Uncle Nathan had gone to New York City seeking employment, and that he would reappear? Uncle Nathan has come back from New York with a bride. Gertrude Farrington is now Gertrude Israel. I would guess that the real reason Nathan went to New York City was to follow Gertrude. She was a beautiful woman, considered tall for a female of that period. She was perhaps 5’8 or 5’9” with very dark, smooth skin, black hair; blue eyes, very white, straight teeth and a great body. People that remembered her have commented to me about her beauty even within the last few years.

Uncle Nathan, on the other hand, was very short, perhaps about 5’ tall, with boundless energy. Thinking about it now, they must have been an odd-looking couple walking down Mechanic Street. How I loved that couple, and among other things I remember Nathan’s quick wit. But, there was a real bad problem: Nathan Israel, son of a devout Orthodox Jew, had married a gentile. Gertrude Farrington Israel was half-English and half-Irish, brought up in an observant Roman Catholic home, and together they created one hell of a furor. What is to be done? Remember that this is 1934, when interfaith marriages were pretty rare.

Uncle Nathan and Aunt Gertrude were both very left wing in their politics and I assume they were agnostic in their beliefs. To remedy the situation, though she never practiced, Gertrude converted to Judaism. Uncle Nathan and Aunt Gertrude rented an apartment on lower May Street, on the second floor of a home owned by an elderly couple by the name of Phillips. From what I can remember, the Phillipses were real nice people, and they were very kind to the Israels. Nathan and Gertrude joined the family business, with Gertrude working with my mother in the store, and Nathan peddling on the road.

Mom and Dad are also starting to become part of the Spencer community. My father becomes very active in the newly organized post of the VFW; and my mother joined the VFW auxiliary. The VFW national organization had been active in the fight to pay World War I veterans their promised bonuses now instead of in 1940 as originally planned. Dad was able to sell uniforms to the post, making the VFW a booster to the fledgling store. My father’s uniform was brown with a thick Sam Browne belt across the middle, and a shoulder belt in parades. My mother -- who also marched -- wore a white dress, blue cape, and a blue beret. I was sure proud of my folks when I watched the Memorial Day and Armistice parades.

My Dad enjoyed the VFW and had many comrades, as they were called in the days before the Cold War. Among his pals in the post was Leo Larue, who was 100% disabled for the rest of his life after being badly gassed in France at age 17. Almost every winter, he would have to spend time in the then-Rutland, MA Veterans hospital. (Melanie, Leo Larue was the father and father-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Huard.)

Another close friend was Anthon Lampron, a Greek immigrant who had been both machine-gunned and gassed in battle in World War I. Mr. Lampron ran a small lunchroom called the Y/D Luncheonette. It was in a little store right beside the Spencer Products building on West Main Street. When my father and I would return from the dump on Sunday, we would always stop in the Y/D Lunch for a treat. Memories; I remember it as if were last Sunday. I can still hear Anthon saying; “Good morning, comrade.” There seemed to be a fellowship among the veterans of World War I you do not see among today’s veterans. I do not think mother enjoyed the auxiliary as much as Dad enjoyed his meetings, especially after the VFW ladies took her to the Victory Café, a dubious establishment on Chestnut Street, to toss back a few beers after a meeting. Mother and Gertrude both also joined the Spencer Women’s Club, something they both enjoyed. Aunt Gertrude became president of the Club around 1940.

Behind the Memories: No Ordinary Times

To quote historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, “These are no ordinary times.” Life is hard. So, the people have responded by electing Franklin Delano Roosevelt as president — no ordinary man. He took office in 1933 and immediately instituted programs to fix the terrible economic conditions in the country. By 1936, Spencer is starting to be effected notably by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), with a camp being established in North Spencer on McCormick Road, where the 4/H camp is now. The function of the CCC was to have unemployed young men do conservation work in the woods and forests of this country. Most of our state parks and many national parks were built by CCC labor; Howe Park is an example. I think I am correct when I state that the young forest workers were paid $24 per month, and $19 per month had to be sent home. The CCC was a quasi-military organization, with the men enlisting for a six-month hitch. The workers could serve no more than four hitches or 2years. The men came here from all over New England, with some of them remaining in Spencer, marrying and finding jobs in the community. Two of the men that come to mind would be the late Stanley Starvish and the late Pete Larson. When I was in the Army many years later, many of the old sergeants told me they started in the CCC.

Thanks to FDR, legislation was passed establishing the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in every city and hamlet in the United States. The main function of the WPA was jobs: Get people back to work earning money and putting food on the table. The WPA hired artists, teachers, pick and shovel workers, canal and river dredgers, dam builders. You name it, the WPA most likely had a place for you. It was the biggest make-work project the country had ever seen. In Spencer, most of the WPA men worked on the roads, and also repaired and extended the town’s water system. The back part of the David Prouty Junior High was dedicated in 1937 and built by the WPA.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Our Neighborhood, Cherry Street

Let us go up Cherry Street in the early 1930's. We lived at 48 Cherry St. The house still stands; the second house east of Ash Street, on the south side of the street. The house belonged at that time to the Spencer Savings Bank. I would assume it had most likely been part of a Depression-era foreclosure. I don’t remember what the inside of our apartment looked like, but I do recall there were two beautiful pine trees standing, one on each side of the front walk. I believe one of the pine trees became a victim of the 1938 hurricane.

We lived on the first floor. On the second floor lived Frank Kimball, his wife, Florence, and two sons; Paul -- about a year younger than my brother, Bob -- and Lawrence, a red-headed kid with a Dutch cut, about a year younger than me. (Todd and Keith, you most likely remember Larry Kimball from Syracuse University, where he was publicity director for the University athletic teams.) Frank Kimball was employed as a farm hand at Sibley Farms located where Ragsdale Chevrolet is today. Florence Kimball, is still alive; she must be in her 90's. Mr. and Mrs. Buster Archambault occupied the third floor. Buster and wife were childless and he earned his living on a door-to-door residential bread route for the Holsom Bread Co.

The house below us on the corner of Ash and Cherry streets belonged to Walter Prouty. Mr. Prouty was a very waspy gentleman who served as treasurer of the Spencer Savings Bank. On the second floor lived a Mr. and Mrs. Tripp, the retired Spencer postmaster, and their daughter, Eleanor. I remember Eleanor as being in her 20's always wearing riding apparel and was quite masculine.

The house on the other side of 48 Cherry St. belonged to Mrs. Mary Porter, who was considered by many people to be the richest person in town. Her late husband had made a fortune in the Oklahoma oil fields in the early part of the 20th century. She shared her home with her sister, Emma Birch, along with Mr. Birch and her full-time maid, Myrtle. Mrs. Porter was the biggest contributor to the Congregational Church in Spencer. Upon her death in the 1950's, It was said that she left over $1 million to the Church. I don’t know if it’s true, but she was a real wealthy lady. As a three-year-old kid I used to visit Mrs. Birch, who was quite sickly. When she died, she willed me the picture of the Dutch boy that still hangs in Dorothy’s and my bedroom. As a little kid visiting my friend Mrs. Birch, I always used to admire that picture. Mrs. Birch willed Uncle Bob the Bible that her father carried with him as a Union soldier in the Civil War.

Going east up Cherry, in the house next to Mrs. Porter’s lived Mr. and Mrs. Tom Greenwood. I remember Tom Greenwood as a short, chubby, bald man. He ran a dairy on the corner of Main and Spring streets, in the building where Gregoire Electric is now.

In the next house, on the corner of Cherry and May, resided a very important man of that period in Spencer. Mr. Fred Trail was chairman of the Board of Selectman, and treasurer of the Allen Squire Shoe Co., Spencer’s second-biggest employer. Allen Squire manufactured men’s work shoes that were worn by many during the Depression years. A good and steady business to be in or to be employed in.

I am going to cross Cherry Street at May Street on the north side of the street. On the east of May was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Willard Johnson. Mr. Johnson worked for his wife’s family who was the Hobbs of Hobbs Coal and Ice Co., delivering coal. The Johnsons had five children; two boys and three girls; and only one survives. The oldest was Frank, a very bad asthmatic who in adulthood worked at Norton’s and lived in Holden. He died about 15 years ago in the Jewish Health Center in Worcester. Eleanor, the oldest girl (and the prettiest) served as an Army nurse during World War II. She died a number of years ago in Worcester. Another sister, Grace Perreault, worked at the jewelry counter at the Fair Dept. Store for many years. She passed away just a few months ago. Phyllis Johnson Girourd died in Spencer quite a few years ago, a classmate of my brother, Bob. The youngest of the Johnsons, Gordon-- a.k.a. Guy -- is retired from Norton’s and lives in Holden. (His son is married to Nancy Gregoire.) Crossing May, still going down Cherry, was the house where Mr. and Mrs. Bill Rogan lived with their two identical twin sons, Jack and Bill. Mr. Rogan was a debit salesman for the Prudential Insurance Co. One Rogan twin is deceased; the other is still alive. Going down the street, in the next house lived some people by the name of Dunn, and Rick Hobbs lived upstairs.

The next home down belonged to Dr. George & Tillie Gerrish. What wonderful people they were. Their three children included Ann, who lives in Denver and is now close to 90. Back in the late 1930's, Ann became a Pioneer Airline hostess. Sarah became the wife of a dentist, the late Dr Fred Mase. The youngest, Scott, was my very best friend when we were kids. We remained very close until after we were both married. I was an usher at his wedding; he was an usher at Dorothy’s and my wedding. As the years passed we grew apart and saw very little of each other, though Scott lived about 15 miles from Spencer in Brimfield. Scott died about seven years ago of pancreatic cancer. There is no real reason we drifted apart, but it is something I regret deeply.

Getting Down to Civin Business

Towards the end of 1932, an operating plan was established to try to nurture Civin’s Specialty Shop into a reality. My mother would stay in the store, and my father would travel to some of the outlying towns and peddle clothes out of a car. About this time, my Uncle Nathan decided to leave the fledgling business and try his luck in New York City. Uncle Nathan will reappear a little later in this story. Let’s get back to my father, the ex-dress manufacturer from New York, becoming a peddler.

I don’t think my father was too anxious to become a peddler, but mother said that if my father would not go on the road, she would. With that threat, Dad was to become a peddler, but it was not to be that easy. My Dad neither knew how to drive, nor did he own a car. My father purchased a 1926 Dodge Brothers touring car. A touring car had a roof, but where the windows were supposed to be would be nothing, just open sides. In the winter you attached side curtains from the top of the doors to the roof.

Now that the business had a car, my father had to learn to drive it. When my father came to Spencer, he found a man there by the name of Eddie Cragan. Grandpa had served in the 306th Infantry in France in World I with Mr. Cragan. All I know - other than my father and Mr. Cragan were Army buddies – was he was a bachelor, he was a streetcar motorman, and he drank a lot. With Mr. Cragan’s help, my father learned to drive. After six tries my Dad was issued a license and he started his road business. He sold clothes out of his car in Barre, Gilbertville, the Palmer Villages and Warren. He was a peddler for the rest of his working days. I think he enjoyed it very much.

I have been told that, when Civin’s was first established my mother used babysitters to watch Bob and I while she minded the store. I had a few sitters, but I am told one of the best was a teenager by the name of Blanche Carbonneau. Blanche later married Carl Berger and a number of years later they started Berger Oil Co. Carl has been deceased for about 20 years, but Blanche Berger is still alive and in her 80s. I still buy fuel oil from the Berger Co., though it now belongs to E.T. Smith Co., a large Worcester oil dealer.