• Midcentury Medfield Memories: Frairy Street, After the Cicadas

    by  • May 31, 2017 • 1950s, Baker's Pond, Frairy Street, Medfield, Vine Lake • 0 Comments

    Frairy Street at the strip mall parking lot and a peek at Vine Brook.

    Frairy Street at the strip mall parking lot, with a peek at Vine Brook.

    During the summer months within the past few years here in Medfield, cicadas have enjoyed a reincarnation. It’s hard to miss these big insects with their prominent wide-set eyes, short antennae and clear wings held roof-like over their abdomen. Every 15 years, the jumbo size cicadas emerge from their deep slumber, to rejoice and begin mating again after an extended celibacy.

    The male cicada makes a distinctive buzz or “song,” with tymbals, found on the abdomen. This sound is a love call and attracts the females as well as the attention of people within hearing range. With a noise like a buzzer that might have been left on too long, the compelling sound travels far and seems to intensify with the rising, occasional, tropical heat wave of a summer morning. Their life span is short, and at the command of nature, they usually make their last gasp of air near water and end up lining their bodies near the water’s edge of a pond or lake.

    Click here to a Wikipedia article on cicadas, including photos and mating calls.

    Long before there was a Medfield or a Frairy Street, there were cicadas. Their distinctive chorus reminds one of the years dating back to the mid-50s. Unlike other parts of town, Frairy Street was especially welcoming and receptive, as it was located between Baker’s Pond (since 1976, Meetinghouse Pond) and Cemetery Pond (now called Vine Lake). While cicadas have a prodigious thirst and a need for lush vegetation, they managed to situate themselves near the boundaries of these two ponds, and in particular the winding Frairy Street.

    Back then, Frairy Street was home to many people of Italian heritage. When you walked the street, you’d hear adults speaking Italian while their children spoke the English taught in the grammar school. You’d see teens walked along the street, listening to early rock and roll through their new little transistor radios.

    There is still a waterfall running today at the end of Baker’s Pond. Back then you might see Angel Belmont dangling and cooling her feet off in the fresh water after working all day in a garden. The waterfall led to robust and ample stream rushing along the back of all the houses on the south side of Frairy Street.

    The current was especially strong as it sped past the rear of Curly Iafolla’s house. On especially hot days, Curly’s father, Antonio, would go wading; the crisp, cool rushing water was a luxury to this man, who had learned to swim as he grew up in Italy. He’d sometimes catch and cook turtles and fish he caught in the brook. Unlike Antonio, his wife, Caterina, spoke English well, and she could also make the best Sicilian-style pizza outside of Boston. Unlike the usual thin crust pizza, Sicilian-style pizza is thick and cut into squares, rather than the traditional slice.

    There was serenity and a true sense of family to this Italian-American neighborhood. All the youngsters played and got along, though sometimes a much bigger boy may have tried to disrespect another kid. Young Barry Palson awoke one morning to find his brand new J.C.Higgins bicycle knocked over onto the sidewalk. When things like that happened, all Barry had to do was tell his bigger cousin, Bobbie Iafolla, who’d find the culprit without a fuss and make him pay any damages.

    Further down the street toward what is now Northmeadows Road, were the homes of the Baker and Poli families, The Frances Cafe was on the right. It was owned by the Rossi family from the 1930s to the 1990s, when it was sold to new owners who called it Basil.

    Across the street from the Frances Cafe lived the Belmont family. That’s where Ms. Angel Belmont lived along with the rest of the large family, including Johnnie Belmont who grew up on a pasta diet and became not only a star athlete, but also a scholar at Bates College in Maine.

    Close by, Barry Palson and his family lived in what was probably the first mobile home located on Frairy Street. It was settled between the Gilmore home and Rebel Palumbo’s house. Barry, his sister Diane, and their parents, Bob and Polly, all lived in that small, silver, non-air-conditioned trailer.

    Directly across the street were the homes of Bill Palumbo, Mel Procacini, and Nina Iafolla. After Rebel Palumbo’s house was the homestead at 61 Frairy Street, with a barn in back. That house was home to Luigi and Antoinette Palumbo and their 14 children!

    Photo taken about 1910 of the Palumbo family, who lived at 61 Frairy Street.  Tim Flaherty's grandparents were Antionette and Luigi. Tim's mother, Aurora, was not born until 1916. Kids standing, L-R: Dolly, Alvie, Connie, Belam, Rebel Back row, L-R: Bob, Antionette, Luigi, Bill

    Photo taken about 1910 of the Palumbo family, who lived at 61 Frairy Street. Tim Flaherty’s grandparents were Antionette and Luigi. Tim’s mother, Aurora, was not born until 1916.
    Kids standing, L-R: Dolly, Alvie, Connie, Belam, Rebel
    Back row, L-R: Bob, Antionette, Luigi, Bill

    Behind Curly Iafolla’s house was a path to the Cemetery Pond. For kids, it was an adventure to walk through the plush green foliage, those pine and maple trees. Kids thought of it as the jungle, with the possibility of an imaginary wild animal quickly jumping out at them. There were green silky vines hanging from the trees and fallen logs that housed very real milk and garter snakes, which slithered amid the bright, emerald green skunk cabbage on the forest floor. There were also many weeping willow trees closer to the pond and the cicadas in the summer were feasting on the smaller branches of the willows, savoring their last drops of water.

    Back then fishing at the Cemetery Pond was almost a rite of passage for the youth of Medfield and an adventure for the Flaherty brothers, cousin Barry Palson, with Peter Iafolla, Stanley and Ralph Baker, Joey Sabbag, Paul Nyren, Bobbie Curry, Ronnie Kerr, and many others.

    Actually, there were few fish in the pond, other than an occasional trout that had found its way via the Italian connection upstream at Baker’s Pond, which was stocked. But Cemetery Pond had plenty of crayfish, frogs, sun turtles, and big snapping turtles.

    The snappers could be dangerous, especially if someone held their hand out in front of them! Nobody really liked them. To a young mind, they were considered evil, as they ate baby ducklings, frogs and other small animals. One day while many of the kids were all fishing, an older man caught two snapping turtles that looked like they were the size of hub caps. Of course, when a child first sees a snapping turtle for the first time, it looks huge. The fisherman claimed they made great soup, and he put them in the back of his pickup truck.

    That stretch of land is markedly changed today. The most obvious change arrived in the 1970s, when the new stretch of Route 27 (Northmeadows Road) was laid from Route 109 to Hospital Road. The path which once led to the Cemetery Pond is now covered with asphalt.

    Back then, Joe Dimezza and his family owned and lived in a nice house across the street from the Palumbo homestead. In back of his home was a beautiful rock formation carved from a glacier to look like a much smaller version of the Rock of Gibraltar. Joe’s daughter Muriel planted a lovely flower garden that grew at the base of that rock.

    However, that stone was blasted away so the strip mall could be built. From the back right corner of the plaza, through the trees you can just make out the stream leading to Cemetery Pond, though it’s not much to look at today.

    In retrospect, those earlier years were nostalgic, peaceful, simpler…and unforgettable. We remember when kids wound their tire swings good and tight so they’d unravel quickly enough to make us happily dizzy.

    These were the days when nine-year-old kids bottled black and yellow garden spiders and brought them to science class so they could feed them grasshoppers.

    This was a time of the cicada, which comes along every 15 years to remind us some things in life will remain on schedule and never change unto the design of society. Those underlying rhythms of nature are as resilient as the waterfall, the swift running stream that buoys the floating body, the mystic memory of a path leading to the pond in the woods, sounding to instill pride in a people trying to preserve their heritage, their state of mind, and the streets they lived on.

    About

    Tim Flaherty, a lifelong Medfield resident, served in the Peace Corps in Africa and in Central America. He has published numerous articles and is nearing completion of his second novel.

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