Can you imagine a litter of kittens being born under a swirling and noisy washing machine? That’s what happened underneath the Kenmore washing machine in Mama Flaherty’s kitchen back in 1959. She could hear from the squealing that Missy, her favorite calico cat, had given birth to a litter, but she didn’t quite tell quite where.
To find out, Mom placed a large cardboard box with a soft blanket at the opposite side of the large kitchen. She then closed the kitchen door and peeked through the small window on the top half of the door. While we all watched with Mom, one by one Missy grabbed each kitten with her teeth by the nape of the neck and moved them to the relative quiet and comfort of the cardboard box. From there they enjoyed their first days and opened their eyes and took their first steps.
That new litter brought the total Flaherty cat population to an even dozen at 15 Pleasant Street! That neighborhood in the town center had enough animals fill a small version of Noah’s Ark. Those pets included rabbits, dogs, chickens, pigeons and squirrels.
Soon after Missy gave birth in 1959, newborn kittens were featured on the popular and educational Sunday afternoon television show Omnibus, with Alistair Cooke, in living 17-inch black and white. To the amazement of many Medfield children, talking about that first-time event soon afterward in school became a topic of conversation with their teachers. Life science early on in elementary school would prove to have many practical advantages.
Omnibus with host Alistair Cooke won eight Emmy Awards for most original television during the years 1954 to 1961. Click here for a taste of Omnibus. In one entertaining segment, Cooke introduced a 12-year-old boy who could drink a whole king-size bottle of Coca Cola in just one non-stop gulp! Almost immediately, Medfield kids took up the challenge at family backyard barbeques. They learned that drinking a whole bottle of Coca Cola without taking a breath turned out to be much harder than it looked on television!
In 1959, many of the Medfield Junior High School kids in the seventh and eighth grades arrived at a transitional moment. We were enrolled at the one-story school at the corner of North and Dale Streets, nicknamed Fort Apache, while the Pound Street school was under construction. Every school day, we walked to the adjacent Dale Street school (then the high school) for our lunch. And once a week we attended classes for physical education – and shop classes for the boys and home ec for the girls.
Let’s Go to the Hop!
What we were really excited about was going to the record hops in the auditorium at the senior high, with the big, beautiful white pillars on Dale Street.
Welcome to the dance palace with both rock and roll and with ballroom dancing! All the students in junior high were either seated or dancing on the left side of the gym and all the high school kids to the right side. For the younger ones, it was most likely the first time to dance close, cheek to cheek and embracing one another. They admired the dance moves of the older teens on American Bandstand as well as the upperclass students in high school.
When the Golden Oldies were New
We were introduced to many of the hit songs that would come to eventually be called Golden Oldies. The Ronettes with Be My Baby, Kathy Young and The Innocents with A Thousand Stars, The Starliners with Since I Don’t Have You, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles with Mickey’s Monkey, Little Anthony and the Imperials, with Goin’ Out of My Head, and Tears on My Pillow, and of course Elvis with Love Me Tender, Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel, and his celebrated teen musicals like Jail House Rock and of course – what else – Girls, Girls, Girls. We also enjoyed the music of the Everly Brothers with Wake Up Little Susie (remember the line, “our reputation is shot!”); Fats Domino, who found his thrill Blueberry Hill; and Freddy Cannon singing Palisades Park.
Frankie Avalon crooned Venus, while asking her to “please send a little girl for me to thrill.” He also had a successful career with all the beach party movies with co-star Annette Funicello. There was a catchy hit song by the Coasters in 1961, called Poison Ivy, with a chorus that turned out to resonate especially with young teens who memorized the lyrics while singing and partying at Jane Bryce’s home at 95 South St. Those hits would keep on coming over the radio up until this very day, with all the “Oldies But Goodies,” long before they were considered to be “golden.” PBS continues to celebrate all those “Doo Wop” concerts, with music that gained mainstream popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. That music is celebrated and played during most of their pledge drives via Channel 2 and 44 in Boston.
Meanwhile, back on the record hop floor, the guys arrived in either sweaters or sport coats and neckties with hair groomed, slicked up with Brylcream, or Vitalis, and maybe Wild Root Cream Oil. There was even another hair lotion fit for the occasion called Slickum: when dried, it held every hair in place so well that even a gale force wind couldn’t mess it up. All the young ladies wore their best dresses with flats or penny loafers. We would soon become aware of what was called, Lady’s Choice and “cutting in.”
The music would keep on playing up until the dance was over at 11 pm. And if the hits kept on coming, then so too did all the singers like Del Shannon with Wanderer, Gene Pitney with A Town Without Pity, It Hurts to Be in Love, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. There was also Bobby Rydell with Volare, Fabian singing Tiger, Danny and the Juniors with At the Hop, Bobby Vee with Take Good Care of My Baby. Paul Anka sang Lonely Boy and Diana. Around the Christmas holidays we’d listen a new hit by Bobby Helms called Jingle Bell Rock, and to Brenda Lee who at age 13 sang and still gets royalties for Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, and I’m Sorry. Brenda even went on to become a popular country western singer appearing on Austin City Limits. These individual singers were pioneers of rock and roll, and many of their songs have stood the test of time well before the British invasion.
Football in That Era
In the 50s and early 60s Medfield High’s football team went through some hard times. The team’s only win in 1957 was over Holliston, which had just resumed a football program after a hiatus following the death of a student player. But Holliston soon became a high school football powerhouse. For Medfield, Jim Stubblebine and Billy Catenacci played quarterback. Win Crocker played halfback, Don Johnson played fullback. Todd Flaherty and Phillip Rossi played guard. Bobby Iafolla played defense.
The night before the 1960 Thanksgiving game, Coach Jim Morris spoke at a pep rally in the gym at the high school on Dale St. He urged all the student body to get behind the Warriors’ team and go to the game the next day in support of the team.
That speech got everyone excited and motivated, and afterward we all went across the street and celebrated with a bonfire while burning Harry Holliston in effigy.
But Medfield’s problem was obvious: classes were small, and only 19 high school kids went out for football. Consequently, most of the players had to play both offense and defense for the entire game. Not surprisingly, they got tired!
Todd Flaherty came home after that holiday game for Thanksgiving dinner, crestfallen over the loss for only a day or so. He was proud of the way Medfield’s defense held Holliston to just 6 points at halftime. Nevertheless, Holliston went on to wear down the very gutsy and proud 19 Warriors, beating Medfield on that final game of the 1960 football season.
In the 1961 football season Holliston came to play their Thanksgiving Day game at the field on Dale St. The Holliston players were immense and the photo of the team posted in Medfield’s locker room made them look like a semi-pro team, and that was an understatement. Some of the smaller Holliston players on defense were so fast that they not only made gang-tackles but surrounded Medfield’s backfield players in 360 degrees of pursuit. Holliston would not be denied another victory.
The football field may have belonged to Medfield, but the stage belonged to Holliston. The enormous crowd of fans who came from Holliston overflowed the visiting team’s side of the field before the game time of 10 am. The whole scene looked foreboding as the weather was cloudy and raining. Holliston went on to beat Medfield and the Warriors wouldn’t beat Holliston on Thanksgiving until their undefeated 1964 championship season, finally ending the seven-year drought.
Cars, Buses, Cigarettes
Back in the late 1950s and early 60s, many students either walked to school, took the school bus or relied on a household member to drive them there. Some of the “backyard mechanic” students in high school never saw a car they didn’t want to “soup up,” and made great effort to keep their cars in good running condition with the interior looking exceptional as well.
Parking seemed always available. Spaces were located next to the tennis court across the street and near the back of the high school. Over there, cars were lined up on the blacktop beneath the second floor from the industrial arts/wood shop classroom. Of course times have changed because now the Thomas Blake High School has an entire parking lot brimming with cars, nearly half the size of a football field reserved for the many high school students.
Jim Carr, who graduated from Medfield High in 1960, remembers never riding the school bus because most people lived close to Medfield center. Not all families had cars and those who did usually had just one. Many people walked home with their groceries or only went food shopping just once a week. Jim’s mother would have him go over to the restaurant, Ann’s Kitchen, located where the Noon Hill Grill is today. From there Jim could buy a loaf of sliced white bread for 25 cents. If the loaf of bread was still on the shelf the next day, it only cost 15 cents.
Additionally, Jim only had to pay another quarter to buy his parents a pack of cigarettes. Anyone could buy cigarettes from small vending machines like the one bolted to the wall inside Joe Marcionette’s Jenney (which became Citgo) gas station that at one time was across the street from the Congregational Church (now UCC) on Main St.
Naturally, the other gas stations sold cigarettes as well. Some of the brands sold then are not even sold in today’s stores, like Chesterfields, Old Golds, or Phillip Morris. Most all of the stores in the center of town sold cigarettes, like the First National and A&P grocery stores, Lord’s, Clement and Rexall Drug Stores and the Newspaper Store where the North St. Market is today.
General Douglas MacArthur’s Visit
Back in 1951, Jim remembered when President Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur for his outspoken opinions concerning how the Korean War was being conducted. President Truman perceived MacArthur’s intrusion as possibly resulting in a constitutional crisis.
Before MacArthur was relieved of his command, both the general and his wife traveled on train throughout the USA, making a stop in Medfield in an attempt to gather support in promoting his position on how the Korean War should be resolved. For Jim and many others in town, seeing General MacArthur and his wife on the train was a thrill of a lifetime. According to many, that confrontational event in American history perhaps has a familiar ring to it in the Washington political arena of today.
Freshman Frolic, Cheerleading Champions
Jim Carr and wife, Muriel Dimezza, both remember the Freshmen Frolics in the 50s and early 60s. For the most part, that annual event in the early freshmen year was a fun and enjoyable initiation with pranks and practical jokes played on incoming ninth grade students. A few from the class of 1961 underwent a not-so-much-fun tradition of having their heads dunked into a toilet bowl. Consequently, as some of the Freshmen Frolic traditions resembled hazing and had become a bit overzealous, the activity was toned way down after the 1958 school year.
Cathy Colantonio captained the Medfield Cheerleaders for three years and had a tremendous supporting cast in Carol Duest, Christine Seeley, Jane Bryce, Patty Buckley, Maureen McCarthy, Carol Johnson, Nancy Kennedy, and Margie Stubblebine. Together and along with Mrs. Nancy Keyes as their coach, they all went on to win year after year, cheerleading competitions and numerous trophies. These very gracious young, women had fantastic style and beauty, and they performed with athletic precision that was unequaled during all of their high school years.
Roger Toney from the class of 1961 remembers Medfield as being idyllic. Kids marched in the Memorial Day parade in their Little League or Scout uniforms, alongside veterans from World War 2 and Korea, with many spectators watching from the sidewalks. The march ended at the cemetery pond in the mid-day sun; then the participants adjourned to the Memorial School for hamburgers and hotdogs with sodas.
Halloween was kids’ night; no parents had to monitor their kids over fifth grade. Those were safer times. At the former American Legion Post on Pleasant Street (site of the present Medfield Gardens), those kids in costume would count up and eat their candy, bob for apples, eat donuts held on a string slightly over their heads, and drink fruit punch.
Medfield High had many distinguished teachers in that era. English and Latin were taught by Mrs. Pederzini; Chemistry and Physics, Mrs. Warburton; Industrial Arts, Mr. James E. Morris; Math, Mr. Cuoco and Mr. Jim Morris. Miss Laura Smith was the French and History teacher. Mrs. Stahl taught English, Mr. Hersee was the Music Director, and Mr. Keyes taught Physical Education.
Support for all the team sports was very good with the girls’ softball and basketball team playing a half court game. The sports played were football, basketball and baseball. Many students remember taking the bus and MTA into Boston for Red Sox and Bruins games with friends. Roger along with John Kennedy and Dick Oja, all from class of 1961, remember going to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and sleeping on the beach for a great music event.
Hitchhiking back in the 50s and 60s was okay as a way to get around if you didn’t have a car. Roger relied on that means of travel often when returning to Boston from college in Pennsylvania. He married and went on to Army OCS and served two years in Germany. On one occasion when Roger was en route to Germany, he listened to the Army-Navy game and heard an interview with the student commander of the Naval Academy, Jeff Cook, MHS class of 1964, a good friend of both Roger and this writer, as well as many others from Medfield High. With all the wonderful and fond memories, Roger Toney remembers and celebrates the 50s and early 60s as a cherished experience, great people in a great town. Life was good back then, a different reflection of what we celebrate now with all the technology!
Does anybody remember when young kids played marbles? When was the last time you even saw a marble? Back in the late 50s, Medfield kids liked shooting marbles. They came in different colors and with swirls. There also were the cat’s eye marbles and the giant “aggies.” Many kids carried their marbles in leather pouches and would even sometimes put them on display before playing. Today, there are no more marble aficionados. If one wanted to know more about them, they’d have to go back to the future by goggling that one time marbles craze in towns like Medfield.
Likewise, tree climbing was adventurous, challenging and fun, allowing the young viewers to see the immediate world from high above. On the way up, kids could pick ripe apples, discover a bird’s nest, and swing from one branch to another. Pitching horseshoes or playing croquet could be a lot of fun for Medfield kids after a cookout, while playing under a shady tree in the summer months.
A Place to Mis-Spend Youth?
Some teens who looked and acted like The Bowery Boys loved to shoot pool and play pinball at Wilkie’s Barber Shop in the late 50s. It was in the building at the corner of Janes Avenue and North Street, above the former Rexall Drug and then Medfield Pharmacy. The shop was cool; beside the pool table and pinball machines, it even had an old spittoon. Back then, a haircut only cost 75 cents, and Mr. Wilkie provided some of the young teens with a good place for peaceful and fun interaction while hanging out.
The good pinball players up at the barber shop would play with finesse and used their bodies, throwing a hip into the machine or banging on it with their hands. All this diversion and commotion took place with the hope that the player could make the chrome ball go where it would score the most points. Of course no matter who played, each pinball would eventually reach the bottom end of the table due to the slight, downward tilt built into the game machine.
Back in the fabulous fifties children of Medfield weren’t ever called obese. If anything some young kids were referred to as overweight. If one were to break it down by gender, girls were frequently referred to as “pleasingly plump,” while boys were referred to as “chubby.” Most parents made sure everyone ate at the dinner table. There were few if any fast food chains, and except for the franchised Howard Johnson’s, most restaurants seemed to be family owned. There was simplicity to our life, with a certain beauty all its own. It was a world without faxes, cellular phone interruption, computers, emails or obnoxious telemarketing phone calls during our day.
In the mid-to-late 1950s, the Medfield Little League stands were packed, not only the families of the children playing, but anyone who was interested in watching youths play baseball. The teams were the Red Sox, the Indians, the Braves, and the Yankees. A local dad would sit in the announcer’s booth above the backstop, doing play by play – a real Norman Rockwell scene.
The kids played to win and also for fun, while the parents and spectators enjoyed the competition. Nowadays, the kids still enjoy playing the game, but the Little League Championship of the World has taken on greater meaning. Kids’ sports have practically turned pro with crazy travel, costs and stress. The young players don’t use the equipment provided but have their parents buy the cleats, batting helmets and bats.
Downtown Medfield has a variety of pizza and sub shops, grills and foods from around the world. But back in the day of the late fifties we had a number of restaurants that served up great Italian food. All of the food variety now in Medfield is tremendous but if one wanted to re-visit the culinary past, they’d surely want to make a stop at the Frances Cafe, owned by the Rossi family on Frairy Street, now Basil. Back then at mid-century, the style and decor included booths and a cuisine that set this Italian restaurant apart from all the others. According to one outspoken individualist, Medfield resident Bruce Simpson, class of ’61, remembered that the spaghetti and meatballs on the menu were the best ever. That opinion would be very hard to disagree with. Bruce claimed that having dinner at the Frances Cafe was a welcome respite after a hard day of work. There are many other Medfield residents who would agree with his assessment.
However, other than the Colonial Inn and the Red Vest, the one restaurant for teenagers that perhaps stood out from most others was Fayo’s Restaurant founded by Fayo Rossi. Most of the high school students would go to Fayo’s for pizza or subs. From lunch time throughout the entire day, Fayo’s was busy seven days a week right up until closing at 10 pm. That restaurant would eventually become the Casa Bella after it was sold to Patrick Ciampa in the mid-sixties who kept it as popular as ever.
Memories and Final Perspectives
Let’s take a look at America and what’s going on now, not just in Medfield but in other parts of the continental USA. History is not just the past. History keeps repeating itself over and over again. Let’s look outside the box, and take a look at our world. The town of Medfield has a proud heritage and history, going back over 350 years. However, the lifestyle is not much unlike what goes on in other small towns in America. Medfield was once a town that had the milkman delivering milk to your door. He was a man who we could trust to leave our milk next to the front door under the porch roof. There were newspaper boys who delivered the afternoon edition of the paper while we were having supper with the family. During the nostalgic times remembered in this story, Medfield was a town that never heard of McDonald’s or Papa Gino’s. In fact, the term “fast food” had yet to be invented. Medfield was a town that could have been depicted in Yankee Magazine.
We all know that something is eternal. It isn’t institutions or names. It isn’t the earth, and it isn’t the stars. That which is eternal has to do with human beings. All the greatest leaders and philosophers who have ever lived have been telling us this since the dawn of civilization, well before the prophets Moses, Christ, Mohamed, Allah and Buddha. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every person. Perhaps this is why we should honor our friends, and where they’ve been and where we all are now.