• Midcentury Memories: The Times of Our Lives

    by  • January 31, 2017 • 1950s, Hurricane Carol, Hurricane Edna, Medfield, Pleasant Street • 0 Comments

    Good morning, yesterday
    You wake up and time has slipped away
    And suddenly it’s hard to find
    The memories you left behind
    Remember, do you remember?
    ~ Paul Anka

    It used to be that Medfield was sometimes referred to by Bostonians and surrounding towns as out in the country, a bedroom town where the working people only slept and arose in the morning to go to work somewhere else. Some teens living outside of Medfield even referred to our town as “Deadfield.”

    People in Medfield disliked these descriptions and tried to tell those critics that we were not in “a galaxy a long time ago, and far, far away.” Nor was the town a “Camelot,” although ironically a new subdivision street was named “Camelot Lane” about 1970. Those common descriptions were met with a measure of resentment up until the late 1060s.
    But about that time more of those city dwellers started moving to suburbs like Medfield. Then outsiders started comparing Medfield to the more hospitable-sounding “Glocca Morra,” conjuring up images of rainbows and other nostalgia. Their friends still in the city would ask, “How are things in Glocca Morra/ Medfield?”

    One consequence of the migration was that people who had grown up in Medfield were selling their homes and making a good profit. Imagine the memories and the sentimental value of your homestead — but then imagine the possibility of selling that home for half a million dollars! That prospect became even more enticing when a family considered they’d be dividing that sum of money among three siblings and a surviving parent. Financial gain was a huge factor, but another was how much one loved the land beneath their feet – would there be seller’s remorse?

    Consider a family on Pleasant Street, where I grew up. Those residents could walk to the public library, the Medfield Cooperative Bank (in what is now the historical society building), Lord’s Department Store (now Brothers Marketplace), Wills Hardware (now Avenue), grocery stores like the First National (now Casa Bella Pizza) and the A&P (which stood for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company – building and company both gone), the Post Office (now the Nosh and Grog restaurant), two pharmacies, and the town hall (where in the 1940s and 50s there was a movie theatre on the second floor). It was also a short walk to gas stations, laundries, a bakery, newspaper stores, coffee shops, some restaurants, pizzerias (Royal was the first, in 1965), barber shops, and delis.

    Being close to the center didn’t discourage people from planting small gardens and enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of one’s labor. Larger farms were, of course, further away from the center.

    In the late 1950’s, it was fun to be a member of 4-H and exciting to compete with other 4-H members from all over the state. County fairs took place in Wrentham and Weymouth and at the Norfolk County Agricultural High School. A first prize blue ribbon or second place red medallion was good, but it meant more if you won it at Horticultural Hall, at the corner of Huntington and Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. Many 4H kids raised livestock, though zoning bylaws required livestock to be on farms away from the center of town.

    However, zoning bylaws didn’t prevent young Peter Squires of 12 Pleasant Street from rescuing a baby squirrel that had fallen out of its nest onto his lawn. Pete ended up taming that little pet and kept it in a large cage in the basement of his family’s home. When the squirrel got older Pete would open the cage outside and let it run free to climb the trees in the back yard. The squirrel always returned home and became very docile, enjoying a life of ease. Squirrels can be hard to train, but Peter Squires defied the odds.

    When speaking about defying odds, one would have to remember the devastation brought by Hurricane Carol on August 31, 1954. Over a foot of water covered Pleasant Street near the Little League field. The town was without power for a week. A few days into the outage, Lord’s gave up and started handing out half-melted Popsicles to neighborhood kids.

    The winds blew at about 105 miles per hour, and one of the very large trees located at the right front corner of the Scribner home at 22 Pleasant Street blew over onto the roof. The house supported the tree and drew a lot of curious neighbors. After two months the tree was removed by straightening it upright and having it fall onto another huge tree situated in the middle of the yard further away from the Scribner home. Removing that tree turned out to be a marvelous technological achievement.

    Then on September 11, 1954, Hurricane Edna struck – probably the most severe one-two weather punch in New England history. “Carol” is the only name retired from the Atlantic hurricane roster.

    We couldn’t find a photo of Hurricane Carol in time for deadline, but we found this dramatic photo of the Blake home at the corner of Cottage and Adams Streets after the Hurricane of 1938.

    Hurricane38BlakeHome (3)

    The Blake home at the corner of Cottage and Adams Streets after the Hurricane of 1938. Medfield Historical Society files.

    In the years before the Medfield Gardens complex was built on Pleasant Street, the area was an open field, next to what was first known as Grange Hall, then Legion Hall, before the latter was torn down and the Legion relocated to Peter Kristof Way. Each summer the carnival came to town for a few days, and kids enjoyed cotton candy, games, and the Ferris wheel and other rides. But the only carnival-related photo we could find by press time shows the wreck of a plane piloted by a stunt flier who hit overhead electrical wires and was killed in the crash in 1921.

    The wreck of a plane piloted by a stunt flier who hit overhead electrical wires and was killed in the crash in 1921.

    The wreck of a plane piloted by a stunt flier who hit overhead electrical wires and was killed in the crash in 1921.

    Most houses near the center were on lots of half an acre or more. Some back yards had big McIntosh apple trees, with surrounding patios. Climbing those great trees was a fun challenge. At the top of one such tree, someone had anchored a small waterproof seat cushion, where you could sit and see the neighborhood and enjoy some of the best apples.
    An attraction in front of 29 Pleasant Street was a trio of horse chestnut trees which would drop seeds covered with large spiky pods in the fall. Kids would pick them up off the sidewalk and lawn, erroneously thinking they were good to eat. Eventually those trees died and were cut down, though one of the tree trunks has been made into a planter that holds, year round, luxurious green ferns, enhancing my living room.

    As time marched on, many a back yard was transformed with a badminton net and court. It was a fast racquet game: shuttlecocks, sometimes called “birds,” were launched and returned seemingly at speeds over 100 miles per hour. A memorable basketball court was improvised at the garage and driveway at the Stagg home at 25 Pleasant Street. Son Chris Stagg formed basketball games on the blacktop that attracted many skilled players who ran a fast paced round-ball game that drew crowds who watched from the sidewalk.

    Across the street, on land where the telephone building was erected in the late 1950s, there used to be a small improvised baseball field where neighborhood kids played. The Pleasant Street Pelters would occasionally challenge but lose to the Harding Hard Hitters and the Millbrook Maulers.

    In those days before air conditioning became popular, many houses came to have above-ground swimming pools, usually two or three feet high and eight to twelve feet in diameter – perfect for a child just learning how to swim. A pool like that could teach a young child how to enjoy and respect water and not be afraid of it. At the same time a pool of that size could allow a parent to cool off on a humid summer day. Many a hot, sunny afternoon was spent with one’s child, re-enacting scenes from the sci-fi movie classic “Creature from the Black Lagoon” or simply playacting as the great white shark from the film, “Jaws.”

    All good things must come to an end. Selling the home and the land one grew up on can represent an emotional sentiment. Those MCAS test scores may mean little as the children of former Medfield resident will never have the advantage of attending the Medfield School System. Who knows, on the not so brighter side, one may even resent the fact that a sibling can’t afford to buy out his brothers and sisters.

    An individual could be left to ponder the fact that their parents only paid $8,000 for the home and surrounding property. That’s enough to make people shake their heads in disbelief at the discrepancy of what the house cost Mom and Dad back in the late 1940’s and the price that it has become over 60 years later. But we should look at the upside of destiny by closing out one chapter of life and climbing the steps of the beyond and whole new world. It is from that point of yearning that we take cherished memories into time while reaching into the future.

    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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