All my rowdy friends gathered at the Mattapoisett Museum recently on a cold rainy Thursday morning to share tall tales and real ones, too, about growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. Truth be told, all the stories were real remembrances of our youth in and around Mattapoisett. The group consisted of eight septuagenarians and one octogenarian (barely) who gather weekly for coffee.
For some time, I have been on a quest to convince the museum to do an oral history of our town during those decades, which I believe have been forgotten. The new curator, Connor Gaudet, agreed to let our group reminisce and record us doing so, without knowing what to expect.
No need to worry, it wasn’t long before we were transported back to primary school, junior high and high school; our long memories and gifts for gab had one story after another pouring out. No need for Mr. Gaudet’s long list of prompts, which he had available for lulls in the conversation. There were none.
By asking each of us to introduce ourselves, he established for the record that most were legitimate “townies” with ancestry going back well over a hundred years plus. One member, Mike Hickey, noted that he almost felt out of place since he didn’t arrive until high school … some 60 years ago! Having been a firefighter in town for many years, his telling of the infamous My Place fire cemented his membership in this “brotherhood.”
The story goes that Police Officer Gilly Alves radioed that My Place, a local nightclub, was ablaze. The dispatcher promptly passed the word that there was a fire at Officer Alves’s house on Park Street where our diligent firefighters descended upon in short order. Mrs. Alves, awakened at the commotion and standing at the front door in her nightgown, announced that “there is no fire here.” By the time the engine company arrived at the actual fire, the building was well charred.
Talk of fire brought up stories of the famous Harbor Beach Club restaurant, which burned down under suspicious circumstances. John DeMello recalled a time when he was parking cars there that a bride lost her new husband during the wedding reception. It was snowing and it seems that the groom went outside (presumably for a smoke or he had second thoughts and was escaping) and fell into a snow-covered septic tank! He was finally discovered and rescued (from the tank, not the marriage), but one can assume the honeymoon was postponed for a time.
Speaking of unpleasant smells, while talking about the Holy Ghost grounds, its many clambakes and Portuguese feasts, none could forget the infamous outhouses. Enough said about that.
On a less odorous subject, Peter Foster recalled his parents offering him the option of going to summer camp or getting a small skiff with an Evinrude motor attached. He chose the boat. “Who needed camp when we had Mattapoisett?” he said. So true.
Richard DeMello noted that there was so much to do in town it was hard to choose.
In winter we skated on the cranberry bogs, built soapbox racers in our dads’ garages in anticipation of the annual derby on Ship Street and ate linguica pizzas at The Nest restaurant after every school event.
In the summer, there was basketball on the Center School courts, pick-up baseball games and Little League on the many diamonds. There were fireworks at the town beach on the Fourth of July, swimming meets and the Lions Club carnivals where I learned never to ride a Ferris wheel after seeing how they were assembled in less than two hours. And, of course, band concerts and square dances.
Tales we told of the two old swimming holes. The story goes that one fellow whose name has been lost to history was in such a hurry to take the first dip of the summer in the one on the Mattapoisett River behind the Tinkhamtown Chapel that he tore off his clothes, hurriedly grabbed the rope hanging from the giant oak tree and swung out over the water, let go with a loud yell and … splat! … his behind firmly planted in mud. The spring thaw had deposited mud from upstream into the pond, leaving only 6 inches of water.
The stories continued. The New York Yacht Club’s annual arrival was a highpoint because kids with boats could make a few bucks transporting liquor from Romeo’s package store out to the yachts. Bruce Rocha told of the time the Shining Tides installed a large swimming pool, the first one in town (my how things have changed), and a hurricane promptly and completely covered it with sand.
Al Apperson remembered attending dances at the Congregational Church Hall. He recalled the boys would stand on one side and the girls on the other, waiting eagerly for the music to begin to race across the floor to ask their secret crush to dance before someone else did. And of course, we talked about the famous Center School firing range and the early days of Old Rochester High.
Our allotted time went by in a flash just like the decades have. Somehow no youthful indiscretions were revealed, though the statute of limitations had long since expired.
Editor’s note: Mattapoisett resident Dick Morgado is an artist and retired newspaper columnist whose musings are, after some years, back in The Wanderer under the subtitle “Thoughts on ….” Morgado’s opinions have also appeared for many years in daily newspapers around Boston.
By Dick Morgado