Saturday, March 2, 2013

Strolling Through Belmont: A Mini Memoir

I recently had the chance to take a stroll through my boyhood hometown, Belmont and it brought back so many happy memories that I thought I'd share the photos.  Anyone who grew up in Belmont, or visited friends or relatives there, will certainly recognize all of these landmarks.  It was amazing how so much of this sleepy, little suburban town has not changed at all over the years.  Above is the Underwood Pool.  It was the very first public swimming pool in the country, built on the grounds donated to the town by the Underwoods, one of Belmont's wealthiest philanthropist families.  The pool was featured heavily in the book by Belmont author Thomas Perrotta, "LITTLE CHILDREN" later made into an Academy Award winning film.  As we had a summer house in Maine where we spent most warm weather weekends and all summer, I did not swim here very often but I do remember on steaming hot school days we'd run down the hill after school, change into our bathing suits and jump into the cool water.

I'm sure this is a holdover from the old days, or maybe some legal requirement, but this sign made me laugh.

I was happy to see that the hockey nets are still standing in the small rink next to the pool that we called the Underwood Rink.  This is where we used to play hockey outdoors, after school and on Saturdays.  We were just a bunch of kids who loved to skate and play hockey and we organized the games ourselves, usually without any adult supervision.  I'm convinced that the lack of adults is why we all got along so well.

Guarino's was a regular Saturday morning stop for haircuts and was always busy.  I was shocked at how gossipy men could actually be.  They'd rip everyone apart as my friends and I tried to sneak a glimpse at the pile of "naughty" magazines.

 I spent many hours at the Library after school and it is exactly the way I remembered it, except for all the new computer banks and rows of DVDs, which seem to be more popular than the books today, especially with the seniors, who mobbed the place picking out movies on the Friday morning I visited.

Remember this?  It's a display case showing exactly where daylight is falling on the earth.  I can't believe it's still there!

The Wellington Station was moved to this Common Street location after I attended school but we used to walk up Common Street, about a mile, to school every day.  (Do I sound like Grandpa yet?)  One day my friend David Diamond and I saw a dead squirrel on the sidewalk.  The next morning he brought along a gift box and deposited the rotting animal into it with a stick.  He had a plan.  I wanted no part of it.  At school we presented the "gift" (as reluctant as I was to participate) to our fifth grade teacher at St. Joseph's, Sister Virginia Mary.  The class roared with laughter and disgust.  It was a fleeting moment of mirth, however.  We spent the next four months in a probably well-deserved season of Hell giving me a singular reason to vow I would never send my kids to Catholic school.   I am sure that our names were whispered in the dark, mysterious halls of that convent.  I have often wondered how they disposed of the carcass and it may have had something to do with the fact that the school permanently closed the next year.  Maybe we were trailblazers, or not.

In this little brook off Claflin Street, a tributary to Winn's Brook, we spent spring days fishing for minnows.  What we did with the minnows I can't recall.

Belmont had it's very own, glamorous department store.  Filene's opened in Belmont Center in 1941 and was a thriving success.  Now all those suburban ladies didn't have to travel all the way into Boston to get the latest fashions and cosmetics.  When Filene's closed it was converted to a Macy's and other than their flagship New York City store it was the sole free-standing Macy's department store in the United States.  Sadly, it is closing for good any day now after 70 years in business.

Our center entrance colonial style house on Cross Street is still as beautiful as it ever was. The room off to the side was the one we called "the sunroom", where we fought over what TV shows to watch and who got the best seat to view them.  In the backyard we had a small hill that we would sled down in the winter.

And what visit to Belmont could be complete without a visit to Gregory's?  I almost can't believe that they are still there.  It was a popular spot with all of the teens and a place where kids skipping school could be easily found.

Of all the memories the one thing that really struck me was how quiet the town is.  I probably never realized it as a kid.  Being in the Boston so much I had totally forgotten how almost silent a small town like this can be.