A Walk With My Father

Pam Mathews

© Copyright 2009 by Pam Mathews


Early photo of Brockton, Massachusetts.

The city of Brockton, Massachusetts celebrated its centennial in 1912.  President Warren G. Harding extended greetings from the White House and acknowledged the milestone as a great sign of  industrial progress in our country.

Due to government orders for army shoes during the Civil War, Brockton was America’s leading shoe-producing city from 1900-1920.  Brockton claims the first central power station in the United States and the first electric powered street railway.  In fact, Thomas Edison himself threw the first switch on that railway when he visited Brockton for a demonstration.

My father, Donald Child was born in Brockton and grew up on the south side, commonly known as Campello.  He lived at 36 Keith Avenue with his brother, his grandparents and his uncle.  Much of my family was born in the city and lived in Campello.  My great-grandparents were extremely popular and active in the community.  Everyone in Campello knew them.

My  great grandmother, Gladys Child was traditional, a great cook who was strict about table manners.  She was a sweet soul who was busy in the Campello social circle and extremely dedicated to the South Congregational Church.  My great grandfather, Wilbur Child was well known and admired as a jovial man who wore many hats.  He was custodian at the church for ten years and at one time owned a small grocery in Campello.  He worked for Dow Check making checks, and followed in his father’s footsteps working in the funeral business during a time when caskets were pulled by horses.  He was a kind-hearted man who loved to make people happy and help them.   He was past master and chaplain at St. George Lodge, scout master of my father’s Boy Scout Troop 4 and every year he donned a Santa suit to visit the children at Brockton Hospital.  My father still has the old sleigh bells his grandfather wore over his shoulder and he rings them every Christmas in his memory.

My great uncle, Roger Child lived and worked in Campello his entire life.  He was a quiet man, enlisted in the Navy during WWII,  known for his hardworking nature and his willingness to give anyone a helping hand.

My grandfather, Walter Child was also well known.  He was known for his interesting hobbies such as, flying small planes out of the Campello Airport, playing harmonica and trumpet and playing postal chess with men from all over the world.  Probably, he was best known as a respected businessman in the city and the President of The Campello Businessman’s Association for many years.  He too was very involved in the church and the lodge.  He tied the family to many people of interest in the community.

One day, my father and I drove by the house at 36 Keith Avenue.  I recalled going to visit my great grandparents at this house many years ago.  It looked different than even I remembered.  The new owners had renovated and most of the house’s character from the old days was gone.  I knew if the house looked so much different to me, it must have looked a whole lot different to my father who grew up there in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  I wondered, what  would Campello have looked like if I was able to take a walk up and down Main Street with him during that time.  Of course, we couldn’t actually take that walk, but, as he traveled back to places, people, and events of the time, I would feel like we had. These are his recollections, in his own words, of  Main Street and his memories of a simpler, some might say better time.

If  we started walking north up Main Street, we’d see The Keith Avenue Market on the corner and Samry’s Market next to it.  Ladies hustled in and out of these stores to get their groceries home quickly.  Youngsters such as myself ran errands for mothers and grandmothers. We picked up milk and eggs but we were easily distracted by the penny candy counter.  Samry’s was cold inside as we moved through the door.  They cut fresh meat daily and we bought it right out of their big freezer.”

Moving along, there was  A.F. German’s Automotive Supply and Tire.  The shop was owned by the Bishops who lived on the second floor.  I  won a bicycle from the shop when I became an Eagle Scout at the age of thirteen.”

Next we’d come upon Alden Hardware, Dunnigton Drug and Hall’s Service Station.  Hall’s was one of few service stations in Campello and Bob Hall was very well liked.  Everybody met and hung out on the benches in front of Hall’s.  It was the place to be to chat with friends, have a soda and just pass the time.”

This here was the location of  The South Congregational Church.   I  have such fond memories of the church.  My father and my uncle were responsible for winding the clock in the steeple in the belfry.  I would sit in the tower with them overlooking the city.   If  we were not watchful of the time,  the bell would ring on the hour while we were up there.  Imagine being in the steeple as the church bell rings!    My uncle and I rang that bell for Sunday service where my brother, Richard Child and I took part in the readings.  My father raised and lowered the flag in front of the church every single day.  The church was a very big part of our lives.  As we stand here,  I can still here my father playing “Taps” on the bugle when my Boy Scout troop had its Saturday morning meetings here in the church gymnasium.   The South Congregational Church was a Brockton landmark, a beautiful church where I was married.  Though it is no longer here today, the church bell is proudly on display.”

The Carriola Shoe Store was after that.  Both young and old purchased their shoes here.   I  remember making the trip here with my grandmother for new shoes for school.  As we’d  pass Carriola’s, we’d see The Cape Cod Café known for its pizza, the Campello Fire Station, St. George Lodge and the Campello Fish Market.  The fish market had fresh fish but was most popular for its take-out.  I can smell the fried fish as we go by this spot.  They did a booming business especially on Friday nights when many families would indulge in their Fish and Chips.”

Now as we head south down  Main Street on the East side, we’d see the Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church.  Next to the churches was The London Clothing Factory.  London Clothing was in a factory building  previously The George E. Keith  Shoe Factory.   The Ward Machine Company was also based in this building but the rest of it was vacant.  Years later,  when I was employed by The King Size Company as Customer Relations Manager,  I bought all of my suits at The London Clothing Factory.  It was the only place around where I could find short-portly suits that fit perfectly!”

I can’t forget the Keith Theatre.  My brother and I would go to the Saturday serial movies such as Dick Tracy and Hop-along Cassidy.  For ten cents, you’d see the serial, a newsreel, comics and previews of upcoming shows.  As we got older, we’d opt for the Sky-View Drive-In,  also known as “Passion Pit”!”

After the theatre, we’d come upon Breen’s Coffee Shop.  Everyone in Campello stopped at Breen’s for coffee and donuts.  You could always depend on seeing Herb and Dave Scudder inside at some time during the day and their oil trucks parked out front.”

At East Chestnut and Main was Chestnut Creamery which was a small grocery owned by my grandfather.  Later he sold it and C.F. Anderson’s Supermarket was built.”

Past C.F. Anderson’s was the “famous” Campello News Stand.  Every Sunday morning at 3 a.m., my father took my brother and me here to pick up newspapers for our route.  Then he would drive us around the North side of the city in his two door 1949 Chevy to deliver 360 papers.”

W.R. Morse’s Men’s Store was next.  This was a relatively small shop with creaky wooden floors that sold men’s clothing and accessories.  My father, Walter Child worked here for Warren Morse for thirty years before Mr. Morse turned the store over to him.   Louie the Tailor was  just around the corner, he did all of the alterations for Morse’s customers. Right above Morse’s on the second floor was Barrister’s Hall and the Molly Rollins Dance Studio.   I took dance lessons every Saturday night with my partner, Valerie,  who lived on Tremont Street across from the old Keith Theatre.”

Continuing on, there was  Franzen’s Drug Store run by Roy Franzen and his son Roy Jr. The big appeal of Franzen’s was their soda fountain and for me, their ham and pickle sandwiches. I couldn’t even tell you how many  frappes and raspberry lime rickeys I had there at the counter.  My Boy Scout troop, “The Rattlesnake Patrol” was always treated to large ice creams at Franzen’s after winning troop versus troop competitions in such things as knot tying.”

Around the corner was Pete the Barber.  We’d go to Pete’s for $3.00 haircuts.  My brother Dick and I would alternate between Pete and Frank the Barber whose shop was on the corner of West Market and Main.  We were careful not to give one more business than the other.”

Next was Taft’s Jewelers and on the corner of East Market and Main was the Campello Library,  from where I brought home many a mystery novel.  By the library was  Hathaway Baking Company and Carlson Brothers Sheet Metal.  Carlson Brothers was based in a factory also formerly the George E. Keith Shoe Factory.  The Keith family owned many shoe factories and oil companies.  They lived in The Keith Mansion which will be our last stop.  Later on, the family donated the land to the city and today it is the Keith Park.”

Perhaps, my greatest memories are times spent working with my uncle, Roger Child at Metcalf Gas and Tire.  The station was owned by Jim Metcalf.  It had three gas pumps and two lifts.  In the front there was a coke machine filled with glass bottles of  cold Coca-Cola and a one cent gumball machine.  The Lion’s Club owned the gumball machine and I remember when the man came to empty the machine each month, he’d find maybe twenty cents in pennies and close to three dollars in spark plug washers.  The washers fit perfect as a penny into the machine!   In the back,  there was a small storage garage and a house that had been converted to an office.  Bob was the bookkeeper in charge of operations when Jim was out delivering Goodyear tires.  He was assisted by Jim’s wife, Ruth.   The station was connected by intercom to the office but we rarely had to use it to speak to Bob.  He could read lips very well.  We could talk to him from the pumps thirty feet away and he’d respond back to us on the intercom.”

We worked hard at Metcalf’s but none worked harder than my uncle.  He really was a jack of all trades.  Back when houses were heated with coal, he worked for Scudder Brothers Oil.  Uncle Roger worked shoveling coal from freight cars into the Scudder Brothers bins for delivery.  At the gas station, he pumped gas, serviced cars, worked as a mechanic, delivered oil and did all of the work on truck and tractor tires.  He would fill them with water and salt.  The tires were filled with water for better traction and the salt kept the water from freezing.  Metcalf’s was one of few stations to offer this service and it was a tough job.”

We’d head home for lunch everyday where grandma always had a warm meal waiting for us.  She knew how hard we worked at the station.  One of my favorite meals was liver and onions with sugar sprinkled on top.  Grandpa loved calves liver so we had it often.  I don’t think dessert was ever forgotten,  I remember having tapioca, custard and Indian pudding.”

One of my favorite duties while working at Metcalf’s was taking Jim’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Metcalf to Anderson’s Supermarket.  I’d take them shopping and carry the bags into the house.  Mr. and Mrs. Metcalf were well into their eighties and quite a hoot.  Mr. Metcalf had hearing aids in both ears.  I can remember driving along with them one day, their conversation went like this.-  He’d say, “Whatta ya need at the store?”  She’d say, “I need some blue cheese.”  He’d answer, “Blue peas?!”  There’s no such thing!”  I certainly had some good chuckles.  Hilliard’s and Lucy Braley’s candy stores were regular stops on our trips.  Mrs. Metcalf loved chocolate and without fail, every week, she bought me a chocolate bunny on a stick.”

So, I guess our walk ends here.  I am sure there are places and people that I have left out; but, the ones mentioned today are those that hold the most meaning to me. Everything has changed.  Many new buildings have been built and a few of the old ones hold new businesses.   The Campello Fire Station and The Cape Cod Cafe are all that remain the same as  I remember when I drive through Campello today.”

As my father wrapped up our trip down memory lane, it was clear to me that all of these places and people held fond memories for him.  Just thinking of them, made him smile.  If only we could see what the future holds.  Growing up, you don’t think that things will change so much and the people and places you grow to love, will someday be gone.  This trip through Campello and into the past with my father makes me want to stop people and tell them  to hold onto the world they know, appreciate it and enjoy it.   Treasure time, friends and loved ones and you’ll create memories just like my father’s.  Things change so quickly; but, memories last forever.

I live in Massachusetts with my husband Chris.   Writing has been a part of my life since I was a young girl.  While I may never become a professional; I will always write for the enjoyment and satisfaction it adds to my life.

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