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By Mark Snyder, Gatehouse Media Columnist
Growing up in Randolph and the South Shore, there were so many childhood places that delineate the bookmarks of growing up. Some still remain, but are different. Others are long gone. This article will be a pleasant reminiscing for most of you. To some it will bring sadness. To others, it may bring a small smile.
The first thing from youth that comes to mind miss is Paragon Park. The Nantasket Beach landmark, since replaced with beachfront condos, was the 1960’s answer to Six Flags. Paragon Park featured the highest wooden roller coaster in the country, at the time. I can remember days where we went on that for hours. It was a heart-stopping ride that slowly dragged you up to a peak and seemingly dropped you into the abyss. Only a couple of minutes later, it was over. Those with weak stomachs lost their lunch and arrived green in the face, resembling the Wicked Witch of the West. Others, like my pals and I, just wanted more. We’d spend the day there, playing games, going on rides, lobbing a skeeball, and visiting the guy who guessed your weight or age. For $5, he’d guess your weight within five pounds, or your age within a year. Most of the time he was right. But, when he was wrong, he gave out a prize that probably cost him less than a dollar. But, you still fact like you won. But, looking back at it, that old man had quite a lucrative business!
When I was a teen, we’d bike from Randolph to South Shore Plaza. Back then, it really was a plaza, not a mall. It was a cacophony of disconnected stores, still it was a great place to hang out. We’d go to Kresge’s and Woolworth Department Stores, buy records at Krey’s Record Shop and have a muffin at Jordan Marsh store. We’d stop at Mr. Donut at Braintree Five Corners and take our lives into our hands trying to cross back into Randolph.
After munching at the donut shop, we frequently went to Ridge Arena in Braintree, where we’d play hockey at 2 a.m., drinking coffee and eating donuts and trying not to come home with anything broken. As a defenseman, I’d always get whacked by pucks that came 100 miles an hour at my head. Now you know why my accompanying photo looks like it does. I took one off my elbow once that had me unable to lift my arm for a week. Another resulted in stitches, which are well hidden under my eyebrows. Hockey. I miss it! I played until I was in my late 40’s, when it became a fruitless effort trying to pursue “twenty-somethings” who ran (indoor street hockey) or skated by me on a regular basis. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I eventually caught on to the fact that youthful legs will always skate circles around an older guy---except maybe Rod Langway, a Randolph guy who captained the Montreal Canadians and Washington Capitols. Even Rod was a couple of years younger than me.
Sometimes, we’d just take a walk to the Handy Store on Main Street (that sold penny candy that was really a penny!) The Handy Store, and the nearby Fernandes Market played a part in one childhood memory that everyone who lived here thirty years ago remembers quite clearly. It was February 6, 1978. It snowed, and the snow kept coming and seemingly never stopped. By the 7 th, there were drifts in my driveway seven feet high. I had to climb out a window with a shovel, so I could clear off enough area to open my front door. The streets were filled with snow, and every business and school closed for a week. What happened next was something I will never forget. My parents were in Bermuda, so it was just my sister and I at home. She took off for a friend’s house over the drifts. The cupboards were bare, so I took my sled out to Main Street, cutting through Green’s Farm and Stewie’s Gas Station, to find food and drink. When I got to Rt. 28, I could not believe my eyes. It was the world’s largest block party! The smell of hemp was heavy in the cold snappy air, and the sight of endless frosty beers---everyone was sharing—was a delight for a young man’s eyes. I took my sled to Fernandes, loaded up with the staples---bread, milk, and cookies—and headed back home. But, the party was going strong, and my frozen bread, milk and cookies arrived home a few hours later.
Many winter memories pop out when I think of the Blizzard of ’78. I can remember playing hockey behind the Lyon’s School in a small pond next to the sheep pasture. The neighborhood guys lifted some wood from nearby construction sites, and built a fort that served as a place to lace the skates, while keeping our fingers from freezing. We’d skate for hours on the pond, trying to avoid hitting errant branches, or a hole in the ice. The Reservoir was another spot that we played hockey on. However, its huge expanse would require many more days of bitter cold to freeze, and it was so long that you literally had to go a mile to retrieve a puck that missed the net. Of course, the net was two large stones-- spaced about eight feet apart. Frequent arguments ensued as to when an actual goal was scored. Instant replay was not available on the expansive ice, and no Zamboni was present to recondition the worn out spots. Our friend Larry, now a well-known boxing promoter, was our official ice “tester.” He somehow got the job sticking his skate on the ice to see if it was “safe”. His foot disappeared many times under the ice into the freezing waters below.
Life was simple back then. In the summer, the street became our ball field. Whether it was hitting a tennis ball (and still breaking neighbor’s windows), or playing football with the telephone poles being the goal marker, it was all relaxed, fun and games. Now, everything is organized and kids need Blackerrys to keep abreast of their schedules. Back then, we did our homework and everyone poured out into the streets to play a sport---any sport, it mattered not which one. As soon as dusk came, and the sun gave way to the moon, we’d head home, where mom had dinner waiting. Most moms stayed home back then.
So many things have changed. Fernandes and Capitol Market are long gone. Stoughton Diner is a memory. The Braintree and Avon Drive-Ins, the site of many memorable dates for readers of this column older than 40, are an office park and a WalMart. Remember the original A & W Root Beer Drive In located in Raynham? Leon’s in Randolph, too? Both had skating waitresses that went from car to car delivering burgers and fries. I miss Zayres, Caldors, Baybank, Bank of Boston, and Hills Department Store. What do you miss? Do you have recollections of the Blizzard of ’78? Feel free to share them for a future column.
(Mark Snyder is CEO of PMPNetwork.com, the internet’s entertainment superstation. His radio feature, The Entertainment Minute, is heard on WMJX-FM/ Magic106.7 FM, WROR-FM 105.7 and WBOS-FM 92.9. Mark can be reached by fax at 781-344-7207, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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