Vintage Views: Growing up in Concord

  • Concord Children from the past are pictured swimming in the White Park wading pool. James W. Spain—For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 3/25/2023 4:52:17 PM
Modified: 3/25/2023 4:52:06 PM

There are times in life when simple things trigger memories that surface along with thoughts not recalled for decades. Such is the case with the arrival of the spring season. Those first warm rays of sun, the receding snow and the dampness it leaves beneath our feet as we trod about town for our first inspiring walks. My early childhood memories of spring always bring me back to the neighborhood I grew up in, the streets bordering White Park in our beloved little city of Concord.

This place so deeply rooted in my childhood is held in very high esteem by me; in fact, I now consider it quite honorable as I tell people about my childhood memories. I lived across the street from the park. Each season brought such unique memories to me. These thoughts that seem quite remarkable as I recall them now. The end of summer beckoned the Peanut Carnival in the park, a joyful activity that we participated in year after year. Soon followed the first snow and the freezing of the White Park Pond, allowing for sledding on King Hill and skating until the late hours on the shaven ice. The skate house was open and manned by Tom Curtis, the kindest gentleman you would ever meet. I would store my boots in the skate house and enjoy a 10-cent cup of hot chocolate from the vending machine, a machine that certainly predated me by at least 10 years or so. Mr. Curtis would have the fireplace stocked with logs, and the fire would warm my face as I would engage him in conversation. He knew the name of every child from the old White Park neighborhood and beyond.

The first signs of spring would usher in the oldest baseball league in the country, the Sunset League. This after-supper baseball league is so very historic, rich with lore and revered by all baseball fans. I cannot do the Sunset League justice today but do plan to write a story dedicated to the league and its players in the near future. Speaking with Bill Hardiman this evening sparked more of my nostalgic feelings about the Sunset League games at White Park than I could ever capture in this column; those memories are so very precious to me. I would attend the game after supper along with hundreds of additional baseball fans in the early 1960’s. I was a mere child at the time, just barely enrolled over at St. Peter’s Elementary School on Walker Street. One of my best friends introduced me to the Sunset League and was my constant companion at each game. My friend was Don Angwin, affectionately nicknamed “Shammy.” Shammy and I walked to the Sunset League games each summer evening, and he provided me with a very first-hand history of the sport as well as the history of the Sunset League. You see, I was about 6 years old, Shammy was at least 80 years older. We were the best of friends and shared the best of conversations every day. His stories remain close to my heart. His friendship, too. During my childhood, the Team Championship game at White Park was a coveted evening: many fans, lots of popcorn and even a snow cone from Dan the Ice Cream Man. Team Champions in 1962 were the Ford Falcons and records were made – Shammy and I watched our favorite baseball player intently. We were both Tommy Hardiman fans. I am honored to know Tommy Hardiman to this very day and have certainly told my children and grandchildren he was the greatest athlete to ever walk the streets of our town. As I watched Tommy and his teammates win the Team Championship, I had no idea my friend Shammy Angwin played baseball; he was on one of the first four original Sunset League teams. Shammy played for the White Park’s team in 1909. The other three original 1909 teams were the Haymakers, Old Timers and Kerslake Sluggers.

As baseball continued during the hot days of summer, my thoughts would always drift toward the greatly anticipated swimming pool and pool house deck. A wonderful social activity under the management of Concord Parks and Recreation Director John Keach. Mr. Keach always ensured the neighborhood children would have a full schedule of wonderful events to keep us busy and off the streets. He was a kind man who always took a few moments to talk to me in my youth, recalling my name as well as the names of my parents.

The White Park Pond always lured me as the hot July and August days arrived. I would sit with Shammy Angwin on a pondside bench as he told me story after story about his early years in the very same park. I learned that pollywogs turned into frogs and little boys turned into men. I learned appreciation and respect and the importance of enjoying the days of my youth. This kind man whom I viewed as a grandfather bestowed many of my early lessons, lessons that allowed me to live my life as a gentler, kinder and more considerate person.

As the hot days of summer were beginning to chill, the Sunset League concluded another year. My parents would bring me to see John Fraser at his Tonkin & Fraser shoe store, certainly a sign summer was ending. The Varsity shop was visited and new school clothes added; there was talk of foliage, too.

With the ringing of the bell in the school yard at St. Peter’s School, another academic year was ushered in. The Sisters of Mercy taught us well, and my grammar remains strong to this day. With the start of the new school year, the Concord Boys’ Club once again opened for the season, and we visited promptly on the first opening day to pay our 50 cents for a new membership card. Pool, basketball and all manner of activity welcomed us at the front door. Boys’ Club directors served as role models to the youth of Concord, directors and founders such as Jim Ceriello, Hap Simpson and Herb Norton, to recall a few. They were Concord police officers by day and Boys’ Club volunteers during their off hours. I recall the Concord Boys’ Club only with the fondest of memories, wonderful people with only the best of intentions for the children of Concord.

This childhood cycle continued for many years for many of the children in Concord. As we aged, we ventured a little at times, swimming at the quarries, attending Boys’ Club Camp Andrews, bowling at Boutwells and, in time, cruising Main Street as 16-year-olds.

As the years continue to pass, the next generations create their own memories, memories that will sustain them late on winter evenings in old age. My family has now resided in Concord for 173 years, and the family lore is rich as I share my thoughts with each of you this Sunday morning.

I learned that pollywogs turned into frogs and little boys turned into men.

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