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A Braintree Sandlot Revisited

I can’t remember the last time I visited the sandlot behind Lincoln School off of Hobart Street in Braintree, Massachusetts. It’s probably been more than thirty years since I last set foot on the old field. That all changed when my brother, Steve, and I recently walked the sacred grounds of our youth, “The Bank’n.”

Our elementary school, Abraham Lincoln School, is long gone. I believe it was razed sometime in the 80s or 90s to make room for a park. The park itself is very green. Gone are the glass shards you would find along the third baseline or in the rocky outfield. Gone are the occasional boulders we used for bases. Gone, too, are the kids who used to bring that place to life. On a perfect day for a pick-up game, we didn’t see one person out on the field lofting homeruns into the left field woods. Not one kid was shooting baskets on the now-level playing surface of the basketball court.

There was a time when kids would sit on the side of the hill with their bats and gloves ready to take the places of anyone who had to leave the game. Broken arms or knees, though, were the only ways players exited games. Sometimes, we’d sneak into the outfield trying to blend in. But we were nabbed as soon as we’d make our ways to the cardboard plate hoping for at least one whack at the ball wrapped in black tape.

As I looked out to left field wall, well hidden by vegetation, I recalled the thrill of launching one into the treetops, the thrill of rounding the makeshift bases of tree parts or milk cartons or the third base boulder that doubled as a resting spot.

It felt good to be back, to be on Hobart Street. Steve and I visited the corner candy store now known as the Braintree Variety. Decades ago, it was Edward’s Variety run by Mrs. Mutzenard who used to let me take home jars of pennies so that I could fill my penny collection book with old coins. I once found a 1909 VDB. Anything older than 1959 was too new…

It’s good to go home again, good to see some old friends who stayed loyal to the neighborhood. Mike C and I were in every class. He kept me laughing from kindergarten through sixth grade. Sometimes, he made me laugh so hard teachers made me stand in the corner. And Mike M – he and I carried JFK signs up and down Hayward Street when John Kennedy ran for president in 1960.

Back on Hobart Street with my brother, Steve. He hit his share of long balls into the trees in back of Lincoln, too. I guess we need to get back more often,  to get back to our home field. Next time, we’ll bring a few bats and a ball wrapped in black electrical tape.

Throwing Strikes at Semis

All the snow we’ve had the past few weeks in Oklahoma reminds me of the great snowstorms we had as kids growing up in Braintree, Massachusetts.

“No school, all school, all day…”

That’s the phrase we listened for on the radio in the early morning whenever the snow fell. My brother, sister and I would sit by the radio (was it WJDA in Quincy?) as the announcer alphabetically read the list of school cancellations by town. We waited with anticipation as he finished reading the towns that began with the letter A. When he got to the B’s, we braced ourselves for the words we so desperately wanted to hear. And when we heard him finally say, “Braintree Public Schools,” it was pure joy. A free day off!

Snow days meant many things. It meant earning extra money shoveling people’s driveways on Hobart Street, after, of course, we had dug out our own. When my brother and I came back for lunch, I remember how we’d pull out all the bills and change from our pockets, how we’d hold up an occasional 5-dollar bill, thinking how rich we had just become.

Snow days meant building snow forts or sledding down the hill in back of Lincoln School on saucers, toboggans or Flexible Flyers. Snow days meant making snowmen or snow angels.

To most sandlotters, however, snow days meant throwing strikes at semis. We’d assemble arsenals of snowballs and wait behind trees or bushes along Hayward Street for the ambush. And when those 18-wheeler semi-trucks rumbled by, we’d spring out from our hiding spots, pelting the sides of their trailing boxes or tubes.

POP, POP, POP – KABOOM!

What better way to sharpen our throwing skills? (and running skills when the truck drivers sometimes stopped to give chase…) We learned the art of timing, to aim high and throw early.

SPLAT!

We learned how to find the sweet spots of our targets.

BOOM!

_ _ _

It’s been warm here, lately. The other day, I was walking down the road and spotted a few remaining patches of snow. One of the melting mounds was the kind we’d seek out as kids when we set up camp on Hayward Street. I scooped up some of the white stuff and rolled it in my hands, crafting a snowball the way we used to do, so many years ago.

I couldn’t help but think of snow days and sweet spots.

All I needed was an 18-wheeler…

A Paper Boy from England

Mark Walmsley is a sportsman from England.  He’s played basketball, rugby and football most of his life. He, too, delivered newspapers as a kid. Here’s his story:

“Back in the 70’s in Hull, East Yorkshire, England at the age of 14, I started my first job as a paperboy, there where 5 of us who were employed at Southcoates Lane News agency. My round had about 45 papers that I delivered 6 days a week, (twice a day Monday to Friday and three times on a Saturday.

Setting off in a morning at 6:45AM, I had my blue plastic delivery card with my run worked out, l checked and loaded the papers into my paper bag made of sacking, got on my 12 speed racer (the envy of the street) and set off. I covered Holderness Rd and onto Garden Village (Built by a revolutionary industrialist James Reckitt for all his staff) back onto Holderness road and Southcoates lane again, 50 minutes of hard cycling. Unlike the US, every paper had to be folded and hand delivered through every letter box on every front door AND pushed all the way through.

I repeated the round again at 4:30PM delivering the “Hull Daily Mail” but on Saturdays, I opted for an extra 6:00PM round to earn an additional 50 pence which was delivering the “Hull Sports Mail”. This delivery was lighter (about 25 papers) and was a very distinct publication in that it was Green in colour. Mainly it was about the local football team HULL CITY, back then in the old 4th division playing the likes of Halifax Town and Rochdale.

So in all weathers in all seasons 13 deliveries a week my payment was £3.65
About £20 in todays money.

In the 70’s I always remember the £ being really good against the $ so back then £3.65 would have been $7.30c – Nowadays £20 is worth $32.00c.”

A Paper Boy Remembers Delivering the Patriot Ledger in the 1940s

Tom Saunders of Ellenton, Florida, used to deliver the Patriot Ledger newspaper in Quincy, Massachusetts, back in the 1940s. He was kind enough to share his paper boy recollections:

“I was a paper boy for the Quincy Patriot Ledger beginning around 1940. I had 105 customers and the paper cost 4 cents per paper. We all endured the usual weather elements: hot, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. I think a certain comradeship carried us through.

The Circulation Manager made me a District Manager during high school for the boys who picked up their papers at the main office on Temple  Street in Quincy. I counted out the papers for the boys and kept track of their totals, perhaps about 60 carriers. The papers were distributed on the lower level of the building next to the ‘pressroom’ where the papers were printed (I can still hear those presses). The boys would line up to receive their papers, down three flight of stairs to a large counter table where I worked.

Every Saturday, all the managers would collect the amount due for each paper route from the boys. We handled a variety of coin wrappers – pennies, nickels, dimes to be wrapped and prepared for the ‘night deposit’ at the local bank.

By noontime, the presses ran again and the process to distribute and deliver papers began. Such afternoons found the boys trying to collect money from customers who had not paid, usually collecting what many times was their pay for the week before heading to a favorite activity, be it baseball, football, hockey or the playground.

It was a time when the boys made new friends and were in contests to solicit new customers. One time about fifty of us were winners and attended one of the first night baseball games in Boston in the early 40s, between the Braves and Giants.

To look back almost seventy years ago I have to think, maybe, unknowingly, we self-educated ourselves in acquiring early salesmanship and management skills by working with customers and managing our time. I applaud all the newspaper carriers of that era, and all the boys, girls and adults of today who deliver newspapers, especially, the Quincy Patriot Ledger.”

(Tom was also featured in this blog on June 1, 2010. Here’s that link:  

http://rhkjr51.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/sandlot-baseball-a-kid-from-the-30s/)

The “Paper Girls” Speak Out

Here are a few comments from “paper girls” in response to the recent Safe Havens story:

From Celeste Kaseburg, Phoenix, AZ:

I delivered papers as a kid in Estherville, IA. It was a pretty easy route overall except it was kind of hilly and that wasn’t fun in the winter. Not only was it cold but traction with my snow boots just didn’t cut it sometimes on ice.

I always hated it when I wouldn’t get enough papers for my route. I would pick who wasn’t going to get a paper that day and it usually was the people who were mean. The memory that sticks out the most is the abandoned, run down house that I had to walk by every day. I always liked to stop in there and walk around inside. It looked like a castle to me from the outside and I always wondered who lived there and how much money they had to have such an amazing house. I also remember this house really didn’t look like it belonged there, it was so different from all the other homes.

From Dawn Marie Thompson, Chicago, Illinois:

Sometimes back in the mid sixties, I “helped” our neighborhood postman deliver the mail (held it for him from the last mail box to the next mail box). After about 3 houses, he would give me a penny or two and sometimes even a nickel! That was 1 or 2 pieces of candy, but on the nickel days it was a Reese’s peanut butter cup.

From Ann (Di Napoli) DiNella, Massachusetts:

I’m writing to you because I just read your commentary in the Patriot Ledger, posted Dec. 12. I wanted to thank you for the memory! I grew up on North Bowditch Street. The Abraham Lincoln School was my elementary. The field below the “sledding hill” holds fond memories for me also. I remember walking to McGinnis’s corner store on Shaw Street and the little “corner store” on Hayward Street. Both were on my daily paper route. I’m sure I saw you on your route. Lincoln was & still is a landmark and a memory holder! I’ll always remember the great “field days” they had. And after…The LINCOLN LOONIES! Thanks for the memory journey. I will always be an East Braintree girl.

Sandlot Baseball – Safe Havens

December signaled the end of the sandlot baseball season each year in Braintree, Massachusetts. While our baseball gloves and Louisville Sluggers wintered in basement cellars or backs of closets, we turned our attention to tackle football or pogo sticks. Before the ice crept in, we’d play basketball on the tilted asphalt court on the Lincoln School playground.

Some of us got newspaper routes and became paper boys. There were about four of five of us in the neighborhood and, after school, we picked up our bundles at the Connor’s house on Howard Street. Mrs. Connor, one of our school’s lunch ladies, would let us sit on her porch to wait for our newspapers whenever the delivery truck was late. 

The thing I remember most about those waits was the old jukebox and the one tune it played over and over. No matter what numbers we pressed, Jingle Bell Rock was the record that dropped into place. Whether it was Ground Hog’s Day, April Fool’s or Halloween, the holiday spirit was with us year-round.

When the light blue Patriot Ledger newspaper truck finally showed up, the driver lobbed the bundles onto the driveway where we scooped them up, cut the twine with sharp rocks and stuffed the papers into our shoulder sacks. From that point on, we were on our own, each of us heading off in different directions.

In 1963, the Patriot Ledger newspaper cost 10-cents. I collected 60-cents weekly from each of my sixty customers. With an average tip of 15-cents, I made about $9 a week. Occasionally, someone would give me a dollar and tell me to “keep the change,” a line every paper boy loved to hear.

Some of my favorite customers, though, were the nickel tippers who baked me cookies like the old lady in the tiny, red house near the crossroads of Hobart and Front Streets. Everyday, even in winter, she waited for me in her wheelchair by a kitchen window. She’d open it a crack where I’d slide in a newspaper and she’d slide out homemade gingerbread or brownies.

Each day was an adventure delivering papers. While some of the kids rode bikes, I preferred walking my paper route. It was time to daydream, re-cap the previous Red Sox season or simply kick a can all the way up Hobart Street. Although life as a paper boy was a good one, there were obstacles along the way like loose dogs in bad moods and bullies with BB guns.

Fortunately, there were safe havens at strategic points like Wynot’s Gas Station near Adams Park where I’d sip hot cocoa and warm my fingers by a heater. And if I felt like walking a few extra blocks down Adams Street, I could find refuge from the cold with a free-sample bag of broken chips at Hunt’s Potato Chips.

The safest haven of all, though, was the last one on my paper route. It was the sandlot baseball field behind Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. That was my security blanket, even in the darkness. After descending the Wilkins Road hill, I’d climb the right field fence, play-act a shoe-string catch and trot to the plate.  I’d drop my empty newspaper sack and step into the batter’s box, an invisible bat in my hands. There, I’d look out toward the wall in left field and take a few practice swings.

                                                                                                                                              

With the cold winds of December blowing all around me, I braced myself for the pitch that only I could see. Every time, I knocked it out of the park and, every time, I circled those rock-anchored, crushed milk-carton bases with a song in my head and gingerbread cookies in my pockets.

(This story was published in The Patriot Ledger newspaper (Quincy, MA) on December 11, 2010.)

Sandlot Baseball – Of Blizzards and Breath Clouds

The first frost that arrived in Wagoner, Oklahoma, this weekend took me back to those first frosts of the late 50s playing ball behind Lincoln School in Braintree, Massachusetts. For some reason, I used to pound the mitt of my glove a little bit more during those seasons.

First frost on the sandlot wasn’t the worst thing in the world. More than anything else, it was a wake-up call to make sure you made the most of your at-bats and behind-the-back snatches in the outfield.

It served as a reminder to get in as many swings as you could because everyone knew what was coming. The frost that settled on the high grass in foul territory was like handwriting on the left field wall – its message: use your time well in the batter’s box and on the base paths. Dive for the low liners and take a little more time with your homerun trots. All too soon, white-outs and blizzards would bury our little rock-pile of a field.

The cold weather of November never slowed us down. It was fun blowing breath clouds or working up a sweat that would sometimes turn into little ice beads on your forehead. We’d play until we could no longer feel our fingers or toes. And we’d do that for as long as we could until the snow came.

And it always did.

As I walked through the yard last Saturday, I thought of my old baseball glove. I remembered the calming feel and sound of fist against leather. I wondered when the snow would fall.

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