Vivian Blanchard Rhodes 1960s Jamaica Plain Memoirs
I will share some of my memories with you about Jamaica Plain back in the early 1960s.
I went to Jamaica Plain High School. Mr. Brickley was our principal and highly respected. We had lots of fun in high school. I sure wish I knew what was different then versus now. We were not worried about the same issues that kids in schools are today. We were able to enjoy our classes and classmates. Miss Russell was our gym teacher; Colonel Murphy was our math teacher. Mr. McClure was the music teacher. We had a great musical chorus. Our classmates included the usual class clown and I wish I could remember who else. And there was also the one who all the girls were in love with; I can’t remember him either. I guess I did not feel the same way! We had a respect for each other – yes, we were kidded, and made fun of, but it was different. It was not malicious, or cruel, just teen stuff. I can remember the time that I had to sing a solo at Christmastime. It was called “Silent Night.” I was so nervous. I did not stand out in the crowd; I kept to myself and was on the quiet side. But Mr. McClure wanted me to do the solo. You did not say “no” to a teacher back then. I got up on that stage and started to sing. I was not sure what to expect. I found that everyone was listening; no one was laughing or making fun of me. I began to make friends after that solo. Some of the popular kids began to want to become involved in our glee club and plays. We had such fun. They really made me feel welcome. There was this other girl named Rose who would sing with me. The students liked us and we had loads of fun. Jamaica Plain High was a great school.
I lived in Our Lady of the Way Convent school for girls. Were not allowed the same privileges that the boys and girls from Jamaica Plain were allowed. We had to come right home after school. I remember wishing I could stop at the little store on the corner of Pond Street. Lots of the kids would go in and socialize. I don’t remember the name of that store, but it was right on the corner. Our music teacher was an opera singer before she became a nun. We were quite fortunate to have someone like her. We were always involved in some kind of music – plays, musicals, church.
It was music that carried me through many a difficult time. I am an orphan and know very little about my past. I am not anxious to know too much and am quite content to leave things as they are.
My favorite subjects in school were science and music. I was not a good student; I probably could have done well if I really tried. Those poor nuns certainly tried to help me along. I don’t know where I would be without them. I have received much from them. I do not keep in contact with the girls from the convent. I choose not to. I did keep in contact with one girl, and she recently passed away.
I honestly didn’t worry about much during the days I was in Jamaica Plain. I got along with most folks. I liked school and liked socializing with the kids. I did not have a problem with peer pressure. I guess we sort of accepted that we were the girls from Our Lady of the Way, and that was that. What gave me my greatest joy was being able to sing and participate in all the music that Mr. McClure taught us. It was great fun.
We had the old streetcar – I’m not sure if that is still there. We used it often. We were allowed to travel in small groups to a play in Boston, or to an opera. We traveled to and from work as well.
On Sundays we would go for a walk around Jamaica Pond. We had some fun baseball games in the springtime. I was so embarrassed to wear those funny blue bloomers and the white shirt. But once into the game, you forgot about that. All the nuns were lined up in the chairs behind the chain-link fence and would cheer us girls on. We played House of Good Shepherd and I was really nervous about that. You hear all kinds of rumors and then you fix them in your mind. Those girls at that home were just like any other girls, just not as fortunate. We had a great game, and lots of fun. I think we won. I can see us now in those blue bloomers and white shirts.
That very beautiful mansion where we lived is probably being turned into apartments. That is so sad; that was such a beautiful place to live. The nuns lived in the beautiful white house and we lived in the brick house. We used to have these dances in the rumpus room. The boys from Mission High would get extra credit for coming to the dances at Our Lady of the Way. We had this small group of musicians that played for us. Those nuns made sure we did not dance too close. One nun sat herself right in the corner and kept an eye on us girls. We wore those nylons that had the seam in the back – you could not go without those. Keeping those seams straight was a problem, not to mention dancing in the high heels. I cannot believe I wore those heels. They must have been about three inches high! After the dance we had to sing to the boys. This is what we had to sing: “We are grateful to you, we are grateful to you, we are grateful dear boys, we are grateful to you.” That was so humiliating! They stood there and listened, too!
There was the old ice cream shop, I think it was Brigham’s, if I am not mistaken. We could not go in, but lots of kids did. The old monument in the center was the major hangout for all the kids. I would see them there in the morning on the way to school and after school as well. Everything seemed to be in walking distance for our needs – the church, the doctor’s office, and the dentist. I still remember that dentist singing away while my hands gripped the handles of that dentist chair. I think the Woolworth’s store was there in the center at that time, and that used to be fun. We were not allowed to linger at the soda fountain; I would have enjoyed that, though.
We would enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks from Jamaica Pond. We would sit upon the front lawn and be able to have the best view. We would have sailing lessons on that pond, but we girls had to make sure we had our Bermuda shorts on under a skirt. The Sisters told us to wear this outfit just in case the wind blew up our skirts. We always had to be ladies.
I worked part-time at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. I worked on the cancer ward. It was not a job that I particularly liked but we all had to work part-time and that suited me well. When I graduated from Jamaica Plain High School, I worked for an adoption agency, Catholic Charities, on 10 Deme Street.
The transition out of the convent was a difficult one for me. We were quite protected in the convent and knew very little about how to act in the real world. There was much to learn along the way, and sometimes it was very difficult. We had to find a place to live and have a full-time job before we could leave the convent. I found a place to live on St. John Street.
I went to school in Boston as a young child, then on to Holliston, Framingham, Natick and Jamaica Plain. I regret that I have not been to college. I wanted to go so badly, but I had not the funds or the correct direction from adults to help me along that road at the time. I often think of going to college and who knows, perhaps I will.
February 29, 2008