Growing Up in Jamaica Plain by Jim Cradock
His cousin, Jerry Burke, who for many years was the owner of Doyle’s Café and is a local political and historical pundit, furnished the following memoir by retired Judge James Cradock.
Judge Cradock was born in 1941 and grew up on the upper end of Montebello Road near Franklin Park. He attended Our Lady of Lourdes School, Boston College High School and Boston College, where he graduated in 1963. After college he served on active duty with the U.S. Navy from 1963 to 1968. He continued his military service in the Naval Reserves and eventually retired with the rank of Captain.
Following his active military service Judge Cradock completed Law School at Suffolk University in 1970 and practiced law until 1990. At that time he was appointed a Judge of Federal Administrative Law, serving in various locations until his retirement in 2004.
Judge Cradock now lives in South Carolina and is a frequent visitor to Jamaica Plain where many of his relatives still reside.
When I was about 14 or 15 and a student at B.C. High during the 1950’s two schoolmates and I decided to go to a football game at White Stadium in Franklin Park. After school we rode the T from Dorchester over to Egleston Square and walked from there up to the game. On the way we stopped at my house on Montebello Road where my mother gave us milk and cookies. As we left and started walking up to the stadium one of the boys, Frank Carney from Cambridge, said, “Gee, your mother has a beautiful Irish brogue.” I responded, “What do you mean?” I wanted to punch him in the nose! I didn’t of course and Frank became a lifelong friend who reminds me occasionally that he informed me that I was Irish that day. Hah!
The truth is I didn’t believe my mother had any kind of accent. She did indeed have a beautiful brogue, as did my father, both having come from Galway. But their speech to me was as natural as the sun in the morning. This “Irish ear” which I had was reinforced regularly in the neighborhood I lived in.
Montebello Road in Jamaica Plain starts at Walnut Ave., which serves as a border to Franklin Park. It runs from there down a steep hill in our time gladed by leafy maple and oak across Washington Street and there under the El where Forest Hills Street comes in at an angle about halfway between then Green Street and Egleston T stations. From there it continues down, where it was known as “little Montebello” and reaches its terminus at the Our Lady of Lourdes complex of church, convent, school, rectory and old church.
At the intersection on Washington was kind of a mini-mall with Walter Leong’s Laundry, Gordon’s Market and Madden’s Drug Store on one side, and Johnny McLaughlin’s Parkview Spa (our “corner”—several people had run the store prior to Johnny over the years but he was the most recent and best known by our crowd), Mr. Dwyer the cobbler and Buddy Shea the Funeral Director’s office on the other. Across Washington was Johnny Hughes’ venerable Gas Station. At these places immediate necessities were often bought. I remember it being a big thing to me to be sent down the hill from 81 Montebello to the corner for “a quart of milk and a loaf of bread” and later to Gordon’s, where there was always sawdust on the oiled hardwood floor, for “a piece of cube steak.” I remember coming home with the Record-American one time, with a headline saying that Babe Ruth had died.
We had gas lanterns on Montebello that looked Dickensian era and ancient streetcars on Washington that looked from not long after. They were slow enough for some kids to hitch a ride on the back (not us). Washington Street was still cobblestoned then, making cars sound like tenor drums as they rolled along.
Above Washington was “big Montebello” and starting above Pop Martin’s Rest Home at about number 70 and going up to the 100’s there were about 15 three-deckers, counting both sides. Families who lived in them at one time or another during the 40’s and 50’s included the Careys, O’Connors, Tonrys, Keegans, Kellihers, Sullivans, Connaughtons, Conlons, Powers, Gradys, Laffeys, Clohertys, Matthews, Collins, Griffins, Coffeys, Tighes, Cradocks, and Mrs.Peasley. In almost every one of these families there was at least one “beautiful Irish brogue.” Thus we kids who grew up there at that time were graced every day, in our own homes and others, by that lyrical speech, “smiling eyes” and ready sense of humor with a hair-trigger willingness to laugh.
I estimate there were 20-30 of us growing up there then, all shapes, sizes and ages. It was one group, with the older taking care of the younger. I was reminded of it years later when my daughter Kathleen was on a swim team in Fairfax, Virginia which consisted of boys and girls, ages 8 (and under) to 18, where they all found community pulling together. When we were small the older girls looked after us. My brother Butch and I had the benefit of four older sisters, Mary, Patsy, Helen and Chris, and some of their friends like Joan Power, Marie Grady and “Reety” Conlon. Our cousin Noreen Dooley also lived with us then, having come over from Ireland when she was 10.
I remember Mary in particular, the oldest, looking after us. She and sometimes Patsy would bring us over to the beach at Savin Hill. We went to Revere Beach with Chris, and with Helen and her friend Helen Carey. I remember in later years groups of us, boys and girls, would take the excursion across the city to Revere. One time Charlie Cloherty, “the Punch,” got stuck in the folding side door of a streetcar on the way and let the driver know in a vocal way to “close the d—- door”. Since almost none of our families had a car we relied on the T for any traveling. We rode it all the time and it was very ordinary for us. Wasn’t something we ever complained about. The girls would walk us up to the park often, and it was always a treat to go to the Zoo.
Chris, our youngest sister, is and was four years older than me and seemed to get stuck with Butch and me often, hanging out with us on the hill or at the park or taking us on “serious” trips such as to the library or over to the dreaded Forsythe Clinic for dreaded dental work by dreaded (do you brush your teeth?) dental students. I do remember one thing Butch and I loved to do was to go up to the Children’s Museum, which was then in a big old house up on the Jamaicaway. There the lady would give you a pencil and a list and you could walk around for what seemed like hours checking off what you discovered. Butch has reminded me of a movie house there, and an elephant! They had 4th of July fireworks on Jamaica Pond in those days and I remember walking up there from Montebello passing people in their front yards with sparklers. You could take a rowboat out on the Pond to watch the fireworks.
Our first playground was the street. It always seemed shady and cool in the summer and we became unaffected by the steepness of the hill. The girls would play jump rope and draw with chalk on the sidewalk and pavement. We all played Hide and Seek and the boys played games like Relievio and Billy Billy Buck Buck. We always seemed to have something going with a pimple ball, such as a game played off the cement “stoops” in front of houses. If the ball rolled into a sewer it was retrieved by an elaborate operation involving a coat hanger. When you called someone out from a three-decker to play you would stand by the house and cry something like “Hyoo Jimeeey” and if you were the one inside your mother might say, “there’s that eedjit so-and-so callin’ for ye.”
In the winter when there was good snow we coasted down the street. I remember running up the hill after school to do this and gliding down by the kids still walking up. The fathers spread ashes from the coal furnaces in the houses at the bottom of the hill to keep us from going out onto Washington Street. Later we would coast and ski “up the park” across from the block at the top of Iffley Road with the Jewish kids from there. I skied with Danny Connolly up by the Bear Den nearby.
Our original gang of boys, those bedrock first and lifelong friends you “grew up with” consisted of Butch (Jack), Buddy Keegan (Charles), Tom and Charlie Cloherty (T-Bone and Punch), Jerry Morelli and me. Our numbers expanded as the years went on but that early bonding left everything among we originals as a given. We’ve remained good friends all our lives. We’ve lost the Punch since. He was our funniest, and maybe our finest.
Once a year or so Jerry’s mother Mary would have all of us kids up to their house on the top of the hill for dinner. There she would prepare a big feast, and introduce our potato-numbed palates to the wonders of Italian cuisine. I still blame Jerry and his mother as being partially responsible for the fact that I married an Italian girl. Mary was a great friend of my mother’s and they enjoyed many things such as the Lady’s Sodality at Church together.
Our gang became the “little kids”on the hill to be watched over by the ”big kids” 5-10 years older. The ones we interacted with most were Frankie O’Connor and his brother Jackie, Bobby Power, Pete Grady, and my cousins Frannie and Johnnie Tighe. They all played ball with us forever. Frankie and Bobby coached us some. I remember Frankie piling us all into his 40-something green Plymouth for a ride to the beach. Joe Tighe, who was a little older, took all the Cradocks and Tighes down to Nantasket in his first car. Bobby took me to my first movie, “Pinocchio” after asking my mother’s permission. We took the T in town to RKO Keith’s and back with his pal Bobby Teehan. Frankie once drove my father to the City Hospital to take me home after a bike riding accident in the park.
The big kids were a large part of our lives growing up. Some, like Bobby, Frankie and Frannie were more like big brothers. And Johnnie Tighe took this seriously, sometimes directing my activities out playing to keep me out of trouble. He was sort of my bodyguard (I think Helen was a few times too). He encouraged me in sports and think I suggested that he play football at J.P. High. When he left for the Army as I was entering high school it was a loss.
In later years we would have tag rush football games up the park and softball games at Cornwall playground between the big kids and the little kids, which I believe we remained to be well into our twenties. As we got older we became “the boys” on the corner but I think to many we are still “the little kids.”
Our life was rich, and most of our activities seemed to revolve around the church, Our Lady of Lourdes, as our base. Our folks brought their deep and unwavering faith from the old country and embraced the Church in America. My father was a Knight, Holy Name member and usher at Sunday Mass. Mom was active in the Lady’s Sodality and Third Order of Mary. In addition to Mary Morelli she talked often of her friends in both, including Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Stanley and Peggy Sullivan’s mother from Lourdes Ave. She used to get a kick out of Father Downey’s “mystery rides” when he would lead the ladies on Sunday outings to an “unannounced location.” As an altar boy I served at Sunday night meetings of the Holy Name Society in church and I have never since seen a full group of men sing with such gusto and heart as those members did with “O Holy Name….”
We went to grammar school there and were taught by the good Sisters of Saint Joseph. The nuns were very dedicated and worked hard to give us a good education and make something of us. I had the honor of being president of my 8th grade class (my nephew Jackie Power achieved that distinction years later). With that came the privilege of taking the T in town during school hours to fetch the sisters’ prescriptions at Cheney’s drugstore in the old Scollay Square. That was an interesting place. Big and old-fashioned, it had exotic things such as roots and Spanish flies exhibited in big jars on shelves high on the walls. Back at school I remember during recess outside sometimes smelling the hops and barley from the Haffenreffer brewery, where Uncle Jack (Dooley) worked. We served as altar boys (or in the choir if you flunked the Latin) and played CYO baseball and basketball at Carolina Field and the Mary E. Curley School.
The church had a great Boy Scout troop, #21, with Frank Ledwith, a wonderful guy, as Scoutmaster. We camped at Hale Reservation in Westwood where we had a cabin and went to summer camp at Loon Pond in Lakeville, near Middleboro. There I learned how to swim, row a boat and navigate a canoe.
My first year at camp I was flat afraid of the water, and started in the “non-swimmers” section at the pond. You had to pass a swimming test, probably the length of the dock, to become a “beginner” and swim in deeper water. After awhile I thought I could pass the test but was afraid of it. Every day when I got back to our campsite from swimming Danny Clifford, an assistant scoutmaster and from our corner, would check me. “Did you take the test today?” Finally, with Danny’s nudging I took it and passed, and later graduated to “swimmer” (the deepest section). Swimming became a lifelong favorite pastime for me. Thanks, Danny. The troop had a drum and bugle corps, directed by Frank’s brother Paul and a man named Gabe from East Boston. We traveled often to competitions and parades. We marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, in South Boston, and in New York! (Go Sox!) The troop was very popular and there were usually over 100 of us at our weekly meetings at the Teddy Roosevelt school up by Egleston Square. I remember when Frank married a very nice lady from the Hufnagle family down by the church. They had a florist shop up on Centre Street. Frank later became a school principal.
The church was a lively, vibrant place in those days. I can remember standing on the corner and watching people literally pouring down Montebello and Forest Hills Street on their way to Sunday Mass. The church would fill up and Mikey Walsh would have the Sunday papers stacked on the front steps to get after. We had many occasions for celebration there, such as First Communion, Confirmation and the May Procession. The holidays especially remain in my mind. I remember walking down an icy hill on a snowy night, helping my mother and Aunt Sadie across Washington Street headed for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at the Old Church.
There were some other diversions for us as kids in J.P. We could walk up to Curtis Hall, by the Monument, and swim in its indoor pool called “the tank.” The library Butch and I went to with Chris was around the corner from Curtis Hall. Later we walked to a new library on Seaver Street by St. Mary of the Angels. We could go to the Neighborhood House on Lamartine Street to play basketball or take woodworking classes with Mr. Flaherty there. There was also a woodworking class in a one-room schoolhouse up on Eliot Street which the kids from Lourdes were invited to and which we enjoyed very much.
The local movie, the Egleston (“Egg box” or “Eggie”) was on Washington in the Square, which bordered on Roxbury. It was a great escape on Saturday afternoons, Westerns and Cartoons. The theatre would explode with the excitement of city-bound kids standing, jumping and some “scaling” popcorn boxes as they found themselves rushing across the wide open plains on horseback with the likes of Tom Mix or Lash Larue. Uncle Jack took me to see “The Boy With Green Hair” there. One evening as we left the Eggie Chris and I (and probably Butch) heard sirens which we found out later signaled the end of the Korean War. Sometime before that we went up on the enclosed pedestrian overpass, which ran above the Square to the T station and watched General Douglas Mac Arthur pass beneath us in a motorcade, wearing his weatherworn army cap. This was soon after President Truman had fired him.
On the same side of the street as the theatre there was a block in the square with a drugstore on either end on the corners. In the middle of the block was Azian’s 5 and 10, at which all of our sisters worked at different times. Directly across the street was The First National supermarket. Across from the theatre was the A&P. Friday nights were busy in those stores, as people would shop for their “order” of food for the week. Most of the shopping was done “by foot” and kids would line their carts up outside each store to earn money pulling orders to peoples’ homes (I think 25 or 50 cents for an order).
We had our own Radio Flyer so Butch or myself would go up with the cart on Friday night to meet Dad at the First National. Then we would cart our order home, pulling with dad’s hand on the shoulder.
One time Patsy caught the chore of walking home with me. With six kids, Mom Dad and Uncle Jack at home our order was big at least to me at 10 or 11. As I struggled to get up the hill pulling the cart I felt like my face was two inches from the pavement, while Patsy gave me pep talks all the way up about how I could read my new funny books when we got home. She found it all quite hysterical.
There was another time not so funny, when Dad and I were going down the walk alongside 81 headed for the back stairs with the order and Dad, who was upset, mentioned to me that Mary and her husband Beaver Power had been in a bad automobile accident in Nevada while driving cross-country to his Navy Duty in California. I think Beaver injured his shoulder but was o.k. after a while. Mary injured her back pretty seriously and took some time to recover. Pat, now their oldest daughter, was with them as a baby and miraculously escaped any injury.
The church remained our base, with the surrounds of J.P. our larger territory or neighborhood. But if that was the case then Franklin Park was our back yard. The park began for us at the top of the hill at Walnut where there was a wooded “island” surrounded by roadways with a path running through its middle to the other side directly across the road from the main entrance to White Stadium. This we called the “Entrance.” My earliest memories of the Park are crawling around in the tall grass where the stadium now stands. Mary tells me Mom and Aunt Sadie brought all of the Cradock and Tighe kids up to that spot often because they enjoyed it there so much. They would teach the girls how to braid and weave the grass like they did in the old country.
Then there were the Victory Gardens, created during the War, which covered the large field where the baseball diamonds are now located behind the stadium. I would go up there on summer evenings with my father, and sometimes Mr. Conlon from across the street. I remember crawling around among what were exotic to me colors and smells of the various vegetables and other plants while Dad worked and weeded. I loved it there and have kept my enjoyment of growing things since. I still have a distinct memory of being up the park with Chris and looking across a field near the Lion House, at prisoners in a stockade! They turned out to be POWs, Italians! Maybe that’s why they smiled at us. We went home and told Mom and she told us never again to go near those charmers.
As we grew the park became our playground. Our winter sports, including tobogganing and ice-skating, expanded up to the Golf Course. We skated where it was flooded for that around the old 16th hole. There was a toboggan chute on Schoolmaster’s Hill near the Ralph Waldo Emerson House.
Buddy taught me to ride a bike outside the main gate to the stadium. The idea was to start out across the street and up the hill a bit towards a rock formation we called the Giant’s Chair. (I think Joan Power fell off that Giant’s Chair once and broke her arm.) There I would get on the bike and roll down, aiming for the bushes to the left of the gate. I either “rode” the bike or crashed into the bushes. There was a method to his madness. After a few crashes (and “flights”) I got the idea, and balance. It worked!
We explored the woods at the other side of the entrance from the gate, first running along Walnut Ave. and then continuing parallel to Sigourney and then Forest Hills streets to the Brook, near where the Shattuck Hospital now stands. We named them the first, second and third woods, divided by us where they were interrupted by roadways. We saw many well-preserved gravel roads bordered by stone walls running through the woods and blocked off from the outside by large stones. Perhaps they were evidence of parkland enjoyed by earlier generations before the woods grew in. We were ever in pursuit of wildlife, however I recall only several “possible” sightings of pheasants. Our closest encounter was when a chipmunk bit Tommy. We picked blueberries in the first woods once, and Howie Russel’s mother baked us pies.
We first played ball at the park. For football we wore plastic helmets which were molded by a machine which made them more square than round. So we often appeared to be looking off askance. We played a game of mayhem called “fumbles” in which someone would take the ball and try to avoid being tackled by everybody, then to fumble intentionally or not. Then someone else would have to pick up the ball, take his punishment, and so on. I remember lying in the ripe fall grass with my head or backside or something else hurting so much that I thought I’d never get up again. Then a few minutes later up and at ‘em. We played by the stadium. We enjoyed watching many high school games there, especially when the stadium first opened and they had those dazzling Friday Night Jamborees.
We started playing baseball in a place we called “the gully” across from a drinking fountain by the stadium and down from a bench. There was a rock there shaped something like a small home plate and we kind of wore the grass down at the bases. We were so small when we started there that some of the big kids would come up and pitch to us underhanded. Larry Conlon did this and so did Frankie O’Connor (Frankie got his hits). I remember Jerry being there, just having moved up from Rossmore Road and using his uncle Chico’s glove. He was 8. And John Cloherty catching balls in the outfield.
Later we would graduate to the diamonds. We biked up there on a paved path, which started at the fountain. As we rode up leaving the stadium on the left we would pass a raised gravel roadway built up to around 10 feet by a wall of granite, and surrounding the ruins of a police department storage facility. This was called “the overlook”. My cousin Gerard Burke, who is quite a J.P. historian and who helped me with this paper, informs me that the overlook was sort of a spa in olden times from which you could view the surrounding fields, then called “the playstead,” a name given by Olmsted.
Our diamond was the one just beyond the practice field in the stadium. There we played many pickup games. When the Jamaica Plain Little League was founded we joined. Our first season was at the far diamond over by the Refectory’s “Hut” and gateway into the main park and Zoo.
Frankie has told me he umpired the league’s first game with a fellow from Forest Hills named Charlie Hoar. The game took place most likely in 1953, between the teams sponsored by the Parkview Club and the Forest Hills Merchants. Frankie was a member of Parkview, Charlie a Merchant. I was on that Parkview team, which was coached by a very nice guy from Iffley Road named Bernie Doherty,who taught me about sportsmanship,and who was well known at the Franklin Park Golf Course and as a boxing coach for J.P. youth.
Some of my fondest memories are of shagging flies with some of the big kids after pickup games at the diamonds on warm summer nights under an iridescent sky, walking home easily through the sweet-smelling park twilight to the sound of the cicadas and then down to the hill to the house at 81 where we could hear the “click-click…..clack-clack” of the elevated train, which seemed to have its own summer rhythm.
I always think of Sunday as a day of celebration. Starting with Mass the family would be free for the day, and anticipated a big dinner in the afternoon, often roast beef. Dad worked six days a week at his job as a bartender in Brighton and took full enjoyment in his day off. Sometimes we would take outings up to the park, the Rose Garden or the Zoo. I remember an annual trip on the “Nantasket Boat” from Rowe’s Wharf down to Nantasket Beach, and walking to the Feis (Irish Festival)) over at TechField in Brookline. On the way there was a small pond across the street from Jamaica Pond called Ward’s or the frog pond, which became a favorite fishing hole of Butch and mine with Dad.
The holidays were the ultimate celebration. At Thanksgiving the sideboard was so laden with exotic nuts and fruit that if it didn’t groan it should have. Butch and I would have a contest at dinner to see who could fit the most food on his plate. Mom’s potato stuffing was a favorite. She used to have me taste it the night before as she was mixing it.
Dad and Mom would go all out at Christmas. I remember Chris showing us how to leave tomato soup on the mantelpiece for Santa. My godfather John Burke would come by with Uncle Jack and leave me a nice gift. Dad would always get a huge tree and on Christmas morning our living room floor was always covered with gifts.
Dad had a chore for me in the winter. He wanted to warm the house up in the evening but got home a little too late for that so in the afternoon I would go down to our bin in the cellar and “shake the ashes down” in the furnace and put a shovelful of coal in. One Christmas Eve Dad took over on the furnace and in his enthusiasm wasn’t so frugal. It was so warm in the house that we all had jolly red cheeks and slept very well.
On Sundays throughout the year the folks would often have Aunt Sadie and Uncle Pat and our Uncle Jack for dinner. Sometimes some of their old Galway friends would come over, such as Bill and Molly Tonry, Binah and Martin Crowe, and Red and Kitty Thornton. There was music in our house. Mom played the melodian, and when she was ironing she would kind of whisper-whistle old Irish tunes. On those Sundays she and Aunt Sadie would sometimes sing sweetly together, tunes like “The Galway Shawl” and the old “Galway Bay,” And I remember Tonry leaning against the built-in China cabinet as he sang “The Queen of Connamaragh.” They would visit and celebrate into the early evening. Mom and Dad always loved having company.
This then was our neighborhood, and our world until the mid-50’s when we spread our wings and graduated to high schools around the city. It was American of course but very Irish at the same time. To me it was in some ways a little like an Irish village, American-style. I don’t profess to it having been perfect. There were the natural ups and downs of life. But we never felt we wanted for anything. There are so many memories of being given so much and we all thought it a great place to grow up. I still enjoy telling people that I’m from Jamaica Plain, born (at the Faulkner) and raised in J.P.
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