Jamaica Plain in the 1960s and early 1970s

Bob's Spa, 1987.

Bob's Spa, 1987.

Remembering 120 McBride Street, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

I am sure there are many people out there with wonderful memories of growing up in Jamaica Plain and experiencing all the diversity it had to offer.  I have compiled some of my memories of Jamaica Plain and to this day in 2007 (47 years old), I believe Jamaica Plain was the best education I ever got about life, gut instinct and dealing with people.

My earliest memories of Jamaica Plain were my close surroundings and the streets I grew up on like McBride, Lee, Carolina, Child, Hall, Boynton, and South streets.  There were very good people living there, all working hard to get by.  The people were the most interesting aspect for me in regard to how I feel.  I saw the tail end of an era of how people watched out for each other in a neighborhood.

Murphy Playground in the spring and summer was the best place in the world for a kid to learn about baseball and life.  I remember Murphy Playground before the new Agassiz School populated the top field and clubhouse.  There were always basketball games going on in the upper section over on the Carolina Street side where most of the older kids played, and there were always pick-up baseball games going on in the lower and upper fields.

When Little League started each spring, that is when you saw the personality of the neighborhood come out, and all of the parents would watch an innocent game on a hot night under the lights swapping stories.  Back then everyone played and all we got was a tee shirt and hat, usually sponsored by one of the locals — Doyle’s, Bob’s Spa or Blanchard’s Liquor.

Curtis Hall could not have gotten any better in the 1960s.  With all the transition going on in the country this was a safe haven to be a kid and have fun.  I remember swimming for a nickel and you brought your own towel and soap.  If I remember right there was a boys’ day and a girls’ day for swimming.

Upstairs in the gym was a life lesson and I learned about competition and that famous game of dodgeball, or as we called it, “Bombardment.”  All the kids from Jamaica Plain used Curtis Hall and you learned at a young age there were a lot of tough kids in Jamaica Plain, and a lot of kids worse off than you, another life lesson.

Besides going to the library just about every day and studying or goofing off or just checking out girls, the chestnut tree outside was a memorable experience. Every year we would wait for the chestnuts to drop in those armored spiked green shells. We would toss them at each other and when we were done goofing around we would open them up and see that beautiful dark chestnut.  We collected them or carved out the centers and made toy pipes (no, not crack pipes, just play toy pipes).

I could write a book about Bob’s Spa and all the stories, personalities, and families that used and relied on Bob’s Spa.  Back in the 1960s this is where you got your day-to-day items for the most part.  Friday night grocery shopping was at Stop-n-Shop on the V.F.W. Parkway, but the day-to-day was at Bob’s Spa. As a kid you have a very innocent perspective of things, and I thought Bob’s Spa was great.  Where else could you get such a great candy selection or sit at a soda fountain stool?  Bob’s also had great deli sandwiches and I loved how they added up your bill on the brown paper bag in pencil. My greatest treat was that I used to return all the Coca Cola bottles for my Aunt Betty, and back then they were in a heavy wooden case that held 24 bottles.  I would load a couple of empty cases into my wagon and cart them up to Bob’s.  Back then it was two cents a bottle and I would bring the money back to Aunt Betty and she would give me a nickel tip, and guess where I spent that?

120 McBride Street; this was home for me, a very safe haven and a wonderful environment.  Once again, as a kid I grew up pretty naive and looked through the glass most of the time with glee.  Our house was a two-family and the upstairs was where my Mom, Dad and brother lived with our own attic (my playground).  On the first floor was a cast of characters like my Aunt Betty, Uncle Bob, Aunt Nancy, and from time to time everyone else like Uncle Al, Tom, Dan and Uncle Martin.

These are some of the finest people I will ever know and I have learned so many life lessons and a good portion of my personality was carved out of these times.  Joy came simple back then whether you were out on the streets with your friends exploring the neighborhood or waiting for the produce truck to come down McBride Street so Betty could buy grapes, or just playing in what I thought was the biggest back yard in all of Jamaica Plain.

I will always love this street, neighbors and the times it represented.  We lived right next to the Boston & Maine Railroad tracks when the Boston Gas Company used to be there.  This was home.

Even though I went to public school and I am glad I did, St. Thomas School had a strong hold on me.  From Sunday Mass with Father Kelly or the Sunday paper you could buy out front this was a great place.  The fondest memory of St. Thomas was the St. Thomas parking lot across the street where the Band practiced.  Growing up as a kid and walking up Child Street to hear the Band get louder was a great thing.  The color guard used to practice out there as well.

CCD was quite a life experience and I learned a lot about the church, the crazy nuns who loved that wooden ruler, or how much religion was like a woven fabric in the community.

Where do I start about the Agassiz School?  This was a microcosm of a world that I lived in.  The students represented every aspect of Jamaica Plain, from the rich to the poor, white and black.  There were two buildings that we called the old and new Agassiz, and when I went there in the 1960s I think they were already about 70 years old.

The teachers were fantastic; to this day I love Mrs. Manning, the third-grade teacher and principal of the old Agassiz.  The new Agassiz was not much newer and I will never forget the boys’ urinals.  There was a slate wall with water running down it into a trough and you would pee on the wall (this is too good to make up.)  We had music class and wood shop and had very few amenities.  You got milk at lunchtime and everyone brown- bagged it and hung their lunch on the hook in the coatroom.

Recess was a fun time.  We played famous games like one-two-three-red-light, handball, and pimple ball.  We flung baseball cards and coins up against the wall for keeps. The Agassiz’s roof had a large overhang, and that is where we hid during an air raid (birds flying over). You learned early to duck for cover, and I swear those birds enjoyed it.

These are some of my memories of Jamaica Plain, and I would have to say from time to time I miss those days, but I believe you cannot go back in time and you have to take the good from it and keep moving on.

I have included some family names that I grew up with: the McCormacks, the Donovans, the Maloneys, the Baronies, the Walshes, the Englishes the Genovese, and the Sloans, to name a few.

Our family moved away from Jamaica Plain in 1973, because at the time there was going to be a state road coming through, so the state took our house by eminent domain.  The house at 120 McBride Street was eventually torn down.  My family had lived there since the 1940s.

I will always cherish that time and that era in Jamaica Plain.

Mike McCormack
August, 2007
New Hampshire
nhliving [at] yahoo.com