by Milt Huntington
Fifty percent of the many responses I received from my newspaper articles come from senior citizens over 65 years of age. I know this for a fact because one of them told me so. Both responders agreed that they love all the mushy stuff from years gone by.
So, let us reminisce. Flipping back through the dog-eared pages of time, I found a piece about the home front in World War II. I told of air raid wardens, rationing of butter and gas, patriotic movies and buying savings stamps at school. Yes, there were no bananas, and we ate sherbet instead of ice cream. Contributing to the war effort by helping mother squish red dye into white margarine to make it yellow was a genuine source of pride.
Growing up in Augusta was a priceless chunk of my young life, so I described the beauty of early Western Avenue and the bustle of Downtown Water Street. Western Avenue was lined with shade trees back in the good old days, and it had a skating pond. It didn’t have a federal building or a shopping mall. You could actually cross the street without taking your life in your hands. Heck, you could even watch soap box derbies there or ride down the hill on your bike with your feet on the handlebars.
There was no traffic circle at the bottom of Western Avenue – just the intersections of State Street, Grove Street and Grove Street Extension. There was, however, an elegant yellow brick building – The Augusta House. The historic old meeting place played host to the rich and famous and was the site where many legislative measures were lobbied to death but often revived by mouth-to-ear resuscitation. Gone now – all gone.
To our young eyes, Water Street was the Broadway of the Capital City. There were Class “A” movies at the Colonial Theater featuring musicals with new Technicolor technology. The Capital Theater drew us in with the Class “B” westerns, vaudeville and cliff-hanging serials. The names of a lot of the flicks are beginning to fade from memory, but I remember well, and always will, the nickel candy bars, the Ju-Jy fruits and buttered popcorn. I also remember the 11-cent price of admission.
Thoughts of the old American Legion building by the little park stir memories of teen-age dances, football on the lawn, post-war suppers and playing pool with friends in that old front room. Those, indeed, were the good old days.
Still there at the top of Rines Hill is the Hartford Fire Station with all of its history and its bellowing 9 o’clock whistle. The beautiful train station at the bottom of the hill was replaced by a parking lot. Arlene’s Bakery and the aroma of doughnuts and pastries is still a tantalizing memory. You can’t get your shoes repaired or shined anymore at Turcotte’s.
The shop is long gone along with Augusta’s shoe factories – R.P. Hazzard and Taylor Shoe.
You want to talk about change? Just take a look at Bangor Street. Whatever became of Hussey Hardware, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, Williams School, The A&P, Charlie’s Market and the Esso gasoline station?
I can still remember, with delight, the taste of a good steak at Hazel Green’s, a shrimp scampi at Al Biondi’s 89 Winthrop or First Tee on Water Street. I remember well how great the meals were at Ray Lammer’s Pioneer House. Nobody served up cheeseburgers like John McAuley did at his place on Outer Western Avenue. Then, of course, we salivated over the fare at the Roseland Restaurant on the Waterville Road and McNamara’s in Winthrop. The beer was also pretty good over a hamburger and fries at the Oxbow hangout in Winthrop.
Don’t even get me started about Island Park. Suffice it to say, the memories are many. All I need to resuscitate recollections of your own is to casually mention the revolving ball that left colorful squares on the dance floor below and the 21 Club that got us high on a bottle of beer. It was the site of my first date with the girl that I married.
For the beer drinkers in the crowd, I would be remiss in failing to mention Ray’s Dine and Dance in the lower end of Water Street and Duffy’s Tavern on the Bond Brook Road. Don’t talk to me about inflation. I remember when “dimies” went to 20 cents a glass. In some of those places and in most cafeterias, juke boxes were mounted on the walls over the tables. For the drop of a nickel, you could listen to Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board; Mel Torme, The Velvet Fog; Vaughn Monroe, Frankie Laine, Perry Como, Patti Page, Jo Stafford, Joni James and Doris Day. If you’ve read this far, you can easily recall the names of all the others who helped promote romances of the teenage years.
OK! That’s it for now. I’m beginning to tear up. I just hope that all my fans, (both of them), will think back on all the things that they remember if I’ve been successful in jump starting their memories again.
Milt Huntington is the author of A Lifetime of Laughter and Things That Make You Grin.