Any community will change . . . slowly but surely. As stated in the 1979 Pictorial History of Southington, “People and buildings come and go and new ones take their places. A landmark may be removed, a building erected, or a new street created … and memories fade and the way things used to be grows dim in our past.”
I’ve often found myself hoping there’d be a time when I could return to Southington when it was quaint, small and a piece of what many call, “Americana.” As we age there is a sincere sadness of what we remember and how things are etched in our minds. The sadness comes from not being able to go back; to return to saying hello again to those we recall; to those brief memorable moments we cherished. In 1959 actor Gig Young unexpectedly went back in time to his hometown in a Twilight Zone episode called “Walking Distance.” It ended with his father sadly telling him he should leave. “You can’t go back,” he said.
It could be the 1950s and Johnny Ray and Doris Day were the hot singers. Living rooms were called “parlors” and automobiles were painted two-toned. Just about every house had a front porch and neighborhoods featured two-story homes built close to the streets with tiny front yards.
The high school on Main Street was new. Football games were played on Saturday afternoons. I remember Coach Joe “Grey Fox” Fontana wearing his fedora. The Blue Knights wore powder blue jerseys with dark blue helmets. Principal Larry D’Angelo stood alongside Fontana with Dr. George Gura.
I stopped in to see Fred Fantozzi and Joe Galiette at the Highway Restaurant and meet the Greek owner, Gus Alexander of the new Southington Pizza House.
A police car just passed and I noticed Chief G. Robert Triano with Officer Al Frascatore. Dr. Gerald Forgione was still pulling teeth at the historic house across from the Post Office. There was no Columbus Avenue but the Elks Club had a huge barn behind its lodge and a steep hill sloped down to Liberty Street.
Bill Zilly came outside his Oxley drug store to say hello and Mr. Guterch stood outside his clothing store. Jim Serafino was in a hurry to leave town hall since he was the tax collector and brother Paul needed him at their pharmacy across from the Colonial Theater.
There was snow on the ground and Christmas was coming as highway employees Bill Bushnell and his sidekick Babe Panella drove down Center Street as Val DePaolo left his furniture store with his wife, Margaret, as they waved to a friendly competitor across the street, Henry Brenner. As I peeked in the circular window of dad’s Popular Restaurant, I could see him pouring a draft beer wearing his white apron.
Officer Pat Palumbo had the street beat and was checking the parking meters as Joe Salzillo looked from inside his Sal & Pons luncheonette. George Gladchuck was adjusting the television display at his store and employees of W.T. Grant were decorating the windows. Center Drug lit up the corner with new neon lights in the same spot Bissell’s department store stood before burning down in 1943.
I saw “Pickles” Santy heading towards his bar on Liberty Street and Joe filling the inside of his Esso gas station with fishing gear at the corner of North Liberty as kids left the small Canteen store across the street eating candy. John Lalla was setting up his bar bottles at his Johnny’s Pub and meat market owner Joe Morelli was busy slicing up beef.
I went with my older brother Dick to drive to G. E. Madison, the new big store that opened on Queen Street. His red and white Ford Fairlane roared out of Center Court onto High Street and stopped next to Redmen Hall adjacent to Monty’s Diner.
On the way we passed Johnny Rich’s gas station that included car sales by Honest John Wanczyk. After going by the Midway Restaurant on the left, we saw very few street lights and then we stopped at Howard Johnson’s.
Kids were sliding down the big hill on Loper Street. I-84 was just being built. Tellers at the downtown Southington Savings Bank smoked behind the counter. Tony’s Cash & Carry was delivering groceries and Pat Ciervo was loading up his 45-rpm record racks.
It was quiet. Pexto factory and Ideal Forging were closed. Southington had Bink’s 5 & 10 and a handful of bars. We had a small library and three local pharmacies; a small police department no bigger than the Center Street firehouse. No mayor and a fairly new Town Hall. I remember the street decorations, two-way traffic on Center Street and a fountain on the town green that always worked.
I had my turn. Can’t go back.