The elderly resident had just walked away from a bench on the Southington town green on a cool winter morning. We began to engage what would become a long conversation about what is and what was. In other words, how much he remembered the town as it was and the memories he wanted so badly to share. Obviously I became a good listener. He knew of me and saw the opportunity to have somebody’s ear. Now in his late-80s, the man explained that sitting on a bench facing town hall rekindled visions of what he recalled decades ago.
There’s no need to identify him since he pleaded to keep him anonymous. This man is among many who cherish the past. I presume any community has older residents who really want to share their memories, some good, and some bad, about yesteryear.
We returned to the bench and I became the interviewer. I asked was he getting sentimental because he was getting older. Then he looked across the street at the town hall. “I recall when the new town hall was built in the early 1940s and how people were ecstatic because the old one was falling apart. Then the war came and it was truly emotional how people in town supported the war effort,” he said.
The man paused and continued. “Southington will always be a great place cause we had so many good early leaders like Steve Elliott, Jim Simone, Carl Hulten, Bob Britton, Val DePaolo, John Daley, Bob Foley, Jim Wallace, Gerry Crean, George Hayes, Jim Serafino, Al DellaBitta, Art Della Vecchia many others. These guys never got paid for their service and let’s not forget the men who volunteered to fight in World War II.”
As expected, the man reflected on the changing scenery in town. “How can anyone complain? We lost great stores but gained so many others. There will never be stores like Hutton’s and Riccio’s for clothing, and also Guterch’s. How about Stef’s Hardware and guys like Grimaldi’s Shoes and Winston shoes? They were all competitors but good friends among each other.”
The town’s first semi-pro football team, the Southington Gems, played home games at Recreation Park and the man fondly recalled watching most of the games. The Gems, he stated, were taking on all comers and was loaded with former Lewis High players. Recreation Park was a gem itself, he said. All of us loved the park. It had the swings, plenty of shade for picnics and that famous diving board.”
After a visit to the World War II monument, we walked up Academy Lane. The man pointed to the parking area of the town’s housing apartments and spoke of the old Lewis High school that once stood on the site. “We didn’t have a sports nickname back then but it didn’t matter because when Joe Fontana got here our teams were outstanding. Joe had just graduated from Trinity College but decided to coach in his hometown. We were happy for that,” he said noting the school colors were gold and blue.
The man was born and raised in town and, like many others, said that he voted at election time for anyone whom he thought would do a good job. He recalled the big decision for the town to consider reverting from selection form of government to a town manager in 1966. Then he said he and other citizens, regretted the commercial upsurge on Queen Street. Gene’s Kitchen, a favorite breakfast and lunch spot, was one of the first places to locate on Route 10 north. “Outside of Gene’s, there were plenty of cows, sheep and some horses on Queen.”
He pointed down the street and he bought his gasoline from Seymour Tassie’s station at the corner of Eden Avenue. He quickly offered a quick rundown of new memories like the first firehouse on Center Street; a Lewis High running back by the name of Ed Knapp; Jack Zilly, a premier football star who went on to appear in a movie with Gregory Peck; Frank Sinatra singing at the Lake Compounce ballroom; the fatal shooting of a South End package store owner; Police Chief G. Robert Triano and others. “I’m probably the only non-relative who knew what the initial stood for in Triano’s name.”
The man decided it was time to leave. “We’ll do this again, okay?” he asked as he drove away in a new Lexus. I waved goodbye not knowing if I’d see him again.