GOK wrote to ask where was “over the bridge” in Savin Hill. I explained it was somewhat like “the other side of the tracks,” indicative of another part of the town. That expression though has come to mean a part of a town that is considered poor and dangerous which was obviously not what “over the bridge” was like. I was wrong in suggesting that there was any relationship between those expressions.
That expression was used to designate one part of Savin Hill to distinguish it from the other. Thinking back, I’m not sure that those who lived over the bridge used the term; I think it was only those like me who lived on the opposite side from them who used it. This had me thinking more of the differences between those from over the bridge and us others from Savin Hill. As far as the people were concerned there was none for we mixed freely. There was no stigma or scandal for someone over the bridge to be involved with someone who wasn’t as you would have in towns when someone from the other side of the tracks was involved with someone from the right side.
Nor was there an economic difference. There were professionals and blue-collar workers on both sides. Each side had nice single family homes as well as three-deckers. One side had double triple-deckers that housed six families while the other had “the brick block” which was on Saxton Street that housed many more. That was always a mysterious place to me. I don’t believe I ever wandered down the alley that separated the buildings. As best I recall I only knew one person who lived there: Paul Brennan. He was a tough as steel – didn’t like to wear a helmet when running out of the half-back position playing football. He and Billy Connell were buddies. Billy threw the hardest football of anyone on the planet. It was more like a bullet and stung when it hit my hands or was like a blow from Mike Tyson if it hit my body.
Where the stark differences between the two areas existed was in the amenities on each side. My side had St. William’s Church, its school and its convent. The greatest inconvenience we suffered as kids was when a row of nuns from the St. Joseph’s order came marching in a formation of twos from the convent rounding the corner from Saxton Street onto Belfort Street heading to the church. We’d have to stop our games and stand still while intoning “good afternoon sister” to each one as they passed.
My side also had the T stop, the buses, the usual busy city business, gas stations, pizza shops, drug stores, (although before the Southeast expressway arrived right over the bridge there was one drug store), barber shops, coffee shops, funeral homes, bakeries and all the rest.
But “over the bridge” had none of it. It was like a wonderland. It cost nothing to go there. My earliest memory of being there was sitting up top of the Woods seeing and hearing the Navy pilots buzzing low over us and watching them land across Dorchester Bay at Squantum Naval Air Station. It was at the Woods that we could hang out without being bothered. There we could play basketball at the tennis courts where if you drove to the basket a stone wall was there to greet you; there we could play touch football at the field shown above behind the monument; there we could drink beer on the summer nights until the cops came, routed us out and stole our beer; there we played polka and the older tougher kids who muscled their ways into the game after losing their money would go “light” which meant they’d play on based on their worthless IOUs; there we could stake out a car that was involved in a game of tag, but best not to tell that full story.
The Woods with all its awe was only part of the what existed “over the bridge.”