Remembering Matt – The Savin Hill Reunion

On the anniversary of Matt’s death, I thought I’d repost an old post of his reminiscence of the past…

The Savin Hill Reunion: A Night To Remember

I wrote about the Savin Hill Reunion noting it was likely to sell out the 300 tickets I had been told were available. I said it would be a 13,909 crowd. Truth be told it was like that but assume Bobby Orr was skating and it was the final game to decide who would win the Stanley Cup and figure hundreds more would have managed by hook or crook or fire escape doors to gain entrance then that is the type of crowd that appeared for the reunion.

Savin Hill

I’m told they cut off the ticket sales at 500 but when I went looking for Billy H____ at table 48, sadly I didn’t find him, it seemed there were many more tables beyond 48. Figure with ten people at a table then you have to conclude the 500 figure was an underestimate. I’m not even counting those who gained entrance surreptitiously which would not be surprising since old habits die hard.

I arrived about a half hour late. There were no parking spots at Florian Hall or across the street. I went to a large lot kitty corner to the right as you look out and hoped for the best. It was clear the old neighborhood had turned out in force.

As mentioned these were not regular events. If I said they happened every dozen years I’d be exaggerating. The crowd that was there was mostly of the Savin Hill of the Fifties or Sixties. You’re reading about a gathering of people most of whom knew each other from over fifty years ago. Some, of course, remained in contact, but others, like me, were venturing back with the hope they may still recognize friends not seen in over sixty years.

Our tables were assigned to us. I was at number 11. So were the three people I got tickets for along with others I had been in contact over the years. My fears of being embarrassed for not remembering people were not eased until I was told to put on a name tag.  I might forget the face but surely the name I’d remember, or at least I thought.

The formal part of the night started off with a priest saying the grace, “Bless us O’Lord and these . . . .” You knew it was a heavily Irish gathering when the letter O is added to the name Lord. Not all follow that custom. Some still say, “Bless us McLord . . . .”

Then someone started singing. I didn’t recognize the words but people started standing up or as the headmaster at Roxbury Latin the late Reverend Tony Jarvis would say “uprising.”  The words being sung were the intro to the song “God Bless America.” For those unaware of them like me, they are:

“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:”

I never knew it was considered a prayer. I never knew we were supposed to stand during it. I always associated it with standing around a friend playing the piano after we all had a few beers or in some joint where the beer flowed freely from pitchers and it was included among other of the songs we used to sing, like forgive us, “Dixie.”

After that we remained standing. A recording of the National Anthem started to play. I didn’t see anyone kneeling. I really didn’t look or expect it. It wasn’t the night for recriminations.

Belfort Street

The best part of the reunion for me was meeting people I hadn’t seen for decades and engaging with them. Long forgotten memories came back. Sitting and talking to Billy M____  I recalled seeing him walking by across the street from my Belfort Street home dressed sharply in his Army paratrooper uniform, his shiny boots, and some type braid from his shoulder. Some other guy came by and said: “Hey Bill, the Berlin Airlift.” I knew he was too young for that so the reference eluded me. However, it did remind me that Bill served with the Army in Germany where he was the middleweight boxing champion. Billy was a good fighter both in the ring and out.

I also realized it was from Bill M____ that I learned the expression, “wie geht es,  Fräulein, is been gut?’  He told.me that if I went to Germany that was I should say to any young women I met. I never knew what it meant until years later when I decided to take the chance to use it.

I was working for a congressman in DC. I was waiting in the outer office to see him having been told a group of German dignitaries were meeting with him. As they were leaving three or four women were in front. I figured I’d impress them. I uttered my long remembered German expression on them. Their looks told me I hadn’t impressed them. Later I decided to look it up. It means as best I can tell: ‘‘how are you, miss, have you been good?”  What was wrong with that? But digging a little deeper the problem was the word Fräulein which assumes an undue familiarity as well as a young single woman.

In retrospect I was a little crazy greeting those women like that without knowing what I was saying. Which leads me to a conclusion I arrived at talking to some of my old friends at the reunion. A lot of them seemed to have a little bit of craziness about them – maybe they appear perfectly normal among strangers – but in the closeness of friendships listening to the old stories and present expressions it was difficult not to notice that.

Russy was one of the first ones I spoke to. He told.me he was living back in the neighborhood but seemed upset. He said earlier that night before going to the reunion he went into his room to get his jacket to leave for the reunion. A guy he did not know was in there trying his jacket on. He asked him what he was doing. The stranger said he was looking for a cup of  coffee. Russia told him he didn’t have any. I never found out what happened next. Someone came along and greeted Russy as a long-lost friend and whisked him away. That happened a lot. Many conversations were interrupted by others seeking to say hello and add their two bits.

Billy B____  greeted me with, “I thought you were no longer with us. I thought you passed a while ago.’ I asked him why he thought that. He said, “I see your brothers off and on but haven’t seen you.” It seemed he was disappointed I was still around.  I asked him how Harry was doing.  He said good  I recalled how Harry called Symphony Sid around Christmas and asked him to play “White Christmas” by Fats Domino which never existed. He thought it would keep Sid busy for a while looking for it. One of the last times I saw Harry he was going by the alias Henri Butain.

Billy was with Ralphie V____ who told me he bought Ann C____’s house a while back and still lives there. Ann was the heart throb of all us young guys. We all knew where she lived so Ralphie knowing that figured it was the best way to identify where he was living.  Also with them was Paul D____ whose older brother Al was a close friend. I told him how Al, who died young, was a big fan of a band leader which made me into one too. I couldn’t remember the band leader’s name. I kept thinking Benny Goodman but knew it wasn’t him. Later I remembered it was Glen Miller.

Peggy S____ was nice to see and talk to. Lots of old memories came back. She married Gerry D ____ a  real nice guy who died a bit ago  after a long illness. We had good stories to tell about him. He spent his career as a ship’s engineer laying cyber optic cables across the oceans spending six months at a time on board. He’d be relieved by his brother who took up the other six months.

One of the last times I saw him was when a Pope came to Boston. We met standing on the sidewalk near Carson Beach. We talked about getting together but I guess life and the way of the sea got in the way. I reminded Peggy that she lived “over the bridge.” She laughed and said that was the expression Gerry used to say to her. We always felt that those who lived “over the bridge” were a little more, as we said back then, “stuck up” than they should have been.

Talking about Gerry D____  reminded me about another girl we all fell for – I forget who it was now,  either Joanne C____, Joanne B____, or Beverly C____. She   wouldn’t give us the time of day. I’ll never forget sitting across from Baldie Sheehan’s when Gerry said he knew who was going out with her that weekend. We all wondered who was the lucky guy. He said: “Yours truly.” It took me a while to figure it out. Even when I did I didn’t want to believe it.

One guy said I was his first lawyer. He said he finally cleared his record up. I figured I didn’t represent him too well so I said, “You had a record?” He said, “I didn’t have a record, I had an album!” He said he really wasn’t a criminal and once he got off the booze he never got in trouble again. A lot of guys could tell that story.

Several of the younger guys remembered me for the car I drove.  They referred to it as a black MG. It was a black TR3 that I purchased after college with my parents money and my IOU to pay them back from my Marine officer’s pay. Can’t remember how little I paid them. But then again, when I was in Japan for 13 months, the car was supposed to be kept safe in the garage. Little did I know my brothers had use of it.

Eddie H____ my high school half-back was there. He became a doctor. Every time I see him I recall the play where he would have run for a touchdown had I made the right block. Why I failed is still too embarrassing to tell. Eddie had a great medical practice. He is always buoyant and picks up every one’s spirits. His cousin, Paul H_____ a reader of this blog assured me that even though he disagrees with Bill C____ , aka Savin Hill Billy, on just about everything they do agree on the the big thing – their friendship.

Richie C____ grabbed my arm and asked me if I remembered  him. He was surprised that I did. We were in the sixth grade together at the John Lothrop Motley. We left the Motley once a week to go to the Eddie Eddie for woodworking. Sometimes we had fun throwing rocks at the gas street lights to watch them explode on the way there.

Our teacher was Mrs Kennedy who would start the day with a Bible reading and used the rattan on occasion . Our classmate, Joel B. used to come to school with peanut sandwiches. Another classmate, a red-head, was named Patsy. I thought his name was shortened from Patrick. Then I learned he was Italian. Couldn’t figure out how an Italian was named Patrick. I’d learn later his name was Pasquale.

Mrs Kennedy took us on a sixth grade field trip. One stop was at the Old North Church. I felt great fear when we entered there. I believed Mrs Kennedy was putting my soul in great jeopardy because I was about to commit a grievous sin.  I was taught never to go into a Protestant church.

I mentioned before that the names Savin Hill and St. William’s church were almost interchangeable. I always thought some of the boys in the Motley, a public school, had been thrown out of St. William’s. At the reunion a priest, Fr D___  who Tim O____  introduced me to said St William’s never threw anyone out. I did not want to contradict him. But I did mischievously ask him if he was Tommy D____’s brother which he quickly disclaimed. There were two D____ families, a good one and a bad one.

Mikey D____ the longest still serving elected official in Massachusetts in the Judiciary and tied with Secretary Galvin for the longest in a Constitutional Office was his usual interesting self. To be elected that often (8 terms) he’d have to be. He told how he lives in Southie and have been living there for 30 some years. He said only 14% of South Boston residents have been there for longer than 14 years. The costs of buying a place to live has driven out many of the old timers. Most of the newcomers have no interest in local politics. Obviously, like Savin Hill, Southie has changed drastically.

Billy C____, Neal C____ and Jim C____ were the main attractions at my table. The former two were members of a formidable gang called the Corn Poppers. Just its name struck fear in the hearts of others. Lots of their old friends popped in to say hello. Billy J____ as tough as nails dropped by as did another not-to-be-toyed-with guy Frankie W____ .

Donny W____ a former high-ranking official at a local utility who still lives in Savin Hill spent a while chatting. Also met his son or nephew, one of the younger group. Jim C was close friends with his brother Bobby a highly placed BRA member. Those two regularly used to meet with Bobby L____ and Bobby H_____. The latter two unfortunately passed away before their time.

By the way, speaking of that utility, Billy M____, told me that he, his father, and his son have well over 100 consecutive years combined working for it. When I think of Billy M____ I also think of Billy O____ who I went looking for but couldn’t find. I did however spend time talking with his brother Jud O____ who looks like he’s in great shape. I felt his shoulder. It was a mass of muscles. He denied lifting weights. He said it was because he worked hard all his life starting off as a paper boy in front of St. Kevin’s in Uphams Corner and as a delivery boy for a market.

He told how he is part of a Quincy bowling league put on by Billy M____’s wife, Dianne, I believe, who I once had eyes on until Billy came along. They still bowl with the candlepins at some lanes in Quincy. Talking to him made me recall that we had a candlepin bowling league as teenagers at Uphams Corner. Those were the days before the Patriots and the guys were NY Giant fans. Some of us bowled in the basement of the K of C building on Pleasant Street. I think that was why Dick D____ and Tim O____ and I joined the Knights.

Danny R____ known as the Mayor of Savin Hill dropped by as did his brother Teddy R____, the latter by the way just got elected to his high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame for his prowess in football, basketball and hockey.  He’s the only guy I know in any hall of fame. Early in the evening I saw Joe C____  who lived a few houses away from me on Sagamore Street. He was one of the older guys. He married married Peggy S____’s sister. I was good friends with his brothers Jimmy C____ and Mikey C____ each of whom passed on much too young. When I think of them for some reason I associate them with walking through the neighborhood on a Good Friday when we had to be silent from noon until 3:00 p.m.

If my recollection is correct they had an Irish setter that went along with us. Mac, the Barry’s dog, who always wandered around with us might also have been there. He’d sit on the front steps and follow me where ever I went even over to the old Army camps off Morrissey Boulevard. That was a great marsh area which was destroyed when the Boston Globe built its plant there. We would explore the open area, catch minnows in the small streams, and sometimes find unspent bullets that we would set off by throwing them into a small fire which we would build. We’d lie flat until they went off.

Joe C____ an old friend from Auckland Street I was delighted to see. He worked a while in the DA’s office with me. Always up and always pleasant and as a result well liked. Then there was Mary G______   and Mikey G_____ her brother. Mary married Larry C____ who didn’t show up even though he’s a neighborhood guy. Mikey always had good information about the neighborhood.

Dick D____ who sat with me seemed to have a good time but tired as the night progressed. He had been given a ride there by Timmy O____ who also brought his brother from Maine, Jimmy O with his infectious smile. Dick should have known it’d be like trying to get a hungry dog off a meat wagon to get Timmy to leave. Timmy was his gregarious self. The last I saw him he was sitting with a group of women self-labeled the Golden Girls. He told me a couple of days later that he invited them to come down for a visit to his Fort Meyer place of abode this winter. A couple threatened to take up his offer.

Two top Boston police officers former superintendent Bob F____ and Detective Sergeant (William) Bo M____ were there and said hello. Bo was the one who heard Brian H____’s last words pinning his hit done by Whitey B_____ on Jimmy F___.

The buffet was tasty. I realized why when I got home. I had to have a couple of glasses of water and later woke up dying of thirst. Yes, they do like to spice the food up with salt.

There are others I talked to: a guy I know whose name I’m drawing a blank on who went in the Marines in 1958, came out in 1961, went to college and back into the Marines, received a commission through OCS served two tours in Vietnam, and retired as a lieutenant colonel after three years on Guam as station commander. Many others who spoke with me briefly or otherwise but as the night and then the days went quickly by they have momentarily slipped from my mind as I write this.

There were some people I hoped to see who if still alive didn’t attend or if they did because of the crowd I never got to see them. These were friends such as Brendan B____, Betty McG____, Jimmy M____, Paul O____, Roseanne D____, Jake O’B ____ or any of the O’B____s,  any of the McD____s, Eddie C_____, Porky L_____, Danny S____.    There were others who had gone on who I missed such as Gerry D____, Bobby R____. Bobby L____, Joe L____, Luke McD____. Wimpy McD____, and took some good tales with them.

I’m sure as soon as I post this final piece I’ll remember things that I wanted to say or people who I left out. It will be like having made a closing argument in a case. I’d sit down and the things I meant to say came pouring back into my mind. My apologies to those I forgot.

Truly it was a mob scene and a great tribute to the neighborhood  that so many people came out. As an old Irishman slowly walking up a Connemara back road as the rain fell softly onto his well-worn dark gray woolen suit under his similarly colored beaten down scally cap with his blackthorn shillelagh cane and old faithful Irish collie strolling aside him said to a couple of Yanks who stopped and stared at him, “take a good look for you’ll never see my like again” I suggest we will never see the like of such a neighborhood as Savin Hill once was again.

2 Comments

  1. Great post. Great memories. Matt and his brothers had an excellent time at that function. Thank you. Happy Columbus Day.

  2. Thank you for posting this. Matt was a Reader’s Digest “Unforgettable Character.” I was lucky to know him.
    I had jotted something along those lines a long time ago about growing up in Dorchester:

    “A few years ago, I went to the only reunion I have ever had an interest in attending. It was my twenty-fifth anniversary of the Class of 1961 from Saint Mark’s School in Dorchester. Seeing people I had known as Butch, Pudgy or Mousy in three piece suits was an odd experience, but it wasn’t long before common memories made the distance of years dissolve to be replaced by warm laughter.

    Growing up in Dorchester meant never having to say you were lonely. The streets were filled with kids; we graduated about 180 in my grade in 1961. It didn’t take long to fit into a complex social scene that revolved around school and sports. I was elected class president for two consecutive terms (my re-election based largely on my doing nothing in my first term) and was relegated to right fielder (where balls are never hit) on the sandlot baseball team.