I was having lunch down at Tom’s Place, a diner in the Village of South Meriden a couple of weeks ago with my Darlin’ Edna and my sister-in-law Pat Hennessey Roberts when I ran into an old friend from my younger years, George “Red” Schwartz.
We were both surprised to see each other and he sat down with us to talk and have some lunch. It goes without saying that our discussion turned back to our earlier years in the Village and the fact that Tom’s Place was once the Village General Store run and owned by a gent we knew as Frank Shonrock.
As kids, my brother Pete and I used to pick up our bundles of the Meriden Record (back then now the Meriden Record-Journal) for delivery to the Village residents. It was a real general Store, just like you probably read about and now long gone in our area, but still remembered with affection by those of us old enough to have such memories. That is one of the good things about getting older—memories!
It also served as the Village Post Office and yes, the Roberts family had a mail box there and we made special trips to pick up our mail a couple of times a week or if we were going by there on our way home we would stop and get our mail. The thought of a young kid picking up the mail did not bother Frank because he knew just about everybody in the Village. In fact, just about everybody in the Village knew each other, it’s just the way it was.
The store was a place you could go to get your mail, an ice cream cone, some groceries, a rain gutter, nails, work gloves, and clothes, cigarettes (almost everyone smoked back then), and he also had a coal business and his son Cliff, would deliver the coal to our home in a special truck that used a crank to dump the coal down a chute into our basement. Our dad used to unload coal cars for Shonrock at a siding in Tracy and he would come home with a bag of precious coal for our furnace.
As kids tucked into our toasty beds we would be awakened in the morning by the sound of Dad shaking down the ashes (clinkers) in the morning to refire the furnace to keep us warm that day. Even as I write this column, I can still recall the sound. It was pleasant and comforting.
Frank Shonrock could have been a model for one of Norman Rockwell’s paintings on the cover of Post magazine. He was sort of thin, wore rimless glasses, a white apron and if memory serves me right, a yellow pencil behind his ear.
Shonrock was also the unofficial driver of the Volunteer Fire Department truck because he was the closest when an alarm went off. The Volunteer Firehouse was located on the corner of Webb and Cutlery.
And in today’s sue-crazy world, who could ever imagine kids 12 years and older jumping on the fire truck as it went to put out a blaze (mostly brush fires)? We would fight over who would get to use the Indian Pumps (portable water tanks you carried like a back pack on your back and it had a hose and nozzle for putting water on the fires). As I pen this column, I can still vividly remember the thrill of riding the back of the fire truck on the way to a brush fire and sometimes a fire at the Meriden dump (now the Landfill).
I know this is coming from an old guy, but I really and truly believe that as kids growing up in the Village of South Meriden we had a chance to be just that, kids. We could walk the streets of the Village unaccompanied by any adults, even at an early age. From our home on Hanover Road to Hanover School was a mile and we walked it every day, rain, sleet, snow and sunshine. Today parents are afraid to leave their kids alone at the end of their driveway to wait for a school bus and who can blame them?
During the warm periods we would hang out on the lawn of what is now AGC when it got dark and flirt with the girls of the Village because we all hung around together. Another late afternoon hangout was the playground at Hanover School (Now a building, corner of Evansville and Main Street). When winter arrived, there was always places to ice skate like Morin’s Grove, The Ice House and even Hanover Pond.
For the boys, it was hockey that was the main attraction and every once in a while we would even have a real hockey puck to use, thanks to Santa Claus. Some of us would have real hockey sticks from Alling Rubber, Sklar’s or Rinaldi’s (ya ’gotta be an old geezer to remember them).
On weekends, for a special treat we would take the bus from South Meriden, get a transfer to the West Main Street bus and go skating at Hubbard Park to the lovely singing of Patti Page and “The Tennessee Waltz. And all of this traveling was done without a parent watching over us. How did we ever survive?
During the summer months we had a small Pup Tent setup overlooking “The Ice House Pond (now Hunter Trail). As young teens, we would camp there during the week (weekends we had to be home) but during those campouts we had to report home every morning to get resupplied with grub and say ‘hi’ to our parents. Probably under today’s leaders this might seem like child abuse, but for the Village kids it was a freedom that somehow got lost as we progressed into today’s modern world.
And for today’s younger parents who might be shocked at the thought of kids growing up under such circumstances, think about this. We had no drive by shootings, the only drug we knew was aspirin, there was no blood and gore in the movies and no computers, gadgets and electronic games to take a young child into forbidden places. I’ll stick with the old days, they were much safer and fun for kids to grow up in.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be serving our great country to protect the freedom we now enjoy. Remember, Freedom isn’t free!
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