Saturday, December 5, 2009

Revere and Chuck Swartz

Today I went to the Bagel Bin on Shirley Avenue in Revere with Chuck. He picked me up when my car had a flat tire. That made it impossible to take my dogs to walk with his dogs, but it lead to another really interesting walk, looking at a neighborhood he'd known so well.

There wasn't anyone he knew when we ate breakfast, though I thought there might be. And he thought the food was good, though he really loves to go to a diner in Lynn that has all the old diner fittings and a staff that goes with the place and is under a railroad track. I imagine it's listed in Chow Hound where he finds many interesting places to try.

Because my dogs weren't waiting in the car, we got to walk Stoney and Onyx up the street while he told me about the old neighborhood. He remembers so many details that I have already forgotten, and I took so many photographs in my trying to remember, that it's impossible to show much of anything here, but I loved the attempt of listening on this almost sleeting day.

This wasn't the Temple that he went to. There was another down the block. They are both abandoned now. 

And almost all of the stores have changed radically. You'd never know that one of the first Stop and Shops was on Shirley Avenue. Or that the street was tree lined, that the houses were well-kept and that this was a desirable area.

Or that the path beyond the wire gate leads to stairs that he loved to walk down when he was quite little. Or that the alleyway he's walking down leads to a backyard where he and his friends used to play. It's right behind what was once a pool hall where some people played pool for money, but he didn't. And that there were card games in back and a pinball machine. The fellow in the backyard was angry that we were trespassing, wanted to know why I was taking photographs. His father has owned that dreadfully maintained building for thirty years. Chuck's friends lived there sixty years ago, (Actually I don't think it was quite that long ago) he told this fellow who had no sense of humor or perspective and a lot of derelict cars in the back.

There is the empty building where Kosher food was made, the soups purchased in supermarkets. And what is now a beauty salon  was a kosher meat market. The yellow slide is where the best deli was. And the gates over the window of a woman's store is where a hotel once operated. There was a chicken market, chickens picked and killed, up toward the beginning of Shirley Avenue.

I think what was most interesting is how vibrant those days sounded.... kids living close to each other, a tight community, predominantly Jewish, who all knew each other, a source of a sounding board and sense of identity outside of the Temple or the family. Chuck doesn't have the same kind of bad feelings about that neighborhood that I have about mine -- a sense of isolation, maybe three other kids my age living with three or four long blocks, Cinnie Baldwin, David Newton and Howie Grace. Chuck still knows people from Shirley Avenue. Someone from Revere lives on his block in Brookline, having made it out, just as Chuck did, invested in family and in giving children better schooling than they might have had if each still lived in Revere, more opportunities.

I asked him if he had bad memories from those days and he laughed and said something like, "A couple, like when I got beat up."

Chuck's grandfather, a Russian immigrant, helped build three three-deckers just off Shirley Avenue, buildings that went up in spectacular flames twenty or so years ago. When he told his mother about the fire, that's when she told him about his grandfather who died when she was twelve.

When they moved to a better neighborhood, he still kept going back to Shirley Avenue because his friends were there.

Most buildings, he thought, were built in the 1910's, 20's, though the building where he and Linda got a mortgage for their first house was built in the fifties.

I don't know anything about architecture and remember walking around Cambridge with Linda while she identified of houses for me, told me when they were built.

Chuck and I did this walk years ago, when their daughter Anna was little, and I took pictures then. I wish I remembered all the details from that walk fifteen or so years ago and had hope that I'd remember them from today. But I won't, even with photographs. I can just think about the quality of childhoods, the changes inevitable in neighborhoods and the passage of time.

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