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Malden of our Youth

Devir Park
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~ Malden Musings ~

  Growing up in Malden was special. At times I thought our childhood experiences were probably not much different than those of our neighbors to the north, south or wherever. Upon further reflection, I concluded that growing up in Malden was indeed an awesome and unique time and place to spend my childhood.

  The way Malden is laid out lends to its uniqueness. How some neighborhoods were defined by the ethnicity of its residents lent to that uniqueness. According to political consultant/MHS Alumni Hall of Famer Michael Goldman: “Malden was a hodgepodge of neighborhoods in the 1960’s. Edgeworth was Italian on one side of Highland Ave and Irish on the other. Highland Ave where BOTH the Irish who came to Malden directly from Ireland as well as the Irish who spent time in Canada before emigrating down to America …two distinct neighborhoods. Suffolk Square (before ‘slum clearance’ in the late 50’s) was Jewish and Black with smaller areas of Irish and Italians. Downtown Malden (always called ‘The Square’) were the remaining Protestants and Yankees. The West End was mixed (money drove the demographics/single and two-family homeowners) with some Swedes/Polish/Lithuanians scattered in with Italian and Irish. Ward 1, including Main St/Cross St/Belmont School, were Irish and a smattering of Jews. Oak Grove/Hawthorne St/Lebanon School were professional people with higher income brackets than most in Malden. Maplewood consisted of working blue collar people.”

  I just loved growing up in Malden! Neighborhoods were often defined by the park that was central to the location. The Green Street Park gang were good old boys. Same with the Oak Grove/Patchell Park hooligans. The Amerige Park boyos with the amazing amount of hoop players (and card players) it produced. There were the Edgeworth/Pearl Street/Whitman & Highland crews, with “The Bakery” being the focal point. Newland Street, Devir Park, Harvard Street Park, Lincoln Park, Belmont, Maplewood Square, Judson Square, Forestdale and the Vista Street gang, the Linden Square (Robinson’s News)/Linden Park crowd; Trafton Park had its characters – as well as Ferryway Park. Coytemore Lea Park was special. Suffolk Square was mostly gone growing up, but their past was alive and well. The “Rez” was a go-to place. Cannot forget Waites Mount! I haven’t even touched on Malden Square – the Signor Pizza crowd, the Brigham’s crowd, the Park Street crowd (where the saying was “What goes on at Park Street stays on Park Street”) and on and on.

  I also firmly believe that the fact that we were all crowded together within (less than) five square miles made us all, for the most part, anyway, friends. Of course, the occasional flare up would occur, but mostly we saved that for our archenemies next door – “Medfid.” Turns out, some of the best people I ever met came from Meffa (the folly of youth)! Point being, I don’t remember much hatred going around but I do recall a tight-knit community.

  Speaking of Malden’s storied past, the question “Where has the Malden of our youth gone?” is thrown around at various cocktail parties in Malden. This is a nebulous question, possibly meant rhetorically – nevertheless I am going to attempt to give my spin on this age-old question and how it pertains to us longtime Maldonians in present day Malden.

  Before I begin, I must say, without hesitation, that I love Malden of 2022. I am a firm believer that we are living in the best of times. Three successive administrations with innovative, highly progressive leaders (Ed Lucey, Richard Howard and Gary Christenson) have transformed Malden into one of the more desirable locations to raise a family and to grow old. Anywhere.

  With that said, the Malden of my youth…

  • was filled with Little League and Babe Ruth League coaches that were fully invested, fully engaged and lifelong role models
  • had two movie theaters within walking distance of each other
  • had educators that cared, who thought “outside the box” and were part of the community
  • had Donnie Brunelli
  • had athletic coaches that pushed you to be better, who showed you the fundamentals and took a vested interest in your abilities
  • like Mr. Grimes, Mr. Pitts, Mr. Patrie, Mr. Covelle, Mr. Adorn and a just back from the Vietnam War Johnny Marsinelli
  • had an Italian Feast every second weekend in August on Pearl Street since the beginning of time (and still do)
  • had neighborhood restaurants and pubs where they knew your name and what you drank, and knew what your parents drank also
  • had a downtown that was safe, accessible, full of life and still quaint
  • had neighborhoods with distinctive characteristics and characters – with locals marking their territory as the previous generation before them had done
  • had a park system that allowed and encouraged you to be young
  • had Boone’s Farm Apple Wine (oh yeah, that may be a bad thing)
  • had a boffo carnival at Brother Gilbert Stadium
  • had semipro baseball, Sunday morning and night softball leagues, Men’s Recreational Basketball, the Junior Police League, Park Instructors and a YMCA Outreach program with hip, young, caring and enlightened personnel
  • had awesome fireworks
  • had a YMCA that was the center of most of our universes
  • had a “head shop,” record stores, pool rooms, bowling alleys and ice skating in the parks
  • had large families, large extended families – all living within walking distance (most of the time in the same house)
  • had Dave’s father, John O’Brien
  • had “Creature Double Feature”
  • had Kappy’s Bicentennial Beer
  • had great baseball cards! Captain Carl with sideburns, Oscar Gamble with a huge “fro,” Rollie Fingers with the best mustache in the history of mustaches
  • had neighborhood schools we would actually walk to
  • had the 1967 “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox
  • had Bob Rotondi and always will
  • had police officers, firefighters and educators that were your neighbors, your high school classmates and your friends
  • had some of the best police officers around “walking the beat”
  • had the Boston Celtics in their Red Auerbach glory days
  • had fewer traffic lights
  • had Stevie Wonder in the Jenkins Auditorium and the Lovin’ Spoonful in the Marshall Gym
  • had Sal “Butchie” Gennetti and still do!
  • had a riot – in Malden Square
  • had a handful of television stations that we were very happy with (as long as we had Channels 38 & 56)
  • had Brendan Duffy
  • had a public pool you could sneak into on a hot summer’s night
  • had the best hockey players in the state
  • had Pearl Street Bakery, DiPietro’s Bakery, Nelson’s Bakery and Harvard Pastry
  • had a local daily newspaper that was the rival of any daily on the North Shore and beyond
  • had John Benotti
  • had Beebe, Browne and Lincoln Jr. High Schools
  • had our fair share of “Cafes”: Mike’s, Maher’s, Stadium, Rosebud, Salemwood, DeMarco’s and The Highland
  • had our fair share of “Grilles”: Jessel’s, The Horseshoe Bar, Jack Haney’s and The Do Re
  • had long hot summer days at Devir Park that we thought would never end

  As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character Columbo would say, “Just one more thing, sir” – author and educator Peter Drucker once opined, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” I have seen what lies ahead for Malden with my very own eyes and we have indeed created our very own future! Malden’s fourth City Hall in its long, storied history opened to much fanfare and ballyhoo two years back. A huge sigh of relief was heard when doors opened – all the way from Black Ann’s Corner in Linden to Donut Villa in Edgeworth. What a showpiece! State of the art this, state of the art that. Malden is well equipped to go toe to toe with any City Hall in the Commonwealth – a warm, inviting structure (thank you, Joel Ceide) that is as inclusive, is as welcoming, as any. Anywhere. The view from the Kenneth Desmond Roof Deck patio is a breathtaking look at downtown Malden – a view of Pleasant Street unlike any ever seen. Attention to detail was taken. Hogie made sure of that. I was very happy to find out that they’ve incorporated an ancient water fountain, dedicated in 1911 by the Delano family, to the outdoor landscaping, keeping Malden’s past alive right smack dab in the middle of its future! Love it! By the way, let’s not forget all the hard work by all our elected officials that went into this whole convoluted process. So many good and hardworking individuals (hello, Maria Luise) made crucial contributions over the years to make it a reality – continuing to this very day. Thank you, too, all. Here’s to Malden’s proud past, and to its limitless future.

  Postscript: One thing that hasn’t changed over the many years (135 to be exact) is the pleasure Malden gets by beating our neighbors next door, Medford, in the annual Thanksgiving Day game (not Melrose as WCVB Channel 5 reported on the night of the big game). This year was extra special – being held at the “lyric little bandbox,” Fenway Park. Final score 34-15 with Coach Exilhomme’s little brother Kevin scoring three touchdowns along with killing it on defense with many bone-crunching tackles. The kids experienced the thrill of a lifetime as a contingent of Malden police escorted them to the ballpark and back. Glory days in real time. Congratulations to Coach Exilhomme and his staff for bringing pride (glory will come soon, I am sure) back to Golden Tornado land.

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