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Founders’ Day in Saugus

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A look back at the year 2000

  Founders’ Day, the second Saturday in every September, is the day when thousands gather in Saugus Center to celebrate who and what we are. So, it is here every year, an illustrious day, a raucous and joyous day in Saugus. We’ve never had rain for the occasion, the gods being with us for 25 years, as founder Donna Gould has a direct connection overhead. Streets going past the Town Hall, the library, the gas station and the package store, two churches, two schools, another town building, are blocked off; vehicle traffic is routed other ways.

  Hundreds of tables and booths are spread throughout the Center and up side streets; art, crafts, food and books are for sale, all kinds of vendors spread among the selections. Yard sales leap up on homeowners’ lawns. The church lawns and parking areas are covered with booths and foot traffic. The crowd pushes at each other, coming in and out and through every conceivable entryway, looking all the while for old friends, classmates, teammates. They are around – you can count on that. It’s great to see an old girlfriend, still beaming, still beautiful, with four older children as guardians for the day.

  Meanwhile, odors rise rich and pungent from innumerable grills, stoves and warming plates; sausages, subs, pizzas, hotdogs, Chinese and Vietnamese food and delicacies; you name it and it’s there, for everything turns upward in steam, smoke, vapors rich and ruddy. Runners flash by in the annual road race, hundreds of runners, the young and the aged, huffing and puffing or in marathon style, their ID numbers flapping through the Center and up Main Street, some runners an hour behind others.

  Every other year high school football’s first game of the new season is played at nearby Stackpole Field. Huge inflated games and water games and pony rides are available for kids. Old friends are met, relocated Saugonians coming back for the whole day, visitors from nearby towns; and lots of handshaking and backslapping welcomes are made, smiles going electric across the crowd as old classmates or teammates are spotted, and an old girlfriend, toting a grandchild or two, sending off a smile for the yesteryear.

  As always, in some corner of Saugus, there is an energy waiting to be tapped. We believe there are no holes and vacuums in our thoughts for this grand day. That is what brought Saugus to the event in the first place. It is most difficult to let go of what is precious – a good memory – even when it threatens to slide off by itself into a gray and uneventful place, as if something concrete can suddenly dissipate like a summer cloud with a fresh breeze. But everyone here, every single person seen for one bright moment at Founders’ Day, becomes representative of each and every part of Saugus, all that which has had its way in helping to form our memories, letting us become what we have become.

  Oh, we’ve celebrated here in the past: On the sixth day of September, the year of our Lord 2000, skids of book boxes came off the rear end of an 18-wheeler that had crossed half the country from our printer in Kansas… right into my driveway. In print we were, glorious print, and setting about in our warehousing and packaging and mailing processes; it was our 452-page book, “A Gathering Of Memories, Saugus 1900–2000.” For the shortest time we reveled in one-time citizens here: laborer Muckles Brown; warrior Frank Parkinson, the tanker and tiger of Tobruk; footballer Art Spinney out in front of Johnny Unitas in that 1958 game of the century; Sgt. Al de Steuben catching a round in the hedgerows of Europe; old storekeeper Jack Winters alone with his man-killer kerosene stove; old teachers and young friends and new heroes. Pictures leaped off our pages, poems gave rhythm, drawn lines etched a history, scored words moved the blood of a whole community. The town had beckoned and we had delivered.

  The writers we needed, as it turned out, were gracious and many and varied. A former Saugus High School football player and teammate, with 16 books to his credit as well as the UMass career interception record still in his back pocket, came from the western part of the state with his offerings. An SHS Sports Hall of Famer, then coaching in Division 1 hockey and recently in the NCAA Finals, who writes poetry and his own music, made a number of contributions.

  We found, in our musings and wanderings and research, that Pulitzer Prize poet Elizabeth Bishop had lived at 20 Sunnyside Avenue for two years and had spent her freshman year at SHS. We saw her report card, a signal of things to come, and found in her poems places that surely must have been parts of Saugus urging her roots at poetry. And there was a discovery of some of her notes that traced a later visit here along our Route 1 through the heart of town, perhaps just before her death in 1979: In an unpublished journal, a memory, Just North of Boston. The old Ship’s Haven Restaurant appears again… (But look-an 18th-century man-of-war has run aground: She’s struggling there against the rocks, her lights still lit, directing rescue operations. No- it’s worse: it’s half a man-of-war.

  Now that galleon of old has set sail, but sad to say in the ironclad bounds of wreckers’ dumpsters who dismantled, bone by bone, beam by beam, brace by brace, her whole sea bag of things nautical but long-placed beside the busy road from Canada to Florida proper lit for hundreds of miles upon hundreds of miles from New Year’s Eve through Christmas week. Dawn to dusk, and through dense nights, weather changes be damned, that road is still humming into my bedroom ears. (Oh, as they say in classrooms and elsewhere, great poems may well ride their subjects from here to Eternity, the clusters of words, images, featured by vocal repetitions carried by echoes of old classrooms.)

  Then she remembered Wedding Gowns, Inc., once with full window displays and most recently leveled… Now come the wedding clothes for rent: six brides are standing in a row, dresses agleam like glare-ice; next, their grooms, with ruffled shirt-fronts, pink or blue, all on a brilliant stage, on stilts. How can they meet? When will they marry? A bit later, on the hill, a now defunct Chinese restaurant brings itself back… Gold! Gold. A Burmese temple? Balinese? An oriental-something roof, with grinning dragons. On the road but a few hundred yards away, leaps up the old Carvel Ice Cream shop… Just beyond, an ice-cream cone, a gratte-ciel outlined in glowing yellow, glowing rose on top-the ice cream-strawberry. And finally, southbound on Route 1 the world-famous steak house, The Hilltop, with the huge cactus sign and the… Twelve Hereford steer, three Hereford calves of sturdy plaster are deployed. And was not one once rustled and mounted atop a building by MIT students?

  NOTE: Some members of the MIT community may still remember Ferdi, the fiberglass cow that “somehow” made its way to the top of the Great Dome in 1981. Now those who don’t can visit the cow at the MIT Museum’s Hall of Hacks.

  The cow originally graced the lawn of the Hilltop Steakhouse in Saugus. What did its then-owner think of the joke? “At first, [the restaurant’s owner] was upset about it,” Hilltop Steakhouse’s vice president of operations told the AP. “But then we got so much publicity about it. We got inundated with people who came to see the place where it was missing. I’ve been here 24 years, and [that incident] still comes up often.”

  A local and active historian, loving Saugus and trains, brought from his files a host of excellent transportation photos, many of them of the Boston & Maine Railroad that at times ran as many as 40 trains a day through our town. A cartoonist and an illustrator contributed an exceptional array of material to grace our pages, to line our inner covers. Renowned artist Bill Maloney, once of Hull Drive, revisited Saugus Center, the Town Hall and the Soldiers Monument with a most nostalgic oil painting, making it the cover of our book. We found that Saugonians had graced the fields with the likes of Bob Waterfield, Johnny Unitas and Doug Flutie; that friends had found each other on the sands of South Pacific islands in moments of abject silence, on Kwajalein and Iwo Jima and Okinawa, before they were parted forever. We kept seeing that happiness and loneliness and pain had not left our town untouched, not by a long shot. But it still was Saugus.

  We had, it proved, marshaled the writers and contributors for our community effort… No matter where they were, no matter where this life had taken them, Saugonians moved on. They had gone to Wilsonville, Oregon; Berwick, Maine; Orlando, Florida; small rural corners of New Hampshire and Vermont, cities of New Jersey and New York. We found them, or they found us. And the material came on.

  There is a postscript to our first publication: On that September day of 2000, when we got our 2,000 copies from the printer for Founders’ Day release in Saugus Center, on the ninth day of the month, we sold 400 copies of “A Gathering of Memories.” Four months later, doing our own warehousing, packaging and mailing by diverse methods, we paid back the earlier $60,000 loan from Saugus Bank, where we had borrowed it for a book not yet written. And that book went like hotcakes. Every copy was sold, including the last five copies that had been damaged in transport, and 500 more in a second printing. It all leaped upward from Founders’ Day, a most special day in Saugus. Copies went to 47 states, eight countries and three territories. A copy is now in the National Library in Paris, from Founders’ Day in Saugus Center to Paris – a most eventful trip.

  If you’re going to take a trip, that’s not a bad way to go.

  So, a new Saugus book was published, and the 2006 issue of Founders’ Day drew to an end; another day of elaborate sunshine passed on, with the crowd banging shoulders and elbows all day long.

  During the day we told readers of our first book: As one who has read “A Gathering of Memories,” are you among the ranks of those who have hailed it as a richly rewarding experience for the memories it has provided them and the town they love? If so, you will be pleased to know that a sequel to it, “Of Time and the River,” was also published.

  But it is important to emphasize that “Of Time and the River” was not a footnote to “A Gathering of Memories.” Its subject was the same, its purpose was the same, its spirit was the same, but its content came with a totally new offering, with a different cast of people and a different set of events, adding to our storehouse of memories to cherish.

  The warmly revealing accounts of growing up in Saugus, written by scores of Saugonians who love this town, blend beautifully with those Saugus scenes captured by the magical photographs of Jim Harrington and the artistic works of those artists with Saugus roots, including Bill Maloney, whose river painting adorns our book cover. Their works in color in the art sections of this book are dramatic in their impact.

  We also note it is being hailed widely by those who have read it as another rich and fabulous portrait of Saugus in the 20th century, a worthy companion to place next to “A Gathering of Memories” on your bookshelf. Many of them say the new book surpasses the first book… its keen look at all kinds of people is an extension of civil and memorable contributions that have favored Saugus by a host of townspeople of the past century, all the way up through the 2005 date of publication.

  Our editorial spirits were ultimately buoyed when we heard from Bart Ciampa, now of Vancouver, Washington, who told his wife after he read the book, “Oh, my God, they’ve done it again!”

  At the close of Founders’ Day 2006, the co-editor of “A Gathering of Memories” and our new book, “Of Time and the River, Saugus 1900-2005,” John Burns, 63 years in the Saugus High School teaching corps, was named Saugus’s Man of the Year. It was a fitting triumph to another sparkler, this day of days, this celebration of what a community means to itself.

  In the crowd were noted former winners of Men or Women of the Year and former Saugonians moved on. From Florida they had come, from Maine in all corners, from Georgia and New Jersey, from Rhode Island and Kentucky and New Hampshire – from all over – coming to remember and be remembered. Widows and widowers and children and grandchildren and former spouses and ex-officials and friends and teammates and classmates came ahunting in the crowd for old faces, old pals, warm memories. It was illustrious once again.

  At 9 p.m. of Founders’ Day night, as is the case every year, the roads are open again, the debris picked up and carted off, the visitors gone, the quiet middle of Saugus leaning into the next year, looking ahead to the next Founders’ Day. It will be here before we know it, a slam-bang day, an exalting day, a day for all Saugus folks no matter where they are, what pieces of Saugus they have carried off with them.

  Notes pursuant to history, the passing of time, the passage of old faces, need be mentioned, for many written about here and in our books (and who generated much in our books) have moved to other declarations of which we may never hear, but some integral parts of our “books of elder days,” such as John Burns, Robert Wentworth, Neil Howland and many family members, friends, people and characters who have more than dotted our lives, have passed beyond us, leaving memories, pictures, images and a gathering of words that carry their history alongside that of Saugus on the move.

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