Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lawrence – My Hometown


By Richard E. Noble

This is one story from my book "Just Hangin' Out, Ma." Click on the link at the right of this page for more information or to purchase a copy. This book is also listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Lawrence had a wealth of churches – some really beautiful churches too. I remember how shocked I was when I learned that the Immaculate Conception Church had been torn down. Some very famous people had been married in that church – my buddy Jack Greco for example. I was his best man. That alone should have been reason enough for preservation. I didn’t think that it was allowed to destroy a church – especially a Catholic church – and a Catholic church in Lawrence. Where is that pope when you really need him!

Lawrence had its eateries, diners, bakeries and mills. But the one thing that may have outnumbered all of these landmarks was barrooms. Barrooms, taverns, and nightclubs were everywhere.

I worked at S. H. Brennan Meat Packing on Broadway. It was a door or two down from Essex St.

Speaking of Essex and Broadway, what happened to the post office? Man if that building had been down here in the South it would be a shrine. They save any building that was built before 1860 down here. I told the mayor here in Bumkinville that my whole hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts was built before 1860. He wanted to know why, if I liked that town so much, I ever left. The mayor is, of course, a local redneck who has a bumper sticker that reads: We don’t give a damn how you did it up North.

I remember parking my truck at the dealership across from Brennan’s. Some days I would work from 5 or 6 in the morning until 8 or 9 at night. It would be too late to go home and change clothes and catch one of my buddies for a night out on the town. So I would just walk home.

One night instead of just passing by all the bars on my way up Broadway, I decided to try an experiment. I would have one beer in every bar I passed on the way home. A beer was a dime in those days.

First I went around the corner to Al’s Tavern and then into Tubby Clark's for a quickie and fortify myself for the challenge. I don’t think I got four doors up Broadway before I hit another joint. It was an Irish place – O’Toole’s or some such thing.

There were more barrooms on Broadway than I had estimated. I can’t give you all the names but there were a few builder and trade clubs and a plethora of other significant “craft” type joints. There was a place called the Flamingo. There was also a place with a piano bar. There was an entertainer there who was a one man phenomenon. I forget his name. He played all the instruments and pre-recorded himself. He had a stage full of type recorders and such. This was prior to the electronic boom and karaoke. It was something to just watch this guy co-ordinate all his tape recorders. He sang but didn’t dance. He was good. Definitely worth a dime.
I think I ended up at Cain and Bernard’s ‘round midnight.

By the time I left Cain and Bernard’s and took a right onto Arlington St, I was singing at the top of my lungs such old favorites as: Jingle Bells, Did Your Mother Come from Ireland, I’m Looking over a Four Leaf Clover and A Little Bit of Heaven. You remember A Little Bit of Heaven – So they sprinkled it with stardust just to make the shamrocks grow.

On another occasion, I decided that Broadway was too dangerous for my one beer scientific experiment. I tried instead going up Essex St. to Lawrence St. and then through to Chelmsford.

That route was not much better. I bumped into Jimmy Sheehy on that occasion. I told him about my experiment and he liked the idea and joined me. As I remember we ended up sleeping in a parked car. He had the front seat and I took the back. When the owner of the car woke us in the morning we accused him of kidnapping us. We immediately checked our wallets and demanded that he return our money. He didn’t call the police. So I guess our tactic worked.

The Tally-ho, the Bamboo Room, the Merry Mac Club, the Polish National, the Irish Social, the English Social, the Capri, the Chez–When, there were a million places to drink, party and play games. At places like Cain and Bernard’s or the builders and trades it was genealogy. Somebody would ask your name and off they went. “Are you any relation to the Noble girl who married Billy Callahan? Did your father marry a Dougherty? In some of these bars the regulars knew more about you and your family than you did.

Shuffleboard and darts were big in those days. The bars sponsored “intramural” bar tournaments. Naturally we played for beers – another good excuse for getting sloshed.

The Tally-ho was the starting line for many of us each evening. After about four hours of warming up at the Tally-ho and who knows how many beers, it was off to the Merry Mac Club for the talent show, or to the Chez or the English Social for the strip show. The night would start at 6 and it wouldn’t end until 1 or 2 in the morning.

In the morning I would be up at 5 a.m. and hiking down to Brennan’s to unload a few sides of beef. My god! I don’t know how I did it. If bar hopping was an Olympic game, I think I could have won at least a silver medal. I would go for the gold but there were just too many extremely talented, professional drinkers in Lawrence for me to even fantasize about such a victory.

About 20 years ago I went back to Lawrence for a “Corner Reunion.” After an outing at the park a bunch of the old gang ended up at Jack Sheehy’s Pizza Pub on Lawrence St. There were ten or fifteen of us sitting along one wall reminiscing. A round of drinks consisted of 10 orange juice, 2 cranberry cocktails, and four Virgin Mary’s. Most of the old gang were active members of AA – that’s not the automobile club, that’s the AAA.

Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published 9 books.

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