Random Thoughts


 ... from Melrose to Malden and back 

Steve Johnson

On March 1, 1943, Albert J. Beshong of Malden Massachusetts, my grandfather, paid $5.00 down to Mr. William J. L. Roop, the president and general manager of Greater Boston Homes, Inc. for the purchase of our house at 55 Gould Street, Melrose, Massachusetts. The full purchase price was $5,000. A mortgage of $4,100 was obtained through the Merchant's Co-operative Bank at 5 1/2 percent interest and the deed was recorded on March 29, 1943.

My grandfather purchased this house for his daughter and grandson, Gladys Louise Johnson and her son Stephen William Johnson. My father, Arthur C. Johnson was overseas with the United States Army and, at the time, divorced from my mother. They would later re-marry upon my dad's return to civilian life. My "single-mom" mother and I moved in during the spring of 1943. This marked our return to Melrose and the beginning of the second chapter of my Melrose odyssey.

The first chapter...

On a deed dated November 11, 1940, the United States Rubber Company conveyed a large tract of land with an easement for a brook running through it to Greater Boston Homes, Inc. The land was bordered on the north by Gould Street, on the east by Pleasant Street and on the west by Washington Street. Pleasant and Washington Streets joined at the south forming a large triangular tract of land.

Just south of the tract was the old "rubber shop" complex, which later was home to the Converse Rubber Company, the National Radio Company and others over the years. To the north, on Gould Street, were four large, two story, four-family buildings originally built to house the rubber company workers. The brook ran next to our property on the west side and often into our cellar. Mr. Roop would first build houses on Gould Street and later develop the major portion of the tract, which was then populated by truck farmer's gardens, into homes on the new Groveland and Blackrock Roads to be built in the mid-1940's.

I was born on March 6, 1937 at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I remember my mother telling me that the window of her hospital room overlooked the banks of the Charles River and the "shell" on the Esplanade. My mother, Gladys Louise Beshong, grew up with her brother, Earl Thayer Beshong, and sister, Marjorie Ethel Beshong, in a modest house at 375 Upham Street in Melrose. Her father, Albert James Beshong, grew up at 487 Swains Pond Avenue in a house built by his father, Benjamin Beshong, around 1880.

My mother's mother was Ethel Reed Thayer, a descendant of a long line of Thayers from the northeast part of Maine around the Lubec and Eastport area. My father, Arthur Carl Johnson, was the youngest of the three children of Fritz and Selma Johnson, who were immigrants from the Stockholm area of Sweden who came to the United States around the turn of the century. They settled originally in Dorchester and later moved to Milton, Massachusetts, where my dad grew up. He was a rising young accountant with the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company in Boston when my mother took a clerical job with that company after her graduation from Melrose High School and Cushing Academy.

They met in the early 1930's and were married in 1935. Their first home was on Lynde Street in Melrose. When I was born, they were living on Batchelder Street and it was here that we think they encountered marital problems and the separation and divorce situation began. During one separation episode, my mother and I moved temporarily into the unused upstairs maid's quarters in my mother's Aunt Gladys and Uncle Earl Thayer's home on 47 Mooreland Road just north of Upham Street near Margaret Hayes's small variety store.

At another point during this time we lived at 29 East Street but the exact dates are not clear. Up until this time I don't recall much of what was going on, but things were about to come into focus for me.

I was three years old in March of 1940 and my dad's Selective Service (Draft) card registration dated October 16, 1940 shows the address of 390 Pleasant Street, Melrose and I clearly remember living in that house. I can recall sitting on the stone wall in front of the house waiting to be picked up by Mr. Blakesley to be driven to Malden to attend Mrs. Blakesley's Nursery School. Dad lived with us then but this is the last I remember of him until he returned from overseas in November of 1945. His military discharge and separation papers show that he was inducted into the service on December 22, 1942 from his parent's home address in Milton, Massachusetts.

Sometime between October of 1940 and December of 1942, he must have moved out. His separation papers show he left the army at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, on November 11, 1945 and returned to our 55 Gould Street address. I guess the war and his absence drew him back to my mother and me. His return to Gould Street, I remember clearly, but those three to four intervening years were a confusing time with lots of moves, living alone with my mother, living with various relatives and the beginnings of my childhood memories.

Sometime in late 1940 or early 1941, we left that house on Pleasant Street and moved into a house at the very top of East Wyoming Avenue. From the rear windows of that house, we could look down on the center of Melrose to the north of us and I particularly remember the bright and beautiful Christmas lights on City Hall; probably my first memories of Christmas. We had a large porch on the side of the house and in the winter I, and some of my neighborhood buddies, would jump off into the snow below.

I also recall becoming interested in music at this time. In the house we had a record player and I can still hear Artie Shaw's hit record of "Frenesi" in my mind. Another memory I have is being walked in my stroller by a high school-aged baby sitter down the East Wyoming Avenue hill to Main Street, turning right and going up to the corner of Grove and Main and into a soda fountain type shop that had a juke box. My babysitter played Gene Autry and The Sons of The Pioneers' "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" on that jukebox and I still remember sitting there amazed at how well those cowboys could sing. That shop, later in the 1940's, became Garvey's and was famous for the first submarine sandwiches in Melrose.

While we were living up on top of East Wyoming Avenue, on February 1, 1941, my mother's little sister, Marjorie Beshong, married Paul Montagne from Saint Albans, Vermont and that would turn out to have a very profound effect on my life, both for the present and in my later years.

From there, we moved in with my mother's brother and his family into a large house on the east end of South High Street with a backyard that sloped very steeply down to the Boston and Maine railroad tracks below. Earl T. (Bud) Beshong, his first wife Yvonne and their two children, my cousins Fredrick and Adrienne, were our hosts. This must have been a short stay because by September of 1941, my mother and I had moved two more times. This time, out of Melrose.

For a very short time I recall a small, second floor apartment on Florence Street in Malden near the Malden train station. My mother's parents lived nearby in the Heatherington Apartments on Summer Street near Mountain Avenue and her Grandaunt Myrtle Knight, had a large, duplex boarding house not far away at 23 and 25 Evelyn Place in Malden. It wasn't long before we were boarders at Grandaunt Myrtie's.

My mother's sister, Aunt Mardie, lived in the Evelyn Place house also, and in September of 1941, her new husband Paul left the army having served only seven months and returned home. With my mother working and trying to keep things together, Aunt Mardie and Uncle Paul became like second parents to me. Paul would put me up on his shoulders and with the record player blaring "Where Do You Work-a John", we would march around the house. My mother's grandfather, Herbert Morris Thayer, by then a widower and known to all as Dada Thayer, also lived there and, as a dapper old gent, he would get all dolled up with white shirt, starched collar and tie, jacket, cap and walking stick and take me for walks to downtown Malden where he would sit me down on a bench outside his favorite pub and have me wait while he went in for a shot and some socializing with his long time friends.

One of my favorite tricks back at the Evelyn Place house, they tell me, was tying his shoelaces together while he was reading the paper. I don't recall his ever falling, so I suspect he knew all along when I was doing it.

On April 19, 1942, Aunt Mardie brought home her first (of six to come) baby, Jeffrey Paul Montagne, my cousin. With my mother and I, Aunt Mardie and Uncle Paul, Cousin Jeff, Dada Thayer, Grandaunt Myrtie and all her paying boarders, it was getting crowded at Evelyn Place.

So this was where mom and I lived from the end of 1941 through 1942 and into early 1943. In March of 1943, my mother's father, Albert J. Beshong from the Heatherington Apartments in Malden gave $5 to Mr. Roop to bind the deal on the house on Gould Street and we were on our way back to Melrose. I was six years old now and ready to start in September of 1943 in the first grade at Lincoln School in Melrose. The "Big School", as I called it.

December 5, 2003

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