The Soapbox: My life growing up in Manchester

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s Your Turn.

“This isn’t the same town I grew up in!” I hear that said over and over again, and this is from people a lot younger than I. Well, I’ll tell you how it was before you all were around. I was born in 1950. We lived on Grove Street. That was the Greek section of town, Auburn Street, Cedar Street, Spruce Street, etc. My mom told me how no one locked their doors around there, how the kids went from house to house, how it was one big family. My grandparents had a grocery store as did many Greeks, and they lived in an apartment above the store. My grandfather had this great idea that he would get a goat and slaughter it for Easter dinner.  The goat lived with the family and, of course, became part of the family. The kids fed him and took him out for walks and he became the neighborhood celebrity. When Easter came Grandpa took the goat and had it slaughtered. At the big dinner the kids cried because he had killed their pet, so no one would eat.  Well, my grandfather decided to set the example and he grabbed a handful of goat meat to eat, but the kids went nuts, crying and screaming until he took the tray of meat and had to throw it away. So much for that bright idea. 

In 1954 my parents built a house on Dave Street, near the Veteran’s Hospital. That was the boondocks then. Dave Street was a dead-end street at that time, and we played ball in the street till it got dark. Our neighbor had a Great Dane named Duchess, and she would lie in the road under the big oak tree. Everyone knew they had to drive around Duchess. Poor Duchess wouldn’t last five minutes today.  It was a Leave It to Beaver type of life. Smyth Road School had just been built and we would walk to school every morning, cutting through what is now McIntyre Ski Area. There were no middle schools then so we went there from kindergarten through 8th grade. 

The old Amoskeag bridge was a metal bridge with a metal grate you could see through and the car tires would hum as we went across. My dad dared me to hold my breath all the way across the bridge and, of course, he would go real slow so I couldn’t do it. On the other side was the A&W Root Beer stand with the waitresses on roller skates bringing the tray to hang on your driver’s door window.  Spruce Street and Cedar Street used to go all the way down to Elm Street then and we used to go to the Macedonia Restaurant for Greek food. Then around 1960 Zayre’s Department  Store was built, which took up several blocks there. Zayre’s was the Walmart of Manchester before there was Walmart. It’s now the site of the SNHU Arena. 

I remember when President Kennedy gave a speech at Victory Park across from the library. It was really cold out and my dad pointed out that Kennedy never wore a hat. It’s funny how you remember certain things. During the cold war between the U.S. and Russia, we had to get under our desks in school and cover-up in case of a nuclear attack, like that would help. JFK made us proud of our country. He said,” Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We were all proud of our country then. Then we had the race into space with the Russians. Alan B. Shepard was the first man in space. He was from Derry NH and Derry became known as ‘Spacetown USA’.

Then one day in November our 7th grade teacher brought the TV into our classroom and our world fell apart. Our beloved President Kennedy was assassinated. People cried in the street in disbelief. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president on Air Force One as Jackie Kennedy accompanied him, her clothes covered in blood. A panel subsequently came to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone killer, but to this day that is still in dispute. We see photos of and remember a forever young President Kennedy. Hard to believe he would be 110 yrs old now. I believe that this was the beginning of our mistrust of our government. The Vietnam War followed, with President Johnson ramping it up, and further dividing the country. Billy Joy, from Smyth Road School, used to give us rides around the school on his Vespa motor scooter for a nickel. He went to Vietnam and was killed. 

I remember watching TV with my Mom in the early ‘60s. We watched in horror as Black people in the South were beaten by police and attacked by the police dogs. High-pressure water hoses knocked them off their feet. I remember asking my mom what was wrong with people down there to do that to other people. She didn’t have an answer. TV exposed to the world what the South managed to keep from us for a long time, and the civil rights movement was now front and center.

My Mom and Aunt took my cousin and I to the New York World’s Fair in 1964. We flew out of the original airport (now a flight museum) at Grenier Field on Northeast Airlines on a propeller plane. I remember the coin-operated machine that would sell life insurance. Mom kept feeding it coins, and when I asked her why, she said that if the plane crashed and we got killed that Dad would be rich. Cool!  Somehow I got a seat next to the engine and was sick the whole flight. Thank God for barf bags!

Lakeside Lanes opened at the Massabesic traffic circle and candlepin bowling ruled the world.  We watched the Beatles there on TV as they came to America. Beatle wigs were everywhere in Manchester. Dad would take me to the semi-pro hockey games to see the Manchester Blackhawks play at the JFK Colosseum. The place would always be packed.  Another big deal was the Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament when it was at the National Guard Armory on Canal Street.  Bobby Rivard was our local boxing hero, as he beat our arch-enemy boxers from Lowell. Bobby later became a local politician and has since passed. RIP Bobby.  Yeah, Manchester was a great sports town then. 

As 1965 rolled around it was time to move on and go to Central High School. I’ll leave that for another day.

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About this Author


William Stergios

William Stergios grew up in Manchester and lives in Candia.