by Meg, the Bogwitch from Greene

Odd characters, bygone places, and stealing a cop's hat.


The author at Easter in 1965. "This is 'La Principessa.' That is what my Dad calls me."

Hiya. I am proud to say I am at last becoming an old woman. While sitting out back in the sun the other day, and nodding out a little, I was perusing my life like an old movie, remembering random "clips" from my childhood. I thought I'd share them, and amazingly, the editor of Quahog.org thought the meanderings of a sleepy old woman worth repeating. So, here are a few of my "stories," some funny, some not. Some you can relate to, and some not. These take place in the early 1960s, before someone shot our President in broad daylight, right before our very eyes. Everything changed that day, everything. But, I am an old woman and want to think of happy days. These take place mostly in Cranston, and the border area near the corner of Elmwood and Park Avenues. I moved to Rhode Island when I was eleven from the really small town of North Attleboro, Massachusetts. I was overwhelmed at the thought of moving to Rhode Island, but thankfully, Cranston was then a small town, too, and I found my way. I moved away when I got married at seventeen, and then I lived so many places I never came from anywhere again until I moved here to Greene around 2001. My house, I am proud to say, is NOT visible from Google Earth. I hope these will give you a little laugh in today's world, these memories of an old woman.

The Corner

I remember the guys from South Elmwood in Cranston who used to hang around on "The Corner," an empty lot next to the Elmwood Spa (back when "spa" meant soda fountain and sundries). They would polish their chrome and sing as the radio played something like "The Wanderer" by Dion. Whenever a pretty girl walked by, one of them would follow her and make like Dion. They were the "cool guys" of Cranston, often called "Mondos." All wore tight pants and really pointy-toed black lace-up shoes with Cuban heels or Mondo boots, and slicked-back hair with a James Dean curl in front. Their cars were souped up, and each was a work of art engine-wise. There was usually more chrome under the hood than on the body, and each had a personalized license plate so you knew who was passing you. They worked hard all week long, but on Friday nights they would hang on the Corner and be Rebels Without a Cause. On Saturday nights, you would see them all lined up at the Shipyard Drive-In in their own personal two rows, next to the snack bar door. It was a toss-up whose girl had the highest, or the blackest, or the blondest hair. Woe betide anyone who parked there that was not from South Elmwood. Sundays, you would find them all down at Olivo's Beach. You only went to Scarborough Public Beach if you were not "too cool for school." Most of them were high school graduates, barely. Some from the sports teams, but mostly from shop class. They followed in the footsteps of their fathers and uncles, mostly. Their biggest party times were the Feast and Portuguese Time. The Feast was held at St. Rocco's Hall, and was actually the Feast of St. Rocco. Half of us did not even know who St. Rocco was, but there was cold beer in the "boot" under the top of my boyfriend's convertible. (You would up with the top, fill the boot with ice (there was a convenient drain), add beer, put the top back down and viola—giant cooler). Portuguese Time was another feast we did not know much about, but there was food, fun, and cold beer. Those were the days. Music was free then, all you had to do was open your mouth and let it out.

Hercules

There used to be this guy named Hercules (real name Anthony, but no one called him that). He was a real "strongman" who used to let people run over his foot on Federal Hill for money. He could even lift a big car with one hand, also for money. He was a local folk hero. Among his other amusements he really loved opera, mostly Italian and specifically Pagliacci. He was most known for climbing the water tower near the foot of Neutaconkanut Hill! He would usually climb this tower at some point during a Saturday night, or any night he felt the urge to sing. Once up there he would sing opera for hours. He could be heard almost all the way to the Hill. He would sing until he heard the sirens (meaning the cops were coming), climb down and run. I do not believe they ever caught him once.

[The fame of Anthony "Hercules" Garofalo was spread far and wide when he was profiled in a 1981 A.P. story. It was even picked up by the Weekly World News!—ed.]

Flowerpot

He was a demented old man who wandered the streets around the Elmwood and Park Avenue intersection in Cranston/Providence and surrounding neighborhoods. He was relatively harmless, and was crippled to the point of lurching with crumpled fingers like claws. This made him look sort of comically scary, like a horror movie villain. We were awfully mean to him and shouted things at him, due to the fact that he was reported to come up to cars that were "parking" at Roger Williams Park at night, and claw at the windows and yell at the couple to go home. His real name was Clyde something, and after I heard his sad story I left him alone. It seems his son had died tragically, I do not remember how, more than forty-four years previously. This pushed the poor man over the edge it seems, and he wandered around crazy and homeless and drinking God knows what, sterno probably. He lived over near the railroad tracks, in that area somewhere. He chased people as long as I lived in Cranston and never did get any peace that I know of. He is most assuredly passed away by now, and I hope he died peacefully at last.

The Sunday Walker

I cannot mention this man's name as you would know him instantly. He loved to torment Flowerpot. He would follow him down the street mimicking his walk and all of his strangeness, playing to a screaming, laughing crowd of his buddies. One day, Flowerpot turned around and caught him at it. He got really angry and started chasing "Sunday" in a rage, yelling and throwing things from his pockets. "Sunday" looked over his shoulder and saw how Flowerpot was running and did it the same way. I spit up my Coke. Hey, I was thirteen.

Alice Blue Gown

I called her that. I do not know what other people called her, but if you hung around "downcity" in the 1960s, you must have seen her. She was barefoot, even in the cold, and wore a disheveled, dirty, old ball gown that used to be blue. She was like a ghost to me at thirteen because I never really "saw" her. That is to say, I was always in a car and would glimpse her flitting about in the trash cans down some side alley as we whizzed by merrily. I saw her a lot walking down Weybossett Street, possibly begging from the crowds of theater goers and such. I saw her only like this (even though we once looked all night on foot for her), for at least a decade, always in her blue gown. Then she was just... gone.

Jesus

Real name Frank. I would tend to say almost everyone my age from the Cranston, Warwick, and Providence area knows of him. If you went anywhere near Roger Williams Park Music Temple during the 1960s you would have seen and heard him. He was more than a character. Rumor had it he would pull the crazy act to get money, girls, sex, dope, booze, a ride, whatever he needed. "Jesus needs five dollars. Jesus needs a joint. Jesus needs a woman. Jesus needs a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke." He supposedly started it to get out of being drafted, and continued it to stay out. But I think he got a charge out of his act. He would always give his real name, lucid as pie, when asked by the police, but when one of the guys said to prove he was Jesus by jumping off the roof of the Music Temple, he did it and broke both legs and arms, so go figure. Crazy or not, who knows?

Coach Stebbins

Anyone who played sports during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s knows him. He was coach, mentor, and guardian angel to every kid who played sports in Cranston. "Coach" Stebbins was more what you would remember; he would eagle eye everyone at the Cranston Pool from his little shed near the high dive. One summer, my mother was a lifeguard there and I got to know him really well. He was such a teddy bear at heart, but all you got to see was his Spencer Tracy impression most of the time. While he was coach, Cranston East NEVER lost... at anything. Well, maybe I remember it my way, yes? Thanks Coach, I miss you most from school.

The Park Spa

This was a narrow, cool-looking soda and sundries shop across from the Hugh B. Bain annex of Cranston High School East, right in the Park Theater building. You had to go to high school to hang out there, and it was not encouraged as it was really tiny. Quite a few of the events of my teenage years happened right there, sitting after school with Fran, who turned out to be my best friend, both enjoying a Dr. Pepper. This was a new drink to us kids, as Coke was the "in" drink. Fran had a sort of thing, she would never finish a soda, unlike me who got every drop. The day I quit school because the teachers were not cool enough for me, I celebrated there. The second time I quit high school, ditto. This time, however, I met the father of my child and first husband. He had just gotten out of the Navy, and I had just gotten out of school... for good this time. It was also my sixteenth birthday, as I had to be to quit. I did so on the very day George gave me a birthday kiss, and as he did, the steam radiator whistled. I made a casual remark about "stories to tell our grandchildren." A year later, we were married with a daughter.

Big Al

There is so much to be said about Big Al, a whole article should be written. He was an icon of music. His first shop near the old Civic Center was almost a block large. There was so much music in there of all kinds, you could stay there for hours. It was like the Library of Sound. Later, when he moved to the teeny shop next to Mr. Peanut in an alley across from the old Outlet Company, the music was still available, only he had gone into mail order by then—a pioneer. He was a good friend for a long time. After I got married, though, I had to give up my male pals, as it was not socially acceptable in those times.

Joe Thomas

He was the "top jock" at WPRO AM radio in the evenings. The "station that reaches the beaches." If you wanted to hear what was the best, you would listen to him. Joe was a real live wire. Everywhere he went he got noticed, and not just for his fame, just for being himself. I never saw him angry or down or mean, not to his fans, ever. If he was mean, I did not get to see it. He was the defining public figure of my teenage years. Music is and was everything to me. Joe was the reigning God of Music. I hope he is still playing it somewhere.

Mr. Ladd

Ladd's Music: every person in the state of a certain age knows who and where. He taught me everything I know about music. I used to save my lunch money (thirty-five cents a day) until I had a dollar to buy a 45rpm record when his store was across from the High School, next to the Park Spa. I needed music more than food, and still do. Mr. Ladd was a patient, caring man, who would answer endless questions and let you play and hear even if you did not buy anything. Once he heard what I was doing, he let me work a little for my records. He moved over to a huge store near the airport and then I lost track of what he was doing as I moved away from Rhode Island. When I came back, Ladd's Music was still there, but he was gone. It was run by some young guys who had no clue as to what they had inherited. Now it is just gone.

Seymour Ladd. Image Source: www.jvhri.org.

Stealing My Dad's Car

Oh sure, ho hum. But read "Everyone Knows My Dad" (below) and see what a feat it was to get away with. I knew where the hide-a-key was and how to drive, so off we went. To Oakland Beach, Rocky Point, cruising for guys, whatever. Anywhere my dad did not know anyone, and this was not so easy. I would park it exactly to the piece of sand in the street where it had been, gas back in and everything. We did it for about a year, thinking how very, very cool we were. One day, I came out of my girlfriend's house, and the car was G O N E !! OMG! I went a little crazy trying to think what to do. My friend said, "Just go home and play dumb. They will call the cops and you can go, 'I don't know'" So I did. Only BOTH my parents were waiting for me after I walked the seven miles home. Apparently, someone my Dad knew called him and said his car was out in the street in a bad neighborhood (South Elmwood) and he got my Mom to pick him up from work downcity, and they went and got it. I was so grounded, for a year, until I got my license.

Everyone Knows My Dad

Well, it sure did seem that way, everywhere I went with my friends, or boyfriends. Seriously. I would go to the Shipyard Drive-In in a car full of kids, be squeezed into the back seat, and the ticket booth person would lean out and evil eye the whole car while pointedly saying "Well, hello, Miss Meg, say hi to your dad for me." Agggh! We go to the snack bar, half the people in there do the same thing. Like a Zombie movie. I did not get a lot of dates. I go to a roller rink I'm forbidden to go to, half an hour later, there is my Dad, who drags me out, grounded again. We tell the parents we are going to Roger Williams Park to take pictures. As soon as they drive away, we run for the boyfriends' cars and off to Oakland Beach to a "party house." Halfway there someone goes, "Are those YOUR parents behind us?" OMG, yes they are. Pulled over by a Studebaker, dragged out and dragged home, grounded again. Finally, they solved the problem by sending me off to Bible camp every summer. Guess God knows my dad too.

Stealing A Cop's Hat Out of the Old Cranston Police Station and Horrifying Even the Bad Boys

Well, at sixteen, my bad-girl reputation in ruins thanks to Bible camp, I had to do something. We used to ride around endlessly back then, gas being about twenty-five cents a gallon, and drink Cokes, and the guys beer. Naturally one had to answer the "call of nature." The safest place to do that for a girl was the old Cranston Police Station. It had a restroom right inside the door away from the front desk. This made it perfect. I had been teased unmercifully about my "halo" for long enough to get mad about it. So one night as I was leaving the Police Station, there was this hat, just sitting there. I have no idea how or why a policeman would leave his hat lying around, but there it was. So I snatched it. I do not know why, don't ask; I guess I had to toss that halo off somehow, so I did it. Boy, the guys went berserk. I had out-badded every one of them I think, especially since I was a mere GIRL. I wanted to keep it and leave it where my Dad could find it, but the guys tossed it right out the window. To the officer whose hat I took, I now apologize, fifty years later, as I believe the statute of limitations on cop hat stealing is up.

Billy's Diner

Okay, let me say I was never there, okay dad? But if I had been there, here is what I would have seen: The coolest place around. Billy's is still there, in Providence, on Elmwood Avenue, near the closed entrance bridge to Roger Williams Park, almost under the overpass, but Billy is gone. Billy was a highly excitable Greek guy who frequently was observed chasing one of the "cool guys" out of the place with a huge carving implement. It was almost a ritual. See, Billy's was a long, narrow building with two doors, one at each end. This architecture made it impossible for the guys to resist riding their motorcycles in one door, through the restaurant and out the other. Accomplices were needed to hold both doors open and the slowest runner of these was the one Billy would take after. I think it happened at least once a night on the weekends. I learned to swear, spit, smoke, drink, and ride motorcycles as a passenger right in Billy's parking lot (where I NEVER was, Dad). I learned to ride the hard way, too, no frills. I got on the back, guy did a wheelstand and off I went. Guy said, "Lesson one, hang on." I got my first lesson in ladylike language from my "brother" right there. I was swearing up a storm, making sailors blush. All of a sudden, I got grabbed, tipped upside down, and put face first into a garbage can. I was informed by said "brother" that a "mouth like that belongs in the garbage." I loved Billy's and all the "Fonzis" that hung out there. It was the only place my Dad could not find me. None of those guys knew or cared a fig about my Dad. But since I was never there, that is strictly conjecture.

Teacher Smokes Pot With Students

I was fifteen, I think, before I quit high school the first time; before John Kennedy was killed. There was this really cool teacher, I forget her name, and wouldn't say it if I knew, anyway. She was loved by everyone, and was so happy and nice all the time. Later I found out why. It was sheer grapevine gossip of course. It was politically and socially unacceptable to air the small town's dirty linen, and Cranston was just small town then. There were no exposés, just gossip, which usually did the trick of running the subject right out of town, no rail necessary. Isn't it amazing how much things can change? Less than ten years later, hippies were everywhere, Woodstock was history, and almost everyone "cool" had at least tried pot, at least once (even if they "did not inhale"). This is a notable story only because of the time frame. Now it might be a footnote on page twenty-three, supplanted by headlines about teachers having babies by their thirteen-year-old male students and such. She was possibly the first hippie. Back then, there were only beatniks, and none of us even knew what pot was. I mean, not really. I suppose some kids knew, but not most of us. We drank beer and that was all. Any other high was relegated to seedy musicians in seedy dives. So when this teacher was fired and fried, I did not even know what they were talking about. Music changed forever then, too.

Shooting the Bus Tunnel

(Dad, I swear to God, I NEVER, EVER did this). It was a fairly common practice among certain teenage thrill seekers in Rhode Island to try the test of macho supremacy known as "shooting the bus tunnel." This is not only illegal but surely stupid and maybe suicidal, but some did it. I never did this, and I mean it. This was too radical even for me, La Principessa. The bus tunnel I refer to is the one that goes from the base of College Hill to the top, coming out on Thayer Street. The idea was to enter the narrow, one-way tunnel when the lights were green, as this meant, hopefully, that nothing was coming down. This was so scary and dangerous, there is not a thrill ride today to compare. Now, if you made it, and you really wanted to impress, you made a U-turn and raced back down. Now the trick was, the lights only turned for buses, not for cars. I guess the driver had a remote, or there was a sensor, so you really had no way of knowing if a bus had entered the tunnel after you started. This is the singular reason La Principessa never indulged in said thrill. I like to actually get away with my pranks, and the odds on this one are not in one's favor. Not to mention what happened if someone called the police. The Providence Police were not at all politically correct back then, and they did not have to be nice to women either, so I stayed out of their reach at all times. Besides, half of them knew my dad and I'd rather be in jail in a foreign country than have to look at "The Face." The Face is something no one I know survives, not even my mother. To anyone out there who ever shot the bus tunnel, you're a nut... and I probably cheered you on!

—The Bogwitch from Greene, Meg

Meg teaches ethnic dance and drum, tells fortunes, and has four huge dogs, a chihuahua, four cats, a boa constrictor, a Wookie (aka a husband), and way too many ducks. At sixty, she does not feel the need to validate herself, as she considers that having reached sixty is validation enough. She may be found on YouTube, annoying people with her videos.

This article last edited February 12, 2016

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