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    Friday, August 12, 2022

    The Goold Old Days: Another sizzling summer to savor

    At the end of June 1968, I bid a fond farewell to the Norwich Free Academy for the summer. I had just finished my freshman year, and freedom and adventure loomed ahead. There is something magical about being a teenager and looking forward to the days ahead. Looking back, the days appeared longer, the nights less dark, brightened by billions of stars, and the smallest of adventures grand. I remember being present at every moment. There was no looking back or searching ahead. We only needed the air to breathe, the wind to carry our dreams, and plenty of cool oceans and ponds to swim on a hot summer day.

    It was during the 1960s, and downtown Norwich would one day be referred to as the golden years. It was the best place for a teenager to spend the day.

    Once a busy venue, the city had the best variety of stores and restaurants, attracting droves of people. During Christmas and holidays, the stores stayed open on Thursday nights. I can still visualize the happy families holding shopping bags and listening to music as they shopped.

    A typical summer day in the life of a teenager usually involved a visit to F.W. Woolworth. My childhood friend Lillian worked behind the lunch counter and made the very best strawberry shortcake with whipped cream piled high.

    In the back of the store was the pet department. Tiny turtles were sold and brought home in a plastic bowl with a fake palm tree in the middle. To the disappointment of many children, the sale of the baby turtles abruptly stopped. Of course, this happened after it was learned that salmonella bacteria could be carried on their outer skin and shell surface.

    So, Tootie the Turtle became a distant memory.

    The next stop was Gaffney’s record store. Gaffney’s had a soundproof booth where you could listen to a record before buying it.

    Afterwards, I would meet friends at the Beverly Tea Room. We would sit in a cracked red-leather booth and drink cherry cokes, root beer floats and specialty sodas made with delicious ingredients.

    We would put a coin in the jukebox and listen to three songs. The long lunch counter was always crowded with men sitting on stools bantering about politics, taxes and the news of the day.

    Sometimes we would shop at Reid and Hughes. The clothes were of high quality, and anyone who shopped there knew it.

    There was an elevator in the store that my friends and I would take advantage of by riding up and down for fun, until we were caught and politely asked to leave by a proper-looking gentleman wearing a bowtie and colorful plaid suit.

    After my friends and I left, I found my way to the Disco Building to visit my grandfather Nunzio Falcone. After his retirement, Nonno decided to take a job as an elevator operator in the building.

    Nonno was an old-time Calabrian who used to joke about the required hat and uniform he had to wear, calling it a high-class “monkey suit.” It was not long before Nunzio Falcone became well known. Not for being an elevator operator, but for listening to people and giving them wise advice. Instead of taking the stairs, many people rode the elevator just to talk with my grandfather, who made a host of new friends.

    Another relative was also in the Disco Building. She was on the fourth floor and the sole proprietor of Angie’s Beauty Salon. When you walked into her salon, the smell of cigarette smoke and ammonia would be the first to greet you and linger all day in your throat.

    A day in Norwich did not go without visiting Uncle Charles Gencarelli in the Marguerite Building. Uncle Charlie was known throughout as the finest tailor in Norwich.

    His tiny shop had an enormous black and gold Singer Sewing Machine in the middle of the room. It was exquisite with swirled embossed gold and painted glossy black. My uncle appreciated the importance of this machine and fondly called it “Mio Amico.”

    Saturdays in Norwich were the best of times. There were many activities to choose from. Norwich had two theaters. The Midtown offered one movie, and the Palace Twin offered two. They had matinees where you could see a movie for one dollar.

    Future eras will find this next part disturbing, but there was a smoking room in the Palace Twin for anyone who wished to smoke. A speaker was installed so you could smoke and listen to the movie. Besides the movie theater, the Palace Twin had other rooms and a grand staircase leading up to a magnificent ballroom with sparkling chandeliers. Today, this grand building exists only in the memory of those who remember.

    On Saturday, the town of Norwich offered a bus teenagers could take to Ocean Beach Park for the day. Early in the morning, the bus would park in front of the Beverly Tea Room and charge five dollars to bring people to Ocean Beach and return by 7 o’clock in the evening. It was wonderful spending the day in the ocean, swimming out to the raft and enjoying the arcade filled with games. Hot dogs and candy cotton made a perfect lunch.

    By the pavilion, where the American Thermos Bottle Company would have its annual picnic, was a small body of water that we would cross to reach a small rocky mountain. This led to the highest peak in the park.

    From there, we could see great distances where ferries, boats and swimmers enjoyed a summer day. Sometimes our parents would meet us and wait until dark to see the fireworks. Other nights we sat on folding chairs and listened to the band while enjoying the sea breeze and soothing sound of waves rushing to shore.

    One must never underestimate the power of the ocean. I remember once being on the raft far from shore, when there was a shark sighting. Swimmers were told to stay out of the water until it was safe. We were not frightened.

    We knew this only added to the excitement of the story we would one day tell our children.

    Out of all my summer memories in Norwich, most of all, I adored the time spent with my mother sitting by the Shetucket River on a bench overlooking the water. My mother would tell me my history and how I was connected to Norwich and the river.

    “Your grandparents, Nonno and Nonna, came here from Calabria, Italy. They raised a family on Talman Street. Your father and two brothers would swim in this water. They all worked at the Thermos Company.

    “Your grandfather drove one of the first trolley cars; that’s how far back our family goes. Remember Connie Mary, if you can remember where you have been, you will know where you are going.”

    Have a happy, safe summer!

    Concetta Falcone-Codding is the author of “The Lonely Nest.” To contact: sarah_falcone@yahoo.com.

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