Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Random Musings from My Past

I miss Brighams.

Most of you will have no idea what I'm talking about; unless you grew up in Boston, or lived there for an length of time anyway.

Brigham's was (maybe still is, I dunno... lessee... ayup, still is but they got bought out by Hood... as in the makers of Hoodsies) a small local ice cream maker, and ice cream and diner food restaurant chain in New England. They've been around roughly forever... forever being 1914.

There's a very similar, but much bigger, regional chain called Friendly's (based out of Wilbraham I think? supposedly where H.P Lovecraft based Dunwhich on); which is great, but not as good as Brigham's. Of course, there are 500 Friendlys and only 25 Brighams, so maybe the world disagrees with me.

Brigham's is where I got my very first ice cream; or at least the first one that I remember, and almost certainly my first real sundae. There was one just about a mile and a half from my grandparents house, and about three quarters of a mile from where I mostly grew up (I moved around a lot, but ended up coming back to the same place four times).

It's where I had my first out of the house birthday party. It's where I had my first date. It's where I celebrated my first kiss.

For a while, my mother delivered newspapers. My brother and I would deliver them with her, early mornings starting around 4:30 and finishing up around 7. On Saturdays, when we were done, she would sometimes take us to Brighams for breakfast.

Actually, Brigham's is where I had my very first cup of coffee. My mother hated the stuff (still does), and we never had it in the house; but it came with breakfast for free. She let me try it thinking I was going to hate it, and I've loved it ever since.

The house I mostly lived in growing up, the trolley went right by the end of my street, and I could hop it for a quarter (or most often for free. Eventually they stopped trying to collect fares) and be dropped off just over the river and railroad tracks, and walk a couple hundred yards into the ghetto (yes, I was literally on "the right side of the tracks", and the stores were on "the wrong side of the tracks") to go get an ice cream, or a really good burger.

For years, Brighams were owned by Star Market, so they would co-locate them in a lot of places. Star Market mostly had locations in bad neighborhoods, so Brigham's were mostly located in bad neighborhoods... and the complete opposite, shopping malls...

The nearest Friendlys was like 7 miles away, in Randolph; and while there was a bus that went by it, it wasn't exactly convenient. Plus it was more expensive, and I liked Brighams more.

Brigham's is also where I bought my first ice cream on my own.

At the time, we were actually living IN Mattapan, in a three decker on Groveland st. owned by a family friend, and living on welfare and food stamps(I recently found my mothers old welfare ID card actually, in a box of old photos). The Brighams was just around the corner... maybe 1/4 mile away, on River street.

As it happened, my younger brother and I were the only white kids in the neighborhood (a couple funny stories about that I may tell some other time). We sometimes got into a bit of trouble; but not too much.

I was only 7, and my brother 5; and some of the slightly older black kids gave us a hard time (we certainly couldn't take our bikes out with an adult there or they'd have been stolen immediately. It happened twice to my brother anyway) ; but even at 7 I was already bigger than most other kids, and I'd already been into jujitsu for two years (yes, I really was 5 when I started).

So my mother... I believe I've mentioned before that she wasn't exactly the greatest mom? Well, she was... let's just say very herbally mellow... and my brother really started whining about having an ice cream. So she gave us $2.10 and told me to walk my brother over to Brighams and get us both ice creams (medium cones were $1 at the time, plus %5 Massachusetts sales tax).

Here's me, this oversized 7 year old, walking through the ghetto, with my undersized 5 year old brother, just sauntering down to get us ice cream.

Predictably, we got surrounded by a couple of older black kids (by older I mean like 10-12, maybe 4 or 5 of them, I don't really remember exactly) on stolen bikes (they always seemed to steal girls bikes for some reason.. probably their older brothers stole them and kept the good boys bikes and gave the girls bikes to their little brothers...) and they started hassling us for the money.

My brother started crying, scared they were going to beat us up. Well, I wasn't having any of that.

I grabbed the bike of the one with the biggest mouth and jereked it right out from under him, then I pushed the one next to him down on top. Another one tried to punch me but I hit him hard in the face. They all started blubbering, and ran off.

So there we were, strutting down the road, kings of the block; and we got our ice cream dammit. First time I ever went to the store by myself.

'course, those kids older brothers (13-14) came by later, and could have hurt me bad; but when they saw I was only 7 they laughed at their little brothers.

They did have the smallest of the older kids bloody my face up, but I punched him in the stomach a few times, and he went down. Tore my shirt though.

Mostly they didn't bother me much after that, though they did steal my brothers bike twice. Once I got it back by beating up the kid who stole it, once we never did find it.

But we damn well got those ice creams. They were good too.

Man, I miss Brigham's.

(yeah yeah... I get the similarity. It wasn't particularly intentional, though I have certainly read it. Not exactly madeleines... but then again I LIKE ice cream cones, and I'm not a big fan of madeleines)