Hank Brandli grew up in Roslindale, MA and now lives in Melbourne, Fla. He will be sharing his memories of his hometown with Transcript readers over the next couple of months. He can be reached at Hank@HankBrandli.com
May 23, 2002
His first love? A 1941 Plymouth
BY HANK BRANDLI
Back in the early ‘70s, a popular airline commercial would ask in a blast, " Have you seen the other side of where you live? " In the Parkway, we would answer this question in a loud " Yes, " especially if the family owned a car ... any car.
In the late ‘40s, my father purchased a used 1941 gray, four-door Plymouth. It was our first car and a joy to behold with its black running boards and tires. There were no whitewalls then. I can still smell the distinct, musty interior aroma of that car – definitely not a new car smell.
Of course, in those days, a Plymouth was a Plymouth and a Chevy was a Chevrolet, not yet referred to as a Fury, Belvedere, Belair or Impala.
One of the favorite pastimes as a kid was to sit on the curb with a few friends at the intersection of Washington, Walworth and Beech streets and try to identify the approaching automotive beauties by their hood ornaments.
Who remembers these integral parts of each and every car and truck? The only automobile that still features and emphasizes this ornamental design today is Mercedes-Benz. I guess Washington Street was our own private Autobahn.
Plymouth’s ornament was a metal ship like the Mayflower, Oldsmobile had a triple rocket, Pontiac had an Indian chief (that lighted in the ‘50s), Dodge had a ram and Mack truck had a large bulldog. Cadillac, LaSalle and Ford had winged metal ornaments, some with maidens that changed every year Chevy, I can’t recall.
Many of us could identify the cars of the ‘40s by the engines’ sounds. As I close my eyes, I can still recall my buddy Chuck’s uncle in his Buick Roadmaster coming up Beech Street stopping at Jerry’s Drugstore. Now there was a unique vehicle. This Roadmaster had the wooden country squire trim that was well known with similar metal trim on the famous Ford station wagons.
Of course, our clutch-activated manual shift on the right-hand side of the steering wheel column of a ‘41 Plymouth would be considered a bomb by today’s standards. In the ‘40s, this gray machine was our United Airlines of its day.
One of the exotic places, the family took this four-door sedan was across the state line into Nashua, N.H. There, the families of aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews all met every summer at Benson’s Wild Animal Farm. Watching the huge gorilla, feeding the monkeys. taunting the chimps, taking a ride on an elephant’s back and viewing the whole farm from a miniature train are all fond memories of this faraway recreational paradise.
Then, we all enjoyed a great picnic with food and iced beverages in the huge heavy red metal huge cooler with a Coca-Cola logo before the return journey to Roslindale.
The Franklin Park Zoo was never the same after our automotive venture to this New England Wildlife Farm.
Another respite to the northeast of Boston was Salisbury and Hampton beaches, both out of reach of the MBTA. Memories of a hot, late Sunday afternoon traffic jam make me wonder if these trips weren’t indicative of future traffic congestion. Maine was a little too far north for our exploits then.
The remainder of our auto adventures were confined to the Bay State and consisted of short trips to Lake Pearl, New Pond, Blue Hills with its Houghton Pond, Norumbega amusement park and Nantasket beach and its super amusement park. We didn’t drive to Revere Beach and its famous roller-coaster. I never knew why.
Before we had the car, my dad would go with me and my uncle-uncle Charlie (Charlie was married to my father’s sister, Mildred, who died; he re-married my mother’s sister Mildred; thus, he was twice my uncle) to Nantasket amusement park via the MBTA to Rowes Wharf then a ferry – that’s right, ferry – to the park.
At the park, I ate a lot as Dad and uncle-uncle Charlie drank beer and put me on all the rides: the burlap sack rides down huge wooden chutes, a red mill boat with splash ending, electric bumper cars, the whip, the caterpillar, the merry-go-round. I don’t remember going on their super roller coaster until I was older.
After all the food, fun, rides, excitement – and topped off with cotton candy – I usually threw up.
My mom on hot, humid summer days occasionally schlepped me, my sister and all our sandy beach paraphernalia on the trolley to City Point Beach, which my sister hated because of all the icky flotsam floating on the water. Ironically, after we got the gray Plymouth, we never went to City Point. My little sister, Donnabelle was right on the icky part – out of the mouths of babes.
On many a Sunday afternoon scenic drive, my aunt Mil came along to make a comfortable six passengers. My aunt always provided a moral boost to my parents, when the inevitable car trouble struck. Hot steam from under the hood, along with flat tires, were the main problems we encountered. The delays usually provided a big stretch along with an airing out, in the days before the widely-used aerosol sprays or the ol’ aromatic pine tree hanging from the rearview mirror.
However, one flat tire episode, on Route 9, really caused much consternation when my father found the spare was also flat. I thought we were going to return home on the rim that day.
The ice cream parlors and fried clam shacks were a special part of our itinerary on these Sunday afternoon adventures. The Bubbling Brook and the Neponset Valley Farm in Norwood provided delicious ice cream. Howard Johnson’s as well as Wollaston Beach had the best fried clams with oodles of tartar sauce.
These short trips close to home were off the bus and trolley routes and gave us the feeling of reaching unobtainable destinations where only a car could go.
My Dad and I used the ‘41 Plymouth for fishing trips when he wasn’t working on an extra painting jobs. Drop cloths, stepladders, paint pails and brushes had to be removed to make room for our fishing gear. We dug in the garden with a pitchfork for night crawlers early in the morning, keeping these squirming earthly creatures alive in a can with soil.
Our favorite fishing spots were the popular winding Charles River in Dedham, beyond the end of the MBTA bus line at the end of Center Street. Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain was good even thought it was in full view of Mayor James Michael Curley’s palatial home, as was New Pond in Norwood.
These fishing trips were the most successful taken in the Plymouth. Many a time, Dad would rent a rowboat. At New Pond, we would row a great distance and make our way to an island well away from the swimming beach. If we didn’t find any worms in our garden, there were always some for sale at homes along the pond shore.
We rowed, sat and fished for hours on end, often catching perch, sunfish and bass. Once, my dad caught a large pickerel at a hidden bend in the Charles River near Route 128. Of course, this fish grew longer and bigger each time my father told the tale.
Most of all, we downed the many sandwiches Mom put together at the ungodly hours before the sun came up. Somehow, we never ate any of our catch, but distributed them to our neighbors.
The old Plymouth also took us to the beaches along the South Shore, but never as far as Cape Cod. One summer, my family along with aunt Mil, cousin John and my mother’s friend Irene rented a cottage called Bobolink in Green Harbor for a week. I’ll never forget that week: I was 14 and Irene taught me how to drive the 1941 Plymouth in the vacant land away from the cottage and beach..
My trips to the Cape took place years later, in my friend Chuck’s mother’s cream-colored 1946 Oldsmobile convertible. This beauty had red, leather upholstery and was hydromatic with the rocket ornament on the hood. We were cruising with Elaine and Jannie down Route 28 to Route 6.Wow.
Many vehicles have come and gone in my life, but none will ever be remembered like that ‘41 Plymouth with the Mayflower hood ornament.