My childhood home
The first time I read about “The Berkshires” as a vacation spot, I was sitting in a doctor’s office in Southern California flipping through a magazine. Surprised at the familiar pictures, it was the first place I had ever known. It’s where I went to school K-12, where the neighborhood kids were my friends, and my summers were spent hanging out down the street at Coolidge Park.
Growing up in Pittsfield, the hub of the Berkshires, my world consisted of a handful of connected streets that led to and from schools, Melleca’s Package Store, St. Mark’s Catholic Church and North Street, the center of our city. While the main employer then was General Electric, mom and pop shops were literally everywhere. The pride people took in their work was reflected in their company names. Even my dad had his own business. He and my uncle owned D & S Builders, D for Donald and S for Stanley.
Like other cities, we had a town square. Ours was actually a grassy circle with elm trees called Park Square. Surrounding this center was The Berkshire Anthenaeum, the Berkshire County Courthouse, City Savings Bank and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. An old-fashioned shiny red popcorn wagon was parked outside the bank on the corner of West and North Streets. During warm months people lined up to buy the freshly popped kernels.
Thursday nights brought kids, adults and families on foot and in cars to North Street where all the stores stayed open late, until 9 pm. The only busier days along this main drag were Saturdays when people shopped at England Brothers Department Store and McCann’s Shoes, which is still in business there today. The Capitol and Palace were our local movie theaters. I remember seeing “Jaws” at the Palace while peeking through my hands that were covering my eyes.
Pittsfield was also a place where there wasn’t six degrees of separation, more like two. You just had to mention your last name and whoever you were talking to knew someone in your family or knew someone who knew someone in your family. The familiarity was nice, until you were in trouble. Then, you could be assured that your teacher, a neighbor or whoever you offended had already talked to your parents long before you tried to sneak in the back door and come up with a good reason for why you did what you did. And there was never a good reason.
While living in a small town could feel suffocating, I never heard anyone talk about leaving. Families there go back generations. Our neighbors often had their own parents living with them or close by. My mom’s family grew up a mile from my childhood home and my dad’s parents raised all twelve of their children right next door!
As a teenager, I referred to Pittsfield, as “The Pits”. It could’ve been that I was restless and bored, or just familiar with my surroundings, too familiar. Maybe I felt it was the pits because I had validation that more lay beyond the borders of Western Massachusetts. Something new, something more exciting. By then, I had memorized the capitals of all 50 states, had written reports on my family tree, sang along with British groups like the Beatles and marveled at the scenery in movies like “The Sound of Music”. I was aware, that there was more “out there”.