3.26.2006

Interview with the Barber

Today was my late winter haircut with George, the old-time barber down at Trundle's. Talk about Newton's school woes was bouncing around the shop, and then the discussion turned to Waltham schools.

"My kids don't have to deal with this," I told George. "They're going to Whittemore."

"Whittemore!" he said with a chuckle. "I went there the first year it was opened!"

I was honestly surprised. You hear about the rebuilding plans, and the architects talking about how the school's exterior will be preserved, and here I am, talking with someone who remembers when that exterior was brand new!

He told me he had gone there for sixth grade, after attending the South Elementary School (or something like that, it had "South" in the name) which used to stand on High Street, where the Lowell Street playground is located now. That school was old, in poor condition, and the kids were glad to get into the new school, even if it was only for a short time, as in George's case.

"It had lots of rooms, a big playground out back. Sure, we liked it."

I knew that Whittemore had been built in the 20s, so I asked George about the Depression. What was it like for Waltham?

"Raytheon and the Watch Factory kept people working."

"So it wasn't bad?"

"People had work."

"What about the other mills, along the river? Like the one that was here." I was talking about the River Street Plaza, where Shaws and Trundles are now.

"That's going way back. That was the Bleachery and Dye works. That's what they called this area, the Bleachery."

"You kids ever go swimming in the river?"

"Sure. In those days, no one had bathrooms or showers, so you went swimming in the river."

"What about the pollution?"

"We weren't supposed to, but we did anyways. That was in the summer. Otherwise, you had a bath in a big metal tub in the kitchen. Or you showered at school."

We talked about a few more things -- he remembered when horse carts were still on the streets, and the days when Model As and Ts were common sights. His first car? An old Dodge.

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