When I was a bored teenager hanging out with my Liberty Street gang at Anna Tully’s store, none of us looked at a clock or a wristwatch. Time didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter if the sun went down. We didn’t notice the moon. A day without school was a day filled with endless hours to stay busy. There was no boredom.
We made baseballs from old socks, sewed tightly with tissue paper inside and called them stocking balls. They were great for baseball games in confined places with no fear of breaking windows. Our bats had the barrels sliced down the middle to cut down on distance.
We played marbles. We played pitcher, catcher and batter. We imitated Mickey Mantle, Herb Score, Gene Woodling and Hank Aaron. When we became restless, we built a boxing ring, big enough to avoid dodging punches. No gloves but plenty of face slapping with the winner remaining in the ring.
Liberty Street was a tough section of town. No mercy for babies who had to go home early. When mom called my name from the second floor porch at supper time, it was always in the first inning of a game behind the Elks Lodge. I would ignore her. After the game with only a few street lights for visual purpose, we conquered the new parking lot behind 98 Main St. and made it our late-night touch football stadium.
I went home many late nights with a swollen hand, cut lip and dirty clothes. It was Liberty St. and your hurts were badges of honor. My generation followed others who graduated from midnight football games in the middle of the street. Prisoner’s base, meant hiding in thick bushes not knowing what creature of the night was under you.
Anna Tully’s store wasn’t well lit. There were two hanging light bulbs and several crates to sit on. The counters had plenty of those ’50s candies including root beer barrels and the tasty non-carbonated True Orange drink. We had “charge accounts” with Anna. She would remind us when our tabs reached $2.
I’m confident there was no other neighborhood that produced better athletes than Liberty St. The ability to play at the high school later on came from those endless hours of stocking ball, pitching strikes over and over and playing basketball behind Tully’s house in 30 degree weather with a net-less hoop, hammered into an old telephone pole.
Our football field was a stretch of grass about 15 feet wide and 40 feet long between the old Kay’s Furniture Store and the old Dr. Timlow’s home where the concert stage is today, near the Town Green. We even played a good game of bocce at the town’s first court behind the Mauro home.
Mention great former SHS athletes and more than a handful came from Liberty Street and some of us who weren’t outstanding athletes, made our mark at the high school. The Mauro family stood out among the legendary names like Mousey, Toot, Chile, Rock, Pobo, and then there was Joe. The Tullys had Fran, Dickie and Billy. Then there was Dick Lorenzo, Lenny Clements, Ed Nardi and close Liberty Street friends like Mike Milo, Joe Llodra, Corky Cassella, Mick Salzillo, Bob Smedley and the Giammateos with Pat once scoring 55 points in Biddy Basketball at the YMCA.
Many of our Liberty Street boys couldn’t stand the discipline from Coach Walt Lozoski or Joe Fontana at SHS so they evaporated into obscurity. Others tore up the nets, slammed the baseball and made it into the current Southington Sports Hall of Fame. None were Valedictorians.
We did things that cannot be mentioned, but we never robbed, shot anyone or defaced property except our own. We beat each other to a pulp and cursed at each other without using the name Jesus. We kept our nasty habits confined to the corners of Center and West Center streets. We didn’t drink booze and smoked a cigarette only when one of our outcasts swiped a pack from the corner canteen store. We had little use for girlfriends - they were for the other guys, the ones who seldom came around or left early. Girlfriends interrupted our schedules and could infiltrate our bonding.
Our parents were the police. But they knew where we were and we knew where they were all the time. But when we wore the blue and white of SHS or sat on the Town Green beyond 11 p.m., nearly all of us were convinced that Southington was our town forever. Just about all of our 1950s Liberty Street graduates remain here. Good citizens. Good people.
Dad always told me to stay away from Liberty Street. I’m glad I didn’t listen.