Growing up Nashua

Note that the title isn’t, “Growing up in Nashua,” but just Growing up Nashua. When you grow up in this city, and I imagine any city, it becomes a part of your life forever.

OK, I admit, I haven’t actually lived in Nashua for the past 30 years, moving to Litchfield quite some time ago. But, as I sipped my morning coffee, I thought back of both the good times and bad I’ve experienced growing up in the Gate City.

As a graduate of Nashua High School (back when it was still located on Elm Street, in the building now known as Elm Street Junior High) the education journey started at the James B. Crowley School on Lake Street. After the family moved from Tyler Street to Cedar Street, I then attended Temple Street School. The building, at that time, was in its final stages of existence as a school, with the top floor pretty much condemned and inhabitable. After extensive renovations, it is now senior housing.

I was a product of the Tree Streets, growing up on Cedar Street. Cedar, Elm, Ash, Pine, Beech, et al, each named after a tree. My cousin owned a little store known as Penny’s Variety on Palm Street, a popular spot for the neighborhood. I spent many a summer there and at the street’s playground, on the swings and the merry-go-round (the manual version that required kid power to push in a circular motion).

I hoofed it daily to each of the schools I attended, from Temple Street to Spring Street Junior High (complete with the “tunnel” we burrowed through to attend classes at the annex on Quincy Street) to Nashua Senior High on Elm Street.

After school, I would frequent Progris Music, located next to Nashua High, where the late, great Johnny Progris was instrumental, pun intended, in helping me develop a love for guitar and drums. Remember “safety patrols?” Those students selected to assist other students in crossing the street at crosswalks. They proudly wore their AAA badges and white crossing guard strapping while ensuring the younger kiddies crossed safely.

We frequented the many retail establishments on Main Street who, long before the shopping malls and internet 24/7 shopping hours, were only open one night per week – Thursday, until 9 p.m. And after Thanksgiving Day, they would have “extended” hours, being open until 9 p.m. on Fridays, too, despite there being no such madness as Black Friday. How did we ever manage? (That being said with tongue in cheek). We were fortunate to have the nationally known Main Street anchors, stores like Sears Roebuck, Montgomery (aka, “monkey”) Wards, WT Grant’s, JJ Newbury’s, FW Woolworth’s, along with local icons like Enterprise Stores, Marsh Parson’s and Spear’s Dry Goods.

They coexisted with the popular smaller establishments such as Bell Shoppes, Avard’s, Scontsas, Philip Morris, Bergeron’s, Lynch’s and Alec’s Shoes (then on West Pearl Street).

One could stop into Lussier’s, Wingate’s or Economy Drug for their medicinal needs. And who could forget enjoying a great family meal at The Modern? Or a breakfast at Priscilla’s or Yankee Flyer? And for food shoppers, there was always First National Stores and 20th Century Markets, with Grand Union Champagne’s on East Hollis and the A&P on Temple.

During the holiday rush, downtown shoppers would be treated to the lighted tinsel roping spanning Main Street from about City Hall to Woolworth’s, that by today’s standards, might be considered somewhat chincy, albeit, now very retro.

But it worked back then. The shredded aluminum foil-like strings would start going up around early November and was a sure sign that the holiday season was approaching, as we walked to school after a fresh snowfall on a crisp autumn day. Remember angle parking on Main Street?

One could catch the latest Hollywood release at your choice of the Daniel Webster or State theatres, where admission was something like 35 cents. And for that, you got two movies, without having to sit through 30 minutes of commercials! Don’t even want to think of how cheap the popcorn was.

The good old days? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on how you view them. We always had the threat of nuclear war then and it seems, once again, now, too. I never quite got the value of getting under your desk at school to protect you from a nuclear attack. Duck and cover! I guess they had their reasons. Some of those books in our desks back then were probably heavy enough to provide some protection.

But, while watching today’s depressing and concerning TV news on stories of terrorism, political strife and the country’s divisive opinions, it can be refreshing to think back about the way things used to be, and take a walk down memory lane, while thinking about Growing up Nashua. …

Don Canney, a former longtime Nashua resident, now lives in Litchfield.