Bailey's Ice Cream
Photograph courtesy of the
Cambridge Historical Commission

Alfred Fantini

Full Transcript

You were born here?

Yes, I was born in Cambridge. June 8, 1949. I have a twin brother, Allan. A lot of people don’t know that.

Who was the first to come to this country?

I think my grandmother was pregnant with my father when she came over from Italy. Both of my parents were born in the United States. My mother is Polish and my father is Italian. We lived in East Cambridge right across the street from my grandmother and grandfather on Otis St. When I was about 9 we moved to mid-Cambridge on Leonard Ave right between the City Hospital and Youville Hospital. My father owned a garage on Prospect St called J&F Motors, which still exists today, but it’s under another name.

What is the name of the garage now?

It was J&F Motors on Prospect Street. They broke it down into two Foreign Auto garages. My father never wanted us to become mechanics so we never learned how to fix cars.  My job and my twin brother’s job were to go down there after school and clean the cars off and shovel the sidewalks. We never learned anything about mechanics or painting. That’s the way my father wanted it. He wanted us to go to college.  I remember one day I put anti-freeze in all his thirty or forty cars at once. Not a good idea. I got in trouble that day. My father told me that’s not the way you do it. We learned a little bit there.

How long did he work there as a mechanic?

My father owned the place. My father came down with Parkinson’s disease in his late fifties which change his life immeasurability. He owned the garage for over 30 years. Beside the garage was Costa Ambulance. We got to know those people really well.
In those days you had Legal Seafood up the street and the S&S we used to go to regularly. It was a pretty busy place. My dad served as campaign manager for Al Vellucci. He would be spray-painting Al’s campaign signs in the garage. Our families were very close.

Have you always lived in Cambridge?

Yes my whole life… When I do leave Cambridge, it’s like going on vacation… I think we were the first Italian family to move to that neighborhood; it was mostly Irish. It took us a couple of years before the neighborhood accepted us. When I campaign, I go down Leonard Ave and there are still a few families left when we grew up there. The McCarthys were on one side and the Morrisseys on the other. Great families. We got to be long-time friends. In the wintertime, my father would keep the driveway plowed when it snowed. We used to build huge forts in the backyard. My twin brother and I jump off the 2nd floor porch into the snow. The snow was deep in those days. You would land and the snow would be up to your chest. Those were fun times. We would make a few dollars in the winter. We had our clients and we would shovel their sidewalks and driveways. I mean we would work several hours and make like two bucks. It was money in the pocket.

What do you remember about East Cambridge when you were a little kid?

East Cambridge had a lot of Polish folks at the time. I only lived there until I was 9 years old. I went to St Hedwig School where kindergarten was the first two rows, 1st grade was the next two, and then the 2nd grade was the next row. So it was all in the same classroom. It was very religious. We had two churches right there. My mother was in the choir at St Hedwig. My uncle and aunt lived across the street and my uncle Charlie was the maintenance man at St Hedwig. Dalton Jones when he played for the Red Sox married my cousin, Joanne. He lived in East Cambridge while he was on the Red Sox team. That was an experience for the neighborhood. When I moved to mid-Cambridge, for years we would take the bus and go down to St Hedwig. We stayed really involved in the church community for a long time. East Cambridge was a close-knit neighborhood. My brother George was very close with Joe Szulewski whose family owned the Szulewski Funeral Home. There’s a cleaners my brother Donald worked at that still exists on the corner of Sixth and Cambridge St- must have been there about 50 years now. There was a furniture place on Cambridge St that my father knew very well. Fred Salineri owned that. That’s where I got my furniture for my first apartment.

Your mother made you clean a lot. Did you have a set of chores you had to do?

Yeah we had tons of chores. The big chore was going down to my father’s garage and making sure all the cars were clean so he could sell them. In the wintertime we were expected to do all the shoveling and take out the garbage. If my father was renovating something, we had to be there and help out. In those days like I said my mother would wake us up at 7am and we would be gone for the day. Our street was loaded with kids. I would go up to the Cambridge Common and play baseball from 8am till suppertime. In those days you weren’t really worried about being kidnapped or anything like that. You knew everyone and everyone knew the “twins”. We had a whole wide city that was our family. People kept an eye on us and reported back regularly to my mother and father. We had to be pretty good growing up. We couldn’t get away with much. If I had chores I did it but other than that we stayed busy. We played baseball a lot on the Cambridge Common. In the wintertime they would flood the common and you could ice skate. I would go down to Lincoln Park in Somerville a lot-that was walking distance from our house. We would play football in parking lots. We didn’t have the facilities that people have today. We would play stickball for hours. We were very content and happy to do all that.

Did you ever go into the other neighborhoods like Harvard Sq or Central Sq?

I mostly stayed in Inman Sq. In high school we would hang out in Harvard Sq. In those days there weren’t commercial establishments. It was all these small mama and papa stores. I think it was really great in those days. I remember Brigham’s and Bailey’s. Sometimes we would bike up to Fresh Pond to Friendly’s serving the “Awful Waffle”. It was amazing. You could take the frappe glass, turn it upside down and nothing would come out. There were no gears on the bike. So my brother would be on the handlebars and we would bike up there. It was a good 45-minute ride.

Do you think the level of crime has changed?

I think it has peaks and valleys. I think Cambridge is pretty mild which is good, not like Boston. I didn’t pay much attention to the crime in those days. I almost got arrested one time. We used to hop on the back of cars and hold on to the bumpers when there was snow. We would ride cars for blocks. I remember my friend Stevie hopped on the back and the lady stopped short. He went right underneath the car and came up the other side. He didn’t get run over. That was unbelievable! The police caught me once and they drove me around the block a couple of times while I was crying my eyes out. They finally let me go. I got the message. In those days that’s how they handled stuff.

You said your father worked on Al Vellucci’s campaign. Growing up did you work on any of these things?

My father cared a lot about the Vellucci family. After that my brother George ran for school committee. We would help him a lot. He lost by about 20 votes. It was probably the best thing that happened to him. He went on to be a very successful businessman. Then my brother Donald ran after that and won. Twelve years later I ran and won. I remember the first time I was campaigning, everyone kept saying said they really like my  my brother and would continue to vote for him. In fact a few folks still say that today. That whole thing about giving back to the community and working on a political campaign got me interested in politics. When my brother Donald was running, I was his treasurer. It became an opportunity for me so I ran. He ran for city council and I ran for school committee. He lost and I won.

Do you have any other stories of growing up you would like to share?

Cambridge has been a great place to grow up. There were a lot of friends and a lot of experiences. I’ve been blessed to be on the school committee for 27 years. I’ve seen the city’s ups and downs. It’s good to live in a community where people care.

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Interviews were conducted by Michelle Freitas as a part of an internship with the Cambridge Historical Society over the spring semester of 2009. Copyright 2009 CHS. For additional information please contact the CHS office (617) 547-4252.