Dan Percoco
Photograph courtesy of Dan Percoco

Dan Percoco

Full Transcript

Were you born here?

I was born at the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge on September 10, 1942. And when I first came out of the hospital I moved over to Ninth Street, which is now called Fulkerson Street. Both my mom and my dad were born here in Cambridge. So my grandparents came from Italy. When they moved from Italy their first residence was here in East Cambridge. So my roots are here all my life. I’m going to be 67 years old. So I’ve lived here for all 66 years and plus.

What did the neighborhood look like when you were growing up?

It doesn’t look like it does now because it certainly feels like I moved to another location. Across the street [from the O’Connell library] was a grammar school and a high school and there was a parochial school, the Sacred Heart School. In those days we did not take a bus to school, we walked. All the schools were zoned. Because I lived at 118 Thorndike Street I was zoned to go to the Putnam School, which is now an elderly home. Then the people on this block [of the O’Connell library] were zoned for the Thorndike School, which is now called the Kennedy/Longfellow School. Across the street was the Sacred Heart School where I went for religious study. When I was growing up we used to have grades K-8. Because I went to the Putnam School on Thursdays in the morning all the boys would go to the Thorndike School where we would take woodworking. All the girls would go to the Thorndike school and take cooking. Then in the afternoon we would go from the public school to the parochial school for religious education. We didn’t have Sunday school like today.

Do you remember any other factories?

I remember Budweiser Beer being down here with the Clydesdale horses. On Binney St there was Carr Fastener factory.  There was Squire’s. They would kill the pigs. Then on Cambridge Street there was a live poultry place where we would buy our chickens and eggs. They would kill the chickens in front of us. We would buy our butter and coffee at a place called Kennedy’s. It had a nice aroma when you walked in. There were bakeries around here. When I was growing up there were a lot of Italian bakeries and pastry shops but now there is none here. We used to go to different shops to get what we needed. I remember on the corner of Fifth and Cambridge there was a vegetable store. At Christmas time, he used to sell Christmas trees outside… I remember the movie theaters such as the Lechmere theater, the Inman Square theater, the Harvard Square theater. My mother would give me a dollar. I would take the bus for a nickel into Harvard Square with my friends, go to the movie, go for Chinese food, and come home and still have some change left.

Did you help out at your uncle and father’s store?

I was 8-9 years old and I was selling penny candy. What was popular back then was this popcorn square with a chocolate mint. We used to squish the chocolate mint on top of the popcorn. It was delicious. We had the square walnuts and Baby Ruth. What you would pay for a nickel back then would be what you pay a dollar today. It was bigger back then than what you pay for a dollar today.

What other kinds of things did you do when there was no school?

Because the three sisters married the three brothers, I chummed around with all my cousins. We used to play card games. In those days, all the local kids played together. My four children growing up didn’t know the kids in the neighborhood because they were bussed out to other schools. There used to be a prison down by the courthouse and we used to race our bikes down there. We would look under the gate and see all the prisoners’ feet walking around the yard. We would play out in the street. We played hopscotch, tag, the color game, marbles, badminton, and stuff like that. In those days there weren’t a lot of cars around. The streets were empty and when you did see a car, it was a big thing. I used to spend a lot of time at the [O’Connell] library. One side was the children’s section. You stayed over there until 8th grade and you could not cross over to the adult section until you went to high school. I couldn’t wait to cross over. When I had my children, I volunteered my time at the library. I would read for the children’s hour. I spent a lot of time there. In those days it was open every night. We would do our homework there.

Do you remember any more stores your family frequented?

The store that my dad had was on the corner of Fifth and Thorndike. He sold canned goods, ice cream, cold cuts, potato chips, and pickles. In those days the pickles were in this big barrel. The pickles were so big. I don’t know why they are not grown like that anymore. He sold cigarettes. In those days you know we didn’t have a charge card. My father would take the cartons from the cigarettes. He would break up the cartons and each person would have their name on a card. If they didn’t have the money, he would “cuff” it. Say if you came into my father’s store and you didn’t have the money, I would write down your name, the date, and the amount you owed. Then you would come in and pay your bill by the end of week.

Would you describe East Cambridge as a unique place to grow up in?

Yes, very unique. It’s changed a lot but there are a lot of remnants still left. What I mean by remnants is that there are still people like myself around the neighborhood. We’re still here. I can name a lot of the families that have lived here all their lives.

How do you think East Cambridge is different from other parts of Cambridge?

I think East Cambridge is unique compared to other parts of Cambridge. I think it’s more of a community. There is more of a closeness. People might move out of East Cambridge but always come back to do things. I think the people of East Cambridge are special. When I go to church on Sundays, I still see people I knew as a kid. They don’t live in Cambridge anymore. They bring their children back here to go to this church. I think they always come back because of the people of East Cambridge.

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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.