Tribute to a corner boy

Richard Joseph Christopher (1950-2015)

Published on January 30, 2016

By Gerry Coady
Special to The Telegram
Nineteen sixty-one, we were 11 years old when we first started hanging out.
Dick Christopher grew up on New Gower Street in an area then called Andrews’s Range. Behind his house was the “Battlefield” and Horwoods Lumber Yard. The Battlefield was our “sandlot.”
That was also the year Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record. Of course when we played, every time a ball was hit past second base or someone chopped a fly ball, it automatically became a home run. That’s the way it was when you’re 11 years old and competing with Mantle and Maris.

The lumber yard is where we would build our clubhouse. Horwoods used it as their storage lot. It kept a boom for loading lumber. We would take turns hanging on the hook at the end, while the other guys pushed around and around. It was great!

Another popular pastime for us growing up downtown was collecting scrap copper, brass and lead. We’d build a makeshift go-cart with Pepsi or Coca-Cola wooden crates mounted on top to carry whatever we could find, we would spend three or four hours at the Railway, Dry Dock, Newfoundland Light and Power and every alley laneway where we thought we might find our precious metals.

When we had our boxes filled then it was off to Scrap Metals or Dominion Metals. We watched with keen eyes to make sure we were getting paid the exact amount. Back then we were getting eight cents a pound for copper, four cents for brass and two cents for lead.

Next stop was Woolworths for a tulip sundae or Powers candy store for their fantastic fudge, bullseyes or homemade icecream.

Then Dick’s family moved about 500 feet west to the bottom of Hamilton Avenue. They lived up over Jardine’s Snack Bar, and this was the beginning of the corner boys.

 

Corner boys for all seasons

Summer months, when school was out, we’d meet every day on the corner to play ball and street hockey. Winter was great back then, also.

Around this same time St. John’s was in the middle of “urban renewal.” We didn’t know what it meant. All we knew was that almost every house and building in our little world was being destroyed.

On Water Street, right across from O’Mara’s Drugstore, the city built a huge parking lot. I remember myself, Dick, Cyril Tobin and the rest of us carrying buckets of water on a cold winter night, flooding the parking lot, hoping it would freeze over and create a skating rink. It never did.

We would hang out in Pollards Lane, Wornells Lane next to Barretts Wholesale and, on cold winter nights, on the steps of the Hamilton Inn. And when we couldn’t stand the cold we’d go into Jardine’s for a Coke and a plate of 15s and then throw a quarter in the jukebox.

 

Beatles come to town

I guess it was 1965 the Beatles came to town — at the Capitol Theatre. I remember going into Woolworths department store with Dick and buying a Beatles cap for one dollar. And when “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” was playing, we put on our hats and lined up with hundreds of other teenagers. Tickets were 25 cents.

At one time, myself, Dick and Jim Whelan were on Water Street with three or four older guys that we knew. We dropped by Sailor Joe’s Tattoo Shop just west of Newman Wine Vaults. We went in and we all got tattoos. Mine, Dick’s and Jim’s were identical — “Mom” wrapped in a heart scroll. I guess we were 16 at the time. We laid down five bucks and walked out proud as peacocks.

Next day when I woke up, I discovered that my tattoo had scabbed over and was bleeding. Sailor Joe forgot to mention that! But it healed.

Dick loved Irish music. In 1967, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were performing at the A & C. It was January or February; I know it was bitter cold and we walked from downtown to the A & C to see them perform. They came back three or four times after that and we would always go to see them. Next came the Carlton Showband.

I remember one of Dick’s great ideas. “Hey,” he said, “do know where  we should go tonight?”

“I give up,” I said. “Where?”

“The library,” he said.

“The library — what for?”

“To meet girls,” he said.

I thought he was crazy, but off we went to the old Gosling Library on Duckworth Street. There were plenty of girls, and I believe it worked out for him. Imagine, corner boys hanging out at the library! By this time we numbered 15 or 20 guys, some older, some younger.

 

Happy hours

Then, of course, on Friday and Saturday nights we started having a beer. We’d go to the UNF Club on Pleasant Street. Back then, you could get a rum and Coke for 55 cents and a beer for 45 cents. A dollar went a long way.

It was also  around the time Phyllis Upshall and Gil became the new owners of Jardine’s Snack Bar. They were fantastic people and treated us great. We never had much money to spend and we would hang out there all the time. They always greeted us with a smile.

Then came the White Fleet of fishing boats from Portugal. We could barter with the Portuguese for wine (vino) or gin and Aniz (Anisette).

A bottle of Gavi wine was $2 — my worst hangover ever. I never drank that stuff again.

Another great pal at that time, Willie, always brought a bottle of Anisette — licorice-flavoured liqueur. He loved it. I found it sweet and sickly.

I remember one brutal winter night we only had enough money to buy three or four bottles of cheap wine. I hated wine, but we bought some Parkdale Derby, Emer and 4 Aces. Of course, we all shared and drank from every bottle. I must have passed out in some snowbank in front of the Hamilton Inn. I woke up with Dick pulling at me, saying, “Get up! Get up! You will freeze to death!”

Another popular hangout for us back then was the Strand Lounge at the Avalon Mall to see the Sons of Erin. Lineups to get in were unreal. We’d hop in our cars and head to the mall and party. No such thing as designated drivers back then. Of course, you would never do that today.

 

Riding with Joey

In July 1969, myself, Dick, Cyril and Willie were on a so-called fishing trip at the Dawes’ cabin at Mahers Siding. Well, coming back home we had to hitchhike.

I remember as we came out to the Roaches Line overpass I put out my thumb and next thing I know a big, black limo slows down and starts to back up. It was Joey Smallwood — pink telephone in the front, liquor bar in back. He was wearing alligator shoes. Joey had it rough back then.

Anyway, he was nice and took us back to town. I always said that when he saw us hitchhiking he saw four votes. By now we were all around 20 or 21 years old.

But life takes its course and we all drifted apart. Over the years I’d see Dick somewhere and we’d stop and have a chat, or in passing we would blow the horn and wave to each other. It’s hard to compress a young man’s life from the ages of 10 to 20 into one short story. These are just a few of my memories of him.

Each and every one of us had his own life and our own little story away from the corner. Forty-five years passed in the blink of an eye. In a couple of months, I’ll be 66 years old.

When I found out that Dick was sick, I made a special effort to spend some time with him before he passed away. I’m glad I did. Dick died on Dec. 10 at the age of 65.

Do you want to know something? I never did like that tattoo, but over the last 50 years every time I glanced at my right forearm I didn’t see a tattoo, I saw three 16-year-old boys enjoying life. As corner boys, we developed a special bond that stood the test of time.

I hope all my great buddies will forgive me for not making them a bigger part of this story. I tried to make this about Dick as much as I could.

It was a difficult thing to do, because as corner boys we were always together.

They know who they are.

With fond memories,

Gerry

 

*****

Gerry Coady lives in the Mundy Pond Road area of St. John’s with his wife of 37 years. They have a daughter who lives with her husband in England.