A Family Transfers Its Legacy and a Gift to Easton
In this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal, columnist, Peggy Noonan, bemoaned the demise of our culture, of its morals; she lamented how trashy things have become. She said that anyone older than 50 in this nation knew a stronger and more decent time and place of morality and norms than today – and they are nostalgic for it – and where they live now is a bit alien to them.
I’m not quite 50 yet, but I know what she means.
On Saturday morning and afternoon, I had myself a full helping and then some of those wonderful and happy and less complicated days – and of gratitude and a concern for others – for I attended the dedication of Povoas Park at the corner of Center Street and Bridge Street.
And later, I was fortunate to mingle with some “old school” Easton families and individuals at a sort of post-dedication reception cookout at a home on Sheridan Street.
It was nice. It made you feel good. It was a day of nostalgia and the transmitting of a legacy.
It was a sunny and warm day.
Povoas Park is a gift of the Povoas family to the town. Antonio Povoas, who came to America from Portugal when he was 19 in 1930, purchased the land – and a building located on the land – on July 13, 1960. Selling the real estate to him was Elise Ericson, who had operated Ericson’s Market on the site.
“My father worked as a barber in Whitman, where he owned his own barbershop,” said Antonio’s son, Joe. “My father planned to move his business to the building he purchased. But it never happened. Apart from selling Christmas trees on the lot, he didn’t do business there.”
The building got boarded up and not much went on there, other than a few local kids using it as hangout and rendezvous point and place to chat, and call out to motorists. One of those local kids was Joe Cronin, who grew up around the corner, down near the end of Baldwin Street.
“Joe was funny and had a great wit,” said Joe Povoas, a good friend of Joe Cronin’s. “Because the building had a wood porch and a wood roof overhanging the porch, Joe called the place the ‘Western Front.’ And the name stuck.”
Joe Povoas graduated from Oliver Ames High School in 1973, a year before his friend graduated from OA.
In the late 1970s, the store was torn down and for more than 30 years the parcel was nothing more than rocks, dirt, and weeds.
About four years ago, Antonio and Mary (Pires) Povoas’s five children – (in order of birth) Mary, Anne, Sylvia, Tony, and Joe – began discussions with the town to donate the land to the community for the purpose of the creation of a public space that would be called Povoas Park.
Povoas Park is nice, with groomed grass, crushed stone paths, benches, trees – and a bubbler (more on that later). It has granite stairs that lead up to another level of grass with a bench. (In his speech, Joe Povoas gave a call out to the nice work Palm Landscaping has done at the park.)
On one of the benches is a plaque dedicated to Antonio and Mary Povoas. Antonio, a World War II combat medic in the European theater, and Mary, who also was born in Portugal were married for 43 years. Mary died in 1987, and Antonio died in 1988, one day short of the year anniversary of his wife’s death.
It is fitting and only right that a public park in Easton have a Portuguese name. The Portuguese, along with the Swedish and Irish, were the primary ethnic tribes that followed the English as settlers of our town. And, as they did throughout America, when the Portuguese came to Easton, they wasted no time in establishing that they couldn’t be outworked, and that they would love their new home as fervently as any group to come here.
Among the the big crowd at the dedication were those whose surnames were Povoas, Pires, Conceison, DeCouto, Gomes, Camara, and Sousa.
Povoas Park is a winner all around.
As Easton selectman, Ellen Barlow, told the attendees in her remarks at the dedication, the park is an example of a successful public-private partnering, with the Povoas family donating the land, and Community Preservation Act funds being used to revitalize the property.
Joe Povoas – who worked for close to 30 years as a compliance officer for investment firms – took the lead for the Povoas children and was out front in working with town officials. He often had to do so from far away. Four years ago, Joe’s wife, Kathy, a managing partner of the law firm, Goodwin Procter, relocated from the company’s Boston office to its Silicon Valley office. Joe and Kathy moved to the San Francisco area, and Joe is now retired.
In his dedication talk, Joe wore one his father’s hats. Antonio Povoas was known for his hats.
Joe thanked many people; he gave a short history of the property. He explained that the town was accommodating and accepting of all of the Povoas’s requests for the park, except one: that there had be an old fashioned bubbler located on it. The town said it wasn’t sure if it would go along with the bubbler – but Joe Povoas stood firm, and the park has a two tiered (a spigot for adults, and a spigot for little people) retro bubbler near its center.
Joe also talked about his friend, Joe Cronin, and what a wonderful person he was and how much fun they had together. He told the crowd how 20 years ago, Joe Cronin was on vacation in Aruba, and he went into the surf and he never came out. Joe's body was not recovered.
“Joe loved baseball, and he always wore number 11, and he always wore a shamrock,” said Joe.
Joe Povoas then pointed to bench dedicated to Joe Cronin (a bench for Joe was another stipulation of the Povoas's). On the bench is a plaque inscribed with Joe's name, the words "Western Front," the number 11, the image of a baseball player at bat, and the image of a shamrock.
After Joe Povoas spoke, Norm Cronin, Joe’s father, talked about his son, and his love for baseball – and how, as a member of a team, he maintained that love and devotion for the sport, whether he saw much play in the field or at bat.
Norm Cronin related how he was at a game in which Joe was playing for the Easton Huskies – and how while he was in the stands he overheard someone saying that Joe shouldn’t be starting. Well, a bit later in the game, Joe Cronin hit a grand slam and the Huskies won, 6-4.
“You know, I think that was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life,” said Mr. Cronin.
After the talks, Joe Povoas took a big pair of ceremonial ribbon cutting scissors and approached the ceremonial ribbon. But then he stopped.
“I was going to cut the ribbon with these big scissors,” he said to the assembled. “But I am not going to use these. I am going to use my father’s barber scissors.”
And with that, Joe Povoas took from his pocket a pair of shears – the very shears with which Antonio Povoas made a living and supported his family – and he cut the ribbon and conferred a beautiful place to Easton.
As I mentioned earlier in this column, after the dedication event, there was a cookout. The cookout was held at the former home of Antonio and Mary Povoas, the Sheridan Street abode where all the Povoas children grew up.
Owning and living in the home now are Tony Povoas's daughter, Holly, and her husband, Bryan, and their children.
In some ways, I was brought back to another time and place. I mean, the home actually has a picket fence.
Lots of food and drink. And, oh, yes, included in the food was Portuguese fare: fava beans, linguica, and meat on a stick, cooked over wood in an outdoor stone hearth that is in the beautiful and spacious backyard of the home.
“This fireplace was built maybe in 1956 or ’57,” said Tony Povoas, who handled preparing the meat. “Meat has been cooked on it ever since.”
Tony reflected warmly on the place he grew up.
“On one side of us were the McMenamy’s, and other side were the Barrys,” said Tony. “Across the street lived the Malinoskis and the O’Connells. This was a great neighborhood. We had our friends, the schools were nearby, and we had the park.”
Tony explained that there was Sheridan Street gang and a Wilbur Street gang that presided over that section of North Easton.
Tony’s cousin, Tony Pires, said that the Wilbur Street gang was a tough gang, a bit more rough in character than the Sheridan Street kids.
I talked to people from Easton and OA’s past. I talked with young people living in town who are early on in building their family legacy here. People sat at picnic tables set in the yard. Children played about.
We talked about OA sports teams from the 1960s.
There was so much laughing and smiles and feel good.
And, you know, when you looked at the people and the wholesome fun and enjoyment playing out, you could easily imagine something similar happening there 30 to 40 years ago as it did on a Saturday in July in 2011.