Insights to life in a Depression-era city
April 7, 2004
By Don Russell
Al Michaud is no stranger to many residents of Springdale. Although he has been living in North Carolina for many years, he has kept in touch with his Stamford friends and prides himself on missing only a few of his Stamford High School reunions (Class of 1939). We are old friends. It seems that many of us who lived through the Great Depression feel that we have an iron-clad grasp of life as we lived it, and we never seem to be able to let go.
Al's intellect was the envy of many of us, and it continues to this day. He is always pleasant, happy and full of remembrances.
Some time ago he notified me that he was working on a memoir of his life in Stamford. That effort has produced a 451-page book "A Twig Grows in Springdale" (Publish America). Some of the anecdotes in the book are one-page essays and some are as in-depth as four to five pages. All are interesting and filled with descriptions and anecdotes about life in Springdale.
Despite the hardships endured during the Great Depression, Michaud puts a bright light on the positives, though never overlooking family travail.
Three pages are dedicated to Miss Melvin, his first-grade teacher at Springdale School. As a matter of fact, Al has dedicated "A Twig Grows in Springdale" to that school's teachers "… who with our parents pulled us through."
He runs through a gamut of memories, from the Springdale ice house to being brought up on Highview Avenue, and then moves on to local personalities who were admired by youngsters in those days. He describes how some men emulated Herbert Hoover by wearing a homburg hat (until President Hoover was regarded as responsible for the Great Depression).
How many old timers remember the fatal trolley accident on Hope Street? The tracks ran down the middle of the street and transported passengers from north of Springdale to Atlantic Square. Michaud piques one's memory with his narrative.
One memory that I identify with is in the chapter about rushing home from school to strap a bag over one's shoulder that was filled with copies of the Saturday Evening Post. At age 11, some of us were independent businessmen, filling the orders of magazine subscribers in our neighborhoods. Apparently, Al had the Springdale area all sewn up, as they say.
By the way, that business acumen followed Al through life. He became an executive of Lever Brothers, and when Amtrak experienced some marketing problems, he was called in to improve the image of the rail service.
In private conversation, he credits any success he has enjoyed to the firm foundation he received from the Stamford school system and the firm foundation of family life and the feeling of community experienced in Springdale.
How many readers remember blueberry-picking on Hawk's Hill on the northern tier of Hope Street? Or Saturday afternoons learning about cars at Ketter's Garage? The Springdale Bank and its president, Con Lund - all of these memories are put in essay form in this fascinating and heart-warming book.
Michaud has captured the essence of life in a small village during and after the Great Depression. He describes how people pulled together through the bad times, and as a result enjoyed some good times. It is quite evident that Al finds observing, enjoying and participating in life, as said in his book, to be the best reward. This book will give Springdale old-timers, and new residents of the Stamford neighborhood, a new look at their "village."
The final chapter of the book gives a full description of graduation at Springdale School. Michaud calls it the "Big and Last Day," and describes the move from Springdale to Burdick Junior High School. I have no doubt that many of us, whether we came from Springdale School or not, can identify with Michaud's description of moving on from one's neighborhood school to junior high.
"A Twig Grows In Springdale" is filled with memories and poignant family remembrances for readers from any Stamford neighborhood.
Don Russell is a columnist for The Advocate.
Copyright © 2004, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.
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