Page 24 - Southington Magazine Holiday 2019
P. 24

                by Art Secondo
There was an absence of Christmas lights on the Town Green in the 1950s. But nobody noticed. Oh sure, there was this huge pine tree with strings of those large green, red, blue and white bulbs. Not much else except for the Crèche
which faced the First Congregational Church.
My thrill downtown was the quantity of colorful lights that were strung
across Center Street all the way to Liberty Street. The lights would connect the sides of the street complete with lighted wreaths. It also seemed to snow more
back then and it lasted longer.
Johnnie Ray wasn’t known for his holiday ballads but I remember in 1951 how
immensely popular he was at the Secondo household, snug on the second floor of a two-family house on Center Court. Center Court? A street sign is the only memory
of that tiny area that also housed Dad’s pride and joy – his Italian Popular Restaurant. My older brother was fascinated with Johnnie Ray, the only singer of that era with visible hearing aids. The Big Band era was dying a slow death as the ballads of Ray’s hit, “Cry” and “The Little White Cloud That Cried” were selling big time on those over- sized 78-rpm records. My brother would imitate Ray’s unusual and emotional moves while singing. Towards the end of that song ‘Cry” my brother would get on his knees and rip open
his shirt. Johnnie Ray liked to sing crying.
Winters were cold and lonely. Television was an occasional intruder to family life.
Traffic was non-existent after 8:30 p.m. and the bright neon lights of dad’s restaurant kept Center Street’s pulse alive. Yet, before 8 p.m. it was fun to run up and down the sidewalk and watch as people hurried store to store. Storeowners stayed open more often than
today. My Godfather Ralph Riccio always invited me into his clothing store for a gift. Downtown was exciting to a young boy especially residing within the shadows of downtown stores. Queen Street was called the “College Highway.” Meriden, Bristol and New Britain caught the family’s attention with bigger stores and occasionally, we trekked to Unionville’s Myrtle Mills for some bargains. Dad’s Buick didn’t travel too many miles. He was always entertaining the patrons at his bar and grill that later expanded into a banquet facility. A 1991 fire destroyed the 52-year
Southington Magazine — Holiday 2019
        1950s: Johnnie Ray was ‘crying’ even at Christmastime

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