Margaret “Midge” Caloggero left Bedford for a warmer climate almost 20 years ago.
But her memories of growing up in the town in the 1940s and 1950s, a time of demographic growth and transition, are still sharp – and almost quaint in their simplicity.
“It was very peaceful where we lived; we had a wonderful childhood,” she said.
Born in 1942 at Emerson Hospital, Caloggero was the 10th of 11 children of George and Mabel Beatrice Lehman. The family homestead was on Railroad Avenue at the corner of Highland Avenue—at the time the only house on the street. The kids didn’t all reside at home at the same time, “but I always had older siblings around me.”
Her Bedford roots are deep. Mrs. Lehman’s half-brother was William Walter Hamilton, who was 18 when he enlisted in the Marines in 1899 and died in action on Nov. 2, 1918, nine days before the armistice that ended World War I. There’s a street in Bedford named in his honor.
The Family ~ Click each image to see it at full size
George Lehman was a truck driver, “hauling brick and steel for 25 years for a lot of the bridges in Massachusetts and Connecticut,” Caloggero recounted. But their household today would be considered a farm, featuring chickens, white ducks, an occasional pig or goat. “When we had chicken for dinner, the older boys would cut off the head, bathe it in hot water, and hang it so we could pluck the feathers.”
“We had one terrible rooster,” she related. Outside by the clothesline, “we would bend over to get clothes out of the basket and he would jump on our backs. I had to swing wet dungarees at that rooster.”
The Lehman’s Home on Railroad Avenue
Farm animals were part of many Bedford Center households in the 1940s and 50s. Charles Engelhardt, an Otis Street architect with an office in Boston, had a few cows who pastured on land between his house and Railroad Avenue.
“We had a large garden,” Caloggero continued. “My father would go down with the plow and drop quarters of potatoes and I would cup the dirt over them. We weeded the garden – because that was part of our chores. We used to have rotten tomato fights out there and hide-and-seek in the cornfield. We always had chores to do but we didn’t mind.” She assisted her father with minor repairs “and now I have some knowledge.”
The basement had a dirt floor, where the family stored potatoes and butternut squash. “We had a wood stove down there. We took an old coffee can and we would put a potato or two under the can that was turned upside down and bake them in the basement.” There was also an inside well down there. Occasionally the dog would fall in; “then we had to pull it out and bleach the well.”
The neighborhood was a theme park for kids. Across Highland, where Bedford Charter Service is based today, the town Highway Department maintained a huge sandpile and an enormous plow. That was the site of classic games of “king of the mountain.” Then there was a big maple tree in the yard. “We had a tire swing on there and we used to swing onto the back of my father’s flatbed truck and play giant steps.’’
“We used to have a big canvas tarp and we would put it on the front lawn, and several of the kids slept under the stars on warm nights,” Caloggero related. “We never locked doors in those days. That’s how peaceful it was.” There were occasional confrontations with scary snakes – in a nearby grapevine or around the wild blueberry bushes near Elm Brook. One time “my mother came with an axe – she chopped that snake to pieces.”
Passenger trains to and from Boston sat on the tracks overnight by the old lumber yard, now Depot Park. “We were able to play hide-and-seek in them.”
Once a day a freight train passed the house on its way to Concord. “The engineer and his crew were good to us kids, tooting the horn and letting our nine white ducks cross over the tracks to the small pond. We skated on that pond in wintertime.”
The Trains, and the Ducks
Sometimes the kids would head over to Page Field on Loomis Street for ballgames. A woman owned the little market at Loomis and Hartford Streets, and through the window “we could watch her dancing with her broom to Lawrence Welk.” And on Christmas Eve, “We always had Bedford Santa.” The living room was 9-by-12 and on Christmas morning was “covered with gifts.” She recalled that “my father always paid cash for everything. You get cash and then you buy it.”
The Lehman kids went to Sunday Mass and Catechism classes at the original St. Michael’s Church on The Great Road near Hillside Avenue. The current, larger church was opened around 1960, featuring a dedication by Cardinal Richard Cushing. “I was kind of sad – I really liked the old church better,” Caloggero admitted.
Caloggero went to the old Union School as her mother and siblings did – it’s now Town Center – and the junior high school next door – now Town Hall. Then in 1956, as a ninth-grader, she transitioned into sparkling Bedford High School, only in its second year.
There were four Lehman siblings at BHS that year – Mary, Dickie, Carol, and Midge. Caloggero remembered one particular walk to school, “crossing Mr. Brown’s field, going past Cutler Street, then we would go through the woods. We had to cross over a brook on a fallen tree – and I ended up in the brook. I had to go to the gym and Miss Helen Gfroerer (known to generations of students as Miss G) gave me my gym clothes so I could go to class while my dress dried out in the locker room.”
She has vivid memories of James Kinneen, who she said was an assistant principal at BHS during the late 1950s. “He would go into his Latin speeches, or whatever,” she laughed. With just one bathroom at home, and four kids getting ready, “I was always late for school. Mr. Kinneen would call the four of us in and say, ‘You’ve got to set a schedule.’”
After high school, Caloggero worked for dry cleaners and the Chateau restaurant in Waltham. She and Bob Drew were married in 1965 and they lived in Bedford Gardens as well as in Chelmsford. They had three children. Caloggero is especially proud of her record as the first female coach in Bedford youth baseball.
The marriage ended in divorce, and she met her second husband while she was employed in the Building Department. John Caloggero was the town electrical inspector. He later worked as principal electrical specialist for the National Fire Protection Association. They were married in 1983 and lived on William Street then moved to South Weymouth.
After his retirement, they moved to Virginia Beach, VA in 2003. Mr. Caloggero passed away in January 2019.
Several years ago, Midge Caloggero recounted, she was back in Bedford and took a drive down Railroad Avenue, and “I drove right past my parents’ house because the street was overgrown with houses.”
But her memories of the post-war period are still vivid. “I loved growing up in Bedford in a large family, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763