Copyright © 2005 by Lawrence A. Ruttman. All rights reserved.
Voices of Brookline
by Larry Ruttman
Excerpts from Selected Chapters
From the Preface
My fellow producer on Brookline Access TV, Dan Berman, asked me to be a guest on his media show in August 2001, in the bright summer days immediately preceding the cataclysm of 9/11. I can do no better than to quote my own words, spontaneously spoken during that interview, to convey how by that time the quest of capturing Brooklines history over the last seventy-five years or so had captured my imagination:
My hope is to keep going, and I hope the effect it will have is that it will interest people and tell them more about their own town. In a future sense, I want to preserve it. And as time goes on, and were gone, I want people to know what the town was. Im forming in my mind the making of a major project to go with the tercentennial of the town, 1705-2005. Three hundred years is a long time, and we have a story to tell. I want to tell the Brookline story not only to us, but also to all those out there.
Syndicated Columnist and Author, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Lifelong Brookline Resident
Ellen Goodman combines wisdom with witticism to alter our perceptions of the personal and political with an élan and style peculiarly her own. Her acumen was long ago recognized when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary in 1980 before she had reached the age of forty, obliterating the long-held notion that wisdom is the province of those advanced in age and experience. One wonders how Ellen became the singular woman she is, and how much her upbringing in Brookline had to do with that, answers sought when I was fortunate to steal a few moments to interview her in October, 2004, amid the engrossing and enervating baseball and political days cascading towards the Red Sox victory and the Kerry defeat. Ellen provided some clues.
Holocaust Survivor, Conscience of Our Community
Edward J. Barshak, Esquire
Lifelong Firebrand Fighter for Civil Rights
During the bitter years of World War II, when Regina Barshak was hiding out from the French Police collaborating with the Nazis in hunting down Jews in the Paris of her native France, and Edward J. Barshak was beginning his emergence from his native Fitchburg to become one of Bostons most respected advocates, one could not reasonably have predicted that one day these two remarkable people would blend their still now separate and significant lives into a marriage of uncommon vitality, interest and fruition. Reginas mother, Ida, and father, Abraham, were Polish nationals. Regina and her brother, Max, both born in France, were French citizens.
Max and others warned that a round-up of Jews by the French Police was imminent. On the very next day, while Max was out of the apartment, the French Police came, detaining Regina and her parents in a camp a few miles outside of Paris. As they were led away, Regina recalls that a neighbor yelled after them, cest bien fait pour les juifs. (It serves them Jews right.) After three weeks in the camp Reginas mother came to find out that the round-up was for Jews from other countries, not French Jews (whose turn would come), and went to the French Camp Commandant, pleading that Regina, born in France, and seventeen years old at that time, should be released. Surprisingly, the Commandant provided to Regina a release certificate. She left the camp, never again seeing her mother and father.
BHS Social Worker, Charismatic Twin of the Charismatic Epstein Family
Ive learned the lesson of how to be a twin, what it means to be a twin, from my mom and Sandy, who could not be closer. I have to say that Theo and I are also that close. We speak every day, although that wasnt so great when he lived in San Diego, and the phone bills were triple digits.
The close friendship of twins Paul Epstein and Theo Epstein was forged not only on the playing fields of Brookline with which we are all familiar, but at other venues in Brookline which took on that character in the fecund sporting imagination of the twins, in league with their boyhood friends in the Parkman, Powell, and Brown Streets area of Brookline, where in earlier years Bob Kraft had contested, and where earlier still John F. Kennedy and Charles Kickham had competed at the Still Street playground.
The twins athletic inventiveness extended from the streets into the Epstein Parkman Street apartment, where their jousts added to the maelstrom (appropriately, a word of Dutch extraction) of activity, Leslie cloistered, writing and listening to classical music, Anya in her room listening to pop music, the more decibels the better, Ilene rushing in from a long day at The Studio, transmogrifying from retailer to restaurateur to the Epstein family, while Theo and Paul were beating the heck out of each other in the apartment hallway, much to the chagrin of the neighbors.
Robert T. Bobby Lynch
Brookline Recreation Department Director, Enhancer and Critic of the Quality of Brookline Community
It may be that Robert T. Bobby Lynch, the present Director of the Brookline Recreation Department, whose own family history cuts deeply into the history of Brookline community, is uniquely qualified to judge the quality of that community, then and now.
In our interview, Bobby spoke with affection and humor about family and friends in Brookline, calling them almost interchangeably by their given names and nicknames.
Bobby comes by his interest in recreation naturally, following in the footsteps of his legendary father, James J. Tiger Lynch, for twenty-eight years the Director of the Brookline Recreation Department, and for whom the (former) James J. Lynch Recreation Center on Brookline Avenue was named.
But why was James J. Lynch, Jr., called Tiger? Bobby explained: The Tiger was from his pro wrestling days. He wrestled for Brown University, and then went on to be a professional wrestler. And thats where it came from, Tiger Lynch. He wrestled at the old Boston Arena, in Canada, and all over the New England area. It was quite a story. This was when he first started out in the Brookline Recreation Department.
Robert L. Bobby Allen
Chair, Board of Selectmen
David L. Turner, Esquire
Longtime Town Counsel
At thirty-eight, Bob Allens career has yet to reach its apogee. A lifelong resident of Brookline, educated at Baker School, BHS (1984), Northeastern, and New England School of Law, Bob quickly gained success in his Brookline law practice. At the same time, he took forward the public service tradition of his family (his father retired from the Brookline Police Department, and his brother and brother-in-law presently serve there), first as Town Meeting member and serving on the Park and Recreation Commission, then being elected to the Board of Selectmen, ascending to its chair
Seasoned, skeptical, and sympathetic Town Counsel David Turner eloquently expressed his view that Town Meeting comes from the hand of God and is not an anachronism.
Were seeing a little bit of that now nationally, and that disturbs me. I think the Town Meeting gets people involved, and they learn to work together. It is not always convenient, and there are times when it is maddening and frustrating. But it does work! My experience with town meeting began in 1955, after coming out of serving in the Navy during the Korean War, and I found myself embroiled in a town meeting dispute. Ive been at it ever since. As a moderator of town meeting, there have been times when I thought the town meeting had made a mistake, but five or six years later, I took a look back, and saw that town meeting was right! I think there is a purity and a wonderful element of community in town meeting. You dont get that in the city, Im really in favor of the town meeting form. I hope Brookline does not change that. I hope Brookline continues with what it has, because I think it is meaningful, and is a beacon to the world! A beacon that shows how diversity can work in a positive way. God knows, the world needs that beacon, that example. Hopefully, the world can someday follow Brooklines example.
Giuliani, Baseball, and Brookline
Rudy Giuliani, Americas unlikely fierce, loving, and loyal knight, said it best when interviewed in his box seat during the first Yankee-Oakland playoff game: Baseball has an amazing grip on people. It is a unifying force.
By far the most compelling story about Mr. [Charles] Taylors genius for the formation of good character in children is the one about Owen Carles poor performance in French, despite the fact that he was in the A division for gifted students, a form of discrimination that has since been reversed, in part through Owens efforts in his later service as school committeeman. As Owen says, I think this is a touching story showing Mr. Taylors passion for both learning and sports, and illustrates both his psychological and intellectual ability, and his deep understanding of how to handle children.
Owen, his face flushing as he relived the moment, recalled, I got a C, maybe a D in French, and one day came a note from my teacher Miss Gray that Mr. Taylor wanted to see me in his office, where I went shaking. Mr. Taylors secretary said, Owen, Mr. Taylor will see you. The door was open and Mr. Taylor said, Come on in Owen—he knew every kid and their parents by name—would you sit down, please. I was terrified and almost paralyzed, and had an optical illusion that Mr. Taylor was far away and close to me at the same time. And do you know what Mr. Taylor said? [Owens disbelief shows on his face as he tells of this event of seventy years ago.] Owen, I understand we won a baseball game, yesterday, and that you were the winning pitcher. I thought to myself, My God, I thought he was going to criticize me about my French! Mr. Taylor said, You know I spoke to Mr. Weygant [Owens baseball coach at Devotion] and got a baseball from the game, and he pulled out the top drawer of his desk and took out a shiny baseball and said, Owen, Id like you to have this. You may leave now. I got to the door of his office and Mr. Taylor called to me and then said, Owen, how are you doing in French?
Paperback Booksmith, Catalyst of the Paperback Revolution, Dedicated to the Fine Art of Browsing
Marshalls precociousness signaled the Paperback Revolution, forever changing the reading habits of America.
Ever the innovator, it was Marshall Smith himself who brought author readings to the Paperback Booksmith in Harvard Square in the tumultuous sixties. Marshall smiled as he recalled the scene: Having a bookstore in Harvard Square was exciting! It was different and challenging. I think my favorite event there was having Kurt Vonnegut. After his first four or five books, he became sort of a college cult writer. He hadnt yet broken into the mainstream. I dont know where I got the idea to invite him, because he never gave author appearances. He never went to bookstores. But I wrote him a letter, saying I have this idea. What if we have your appearance at our store in Harvard Square at midnight on a Friday night? He wrote back, saying, I never do appearances, but this one sounds like fun! He came over to our house for dinner, and we went to the bookstore at midnight on a Friday night. We stopped traffic completely in Harvard Square. It was a mob scene, and Vonnegut was great!
An Overview of Recent Brookline History
From a lily white town of Yankees, Jews, and Irish that voted heavily Republican to the richly diverse and polyglot town of today that votes heavily Democratic, is an apt way to describe Brooklines transformation from the years of FDR to the tercentennial year of 2005. With such a profound change in the demographics and politics of the town, Brooklines essential character could have changed too, but that has not been the case. Now, as then, Brookline demonstrates a commitment to fine public schools and public services. Its citizenry still dynamically participates in the governance of the town, most notably in its representative Town Meeting, but also on the many boards and committees that comprise Brookline government.