Norm Handley at The Spa.

 The Handleys and the Spa

    By Don Handley

My father was originally from Boston. He was one of seven. One of his brothers had moved to Worcester and had opened a Gulf gas station. My dad went up to live with him, and he started working at little spas and drug stores, etc. He came across a gentleman named George Holland who was from Hopedale. One day Holland said to him, “I’ve got a spot for you in Hopedale, a very prosperous little town. You’d do well there.”

My father came down and investigated. The spot Holland had mentioned was in the Town Hall. He looked around and he saw that Drapers was booming at that time. Many people were employed there. So he opened the Town Hall Spa in 1940. He was the first to operate such a business at the Town Hall. He ran it successfully until 1957. By then, employment at Drapers had declined which caused
business at the Spa to slow down, and he decided to sell. He sold it to Nelson Dion. I remember that Dion always smoked a pipe, and I think he lived somewhere behind  the Town Hall.

At that time the post office was in the Town Hall, right next to the Spa. The Brae-Burn Inn, a boarding house, was where the parking lot across from where the post office is now. The Brae-Burn Annex was right next door. It was later torn down when the post office was built. My father and mother settled in Mendon and remained there.

As a kid, the Spa was very exciting to me. My father ran it from six in the morning until ten or eleven at night. I very seldom saw my dad at home. During the lunch time, when I was about four to six years old, my mother would go down from about eleven o’clock to one to help my dad during the rush hour. In those days there was no daycare, so she dragged me along. I had more fun in the store, as we often called it, playing with the guys, the regular customers. If I wasn’t doing that, I was riding my bike around on the sidewalk. I had a lot of good friends around there – Jimmy Stock, Johnny Pavlak. I probably had more friends in Hopedale than I had in Mendon.

Then came the time to go to school. There wasn’t any preschool or kindergarten then. We started in grade one in Mendon. I didn’t want anything to do with school. I was having so much fun going down to the store,  playing with the guys, riding my bike, whatever. Whenever I got to school, I’d cry. I didn’t like it there. My dad would be called and he would come to pick me up; him or my mother. This went on for a period of time. One day my father couldn’t get away from the store, so he sent Bobby Brown, a regular customer at that time, who we called Brownie, to pick me up.

My dad and mom were worried that there was something wrong with me. They took me to the doctor, Dr. Fuchs in Milford. The doctor said to my father, in his broken English, “Norman, there’s nothing wrong with this boy. He just doesn’t want to go to school.” The next time my father left me there, that was the end of the crying. I just didn’t want to leave the atmosphere I was in, because I was having so much fun. Hopedale was always like a second home.

In those days, though, if you didn’t live in Hopedale, you weren’t too welcome in the town park or the pond. Out-of-town kids weren’t welcome in Hopedale. Very strict in those days. Of course I was okay because my father had the business.

During World War II, the guys who went away in the service sent my dad pictures. He used to display them on the wall of the Spa. Of course some of them were injured and some others were killed. Years later, after we broke up the house, I gave the pictures to Bobby Brown, and now they’re at the library. (See below for some of the pictures.)

Once I was in school, I’d go to the Spa after school. I remember the basketball games upstairs over the Spa, before the gym was built. With the kids running back and forth, the lights in the Spa would rattle. You always knew when a basketball game was going on, that’s for sure. I’d go upstairs, go in, get on the sidelines and watch. I recall Dennis Lamothe playing. I think he later went to play baseball with a St. Louis Cardinals minor league team. His brother, Victor, worked in the  post office and was a regular at the Spa. Bino and Bruno Carniroli were there a lot. Louis Noferi would be there. Actually he was here at Pop’s yesterday, reminiscing about the five-cent Hire’s draft root beer from the tub at the Spa.

One story I always think of when I see Louie is about Mike Dalio. They were in the same age group. Back in the forties, kids didn’t have access to cars like they do now. Mike had his junior prom coming up. My dad picked up Mike and his date, took them to the dance, took them to wherever they went after, and then took them home. Louie always remembers that story because he and Mike were very close in age and they were friends. In later years Mike was in the catering business and when my dad passed away in ’76, he brought platters and all sorts of stuff for the funeral. He was so appreciative of what my dad had done for him.

Local kids got along well with my dad. They didn’t really have any other place to go in Hopedale at that time. They had the drug store and the Spa and that was it. Either that or you had to travel to Milford.I have good memories of all the guys who worked at the post office. There was one named Milford Sweet. He was handicapped; walked with crutches. Bill Larson was postmaster. All of them would
come in for lunch. The Brae-Burn Annex was next door. I’d go sit on the porch and share stories with the old-timers. The Legion home was where the police station is now. I’d go and talk to the guys there. It was like a nice family situation. Charlie Draper lived there. The fire chief, Charlie Watson would be there often. He’d be smoking his pipe. Dickie Daige was always around, and in the Spa. The guys from White City would be in. Too many to remember all the names. Larry Heron was a favorite of my dad. Of course Larry was very badly wounded in World War Ii. He used to come in as a kid, and my dad said he had been a terrific athlete. Baseball, football. He went to high school at St. Mary’s in Milford. Even after being blinded, he could tell what was going on by the sound. My dad would take him for a ride and Larry would know what part of the shop they were going by.

Dr. Campbell used to come into the store. His house and office was on the other side of the Brae-Burn Annex. He was the town doctor. Anything that went wrong – Dr. Campbell. George Mongiat was the druggist. He knew everybody and everyone depended on him. In later years, when I was about 16, I worked for George at the drug store. They don’t come any better than him.

Freddie Stead was another interesting guy. He had been a prisoner of war in World War II. He never got married. I’m not sure what he did for a living. He might have worked for Drapers. He was extremely talented about picking stocks to buy. He did very well. He passed all his information on to his cousin, Victor Lamothe. I can see them like it was yesterday, in a booth at the Spa going over the stocks in the newspaper. Both of them became very wealthy. When Freddie had been in the prisoner of war camp, he told himself that if he ever got out of there, he was going to become a wealthy man, and he did. Freddie had a brother, Louis, who was completely different from him.

Drapers would close for vacation each year on the week of the Fourth. That’s when my dad would close for a vacation. If we had the money, we’d go away, usually to Old Orchard Beach.

Dad had a big jar set up high over the backboard where the counter was. People would throw change, mostly pennies, up into it. Dad would use the money for flowers when somebody got sick or passed away. Flowers from the town boys, you might say. Somebody who bought the Spa quite a few years after my dad sold it, tore that backboard down. There were lots of Indian head pennies behind it. They were pretty common in the forties, but less so and worth more when they were found. It was just from people missing the jar.

Dad was a big Red Sox fan. Loved the Red Sox. He’d grown up in the Boston area – Medford, Somerville. He pitched for Medford High. He graduated in 1926. After high school, he got tied up in one of the AAA leagues. His greatest event was pitching against the great Jimmy Foxx back in the twenties. He was always proud of the fact that he had pitched against Jimmy Foxx. He threw his arm out a couple of years after high school, and his baseball career was just about over.

Another thing I liked about Hopedale was the Community House. Bowling there on Friday nights. Always something doing there. One of the nicest guys over there was Bullet Callery. He was quite a well-known person in Hopedale. He was one of the first guys I ran into going over there in later years, after my dad had sold the Spa.

I was twelve when my dad sold the Spa in 1957. By then I had been old enough to wash dishes and sweep the floor. There was a juke box there. It was quite a different setup at the Spa than it is today. We had booths,  the bar was on the opposite side, and it was a little bit longer. Cooking was done on a grill behind the counter, which was a lot longer. There was a telephone booth in there. The calls cost five or ten cents. At home we had a party line.

I remember looking out from the Spa and seeing the Hopedale High seniors taking off on their Washington trip. Mendon did the same. My brother graduated in 1956. There were 18 in his class and they went to Washington.

There are three other interesting people at the Town Hall I can remember. Eddie Paradiso ran the barber shop. Dr. Wentworth, the dentist, was down at the end where the town clerk’s office is now, and Tom Malloy, your uncle, chief of police ,was there. He’d smoke little Italian cigars, and I think he had a 1950 Chevy cruiser. Chet Sanborn, George Ardill and Charlie Dillon were three of the other cops. I remember my dad telling about Charlie Dillon’s son falling through the ice and drowning at Spindleville Pond. Dad said he was the same age as my brother, so he must have been born in 1938. My dad felt real, real bad about that. It affected the whole town. Small community, everybody more or less knew everybody. Sad, sad story.

When I was young, I had a knack for knowing the make and year of a car going by just by hearing it. It came natural, just by listening to them. Guys used to get a big kick out of that. “That’s a ’49 Ford,” or “That’s a ’47 Mercury.” Of course you didn’t have the foreign cars then. There weren’t nearly as many different cars as there are now.

Eddie Paradiso was a big influence on me. My dad said to me one day, “What do you want to do after high school?”

I thought about it for a minute and said, “You know, I think I’ll go to school to be a barber.”

Dad said, “What do you want to be a barber for?”

I said, “You know, Dad, you go to work before six in the morning until ten or eleven at night, seven days a week. Your good friend, Eddie Paradiso, the barber, comes to work at eight and leaves at five. He has Sunday and Monday off. Plus, he’s buying a lot of real estate.”

Dad said, “You’ve noticed all that?”

I said, “Yeah, I’ve noticed that.” So after high school, I went to school to be a barber. I’m a registered barber today in Massachusetts and Florida. I go to Florida for about six months during the winter and I work there part time in a barber shop. I keep my fingers in it. I worked in the post office, but when I was younger, on my days off I did a lot of barbering in rest homes. I also ran Pop’s in the summer. I always kept pretty active.  Don Handley, August 2013


When I first interviewed Don at the family business, Pop’s on North Avenue in Mendon, he said he’d known many people who would go into the Spa, but the names weren’t coming to mind. When I went back to him with the first draft, I brought a copy of the 1955 Hopedale street listing book. When I returned a week later, he had written out the following names as ones he’d seen in the book and remembered as Spa customers. As you read these, keep in mind that nearly all of these were adults in 1955. A few of the same names are in town or in the area now, but in almost all cases, that’s the next generation.

Carl Adams, George Allen, Harry Allen, Stan Barrows, John Bresciani, Fred Bresciani, Louie Bresciani, Arthur Brown, Bob Brown, Frank Care, Charlie Carlson, Arthur Clement, Tom Clement, Eugene Costanza, Henry Cyr, Dickie Daige, Ed Damon, Tom Damon, Stanley Dec, Zeny Dec, Mike DeLoia, Jim DiSabito, Charlie Draper, Herbie Durgin, Fred Earle, Bill Elliott, John Farrar, George Farrar, Earl Flooks, Bill Francis, Charlie Gaffney, Ray Gaffney, Joe Gibbs, Dick Goddard, John Grady, Don Gould, Joe Grant, John Griggs, Bob Hammond, John Hanley, George Hanley, Don Hazard, Larry Heron, Arnold Hoel, Charlie Hoel, Bob Holmes, Don Howes, John Johnson, Art Kaizer, Charlie Kayberry, Eddie Kalpagian, Tom Kelley, Dennis Lamothe, Victor Lamothe, Sumner Lapworth, John Lees, Leon Lemmon, Bob Lemon, Fred Lescoe, Nick Lioce, Dick Look, Millard Lovejoy, Harry Lutz, Ray Miller, Don Moore, Arnold Nealley, Bob Noe, Louie Noferi, Francis Noyes, Louie Pagani, Eddie Paradiso, Ben Phillips, Louie Ramelli, Bill Redden, Lee Robbins, Otis Rose, Vinny Rubeo, Nappy Scribner, Richard Sardell, Harland Seymour, Al Shimkus, Earl Simmons, Carl Stanas, Fred Stead, Louie Stead, Francis Stock, Carl Taft, Russ Tiffany, Peter Tolenti, Dick VanderSluis, Bob Weaver, Fred Woolhiser, Al Zampino and Frank Zersky.

Comments and memories sent after the article above appeared..

Dan,  I used to go to the town hall spa from 1948 to 1952.  After work setting pins at the Community House [7 cents a string]. I would stop on my way walking home to 111 Green Street. to have a “devil dog” and a vanilla fountain coke.  I also made a lot of the noise from the upstairs basketball court. The Draper Gym was finished after I graduated.  I knew Norm and he knew me. Ray Midgley HHS 52

Another good one. Don Handley’s memories are truly what I see your site being about. The large scale history is great but the personal stories add such a punch. Tom Malloy and his little Italian cigars…..Nice one. Bill Wright

Dan, this is a wonderful update!  I really enjoyed the piece by Don Handley.   I recognized a lot of names, and remember the Spa in spite of my being a tiny sprout (or not even) during most of the times he described.  My dad was a friend of Norm’s, so it was great to hear about him, too.  As always, many thanks for the memories, and for the current photos, too, they’re really special.   Elinor Roberts

Another note, Dan. Norm Handley rented a part of my Grandfather Blood’s house up on North Avenue. By the time Norm and his family moved in, Grandpa Blood had died but Mom still had partial ownership—– Grandpa Blood’s second wife had major interest ’til she died. I can remember the two huge maple trees in Grandpa Blood’s front yard. Sitting on His porch you could see the taller buildings in Boston. Again, your “notes” bring back all sorts of memories. THANKS Art Holmes   

Loved the spa picture. Remember Pop well. Went by name Normie didn’t he? Remember when he had to close down the place he was cleaning out the fridge below the counter down at the end by the back door and WOW.  He found his bowling shoes that were lost for more than a decade!!!!Even years later we’d drive to Mendon to visit. The ice cream cone was a secondary bonus. Remember his cones were side by side scoops. Thanks for the memory Dan.   Deb Carnaroli

I loved the story about the Spa and Norm – my father died in 1955 but I remember going to the Spa with him.  I’ve always remembered that – every time I drive by Pop’s, I think of those days.  Thanks for the wonderful memories!  Ellen

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These are some of the pictures that were on the wall at the Spa during World War II and up until Norm sold it. They are now on a wall at the Bancroft Library. There are ten frames with about eighteen pictures in each.

Don Handley

Pop's Popcorn - North Avenue, Mendon.