In the interest of providing some levity in these post-Sandy, pre-election days, this column is devoted to somewhat personal anecdotes relating to various Salem institutions.
One August day in the early 1970s, I don’t remember the year exactly, I was watching the late, lamented Salem Heritage Days Parade with Mike Wilson on Essex Street near the intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard. Leading the parade was the then-governor of Massachusetts, Francis W. Sargent.
Looking dapper, casual and confident, Sargent worked the crowd on both sides of the street as he marched. After shaking hands with a few potential voters on the opposite curb, the governor started to cross to where we were standing. Suddenly, Mike turned to me, a big grin on his face, and said, “Watch this.”
Before I could say a word, Mike stepped out into the street and started waving enthusiastically in the direction of the governor. “Frank, Frank,” he yelled while continuing to wave his arm back and forth. Sargent found the voice in the crowd, and for just a second, a look of concern came over face. Recovering quickly, he headed confidently toward Mike, who was now almost halfway into the street.
Shaking Sargent’s hand and giving him a couple of pats on the shoulder, Mike said warmly, “Great to see you. It’s been a long time. How’s the family?”
“They’re great, and great to see you,” yelled Sargent, who was already moving on to the next group of well-wishers.
Returning to my side with an impish grin on his face, Mike said to me, “He’ll spend the rest of the day trying to remember who I am. But we’ve actually never met.”
Our second story relates to Red’s Lunch, another Salem institution that has outlasted the Heritage Parade. For many years — and many years ago — Red’s was owned by John and Annette Giardi. As John was busy with his job in the city of Salem Electrical Department and private work, Annette pretty much ran the restaurant. Since I was in there all the time, and shared her sense of humor and love of good-natured banter, we became friendly.