Life in the Ville by Jimmy Del Ponte
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
Last week I was ready to throw in the towel on this column. I felt burned out and depleted. I thought I covered every interesting aspect of life in the Ville. Since starting it on September 22, 2007, I gave it my all. 52 stories for almost 6 years! YIKES!! I tried to write stories about Somerville that we could all relate to. I thought I ran out of stuff! After seeing the overwhelming and humbling response to my “farewell” article last week, I spoke to the staff and this is what we came up with. We will reprint early past stories throughout the summer, and then I will retool and revamp. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy revisiting these tales of the Ville.
The following article first appeared in the June 14, 2008 edition of The Somerville News:
One of my favorite topics is talking about the stores that used to be around years ago that are now just memories. Remember a little place in Davis Square called The Soda Hut? Some may and some may not. How about Skippy’s Fix-it Shop and Henry the Jeweler? Do those places ring a bell? Close to Henry’s and Skippy’s, there used to be a quaint little establishment known as Gigli’s Fruit stand. Ask anyone who remembers it, and they will assure you that it had quite a bit of “a-ppeal.”
Today there are two entrances to the Red Line – one on College Avenue and one on Holland Street – at either entrance you can pick up a variety of snacks from an array of stores, restaurants or cafes. You can get a crepe, a latte or a wrap as well.
When the B&M Railroad’s train still ran through Davis Square (along the route of the bike trail), there was also a popular place to pick up a snack. Next to the theater was where Al Gigli sold the freshest fruits, vegetables, eggs and penny candy. Al was also known to many as Nonno. For years he ran the fruit and veggie stand at the railroad crossing in Davis Square with his wife Ann, or as she was affectionately known, Nona, or just Ma Gigli. Everyone that came by was a friend and there was time to chat about the important things in life, like the family, the neighborhood and maybe politics. Nino and Ma Gigli made countless friends at the stand as countless freight trains rolled by on their way past the Dewey and Almy Chemical company (later acquired by W.R. Grace) and onward towards Fitchburg. I wonder how many times Ozzie Collins, the gate attendant, grabbed a juicy apple or orange to eat while guarding the College Avenue Crossing gate.
Today in Davis Square we have The Farmer’s Bounty, The Farmer’s Market and McKinnon’s to satisfy our produce needs. There was even a market called Apple A Day in the square for a while. All these places have (or had) good stuff. However, many will agree that the fruit and veggies were bigger and more succulent (not to mention, cheaper) at Gigli’s Fruit Stand. But, alas, an apple a day could not keep progress away. Today Gigli’s Fruit Stand maintains it’s proud place in our city’s history. The fruit stand closed to make way for the Red Line.
The subject may pop up when you hear someone say, “Wow, this orange reminds me of the old Fruit Stand that used to be in Davis Square,” and yet someone else might reply “Yeah, but you don’t get fruit like that any more.” I say sure you can, especially since they started adding vitamin “M” to foods. The “M” stands for memory. It’s the additive that gives our minds the ability to reminisce, and I find more and more foods containing vitamin “M” these days. One bite of a crisp red apple can start the memory juices flowing.
Today you may get fruit that is just as plump, juicy and fresh as it was when it came from Gigli’s fruit stand – maybe – but thanks to our memories, a half hour of chewing an apple, then chewing the fat, can help you relive those great old days.
The Red Line came in 1984 bringing with it a new era, but taking away some traditions and the simple pleasures of a bygone time. Gigli’s Fruit Stand will always be on the corner near the Somerville Theatre, in the old Davis Square in our minds. The Giglis are still one of Somerville’s grand and prosperous families. I’m sure any one of them will be glad to share a story about the old fruit stand with you, just as Geraldine and Louise did with me – thank you ladies – and thank you to Nonno and Ma Gigli as well.