Friday, March 5, 2004
Remembering the Daisys
That, says their son Bob, was how the Daisys came to Carlisle and opened a lunchroom in the center. Almost 74 years later, the Daisy family still owns the property at the corner of Lowell Street and Bedford, where Larry Bearfield and Robin Emerson recently opened Ferns. In January, Bob Daisy and his sister, Barbara Culkins, shared their memories and photographs of the Daisys' long tenure in the center with the Carlisle Oral History Project.
The store the Daisys bought was built in 1928 by Charles Dunton of Bedford, after a fire three years earlier had leveled the previous store. Young and enterprising, the Daisys continued running a small lunchroom started by the Duntons, and pumping gas. "I think the only thing my mother could make was a Western sandwich," says Bob. We study a small photograph of the 1930s store — a sign reads "All Ways Inn," and "Hot dogs," so over the years Elizabeth Daisy must have cooked a few hot dogs, too.
Living above the store
Stories about the old days are abundant and lively. "My father liked cats," Bob remembers. "One Halloween night the kids collected all the cats they could find and put them in our cellar in the garage. The next morning there must have been thirty cats! Then my father had to go around and return them to the people who owned them."
Living above the store meant constant interruptions. "We never sat down to a meal without somebody wanting something," Barbara recalls. Bob adds, "Even on Sunday the Blaisdell widows would come up and want a three-cent stamp. We'd be sitting there eating and my mother would open up and give them a stamp. But they really wanted some company." Small-town life as viewed from the center was rarely dull for the Daisys. "We looked out one morning and saw an elephant," says Bob. The circus was going through town on its way to Lowell when Lowell Street was still Route 126. Another time a large truck loaded with spindles was headed for one of Lowell's textile mills. "Coming around the rotary the truck spilled the load, thousands of spindles," says Bob. "We spent almost all day picking up these spools."
Living in the center had its perils, too. Gypsies would come to town in large vans, Bob recalls, "They would stop at the store. Next thing you knew we would lose our dog or a tire from the tire display outside the store."
Bob and Barbara scan photos of the damage done by the 1938 Hurricane. "It was tough in town because you couldn't go too far from the center because of all the trees that were down," says Bob. "The people who did get into the center stayed and slept on the floor of the store."
Bob and Barbara both graduated from the Highland School and Concord High School. Asked about high school, Bob notes, "We were the hicks from the sticks. We were in a little corner over here and the Concord kids were over there, and it was kind of tough." He adds that participating in after-school sports or activities was particularly difficult unless "your mother was willing to drive you, or your family had two cars or you were willing to hitchhike."
Mrs. Daisy was robbed twice when, as Bob tells it, "Hunters would come out from Boston with their guns, they'd hunt and the next thing you knew they wanted the money in the cash register." After the robberies, Mrs. Daisy said, "That's it, I'm not going to run a restaurant any more." The next owner was Watson MacCleery who turned the restaurant into a store. "He was a fantastic man," says Barbara. "He had beautiful handwriting and he used to recite poems, like 'Mary Jane.' I have them written out in the attic." Then came George Streeter, "who didn't stay long. He didn't pay his rent and left in the dark of night!"
Mike and Matilda Mandrioli ran the store next, and they were very successful. "Mike wore a hat and a big white apron and chewed on stogies," says Bob. "They worked from six in the morning until nine at night, just the two of them — they didn't hire much help. They wrote all the bills on a paper bag, that's what they did in those days. If people didn't pay their bill, Matilda used to come and sit in front of their house until they came out and paid!" Barbara remembers that "they used to make eel soup. Somebody would go fishing down off the Bedford Bridge and catch eels. I guess it's an Italian delicacy." She laughs as she recalls that Mike Mandrioli wouldn't swear — he used to say, "cheese and crackers!" After ten or eleven years in the center, the Mandriolis sold the store to Frank Viscariello and moved to Bedford where they ran a store. Bob says, "When they left, half the people in town owed them money."
Valentine's Day 1993
Bob Lockhart was running the store, then called the Superette, in 1993. When his lease ran out, Alice Daisy, Bob's wife, and their sons Jonathan and Louis took over — "they thought they could do a better job," says Bob. On February 14, 1993, Daisy's Market opened. It advertised soup and sandwiches in the deli department, Concord Teacakes, Janet Liessner's home-made bread and sticky buns, fresh coffee every fifteen minutes and "stools for those who want to linger." Bob looks back on the success of Daisy's Market: "A big part of the business were the electricians, the plumbers, the landscapers — that's really who bought, not people from Carlisle who have two cars and can go to Concord."
Bob had been involved in the store since 1969 — "I went through the service (I was with the Army Engineers), and then went to work for Dewey and Almy in Acton. Mutt Foss ran the gas station and I took it over in '69 when he died." At one time, estimates Bob Daisy, "we probably had about eight different tanks in the ground" as the town grew and the pumps were moved around. In the late 1990s, after routine testing of the line, a small amount of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) leaked into the center's water supply. The gas station was closed, and three underground storage tanks and 300 yards of contaminated soil were removed from the site in late 1998.
"It wasn't just the gas that was the problem with the water," adds Bob. The well, which was located far away from the septic system, was in the store's front yard facing Bedford Road. "Then salt from plowing the road and bacteria got into the well, and they had to get bottled water at great expense." (Even today, Ferns still uses bottled water to make coffee, says Barbara.)
Any problems with the septic system have been corrected, according to Bob. "Part of the problem was Daddy allowed all the bikies to use the toilet in the garage. You'd have 30 of them lined up and before you know it the septic system is filling up. But where else were they going to go?" He suggests that Carlisle follow Concord's example and build a small information center with facilities.
It comes as a surprise to learn from Barbara that in the forties and fifties Carlisle had three gas stations in the center: "the Kinsmans, where Coldwell Banker is now, then the Russells at 18 Westford Street, and ours." Equally surprising is the number of other businesses that tried to make it in the center: Mrs. Leissner's bakery, a beauty parlor, a hardware store, a barbershop, and a dry cleaner. "But nobody stayed too long," Barbara observes. "There wasn't enough business."
A new broom
Bob Daisy philosophizes: it's a new broom that sweeps the cleanest, he says. "Alice and the boys came in as the new broom eleven years ago, they painted, took the ceiling down, ran the store, and it was hard work. Now my son Louis wants to become a school teacher, and my wife is an organist and she wants to follow her music career. Now it's time again for a new broom, and hopefully [Larry Bearfield, Ferns' owner] will be it. He's a good P.R. man, he's politically involved and he's learning how the town works." Drawing on his family's long experience in the center, Bob believes it isn't a good idea to be the only gas station or only store in town. "It's a lot of pressure and people expect you to be open seven days a week. Louis didn't want to make subs for the rest of his life. Jonathan was a little upset because he enjoyed it, but he couldn't run it on his own."
The Daisys wish Larry Bearfield and Robin Emerson every success, and so far they're very impressed with the changes they've made in the store. "It'll be interesting," says Barbara. "Larry doesn't know how to make a good sub yet. He's never been in the food business, and he's now learning there's a lot of waste in that business. But he's got courage and enthusiasm." Bob adds, "To run your own business today you've got to be very foolish or very brave."
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito