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Teen Years - Chris Sarno Memoir

Chris "Junior" Sarno attended Medford Public Schools. His boyhood years (1942-45) were also World War II years. "We were inoculated every Saturday and Sunday with patriotic movies even after the A-bomb drops," Sarno recalled. "No one, and I repeat, no one, ever would ‘play’ a Jap because of our hatred through constant radio war stories and those fascinating movies which gave Japan all the worst of it. I recall one humid afternoon when torrential rains came. I was with my father and brother Bud, and we were standing on the front porch. I clearly remember watching a total rain-out hitting the street, and I said, ‘I wish every raindrop was a bomb over Japan.’ It had to be in 1944. I never thought World War II would end. My mindset was forming about the Japs in particular." And there were movies that influenced the minds of young boys growing up in the war years. "There was another movie with Robert Ryan in a Jap jail and him looking forlornly up at bars that only showed the sky," recalled Sarno. "I felt for him—being in that godforsaken country, about to die, and no one able to save him. Little did I realize that someday I would be in the occupation of racist Japan, then under a totally awakening environment."

While some of the boys in Chris’ neighborhood were Boy Scouts, he was not. "They held meetings in a Protestant church basement," he said. "Because I was Catholic, it was a mortal sin to be in a Protestant church." Instead, he delivered newspapers in the afternoon when he was about 14 or 15 years old. He delivered the Boston Post for 16 cents a week. He got 22 cents a week for delivering the Boston Herald, Boston Record-American, and the Boston Traveler. "I had 60 homes to hit," Sarno recalled. "I got $1.00 from the news office and I made $4.00 in tips. I gave the $4.00 to my mother, and the rest was for pogie-bait [candy]. I was now helping out with the general welfare of our house/family. A year later, my brother Bud hawked papers. We eventually had a 5 a.m.-7 a.m. route of 120 houses. We split the nearby route. Tips went up to $8.00, and we had $2.00 each for mad money. The rest was given to our mother, and we never bitched one moment because we gave it to her. We were happy to be supports to our folks. Rationing was very Spartan all during the war." According to Sarno, the paper routes were very hard, and because of them, he and his brother lost 44 school days in 1948. Brother Bud was an A and B student. Chris’s grades were not that high. "I hated school," he said.

At age 16, Chris Sarno and his brother gave up their paper routes for more lucrative work. Their mother was acquainted with the general manager of Boston’s biggest theater, the RKO-Keith Memorial. There was no television yet, so movies were still the king of entertainment. "As part-time ushers six days or nights a week, we earned 47 cents per hour," said Sarno. "Movies educated me about the world outside of the USA. I loved the newsreels." One of the perks of his ushering job was the fact that the ushers in other movie houses around the city let him and his brother see for free all the movies shown in Boston.

By far, the RKO-Keith Memorial was the classiest movie theater in town. "I remember working with holes in my shoes for a long while," said Sarno. But the holes didn’t matter because the RKO-Keith was carpeted throughout. Ushers wore sharp-looking summer and winter uniforms that accented the good looks of the theater interior. Thousands of moviegoers mingled through the theater every week, especially on Saturday and Sunday.

Outside of the movie house, the Sarno brothers were active participants in local sports. "I was always looking to play the seasonal games of sport, and I threw all my passion into my performance, be it baseball, basketball, or outdoor ice hockey," Sarno said. "It was my goal to be like my famous Dad in athletics. The smell of the gridiron was like being in heaven for me." Unfortunately, Chris was small in stature and weight. This combination was to put an end to his dream to be on the Medford Varsity football team his sophomore year. His self-esteem took a spiral dive, and it was reflected in poor academic grades.

A year later, he rallied out of the academic nose dive, and achieved decent marks in high school college course work. He played varsity baseball and hockey his junior/senior years. "In 1949," he said, "we won the City League Baseball Championship with a 24-3 record and runoff 14 straight league victories as champs. Ten teammates were All-Star selections. I was best shortstop in City that year." Sundays during baseball playoffs, he was allowed to play ball for a few hours in the afternoon before rushing back to his job at Keith Memorial. In the heat of August, he kept a hectic schedule. "After the game, I rushed home, gulped down a huge bowl of cooked white rice mixed with crushed pineapple and real whipped cream, and then I took off like a raped ape to catch a trolley car to Keith Memorial," he recalled. "Then I worked from 5 p.m. until midnight—for 47 cents an hour. My calves hurt standing up there, but I loved my baseball."

After 1949, Chris Sarno’s attention turned from sports to romance. "In April of 1950," he said, "I got a whopping increase from 47.5 cents an hour to 50 cents, and I was made captain of the twenty-plus usher cadre." He worked the day shift, and also supervised three usherettes. He was infatuated that summer and autumn by a tall Irish usherette named Mary. "She wanted me to buy a car," Sarno said, "so I quit work at K-Memorial to the chagrin of my mother and the managers, and quickly got hired at New England Bedding company, which specialized in lounge furnishings. I was hired in September of 1950 at 75 cents an hour at general factory labor. It was only a quarter mile walk from my house. I liked the new work plus overtime. At times I made close to $80 a week with salary and piece work. I was on my way to a $300 used car." When the war broke out in Korea, Sarno traded in his assembly-line civilian job for a front-line military job in the Marine Corps. "In 1951, the Navy paid us nine cents an hour, 24 hours a day," Sarno said. "They fed us, clothed us, and took care of us in sick bay at the expense of the government. Talk about slave labor!."


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