By Brian P. Wallace
If you were a kid growing up in Southie, you knew him. If you were a kid growing up in Southie, you felt as if he were one of, if not, the most important men in the town. Our bikes were as important to us as our Dads’ cars were to them. If our Dad’s car broke down, he had a dozen or so places to take it to get fixed. If our bikes broke down, he was the only game in town. No bike, no adventures.
Being without a bike meant some very boring days, and that is the last thing a 10-year-old kid wants or needs. His shop was located at Emerson Street near I Street, and he had bikes of all sizes, shapes, colors, and a few baby carriages thrown in for good measure in his bicycle repair shop. He fixed everything from flats to broken chains to bikes that were bent in half. He scared the heart out of me the first time I walked my bike from my West Fifth Street house to his repair shop. “What the hell did you do kid?” he asked as he examined my bike. “I hit something,” I replied meekly. “What, a truck,” he shot back unapologetically. “No sir, a car.” He looked at me and softened for the first time, and I could see that that gruff exterior was just a ruse. “Are you OK?” he asked in a very caring way. “I am, but my bike’s not,” I said looking at my prized possession. “Well I can fix that, but I can’t fix you,” he smiled. “You can fix it?” I said hopefully. “There’s not a bike made that I can’t fix,” he looked at me, “even ones that like to challenge cars.” Now the bigger question. “How much?” I asked. “We can work that out later,” he said as he picked up my bike and moved in deeper into his store which was called Federico Bike Shop. “Give me two days and be careful going home, no more cars.” We both laughed. Two days later he charged me a buck, and I was back in action.
His name was Charlie Federico, and he was as much a part of Southie as Sullys. He was a hero to every kid who owned a bike in Southie. Charlie Federico died this week. He will be waked this Thursday, January 24th at Casper Funeral Home on Dorchester Street from 4-8 pm and buried on Friday at Gate of Heaven at 10 AM, and he will be missed.
That ,thankfully, was the only time I needed my bike fixed. Many years later I was running for State Rep, and my headquarters was on Broadway near I Street and across from Federico’s Bike Shop, which was one of the pre-eminent political sign locations in Southie. We were all afraid to ask him if we could put a sign-up. “You’re the candidate, You ask him.” One of my intrepid volunteers volunteered. I trudged over slowly. “What do you want?” he barked. I was immediately transported back to my childhood. “I’m running for Rep,” I stammered. “I know who you are,” he stared at me, and I hope you haven’t run into any more cars since our last encounter.” I was shocked. That was over forty years ago. Now, it was my turn to stare. “I suppose you want to put one of your signs up on my building?” I just nodded. “OK but be careful,” he said as he went back into his shop. That was the last time I ever spoke to Mr. Federico.
Thank you, Charlie, for taking care of a little kid and his bike and a big kid and his sign. Rest in peace.