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September 19, 2013

Bulger's Winter Hill Gang hits home

My cousin Richard Vartabedian and I had something very much in common. As sons of enterprising Armenian dads, we worked inside their luncheonettes as young entrepreneurs.

Our shops were located a half-mile apart along the Broadway section of Somerville, more specifically Winter Hill, where the James “Whitey’’ Bulger mob roamed.

You may know them as “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” made famous by a Jimmy Breslin book.

The standing joke in our neighborhood was this: If you didn’t mind your business, the Irish mob would seek you out.

We lived there, too, smack dab in Winter Hill with all the shenanigans of the 1940s and 1950s. Bulger was a household name. You could say the same for Vartabedian, since our family brood was very much a part of community life.

We would pass the stores and shops where Bulger’s infamy took hold. There were times when we’d look behind our back to see if we were being followed. They were skittish moments to say the least. Growing up along Broadway might have been “The Road to Perdition.” You may have seen the movie starring Tom Hanks.

Cousin Richard and I were 10 years apart, but our lives struck a parallel. We both graduated from Somerville High, attended Boston University and entered our dads’ businesses when the time came.

I was bent on becoming a journalist. Richard had hoped to become an optometrist, ended up for a short time in the jewelry industry before moving his family to Westwood, Mass., and spending the next 48 years working for General Motors Chevrolet Parts Division before retiring in 2000.

The last time I saw my cousin alive was 10 months ago at the funeral of his wife, Dorothy. He showed up in duress. Cancer was beginning to take its toll on the guy and the grief he suffered did nothing to ease his misery.

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