Tag Archives: Green Island Grrrl

Three-decker porches (or: The Green Island slumlord, Worcester City Councilor Konnie Lukes)

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Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

Below: Check out this ol’ photo from the Worcester Historical Museum! Embrace the glorious porches! When so many of our city neighborhoods had sturdy, even beautiful, decorative, back and front porches … You could park 4 or 5 of your old kitchen chairs on them, invite family and socialize … Or you could just amble over to a city park.

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photo: Worcester Historical Museum

Below: Worcester’s Green Island – my neighborhood – today! Very few front porches – most of them have been torn down.😥😥😥 The ‘hood loses some of its social spiciness! I remember as a kid standing on our back porch chatting with my next door neighbor who was standing on her back porch. You could also stand on your porch and yell up or down to your upstairs or downstairs neighbors who were hanging out on their porches!

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Ward Street

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Siegel Street

Harding/Endicott streets …

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… Streets most likely named after, like all the streets in my ‘hood – some of the oldest streets in the city💙 – Revolutionary War poo-bahs or Worcester industrialist hoo-hahs. I was born on (French general) Lafayette Street, my kid sisters had friends on nearby (General) Lodi Street. Was Harding Street the namesake of some military dynamo-killer, too?

Ahhhh, but I digress! Check out the new beautiful porches in my neck of the ‘hood! Take note of what the NEW landlord has done to Worcester City Councilor Konnie Lukes’s old (as in former) slum building on Harding Street: he’s torn down Lukes’s former, God-awful, rickety, dangerous, paint-peeling-and-faded, OUT OF CODE, eye-sore slum porches! He is putting new beautiful ones up! Ones that aren’t baby/toddler death traps! Yay!💗💗💗

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The new landlord has actually HIRED capable contractors – a move the cheapskate Lukes would abhor – who expertly REBUILT AND REPLACED Konnie’s old crap last week. Just a few months after buying Konnie’s urban mess…the one she and hubby Jim turned a blind eye toward FOR YEARS as she, on the City Council floor, preached urban core revitalization, tidiness and brightness yet owned the shittiest rental property. Of course, she and Jim lived on the swanky Woo West Side and vacationed at their Cape Cod home – far away from us hoi polloi!!!

Hah! Konnie, Ms. Crusading City Councilor … at Worcester City Hall railing against the disrespect shown inner-city Worcester at every turn, but shitting all over her in “real life”! The hypocrite!

When I saw the new porches being built the other day, I shouted: “GREAT JOB, GUYS!” to the crew working so hard in the summer heat wave. I gave them a thumbs up! They grinned and shouted back to me! The new porches: so safe and in compliance – a definite lift to the Harding Street/lower Endicott Street area, these pressure-treated, sturdy back porches!

Here’s what the porches used to look like (for years, up until a few months ago), when City Councilor Konstantina Lukes owned them/the building:

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Pathetic.

Jim and Konnie’s other rental property, a few streets away in Green Island, made the newspapers as photogs rushed in to take pictures of her apartments with their gurgling, non-functioning toilets and a single light bulb hanging from a cord in a kitchen – the only “light fixture.” Like in a 1940s prison movie.

Why did Konnie even pretend to care about Worcester’s urban core when she so blatantly hurts us?

Why is she still on the Worcester City Council?

Aside from Lukes’s voter-catnip always lowest residential tax rate stance, what does Konnie Lukes really stand for?

At this point in her overly long Woo political career,  nothing. Lukes is simply a REACTIONARY who adds zippo to the urban conversation. She was always the City Council naysayer: now she’s morphed into someone dangerous. Some one, like Turtle Boy-Aidan Kearney and his brigade, who shouts NO! to the new Worcester and the challenges she faces: refugees from the Mid East, Africa and other war-ripped regions; poorer people; hungry children – 1 in 4 Worcester kids goes to bed hungry; folks with no entry into the working class; heartless, absentee, do-nothing landlords in place of the old non-greedy, pretty nice, property-loving Worcester three decker landlords of just 10 years ago … a city core unable to right herself because the new global economy is just not there for the regular folks who live here.

For City Councilor Konnie Lukes – on the heels of the tragic deaths of the 2 Woo babies this past week, for her to intimate on the City Council floor that their deaths were a “refugee” problem is pure evil. A la the Turtle Boy brigade.

Konnie Lukes needs to go – not run for City Council and win office for the umpteenth time. Several years ago she told me she would not run for public office if there were new candidates she liked to replace her (read: reactionary, like Konnie…Calling Michael Gaffney and his tool, Coreen!!) I was pleased with Konnie’s decision. She was in her early 70s back then and had almost a half century of public “service” under her girdle belt. But Lukes can’t let go of the spot light – and all the free perks$$$ and the almost $30,000 per year Worcester City Councilor “stipend.”

This city has left Konnie Lukes and the Turtle Boy creepos way behind. And they cannot adjust to the new reality … . Konnie, like Aidan Kearney,  no longer “gets” her city, cannot embrace her new people/cultures/challenges. Her ignorance, her anger, her belief that to solve our social problems all we need to do is lock folks out of/turn folks away from Worcester, an IMMIGRANT CITY, is a REACTIONARY move. Dangerous.

This city’s evolution is about way more than Konnie’s old porches …

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… but Konnie’s old porches are a good place to start.

For all the single 💗💗💗moms out there, this Father’s Day …

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Friday: Saying “hello” to Jett! pics: Rose T.

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💙💙💙

🌺🌺🌺🌺🌺🌺🌺

I wrote this column for my Dad several years ago. – R.T.

By Rosalie Tirella

Ever since my father died (about two months ago), I’ve been seeing him every where. When he was alive, he made about 1,000 entrances in my family’s life. Married with kids but not wanting to be married with kids, my father lived with my mother, two sisters and me some months and was Missing in Action (MIA) during others. He was as tentative as the junk yard dogs he loved so much (and owned).

Some of his entrances were comical – like the time he waltzed into our Lafayette Street apartment with some Frank Sinatra LPs and sang “I Did it My Way” to me. My mother had sent him out for a loaf of bread!

But most of his entrances were cruel, small, mean. He made my sisters, my mother and me cry and succeeded at that so well that we eventually learned to … simply dismiss him — cut him out of our world the way you cut the bruise out of an apple. We went on with our lives, worked around our peripatetic “Daddy.” My mother held down a 60-hr-week job to pay the bills, we kids went to school, held after-school jobs, applied to colleges. My father popped in – for weeks or months.

Very confusing.

Then, after all these years, my father died in the nursing home two months ago. And Bingo! He’s now larger than life for me – omnipresent, so to speak.

As I drive around Worcester selling ads for my newspaper, InCity Times, with the radio blaring and paperwork to the side of me, I see him. I’m eight years old; my sisters are six. It’s Easter afternoon and my father strides into our Green Island flat, chomping on a big cigar. My mom has my two sisters and me sitting in our three little kiddie rocking chairs waiting for her to get dressed. We’re going to Easter Mass! We wear new pastel dresses with butterflies embroidered on them. My mother “set” our hair the night before, and now our straight brown hair bounces happily around our faces in “baloney curls.” In my father strides, enraged. We had not seen him for almost … forever. We did not know from which land he strode – not the sweet and holy world that my mother and grandmother had created in our apartment, a world filled with prayers to the saints, rosary beads, homework papers, rules and pet hamsters! Was my father going to hurt anybody this time, I asked myself?

No! He was going to have his picture taken with the Easter Bunny! God love my wonderful, hopeful, dreamy mother, she had my father sit in the grownup rocking chair in the kitchen. She would put the big, vinyl Easter Bunny she had bought at the five and ten and blown up (to our merriment) near the rocking chair where he sat. Then she told us little kids to “sit on Daddy’s lap.” We would all say “cheese” on the count of three! It would be a great Easter picture!

I was only eight but thought my mother mad. No, I would not get on Daddy’s lap! No, I would not be in the Easter Bunny picture. My sisters – twins and safe in their look-a-likeness – happily clambered atop my father. Then my mother lifted her little Brownie camera, peered through the little viewer and said, “One two! Say Cheese!” and snapped the picture.

Today I look at the square little photo from the ’60s and see two little gangly girls in pretty dresses in baloney curls looking exactly alike and smiling widely. Each one straddles one of my father’s legs. The bottoms of their dresses fan out over my father’s lap. And there’s my 30-something father; he’s wearing a striped muscle shirt. His hands are on my sisters’ knobby knees and he stares into the camera, looking … trapped. His rugged handsomeness blows me away! When I was a little girl he seemed the ugliest person in the world!

When I’m on the road, I look out of my car window and think I catch my father’s eyes. But it’s just some old man.

“He’s dead!” I tell myself angrily and shake my head as if to shake out the images of him. Then four or so hours later I see my father walking down Shrewsbury Street (his favorite street) and I have to remind myself all over again.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer, he was not living with my mother and us. Mom had stopped giving him second and third chances a decade ago. My sisters and I had moved out of the apartment in pursuit of higher education/careers. So it was a shock to see him walking past the fish and chips joint on Grafton Street, red-faced, his nylon jacket unzipped, billowing out behind him. He wore no shirt that raw, autumn day and he looked dazed. Then there was his neck: as big as a basketball. The lymphoma had set in.

And yet my father went walking around Worcester – his hometown that he seldom traveled outside of –as if nothing unusual had happened. It was one of my aunt’s – his sister – who had found him in his mother’s old house, lying in the darkness, and said: “Bill, you’ve got to go the hospital.” And then he did – quietly and with some grace – because he knew he was dying.

Sometimes I look out my car window and see my father after the cancer ravaged him. I see a helpless old man – my father after the chemo-therapy, the radiation, the blood transfusions. The chemo treatment took all his curly thick hair away and left him with silver, wispy locks my aunt would cut in a bowl shape. Gone was all his wild, curly red hair that rode high above his already high forehead in some grand pompadour, the wild “do” that lead my feisty old Grandma (she was my mother’s mom and lived with us and loathed my father) to nickname him: “The Red Devil.”

Run, devil, run! There you are standing outside the Commerce Building on Main Street, waiting for the bus. There you are walking out of the Millbury Street fruit store, eating a juicy plum and throwing the pit into the gutter. There you are eating the same juicy plum over our Lafayette Street kitchen sink, my sweet mother looking absolutely smitten by you. You have no time for dishes, meals served on plates. Family sit-down meals are not part of your universe. “Gotta get outta here!” you used to say. “Here” being: our Green Island flat, poverty, a wife, three kids, responsibility.

You want to leave – I can tell. But I just can’t let you go, Daddy!

Breakfast in bed …

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

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incity yum-yum!

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Yesterday, I took Jett and Lilac runnin’. I love taking my dogs runnin’ …

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… an excuse to do all sorts of foolish things, like frittering away an hour amid the tough wild flowers during my walk (their run). … Wearing my sensible old lady shoes that I keep in the car trunk for our lovely daily jaunt, the black shoes with the thick soles and arch supports – really ugly mugs! But they do their job – keep this old broad on the road … so that I can listen to the young trees bend in the wind and smile at the leaves turning their cheeks when the wind hits them…

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I should write something “flowery” like “caress,” but I live at 48 Ward Street in Worcester, so I’ll use the word “hit.”

Just last week my downstairs neighbors took their fire extinguisher and sprayed the white chemical foam all over a nest of chirping sparrows! Covered the singing, starlings in white poison. Mommy sparrow had the temerity to build their nest high up on my downstairs neighbor, Mary Paradise’s send-floor back porch! Well! That was it! She or her demented son sprayed the hell out of the chirping little guys. For days, when Section 8 Mary was away on vacation in Florida, I used to love hearing the little birds spunky, loud joyful, morning song – so freakin’ joyful! Like every day was BRAND NEW to them, as if LIFE HAD JUST BEEN CREATED that very instant! God’s song! But Mary killed the 6 baby birds.

One afternoon, walking downstairs from my apartment, not hearing the babes’ janglin’ jinglin’ song, I stopped short. I looked up, and I saw the birds frozen in mid-chirp! The chemical foam, like snow, covered their nest that their mom had built so ingeniously. Or so she thought. High, in a corner, half hidden from the elements, but facing the sky, too. It was a picture I will never forget, harrowing like the concentration camp survivor photos of WW II. The birds’ feathers had lost their life, their beaks looked skeletal, and I could see the outlines of their fine, hollow bones…

It is a strange ol’ world. Warped and broken in a million ways, by people, of course.

Yet the wild flowers open themselves to heaven every day! The little brown sparrows, as tough as the wild flowers, will build their nests in new, uncanny places! Again! To give praise to God!

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On the road, after a run …

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It was early evening, so most of the flowers were “closing up for the night,” their petals curled up tight …

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There were, like people, a few reckless souls, the daisy or butter cup still smiling at the now-down sun.

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Life…reckless life…

Hello, old friend …

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

Yesterday was Memorial Day. So I visited my ol’ pal Tony Hmura. You know all about him, if you’ve been reading my columns these past 16 years. Tony – despite being a septuagenarian when I first met him – is one of the true rock ‘n’ roll guys, along with the OIF and “Just Joe,” my first serious beau (only 3!😢😢). By that I mean Tony embodied the spirit of rock music his whole life: sex, freedom, an unfettered mind and body. Three-somes?  Tony had them! And showed me the pictures! A juicer? Tony was concocting his own health potions years before the hippies mashed their first soy bean. He loved animals – especially cats…

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Cece!💙💙💙💙

… but he was suspicious of people, society. He was a gun guy. A few months before he died I found a pistol – new, silver, angular, heavy, loaded – under the seat cushion of his Lazy Boy while cleaning his living room. It was hidden under his blanket, next to an old Play Boy magazine. His easy chair (along with his gun) was strategically placed before his TV set – and front door. He watched his Humphrey Bogart movies – and front door – in Boggey style.

Tony did not give a shit what anyone thought about him. He did as he pleased, often living outside the law. He carried razor blades in his pants pocket at all times and once suggested that I do the same. He gave me a lesson in how to use a razor blade – cut up and fast. Like this, like this! he kept yelling at me. “God, Tony!” I said. “Put that away!” He didn’t. He showed me his three-some photos right before Christmas! He always carried them in his shirt pocket. The good old days. “Put them away!” I’d yell at Tony, alarmed. Yet fascinated. So Mick Jagger …

Tony surely went his own way, a loner dancing to his own crazy beat. But he always had – not at all obvious to most folks – his own wild moral compass. I recognized it early on, which is why we became friends. Like me, he grew up poor in Green Island, and his childhood haunted him. Through grit, pluck and smarts Tony pulled his entire family out of poverty – as a kid! He eventually made himself and his sons rich. But he always carried himself like a little sewer rat – same as me.

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Rose has baggage galore …

And he never forgot his roots. Giving money to every poor South Worcester guy or gal who crossed his path with a sob story. And, like me, his psychic pain roared unabated. No matter how good things were. We got each other on a deep level – often with just a phrase, or a sigh. I miss that.

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Tony, about 12 years ago. He had his WW II plane painted on the back of this leather jacket. Which he wore in all seasons.

Tony was a gunner in a bomber plane in World War II. He was a gunner because he was a little guy and gunners had to be small so they could crouch in the small sides of a fighter plane. Tony flew a ton of missions – the U.S. military kept increasing the number of missions the guys had to fly as the war dragged on. He was shot down twice and survived because he was so brutally smart. A SURVIVOR like I have never known! You felt it buying a cup of coffee with the guy! (no sugar, cream and two ice cubes, for Hmura!) He served his country with a tough grace that most people just don’t have. No judgements. It’s just a fact.

So yesterday, Memorial Day, when I went to his grave and saw his tombstone adorned with just that one classy beige cross AND ZERO AMERICAN FLAGS, I knew I had to get busy! I drove to the Dollar Store and bought a bunch of American flags, stars and plastic flowers – for Tony. For Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

I really did it up for Tony!

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Sure, it’s not the most artistic looking tomb in the cemetery, but it’s what Tony would have loved: bold, in your face, colorful, red white and blue and a mess of Old Glories! The gaudiest, freakin’ most patriotic tomb stone in the whole cemetery!!

Just what Tony – a Type A personality all the way – would have loved!

And I put a red plastic rose on his stone so he’d know it was me, Rose.

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See? There’s his plane – a perfect replica – etched onto his tombstone.

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And in back his birthday. He lied to me about being born on the Fourth of July! But that’s ok – the lie was out of love for country!

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I like how Tony’s death date isn’t engraved onto his tombstone… It’s like he hasn’t died! Or refused to go!

Keep rockin’, Tony! Keep flyin’ above the clouds!💗💗💗💗💙🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

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Skin deep

Pics and text by Rose T.

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Rose, an old broad …

… knows, from experience, there is more to a city than meets the eye. Take any city. Take Worcester …

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A few days back, Millbury Street …

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Vernon Street:
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Symptoms of acute poverty …

But dig deeper:

In Main South:

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Green Island:

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❤❤❤❤

Coes Pond:

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South Worcester:

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Instead of acting like a whiny little bitch … OPEN YOUR EYES AND SEE THE GOOD AND THE BEAUTIFUL IN MY CITY!

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St. John’s Church

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Youth Grow teens

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Piedmont – Chandler elementary school

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Smiley face – designed in Worcester.

Go, City Manager Ed Augustus, go!!

GO, WORCESTER, GO!!

“Ma” – always in style, always in my 💗

Photos by “Ma” and her sis

By Rosalie Tirella

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photo: R.T.

I’m having an early lunch, in my big kitchen, in my lower Vernon Hill flat. Looking straight at “Ma” (with me at the park) and thinking back to her big kitchen in her Green Island flat, where I grew up, where Ma used to throw some great birthday parties for us kids.

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Here I am, at the head of our paper-table-cloth-covered kitchen table (the “table cloth” bought special at White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street for this special occasion!), basking in all the attention. I’m sitting in the “queen for the day” chair, our old needs-a-paint-job creaky, cracked wooden chair taken from our back porch. We had four green wooden chairs in our apartment – to be tucked under our green kitchen table. No dining room – or dining room “set,” a staple in all Mad-Men era homes but absent from poor ones like ours. So there was no dining room table from which to pinch dining room chairs for our guests. So Ma would run to our third floor back porch and grab the late Jaju’s (Grandpa’s) wooden chair, along with a couple of benches he built 10 years before.

It was all very rough hewn! See! I still have the tin cup Jaju made for himself, with the door hook handle. He used to drink his cheap vino from it. He loved to work with his hands. His carpentry projects included: wood swings for our bedroom doors, a long gliding patio swing for our front porch. Most of them made from scrap wood. He even made me pink Play Doh horses with my pink Play Doh!

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photo: R.T.

Jaju, a Polish immigrant who worked his whole life in the textile mills in Douglas and Dudley, felt besieged in his new country, America. He missed the “Old Country” and played sad Polkas on his harmonica in the evenings, from his bedroom filled with the thick furling grey cigarette smoke from the cigs my mother used to roll for him, in his little rolling machine. Unfiltered, of course. I used to have a small package of his cig papers somewhere in my desk drawer – they were so fine and delicate. Tracing paper that left no traces of Jaju … He died of cancer, just an illiterate “Polack” factory worker to most folks… (not to me, my sweet Jaju!)

Back to my birthday party… A fine time was had by all – me and my cousins and my aunts and uncles! Pin the tail on the donkey games! State Line potato chips for the kids! Pickled pigs knuckles in big clear jars – a Polish peasant delicacy! – for the adults! My birthday cake from Widoff’s! My purple, ribbon-trimmed dress from Jack and Jill’s kiddie clothing shop on Green Street!

Ma’s beaming down on me, straddling my kid sisters on her strong legs. The babies are twins! No one can tell them apart, except Ma! Ma LOVED all little kids.

She loved animals, too. Cats, kittens, puppies … dogs, especially. Here’s her fave dog (not any of mine!) – ROCKY, her brave, beautiful and loyal Doberman pinscher from her Springfield days. I wrote about Rocky last year – the beloved, vicious-to-everyone-but-Ma-and-my-aunties Dobie who died trying to get back home to my mother and my two aunts. Rocky had bitten several folks, so he had to be given away to a farmer, miles up north in the country. But he broke free and ran back home to Ma and her sisters. One night they found big old Rock at their door, bleeding from the mouth. He died at my aunt’s feet – he just had to get back to his favorite mistress!

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Here is Ma outside Worcester City Hall, wearing – like all women of the late 1950s/early 1960s – her pretty gloves…

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I still remember them! – will never forget them! – crumpled at the bottom of her closet on Lafayeytte Street, in a box, with her nice jewelry – of no use to her now, living on Lafayette Street, working 60 hours a week at the dry cleaners, a single working woman with three little girls and an ailing mother (Bapy) to care for. When I was a little girl, I used to take Ma’s gloves out of their box and flatten them out on my lap to admire them. They were the epitome of all things feminine! They were powder pink, soft, so pretty with delicate, pale blue stitching along their edges. I’d brush them up against my cheeks and smell them! They’d smell like musty moth balls! I loved that smell! It was of hidden secrets! A special past! Ma’s glamorous days!

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Did you know my new monthly, Cecelia, coming out next Friday, is named after my late mother?💗

Happy belated Mother’s Day, Ma!! I love you!!

Good day to Woo?

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

Jett and Lilac are lovin’ their runs! Yesterday:

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Lilac always finds the streams, ponds, water. She’ll swim after the ducks and geese. Rose will see her brown head bobbin’ in the middle of the pond. Rose gulps hard but trusts Lilac’s judgement. Lilac is the smartest dog Rose has ever had. Still, she has such strong instincts, such heart! What if … ?

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Jett stays close to the edge … Jett a few days earlier:

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The ride home can be wet, as Lilac shakes herself dry …

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… and depressing as we drive up Endicott Street before making the turn onto Ward Street – HOME. This is what Rose saw yesterday heading up the little hill in Green Island:

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Cece awaits at home. She loves to “climb” Rose’s dress.

But before pulling the cat off her sheath, Rose gets mad! Not at Cece. But the slobs in her neighborhood. The trash all over District 4 is dispiriting! While driving, Rose grabbed her smart phone and took photos of the mound of crap, pictured above. So sad to see people (little children three and four years old!!) step off the sidewalk into the gutter to accommodate the trash! – give the garbage a wide berth!! Rose texted these photos to Worcester Mayor Joe Petty. He ususally, personally, responds to the pics and frantic Rose messages loaded with panic-struck/crying emoji!

Rose has been complaining about this dump (actually there are two three deckers on this piece of property) FOR THREE YEARS. The City of Worcester has, because of her scores of texts and phone calls to the mayor/city, stayed on top of this site – picked up the crap and hauled it away (almost weekly!!!), fined the landlord, sent him/her official letters, threatened with court …to no avail. Shit is always piled up! For example: Garbage day is Wednesday for the neighborhood. The shit pictured above has been out since Friday!!!!

But guess what? Possibly some good news. The landlord may have been, thanks to Rose and the City of Worcester, harassed into selling his slum. The realtor sign went up a few weeks ago! Hooray! Very telling: The landlord prefered to sell his rental property before cleaning it up or dealing with/educating his/her tenants. Or just providing a Dumpster (there are several apts – there are 2 three deckers). He/she, true to absentee landlord creed, has decided to dis-engage, let go, sell the dump. It’s all about the greenbacks, folks!

When the realtor sign went up, the site was cleaned up. No doubt to make the property more attractive to potential buyers. The tenants stopped being slobs – out of fear of losing their housing. After all, there are more than enough Section 8-ers to replace them! But they fell back into their filthy routine in 14 or so days.

Rose’s Worcester neighborhood – a ‘hood she grew up in years ago, a poor ‘hood but a place where folks worked their factory or low-paying jobs, their kids attended the same neighborhood schools year after year, many owned the three deckers they lived in and the thuggery was kept to a minimum … her old ‘hood and all the old working class ethnic ‘hoods in Worcester are now Section 8 meccas!! The factory economy that supported these once great neighborhoods has gone kaput! Like the America Donald Trump tapped into, the America (half??) that voted him into the White House OUR PEOPLE ARE FLAILING! THERE ARE JUST SHIT JOBS FOR POOR, UNEDUCATED FOLKS. HOUSING IS SOOO EXPENSIVE/INFLATED. HOME-OWNERSHIP A DREAM FOR MOST HERE. NO FREE COMMUNITY COLLEGE FOR POOR PEOPLE TO LEARN TO BECOME A PART OF THE NEW ECONOMY, the new America and Worcester.

So here, in Rose’s beloved Worcester neighborhoods, the ones with the three deckers with amazing “bones” and wrap-around back porches, it is all absentee landlords, people who don’t care, Section 8 … and what the sociologists call the underclass. Folks who, for the most part, live outside mainstream society/Worcester, have no jobs, are hungry (1 in 4 Worcester kids go to bed hungry!), game the welfare system, are angry, depressed, fighters, fucked up … because they are not part of mainstream society! They have not learned how to wake up in the a.m. to go to work, tney don’t know how to: say “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” or cook healthy meals, or care for their bodies, or interact with folks, or know that school is a good thing. In other words: it is all UNCIVILIZED behavior! Most horrific of all? The killers-drug sellers (quite an industry in Woo!) who prey on the despair and confusion in these neighborhoods, who sell killer heroin/drugs and suck our kids (so young!) into their world. Killers who destroy: their girlfriends, their children, their mothers, their neighbors, their friends, THEIR CITY.

DESPAIR.

Will we – urban America/Worcester’s old, ethnic, working class ‘hoods – ever be self-sufficient and healthy again?

The dumped garbage all over Worcester is the tip of the iceberg, the symptom of the illness.

“Saint Dorrie”!👼🌷

By Rosalie Tirella

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photos by Rosalie Tirella

Today, Palm Sunday, as I watched my pets play with each other, I thought of my Worcester gal pal Dorrie Maynard. Not because Dorrie had justed gifted my brats with the dog and kitty snacks they love so dearly, but because it is day #1 of Holy Week – the week before Easter – and Dorrie is, for me, the Easter Story told in 2017.

Let me begin at the beginning: When I first started InCity Times💗💗💗 years ago (can you believe it?!💗), I hit Highland Street in search of advertisers for my brandy new feisty rag. Back then Highland Street was THE artsy, sophisticated, cool, student hot spot of Worcester – a kaleidoscope of restaurants (high- and low-priced, classic and ethnic), funky shops, artist nooks, WPI and Becker student hangouts. I walked into each arresting store determined to sell some of the biz owners ads for my paper. Jewelry, clothing, futons, clam chowder, books, brunch, artists’ prints, bottles of wine … A stroll down just two blocks of Higland Street and you could procure it all! The businesses belonged in ICT!

Back then, Dorrie owned and ran the street’s funky vintage clothing and decor store – Treasures Unlimited. She had bought the little shop on the corner when it was the iconic Shakey Jake’s (as a college grad I used to go to Shakey’s for 1950 vintage boy shirts!) and kept the magic flowing as the new proprietor.  Dorrie re-christened the space and brought her own artistic eyes and sensibilities to her biz: display cases, choice of goods, etc. It was  all so  beautiful!  I loved to visit Dorrie just to see her new arrivals and displays!

At this time, when I first got to know her, Dorrie was at her peak gorgeousness: model-tall, willowy, beautiful face, soft blond hair … the kind of woman lots of women fear because of all that blatant loveliness. And let’s be honest: lots of  beautiful women  are off-putting/can be competitive, manipulative, narcissistic … . Once people get to know them, they hit the road, despite the Venus vibes!

Dorrie was the opposite. She was a goddess wrapped in hard-won truths and down-to-earthness.  A regular person: hard-working, real, open, thoughtful, honest, no games. Never games! I could talk about anything with Dorrie  – discuss family, men, personal challenges … and learn that I was not alone in my disappointments and victories. Life had been rough for Dorrie, starting in Rochester, New York, where she was born and raised, and yet here she was, on Highland Steet, awesome in every way. I immediately glommed on to Dorrie! (and her pals and little dog that she rescued and brought to the shop every day – always adorned in teeny silk scarf collars). Being a good woman who wanted to help out another good woman and maybe give her own biz an extra boost, Dorrie took out ads in ICT. Truth be told, I would have given the space away to Dorrie, so enamored of this cool chick was I.

So every couple of weeks, I’d traipse down funky Highland Street to visit and sell ads to my funky biz pals: the cool Tom Cat at Wormtown Trading (miss you/love you, Tom Cat!💚), the elegant and perfect Elizabeth of the Futon Company (ditto, Elizabeth!💚) and vintage artiste Dorrie Maynard.

Over the first year or two of our friendship I figured out Dorrie had some writerly gifts – and I wanted her to share them with ICT readers. I decided to take her under my zippy writer wings – nurture her talent as she had nurtured my biz.

Dorrie began writing InCity Times columns and then penned a cover story that really knocked my socks off: Dorrie getting pregnant as a kid and deciding to give her baby up for adoption. Then, years later, reconnecting with her son. Dorrie’s baby was all grown up! – and now he was looking for his birth Mom. Dorrie opened her home to her long lost son and shared the whole experience, honestly and gracefully,  with ICT readers.  Our troops loved the read! My respect for Dorrie blossomed.

Then we had a fight. I forget what it was about! It happened about seven years ago…I think it had something to do with dogs and cats and animal shelters. New to social media, Dorrie figured screw InCity Times, FB would be enough.

Obviously, it wasn’t because she’s back in the ICT fold writing good stuff. Animals, of course, brought us together again! About a half year ago – I forget who called whom – but we began to talk about Dorrie’s latest urban endeavor – feeding the cats and dogs of the homeless, very poor, even drug-addicted of Woo.

I was fascinated! Dorrie was always great but she was never Mother Theresa. She was not the homeless population’s biggest champion. When she owned Treasures Unlimited she felt they brought Highland Street down, took a bite out of business and street attractiveness. And, I’ll be honest, Dorrie could be a bit of a party gal and, because she was so damned pretty, guys painted the town with her – always on their dime. Once, home from a trip to Las Vegas with her latest beau, she showed me a photo of herself go-go dancing in a huge cage. The red lights shining on the mini-skirted Dorrie looked lurid. Her go go boots were not thigh high but they may as well have been.

I never judged my friend because, like me, she was looking for true love. Just in all the shitty places.

Right before our fight, Dorrie had just been dumped by the guy I think she truly truly loved and wanted to marry: “Fred” a hippy carpenter/architecture maven. THE ONE. Tall, lanky, thick black hair that framed his lean handsome face and made me go: WHOA!!!!! every time I saw him. Fred was movie star hot. I once spied the two love birds talking together, leaning on the big farmers table in Dorrie’s kitchen: the lust and love between them were palpable. They looked so beautiful together!

I drove away thinking: She found THE guy. I was so happy for my friend! Then Fred fell in love with Dorrie’s best friend – get this – at a party Dorrie threw in her own home.

Oh, shit, I thought to myself when Dorrie told me the horrible news. Dorrie is deep and sensitive. I hoped she wouldn’t do anything crazy and rash the way I would…

She did: To make a long story short, Dorrie fell into about a half million$$ in cash and assets and quit her job and … well, the whole fucking shebang. She drowned her heartache in global travels! She hung out in Paris and  Italy – alone or with a gal pal – where she drank the best champagne, slept in the finest hotels. Art. Food. The world was her oyster. For three years.

Then the half million$$ ran out – heart broken Dorrie burned through it all – to kill her heartache. Only she didn’t – she came home and now had nothing: no life with the dreamy Fred, no business, no future plans…no happiness. All that money, all those great cities with iconic architecture and amazing grub hadn’t made her happy!

Then, back living at her big wonderful Victorian home off Highland Street, no longer the busy owner of Treasures Unlimited, she adopted a couple of street pups – teenie toy dogs with runny eyes and matted fur. She also, a lapsed Catholic, made her way to St. Paul’s cathedral downtown. To help hand out food to the poor. She then hooked up with Abby’s House – a  women’s shelter – and worked miracles with their thrift store. Made it sparkle! Just like Treasures Unlimited – all proceeds going to homeless women!

Dorrie began to feel happy again. Her life grew … meaningful. She began to work more closely with the homeless and the hungry. An animal lover, she began to work wth local animal shelters…Today her paid job is at Abby’s House where she serves homeless women. Then after work she drives all over the city of Worcester giving out free pet food and pet supplies to Woo’s neediest and most downtrodden. Many of them homeless or on the edge of homeless – still good dog and cat owners.

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Dorrie in her SUV loaded to the roof with pet food and supplies … and love.

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Dorrie outside the Mustard Seed in Piedmont, giving out free pet food and other goodies to the poor.

As a super dedicated volunteer of Central Mass Kibble Kitchen Dorrie dives into the ‘hood to hand out pet food to the high, the lost, the struggling, the working poor – anyone who owns a pet and needs food for their “baby.” Through her weekly pet stops at the Mustard Seed soup kitchen in Piedmont and the St. John’s church food distribution center on Temple Street, Dorrie has come to know and love hundreds of Worcester street and poor people – and their pets. They make her smile. She brings them joy. I have never seen my pal so happy and fullfilled! Some of her Kibble Kitchen “customers”:

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Last week I spent an afternoon with Dorrie volunteering outside the Mustard Seed on Piedmont Street…

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I saw the whole Dorrie Kibble Connection scene: the despair, the joy, the greed, the thankfulness, the crappy three deckers, the skinny men and women, the pale little kids, the strung out, the faces flushed from booze – or the cold, the tentativeness of men without jobs, family, home; the women in bedroom slippers and the happy pups who came out with their owners, trotted down Piedmont Street, little happy wiggle butts, to get their dog treats and new chew toys. The angry became less bellicose as soon as they saw Dorrie. Hello, Mama! tney said to her, cueing up for the pet food and supplies at the back of Dorrie’s big SUV – stuffed to the gills with bags of dog and cat food and pet supplies.

A few “customers” took too much stuff. But most were wonderful – took just the right amount of stuff: 5 cans of cat food for their cat, a small bag of dog chow for their small terrier mix, a harness for their pit bull, a collar for their princess pup…Dorrie’s love for these people and their pets, the elegant way she treated each and every one of her “customers” and the respect they showed her, was an inspiring sight to see in the ‘hood where so much sorrow and violence lurks. Tne good manners, the thank you’s, Dorrie’s love mixed with her saleswoman know-how. The little niceties provided by Dorrie. The little special touches. Here on Piedmont Street, with the police cruisers driving by!

Rose to Dorrie: You are blowing my mind, girl!! It’s like you’re running Treasures Unlimited in the ghetto! Aren’t you afraid someone is gonna pull a knife? One bad apple high on drugs, with a gun?

Dorrie to Rose: Rose a few of them are high on K. I swear sometimes I go home high just from standing next to them! It’s the K. But it is OK.

Rose: What the hell is K? My God, Dorrie, who are you?! … What if something bad happens?

Dorrie: No… I’m safe. They’d protect me. They love me. I give them what they need. And I give them the extras. They call me Mama – it’s a sign of respect…

Dorrie was right. After spending an afternoon outside the Mustard Seeed with her, watching her fit Chihuahuas with collars, give huge rawhide bones to families with pitbulls, talk about the fussy eating habits of one person’s cat, ask one lady how her pregnancy is going, give another lady a beautiful bed spread special for her – taken off Dorrie’s very own bed!!…

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…listening to all the polite THANK YOU, DORRIE!s, SEE YOU NEXT WEEK, MAMA!s I became convinced that no harm will ever come to Dorrie on this inner-city street – a street rife with guns and heroin and people on the edge.

Jesus said: Love the dispossessed! … The first shall be last! And the last shall be first! …And the criminal and the homeless and the crazy and the downtrodden followed Jesus, and they loved and trusted him and talked of their worlds of pain and cried to be cured and Jesus made them well again and they threw palm fronds before the hooves of the mule on which he rode into tneir town preaching the Good News, a new way to live…LOVE ….that was/is the answer.

Jesus came to them for them and their histories and stories. Jesus offered them hope and compassion. Knew their lives were hard but didn’t play the blame game like society did. HE LOVED THEM. AND CAME FOR THEM. TO SOOTHE THEIR WANTING AND  PAIN. Just like Dorrie does in Piedmont and on Temple Street …

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… Dorrie is up to her neck in suffering…She is digging in her SUV (KIBBLE KITCHEN, a 501 C nonprofit, NEEDS A VAN!) for love, a big bag of high protein dog kibble!  For one man’s pit bull – he always gives her a little gift back! – an old dog collar his pit bull has outgrown, a box of Entemann’s chocolate chip cookies. Dorrie loves their gifts. I see Dorrie’s smile, I see tne joy spread over her face! Her love radiates out of her finger tips and the points of her running sneaks!

I tell her as she digs in her van for bags of cat food and three cans of special cat food for some lady who lives in the hood – she brought an old empty baby carriage to load up – Dorrie, I don’t understand! You’ve changed! In such a big, deep way! In a way I can’t understand! But it is AWESOME!

Still, I am made slightly uncomfortable by the people outside the Mustard Seed. I am no Dorrie! She is serving them – like some high end Macy’s personal shopper! I wanna go home! Dorrie wants to interact with her precious customers. She knows what kind of pet food to give each person! She also gives folks goods they have requested: a pair of blue jeans, size 32. A pair of ear buds. She gave one homeless guy and friend her VERY OWN CAMPING TENT!!

Rose: What are you doing, Dorrie?! Giving away all your stuff!!

Jesus said: If you want to be with me, leave your house, mother, children, wife, husband. SHAKE THE DUST OFF YOUR FEET!

Jesus was one unique dude – the powers that be in Jerusalem saw him swimming in poor/crazy people, society’s rejects, and thought he was totally bonkers! An enabler and rabble rouser. But when Jesus preached to the thousands they CHANGED. At the end,  the crowds that came to see him were HUGE – thousands gathered at his feet. That’s why the Roman’s crucified him, they feared this weird guy who owned nothing – not even the robe on his back – was changing their world, their society. They would lose their grip on power and wealth.

Jesus said: Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me…

Dorrie gives a poor lady an extra bag of cat food for her kitten. She has so much to give…the donations come to her and Kibble Kitchen by the scores …bags and bags of Purina cat and dog chow keep on coming …

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Did you know at Christmas time Dorrie made 30 “Blessing Bags” for the homeless and poor who meet her every Wed at the Mustard Seed/Kibble Connection? Dorrie’s mom helped her pay for the new blankets, new hats, mittens, scarves, boxes of cookies, bars of soap, bottles of shampoo and conditioner, pairs of socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc that Dorrie lovingly put into each holiday gift bag. She gave to the Piedmont folks who no one remembers during the holidays – many have no family.

They have Dorrie!

So do I! Last week she made me a special blessing bag: She filled it with cherry jam and high-end chi chi soaps I love …

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… and facial moisturizers, too, knowing I can’t splurge on cosmetics and facial care products even though I covet them! She gave my pets – Jett, Lilac and Cece – beautiful gifts, too!

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Jett, before eating some high end dog food Auntie Dorrie gave him and Lilac.

When Dorrie met Cece …

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… she was moved. She said I was giving all my rescued critters “a good life.” I felt so proud!

At the end of my little trip to the Mustard Seed, I turned to Dorrie, looking a bit anxious because folks outside the soup kitchen were starting to get boistrous. Dorrie was busy, all smiles, in her Dorrie Zone, still passing out pet stuff to street people!

Dorrie! I shouted. It’s getting late!! Let’s not push our luck…I wanna go home!

Dorrie looked at me and began to pack things away…

Once in her SUV, driving down Pleasant Street, she said: It always feels so good to get home…to my clean bed.

Funny, after Dorrie drove me home and I collapsed on my big bed with my dogs, I felt, for the first time in a long time, GRATEFUL. Despite my problems and challenges.

I still cannot wrap my brain around my friend’s transformation. Lots of her friends don’t understand her epiphany and her new life. Her mom calls her Mother Tneresa and tells her she finally, in middle age, found her TRUE CALLING. But she worries about her daughter’s safety. So do I. Hundreds of thankful, nice and polite people at the Mustard Seed and St. John’s food pantry … but all it takes is one high on drugs crazy guy. One rapist. One knife blade. One bullet.

Dorrie couldn’t care less what we all think and say of her mission, her new loves, her goals, her looks … She is beyond it…this world we greedy losers jockey through…For what end?????

This Palm Sunday I see my friend walking with Jesus, not a casual follower, a woman who came to hear him preach. No. I see Dorrie walking side by side with Jesus, one of his apostles…the Mary Magdalene to his Peter and Paul…the beautiful party girl who lay with the rich men and pleasured so many…and now it is different.

Jesus and Dorrie are both so good looking and fearless! I am in awe as I watch them walk handin hand through Webster Square, to Coes Pond. Jesus dips his toe in the water and reaches out for Dorrie’s slender hand. Dorrie takes it again, her other hand is waving free against the sunset. Then Jesus and Dorrie do a little hippy dance by the water, kinda sexy too as Jesus dips her…Dorrie’s blond hair is wet. No matter! Appearances mean nothing! They don’t have a stitch of self-consciousness – or a stitch of clothing on! Tney threw their clothes off on the shore of Coes Pond. Now they are skinny dippin’ wiggling under water, over and under the cool currents like a couple of little kids! Or fish!

Then Jesus stands up in the water and places his high-arched foot on the pond’s surface and stands upon on it. He looks around, 360 degrees. Dorrie wants in! Beautiful in her nakedness, she gets up onto the surface too, and Jesus and Dorrie walk on the water. They are holding hands. They are both laughing …

Happy Palm Sunday!!!

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Ronny Stultz – a Unique Find!

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Unique Finds new, improved and BELOVED (by Rosalie!) music section!❤❤❤❤

By Rosalie Tirella

Yesterday, despite the impending blizzard; the previous Friday’s police raid that unearthed guns and a massive pharma-copia of illegal substances of all sorts, sizes, shapes and mind-bending capabilities;  the newspaper stories; the comments section where I was called a money-launderer for a drug biz and the pitchfork-stabbing-into-the-sky crowd demanded LOCK ROSE UP! LOCK HER UP! … I calmly drove to Unique Finds Antiques and Vintage gift shop at 1329 Main St. with the radio blasting  my beloved White Stripes looking for – hoping to find – my pal and Unique Finds store owner, Ronny Stultz. My gentle giant. I had something to give him. He was a friend and an advertiser who was always courteous and respectful to me, never said a harsh word to me, always gave me the run of his place, always let me have a bit of fun. Once a week I’d visit Unique Finds to take pics for Ron’s ICT ads, hundreds of photos, many of which were posted on this website. Pictures of Ronny’s LEGOS collection, his cool vintage toy trucks, dump trucks and cars, Ronny’s Batman and Superman action figures, his furniture, his tableware, his funky rusty industrial equipment salvaged from Woo’s factories and industrial past…

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…  his fun barroom neon signs and airplanes …

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… his used guitars – electric and folk …

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… – and – my favorite – the TERRIFIC UF RECORD section.

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I was always always always! checking out their lps – never stumbling upon an errant pill, bag of heroin, gun or drug deal. Everyone, a little rough around the edges, was always nice and polite to me! Last month I was tripping over carpenters at Unique Finds, regular guys who were building Ronny extra shelves for an expanded record section, dividers to keep all the lps straight and in order, borders to make their presentation look neat and trim. The store’s aisles were being widened as items were rearranged; Ronny was also getting a new, bigger office. The guys, happy for work in these lean times, were doing a good job!

Knowing my pal’s past challenges, I said: “You’ve come a long way, Ronny! You’re making this biz your very own! Looking good!!!!”

Ronny had a Jack White album – new, his, not for sale! – blasting on his excellent Unique Finds store stereo system. He just smiled at me. He was into listening to Jack White. I began to listen to tne lp, too. I was floored – actually catapulted into heaven – when I heard at that moment my FAVORITE MUSICIAN/SINGER SINGING OVER SUCH AN EXCELLENT SOUND SYSTEM! Wow! INCREDIBLE!, I said to Ronny. Wish I had this at home! Jack sounds UNBELIEVABLE! Ronny took my compliment with a shrug of his beefy shoulders and let me photograph him holding the album.

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Mint singer. Mint songs. Mint speakers. Mint Ronny. That IS what Ronny Stultz was about to me. Not a drug pusher! Not a drug taker. But a vintage guy, a Rock n Roll connoisseur! Someone to talk rock and folk music with.

Did you know Ronny used to chat up LUCINDA WILLIAMS years ago, in Texas, after her shows, before you all even knew her name?! Ronny loves her music. Ron knows where Jack White is headquartered and his cool take on vinyl – Jack has his own record factory! Ron still travels to New York City to catch a fave band. A few years ago he hung out with the long gone but eternally iconic rock radio station WBCN’s iconic DJ Mark Parenteau, now unwell and living in Worcester where he grew up. Ronny bought much of Mark’s record collection and music biz memorabilia because Mark too had lived wicked hard and now he was sick and needed money badly.

Ronny Stultz, to me, was – IS – the cool kid at UMASS Amherst that I’d skip a class to hang out with to listen to music …to learn, to get ideas, talk poetry. I did this often as an undergrad at UMASS – with pals John and some pre-med genius freshman, who – ha ha! – had his own robust mary jane-selling biz. “Fred” would have his scales out, weighing the weed – and the WHO’S LIVE AT LEEDS would be blasting and about 10 of us would be listening, hanging on every screech and sigh – discussing the music! John would be making me an audio cassette of the lp, and his eyes would close and his smile turn beatific when it got to the musical parts he especially loved. There was a brilliant kid in our group who walked with crutches, crippled very badly, looked all herky jerky when he walked with his crutches down the long corridor of our floor- but he was perfect when he talked Roger Daltry or the Beatles! His father worked at an embassy in some exotic country. He read about 10 books a week – not on any class syllabus. The kid was a writer! Outcast in our dorm. Lonely. Heavy drinker. But accepted and loved by our gang! He KNEW rock n roll. Made it into our family. It was a mid night gathering…I was the only girl. No sex. Just one of the guys – even though they thought I was cute. I was accepted purely on brain power and because I was as passionate about the music as they were. Most college girls at the time didn’t want to do what I did – get deep into sounds, riff on the poetry of Janis or Cougar or Lennon. They were, like they are today, mostly into relationships, being the tea cup looking for the matching saucer… My boyfriend was a rock n roll lighting guy – an older returning student at UMASS – who did lights for Bruce Springsteen! Billy Joel! He wasn’t looking for the fake girl friend pressure bull shit – he was a pothead who planned on lighting Marvin Gaye’s upcoming concerts! But that gig fell through when Gaye’s father, high on drugs, brutally, stupidly killed his son!

I was an outsider. The UMASS rock music guys saved me. Ronny Stultz reminded me of those UMass music guys. Ronny, like my college pals, respects rock enough to play it right – on vinyl where it gets to you. 

When I look at Ronny, I don’t see a drug seller – I see a vinyl lover.

Ronny Stultz, my cheerleader! Along with his sweet, funky and wise girlfriend – a tough, cool Mama who was my cheerleader, too! We always gave each other a big hug when I entered Unique Finds and away we’d start! Gossiping about guys and how they done us wrong! Wicked fun! And she taught me about life! I remember one of our conversations:

Rose: If you moved the business to Shrewsbury Street you’d get more customers, a BETTER clientele. Sue: Na, I like it here. I don’t wanna be around those people. And what’s the difference between them and the homeless? They’ve just got a place to shit!

Sue was 100% right! The difference between the upper class and the lowest class: toilet-access! All people were equal. No one was better than anyone else.

Then Sue let a poor kid from the neighborhood take a  puppy knick knack home. For free.

I left Unique Finds that day feeling Sue was the new Ghandi.

For me, Unique Finds wasn’t a drug front – couldn’t be! – it was a safe space where Sue, Ron and I, all about the same age, discussed, sometimes with emotion, ex-lovers, love, disappointing fathers, the deep and disturbing connections between parents and kids … sibling rivalry. Ronny, a super intelligent guy – his sister Deirdre just yesterday told me (again!) his IQ is 140-something –  a sensitive soul, knows a lot about love interrupted, maybe lost forever. He’s the son of the late Sonny Stultz of Standard Auto in Vernon Hill. Sonny abused Ronny – emotionally. A good business owner but a bad father. Hurting his son. Making a sensitive kid believe he’s shit. And then Ronny’s motorcycle accident when he was 18. He was, for the intense pain, put on opioids. Sis Deirdre believes Ronny hasn’t been “right” since – that his stretch of legal drug-taking after the accident altered her brother’s body chemistry, made Ronny want opioids FOREVER. Factor in depression. Hurt. Abuse by Sonny. Some people have the psychological and physical template all set up for addiction, thanks to their families. Good people, even great people…set up to fuck up.

Addiction is complicated.

Ronny and Sonny’s history is complicated.

When Sonny died a few years ago, he left ZIP$$ – ZERO – to son Ronny. Left the Standard Auto business to his wife. Deidre runs the biz now. A few years back she read me Sonny’s will re: Ronny. She did this because I felt bad for the way Ronny had been cut out – left with absolutely nothing. She wanted me to understand. She read the pertinent paragraphs to me – they said: I LEAVE NOTHING TO MY SON RONALD. He gets nothing and must have nothing to do with Standard Auto. Ever.

Wow, I said to Deirdre, THAT IS COLD.

She said her dad was doing the right thing. Ronny had fucked up before. Sonny believed Ronny would lose it all – Standard Auto – to drugs.

I said: Maybe not. He’s clean now! He’s a good person. He’s Sonny’s son! Every son deserves a second chance.

Deidre screamed: ROSE, Ronny’s had a million second chances! We’ve cleaned up his shit before … supported his kids. No no no!!!!!!!! NO! Her voice was frayed, tattered.

I tried to understand. … And so Deirdre runs the business these days, is rich and lives in a beautiful house with her family, and Ronny says to me this summer… I know he’s doing the right thing –  going to Spectrum – going to his AA meetings … working HARD TO STAY CLEAN AND SOBER …Ronny says this to me: We have a family house at the Cape and they never once invited me for the weekend this summer. For a day at the beach with my kids. That big heavy handsome face of his dropped. I wanted to cry. Outsider. Interloper. Black Sheep. A guy who wanted to be loved and accepted by his family.

Deirdre  – her parents’ princess … she could do no wrong in dad Sonny’s eyes. Brother Ronny,  the dark prince …

Prince! Did I tell ya Ronny had some great Prince albums at Unique Finds?! And Bob Dylan too – he gave me the double Blond on Blond a few months ago! Dylan always lives on the cusp – so does Ronny. He lives on the edge in a warehouse, on a long dirty dark Worcester street in the ‘hood – where the trucks rumble up and down the roads and sometimes there are drag races …

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… and definitely no manicured lawns.

Ronny gave me my lovely fake-sheep-skin-lined denim jacket so I could deliver InCity Times in the cold without feeling cold.

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I LOVE my Ronny jacket!

Ronny used to give the street people who latched onto UF because they instinctively spotted Ron’s soft heart – knew that he would be a soft touch – food. He bought them their Cokes, fries and burgers at the fast food places across the street, when they walked over to buy him his snack. Gave them cigs and rides. I remember a confused old guy hanging around the office, saying he would be in tomorrow with a loving cup! … Ronny placed the tip of his finger onto the tip of the old guy’s nose and smiling gently said…OK.

Loving cup …

Ron, with his lady Sue’s blessings, gave me cute jewelry to give to my gal pals as thank you gifts – he was a guy who also gave me great relationship advice. Who sat with girlfriend Sue in his office and let me cry – on both their shoulders!

Ron. A guy who, when I said, clutching my Unique Find – an album from the store’s music section that I JUST HAD TO HAVE – I NEED THIS ALBUM! – would give it to me. I have a bunch of UF lps! If the album wasn’t new and could fetch top dollar and I wanted it for free, it was mine. Sometimes I’d be carrying my latest greatest UF album find to Ron’s office to ask for it before I took it so I could add it to my pretty ok lp, 78, CD and audiocassette music ❤❤❤❤collection and there Ron would be … sitting by his desk, stringing a guitar or opening up a STAX CD set. Wow! STAX!, I’d shout, bright eyed and bushy tailed. … NOPE, Ronny would say, looking serious, sensing my coveting his STAX find. Nope, Rose.

Two weeks ago Ronny accidentally gave me one of HIS Elvis albums …

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I had brought it home and was enjoying it when I got the call from Ronny: MY ALBUM. MY ELVIS ALBUM. PLEASE RETURN TO ME.

Oh, boy. Ronny didn’t exactly sound mad – just urgent. I understood. I’d feel the same way if he had my fave Beatles album – the one with “Rain” on it! So I carefully put his lp back into its sleeve – it was a double album too and brought it down to the car with me when I headed to work. It had been in my car for four days … I forgot to give it to Ronny when I visited UF last week and Ronny gave me another lp for the Elvis lp I was gonna return. Which was still in my car.

So when the cops moved in and the guns and drugs were confiscated and Ronny disappeared all I could think of was: I DON’T WANNA LET MY FRIEND DOWN – HAVE HIM THINK I STOLE HIS ELVIS LP! I HAVE TO GET THIS ALBUM TO RONNY!

So yesterday I drove to UF with Elvis in the passenger seat and the White Stripes blasting on my radio. But Unique Finds was closed. I tried the front and back doors. Both locked. Lights out. I felt a wave of loneliness wash over me. I walked back to my car sort of crying.

I drove to Standard Auto and talked with Deirdre and gave her her brother’s Elvis album. I sounded emotional: DEE! PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR BROTHER GETS THIS album! It’s his Elvis double album! – I don’t want him to think I took it!… He loves this album! Deirdre looked upset too and confused, but she took it. She said: No one knows where my brother is.

I think we both thought: Good.

“Ma” – FOREVER in fashion! … Happy International Women’s Day!❤!

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

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Here’s a photo, taken years ago, of my late mom – “Ma”💛💛💛💛 – and Polish immigrant granny – “Bapy”🎵💐🌻🌺🌹🎺 – in their tenement in “The Block,” on Bigelow Street in Green Island.

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Here are my late mom’s polyester work vests – bought at the old White’s Five and Ten (and more!) on Millbury Street – decades ago – and worn by my mom, to work at the dry cleaners.

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My grandmother never held a job outside the home – her husband, my grandfather, was the breadwinner toiling in a textile mill in Douglas. But my mother and her two sisters, my aunties, were, like all poor girls from poor families, work horses! From 14 1/2 years old to 65 years old they worked as maids, cashier girls at the late great Eden Restaurant on Franklin Street, cooks, counter girls at Oscar’s dry cleaners on Millbury Street. Typical jobs for daughters of typically poor immigrants – young women whose paychecks often helped support a big, struggling Irish-, Italian-, Eastern European- family.

As a kid watching Ma put on one or the other of her polyester work vests I knew she meant business. She was getting ready for a full day at the dry cleaners, where she worked for minimum wage, 60 hours a week. She walked to work (we didn’t own a car). She walked to work pulling a shopping wagon (also bought at White’s) behind her for light grocery shopping at the end of her work day. She carried a brown paper sack that contained her lunch: thermos of black coffee, a sandwich in a baggie and an apple or banana for dessert. Ma was the most disciplined person I have ever known – she never ate more than a sandwich at lunch or a bowl of cereal at breakfast. Never second helpings for her. She was anti-gluttony. She used to say to us kids: “Eat to live! Don’t live to eat!” And she meant it. She was a pillar to no-nonsense, fad-free good health.

She had to be! As a single mom, not on ANY government assistance (which she was eligible for but too proud to accept), it all rested on her small shoulders, the ones on which her little polyester work vests hung. She had our Lafayette Street tenement to pay rent on, utility bills to pay, her three little girls to feed and clothe, a tired old Mama (Bapy) to feed and care for and (usually) a gaggle of my pets to feed and love!: Belle the English Setter mix, Raj the tabby cat, Gigi the mouse, Tommy and Speedy the turtles, Joy the hamster, Horatio the Old English Sheep dog mix, Sally the salamander. Sometimes I had two dogs at once! It was crazy!!! And then there was Ma’s peripatetic husband, my father, “Daddy,” a wild, gorgeous hunk of a man with a red pompadour who swept Ma off her Keds and breezed in and out of her life for years. Looking to get laid by Ma, looking for mothering from Ma, the mother of all mothers!, looking for her pity, her understanding, her quiet, dependable love … We never really could figure him out. He yelled so much. He called Ma such horrible names! Fuck nut! Donkey! He made me cry. But he never made Ma cry – or she never showed us her tears.

Here’s Daddy holding my two kid sisters on his lap:

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In short, Ma’s life was BIG, RICH, ROILING, SAD, STRUGGLING and old school CATHOLIC. Mostly, I now see, it was deeply meaningful and loving.

I didn’t always think so. In my early college years I was ashamed of Ma and my life with her – She was, we were, so poor in Green Island! We had no car, no clothes dryer even (as a college freshman a friend had to teach me how to use a dryer in the laundry room!), no vacations, no nice restaurants, no trips to museums outside of Worcester Public Schools field trips. Ma was “ignorant” – stuck in her dead-end job, never even finished 8th grade! A loser! She prayed too much – kow towed to silly Catholic saints on her small dime store prayer cards, like this one, which I have today and keep on my night-table at all times:

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All writhing souls in purgatory, inextinguishable flames of a painless hell licking our faces, Jesus’s pierced heart and crown of thorns – King of pain! – blood drip drip dripping on us penitents, now dead, awaiting ever lasting life in a pit of fire … Ugh. Depressing. Guilt-inducing. The brutality of old school Catholicism, the way it KILLED your spirit, killed MY spirit, my need for God – FOREVER. Today I am a Godless Green Island girl! … a card-carrying atheist, if ever there was one!

For a few years (in my early 20s) I didn’t even speak to my mother! So angry was I at Ma for our poverty, her abusive husband – my abusive “Daddy.” I’d lie in the top bunk bed in my college dorm room and think to myself: This room is so much warmer than my bedroom on Lafayette Street ever was – ever could be!

Ma’s beauty slipped away from me …

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Then, years after college, when I was helping Ma move into her last apartment, I came upon her work vests. She had retired from the dry cleaners a year ago. I asked her: Ma, can I have them? Maybe wear them around the house when I do chores… She said: Sure.

It’s funny: Next day, when I put on one of Ma’s drab little polyester vests, I felt POWERFUL – like I knightress in shining armor!!!! I could not believe the energy, the happiness … the LOVE I was feeling. I was wearing Ma’s coat of mail, the holy vest that she wore into battle against poverty each and every day. It had chinks in it and was blood-splattered and tear-stained! And here it was – all mine! So beautiful! Years ago I thought it was the ugliest piece of cloth I had ever seen! Its Whites Five and Ten polyester roughness! Its boring color! Its utilitarian un-fashion. No style statement was this vest! BUT IT WAS! All along! I remembered the contents of its pockets, years ago, as Ma readied herself for her work day: a few pens, pencils, a little scratch pad, roll of Life Savers, a scapula or two…

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Here is one of Ma’s scapulas she’d take to work each day – in her vest pocket!
Also, she’d have a little dime store Novena prayer book held together with staples – Novena prayers for St. Francis, St. Jude … She would read it, pray her holy Novena prayers during her half hour lunch break at the dry cleaners, sitting in a metal folding chair by the counter, still on the look out and responsible for her customers. No break at all!!

To all the saints – Jude, Martin, Theresa, Anne, Joseph and Mary! – saints who Ma prayed to, average people who helped Ma get through her hard life – I now say THANK YOU to you! Ma’s faith in you was real, life-sustaining! She saw you transcend your pain and suffering – so she transcended hers!

Sometimes in her vest pocket Ma would have a five dollar bill too! – a little fun, a gift for her girls after school. As little kids my sisters and I visited Ma everyday at the dry cleaners, after Lamartine Street or St. Mary’s schools, to say hello! She’d dig into her vest pocket and give us her “pocket” money so we could run down to Pete’s Dairy Bar on Millbury Street to have some fun: buy a small order of french fries, a hamburger, hang with the other kids there after school before going home to do our homework. One of my kid sisters took a few quarters and played the Pete Dairy Bar pinball machines, while my other sister and I sat in our booth eating our french fries and burger – me reading my Tiger Beat magazine, in between greasy bites!

Maybe we heard a Beatles song play on Pete’s juke box. We’d laugh as owner Pete and his waitresses joked with all the kids – the place was always packed with kids after school! We were in kid heaven, thanks to our Ma!

Happy International Women’s Day to all the blue and pink collar moms out there who are making lives for themselves and their families each and every day! You rule!❤❤❤🎺👠💐🎵