Lucinda Williams, of course! A woman for all seasons! (the song I’ve chosen for you is not from the cassette I’m wearing! – but from her excellent CD, SWEET OLD WORLD.) – R.T.
Tomorrow, Thursday, the Worcester Unemployment Action Group
and the Grace Team Unemployment Project will release the 2nd ever …
Mass. Employment Population Ratio (EPR) statistic
Our response to the official November Mass Jobs and Unemployment Report, due out that morning.
The November Mass EPR statistic will be calculated and emailed to the press mid-morning tomorrow (for release at noon), and will be presented at a Press Conference, tomorrow, Thursday, 12/18, 12:00-12:45 pm in front of Worcester City Hall, 455 Main St.
Leaders and unemployed and underemployed folks will speak about the unemployment situation on the ground and the need for stronger action.
The Mass EPR data, which comes from the BLS by way of the Mass Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, was extracted from their Website:
It is calculated by dividing the Employment statistic by the Working Age Population (population age 16+) statistic. The Mass EPR, which so far as we can determine has not been published by Massachusetts in recent years, is entirely equivalent to the regularly published and increasingly cited US BLS Employment Population Ratio, with all of its strengths and weaknesses.
Enjoy! – R.T.
A CHRISTMAS MEMORY
BY TRUMAN CAPOTE
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.
A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”
The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880’s, when she was still a child. She is still a child.
“I knew it before I got out of bed,” she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. “The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they’ve gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We’ve thirty cakes to bake.”
It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.”
The hat is found, a straw cartwheel corsaged with velvet roses out-of-doors has faded: it once belonged to a more fashionable relative. Together, we guide our buggy, a dilapidated baby carriage, out to the garden and into a grove of pecan trees. The buggy is mine; that is, it was bought for me when I was born. It is made of wicker, rather unraveled, and the wheels wobble like a drunkard’s legs. But it is a faithful object; springtimes, we take it to the woods and fill it with flowers, herbs, wild fern for our porch pots; in the summer, we pile it with picnic paraphernalia and sugar-cane fishing poles and roll it down to the edge of a creek; it has its winter uses, too: as a truck for hauling firewood from the yard to the kitchen, as a warm bed for Queenie, our tough little orange and white rat terrier who has survived distemper and two rattlesnake bites. Queenie is trotting beside it now.
Three hours later we are back in the kitchen hulling a heaping buggyload of windfall pecans. Our backs hurt from gathering them: how hard they were to find (the main crop having been shaken off the trees and sold by the orchard’s owners, who are not us) among the concealing leaves, the frosted, deceiving grass. Caarackle! A cheery crunch, scraps of miniature thunder sound as the shells collapse and the golden mound of sweet oily ivory meat mounts in the milk-glass bowl. Queenie begs to taste, and now and again my friend sneaks her a mite, though insisting we deprive ourselves. “We mustn’t, Buddy. If we start, we won’t stop. And there’s scarcely enough as there is. For thirty cakes.” The kitchen is growing dark. Dusk turns the window into a mirror: our reflections mingle with the rising moon as we work by the fireside in the firelight. At last, when the moon is quite high, we toss the final hull into the fire and, with joined sighs, watch it catch flame. The buggy is empty, the bowl is brimful.
We eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. Tomorrow the kind of work I like best begins: buying. Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pine-apple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we’ll need a pony to pull the buggy home.
But before these Purchases can be made, there is the question of money. Neither of us has any. Except for skin-flint sums persons in the house occasionally provide (a dime is considered very big money); or what we earn ourselves from various activities: holding rummage sales, selling buckets of hand-picked blackberries, jars of home-made jam and apple jelly and peach preserves, rounding up flowers for funerals and weddings. Once we won seventy-ninth prize, five dollars, in a national football contest. Not that we know a fool thing about football. It’s just that we enter any contest we hear about: at the moment our hopes are centered on the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize being offered to name a new brand of coffee (we suggested “A.M.”; and, after some hesitation, for my friend thought it perhaps sacrilegious, the slogan “A.M.! Amen!”). To tell the truth, our only really profitable enterprise was the Fun and Freak Museum we conducted in a back-yard woodshed two summers ago. The Fun was a stereopticon with slide views of Washington and New York lent us by a relative who had been to those places (she was furious when she discovered why we’d borrowed it); the Freak was a three-legged biddy chicken hatched by one of our own hens. Every body hereabouts wanted to see that biddy: we charged grown ups a nickel, kids two cents. And took in a good twenty dollars before the museum shut down due to the decease of the main attraction.
But one way and another we do each year accumulate Christmas savings, a Fruitcake Fund. These moneys we keep hidden in an ancient bead purse under a loose board under the floor under a chamber pot under my friend’s bed. The purse is seldom removed from this safe location except to make a deposit or, as happens every Saturday, a withdrawal; for on Saturdays I am allowed ten cents to go to the picture show. My friend has never been to a picture show, nor does she intend to: “I’d rather hear you tell the story, Buddy. That way I can imagine it more. Besides, a person my age shouldn’t squander their eyes. When the Lord comes, let me see him clear.” In addition to never having seen a movie, she has never: eaten in a restaurant, traveled more than five miles from home, received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, worn cosmetics, cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry. Here are a few things she has done, does do: killed with a hoe the biggest rattlesnake ever seen in this county (sixteen rattles), dip snuff (secretly), tame hummingbirds (just try it) till they balance on her finger, tell ghost stories (we both believe in ghosts) so tingling they chill you in July, talk to herself, take walks in the rain, grow the prettiest japonicas in town, know the recipe for every sort of oldtime Indian cure, including a magical wart remover.
Now, with supper finished, we retire to the room in a faraway part of the house where my friend sleeps in a scrap-quilt-covered iron bed painted rose pink, her favorite color. Silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on the scrap quilt. Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man’s eyes. Lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. Nickels and quarters, worn smooth as creek pebbles. But mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies. Last summer others in the house contracted to pay us a penny for every twenty-five flies we killed. Oh, the carnage of August: the flies that flew to heaven! Yet it was not work in which we took pride. And, as we sit counting pennies, it is as though we were back tabulating dead flies. Neither of us has a head for figures; we count slowly, lose track, start again. According to her calculations, we have $12.73. According to mine, exactly $13. “I do hope you’re wrong, Buddy. We can’t mess around with thirteen. The cakes will fall. Or put somebody in the cemetery. Why, I wouldn’t dream of getting out of bed on the thirteenth.” This is true: she always spends thirteenths in bed. So, to be on the safe side, we subtract a penny and toss it out the window.
Of the ingredients that go into our fruitcakes, whiskey is the most expensive, as well as the hardest to obtain: State laws forbid its sale. But everybody knows you can buy a bottle from Mr. Haha Jones. And the next day, having completed our more prosaic shopping, we set out for Mr. Haha’s business address, a “sinful” (to quote public opinion) fish-fry and dancing cafe down by the river. We’ve been there before, and on the same errand; but in previous years our dealings have been with Haha’s wife, an iodine-dark Indian woman with brassy peroxided hair and a dead-tired disposition. Actually, we’ve never laid eyes on her husband, though we’ve heard that he’s an Indian too. A giant with razor scars across his cheeks. They call him Haha because he’s so gloomy, a man who never laughs. As we approach his cafe (a large log cabin festooned inside and out with chains of garish-gay naked light bulbs and standing by the river’s muddy edge under the shade of river trees where moss drifts through the branches like gray mist) our steps slow down. Even Queenie stops prancing and sticks close by. People have been murdered in Haha’s cafe. Cut to pieces. Hit on the head. There’s a case coming up in court next month. Naturally these goings-on happen at night when the colored lights cast crazy patterns and the Victrolah wails. In the daytime Haha’s is shabby and deserted. I knock at the door, Queenie barks, my friend calls: “Mrs. Haha, ma’am? Anyone to home?”
Footsteps. The door opens. Our hearts overturn. It’s Mr. Haha Jones himself! And he is a giant; he does have scars; he doesn’t smile. No, he glowers at us through Satan-tilted eyes and demands to know: “What you want with Haha?”
For a moment we are too paralyzed to tell. Presently my friend half-finds her voice, a whispery voice at best: “If you please, Mr. Haha, we’d like a quart of your finest whiskey.”
His eyes tilt more. Would you believe it? Haha is smiling! Laughing, too. “Which one of you is a drinkin’ man?”
“It’s for making fruitcakes, Mr. Haha. Cooking. ”
This sobers him. He frowns. “That’s no way to waste good whiskey.” Nevertheless, he retreats into the shadowed cafe and seconds later appears carrying a bottle of daisy-yellow unlabeled liquor. He demonstrates its sparkle in the sunlight and says: “Two dollars.”
We pay him with nickels and dimes and pennies. Suddenly, as he jangles the coins in his hand like a fistful of dice, his face softens. “Tell you what,” he proposes, pouring the money back into our bead purse, “just send me one of them fruitcakes instead.”
“Well,” my friend remarks on our way home, “there’s a lovely man. We’ll put an extra cup of raisins in his cake.”
The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on windowsills and shelves.
Who are they for?
Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who’ve struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J. C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o’clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped our picture, the only one we’ve ever had taken). Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes. Also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you’s on White House stationery, time-to-time communications from California and Borneo, the knife grinder’s penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.
Now a nude December fig branch grates against the window. The kitchen is empty, the cakes are gone; yesterday we carted the last of them to the post office, where the cost of stamps turned our purse inside out. We’re broke. That rather depresses me, but my friend insists on celebrating—with two inches of whiskey left in Haha’s bottle. Queenie has a spoonful in a bowl of coffee (she likes her coffee chicory-flavored and strong). The rest we divide between a pair of jelly glasses. We’re both quite awed at the prospect of drinking straight whiskey; the taste of it brings screwedup expressions and sour shudders. But by and by we begin to sing, the two of us singing different songs simultaneously. I don’t know the words to mine, just: Come on along, come on along, to the dark-town strutters’ ball. But I can dance: that’s what I mean to be, a tap dancer in the movies. My dancing shadow rollicks on the walls; our voices rock the chinaware; we giggle: as if unseen hands were tickling us. Queenie rolls on her back, her paws plow the air, something like a grin stretches her black lips. Inside myself, I feel warm and sparky as those crumbling logs, carefree as the wind in the chimney. My friend waltzes round the stove, the hem of her poor calico skirt pinched between her fingers as though it were a party dress: Show me the way to go home, she sings, her tennis shoes squeaking on the floor. Show me the way to go home.
Enter: two relatives. Very angry. Potent with eyes that scold, tongues that scald. Listen to what they have to say, the words tumbling together into a wrathful tune: “A child of seven! whiskey on his breath! are you out of your mind? feeding a child of seven! must be loony! road to ruination! remember Cousin Kate? Uncle Charlie? Uncle Charlie’s brother-inlaw? shame! scandal! humiliation! kneel, pray, beg the Lord!”
Queenie sneaks under the stove. My friend gazes at her shoes, her chin quivers, she lifts her skirt and blows her nose and runs to her room. Long after the town has gone to sleep and the house is silent except for the chimings of clocks and the sputter of fading fires, she is weeping into a pillow already as wet as a widow’s handkerchief.
“Don’t cry,” I say, sitting at the bottom of her bed and shivering despite my flannel nightgown that smells of last winter’s cough syrup, “Don’t cry,” I beg, teasing her toes, tickling her feet, “you’re too old for that.”
“It’s because,” she hiccups, “I am too old. Old and funny.”
“Not funny. Fun. More fun than anybody. Listen. If you don’t stop crying you’ll be so tired tomorrow we can’t go cut a tree.”
She straightens up. Queenie jumps on the bed (where Queenie is not allowed) to lick her cheeks. “I know where we’ll find real pretty trees, Buddy. And holly, too. With berries big as your eyes. It’s way off in the woods. Farther than we’ve ever been. Papa used to bring us Christmas trees from there: carry them on his shoulder. That’s fifty years ago. Well, now: I can’t wait for morning.”
Morning. Frozen rime lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods. A wild turkey calls. A renegade hog grunts in the undergrowth. Soon, by the edge of knee-deep, rapid-running water, we have to abandon the buggy. Queenie wades the stream first, paddles across barking complaints at the swiftness of the current, the pneumonia-making coldness of it. We follow, holding our shoes and equipment (a hatchet, a burlap sack) above our heads. A mile more: of chastising thorns, burrs and briers that catch at our clothes; of rusty pine needles brilliant with gaudy fungus and molted feathers. Here, there, a flash, a flutter, an ecstasy of shrillings remind us that not all the birds have flown south. Always, the path unwinds through lemony sun pools and pitchblack vine tunnels. Another creek to cross: a disturbed armada of speckled trout froths the water round us, and frogs the size of plates practice belly flops; beaver workmen are building a dam. On the farther shore, Queenie shakes herself and trembles. My friend shivers, too: not with cold but enthusiasm. One of her hat’s ragged roses sheds a petal as she lifts her head and inhales the pine-heavy air. “We’re almost there; can you smell it, Buddy'” she says, as though we were approaching an ocean.
And, indeed, it is a kind of ocean. Scented acres of holiday trees, prickly-leafed holly. Red berries shiny as Chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. Having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. “It should be,” muses my friend, “twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can’t steal the star.” The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree’s virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on. Many compliments accompany our sunset return along the red clay road to town; but my friend is sly and noncommittal when passers-by praise the treasure perched in our buggy: what a fine tree, and where did it come from? “Yonderways,” she murmurs vaguely. Once a car stops, and the rich mill owner’s lazy wife leans out and whines: “Giveya two-bits” cash for that ol tree.” Ordinarily my friend is afraid of saying no; but on this occasion she promptly shakes her head: “We wouldn’t take a dollar.” The mill owner’s wife persists. “A dollar, my foot! Fifty cents. That’s my last offer. Goodness, woman, you can get another one.” In answer, my friend gently reflects: “I doubt it. There’s never two of anything.”
Home: Queenie slumps by the fire and sleeps till tomorrow, snoring loud as a human.
A trunk in the attic contains: a shoebox of ermine tails (off the opera cape of a curious lady who once rented a room in the house), coils of frazzled tinsel gone gold with age, one silver star, a brief rope of dilapidated, undoubtedly dangerous candylike light bulbs. Excellent decorations, as far as they go, which isn’t far enough: my friend wants our tree to blaze “like a Baptist window,” droop with weighty snows of ornament. But we can’t afford the made-in-Japan splendors at the five-and-dime. So we do what we’ve always done: sit for days at the kitchen table with scissors and crayons and stacks of colored paper. I make sketches and my friend cuts them out: lots of cats, fish too (because they’re easy to draw), some apples, some watermelons, a few winged angels devised from saved-up sheets of Hershey bar tin foil. We use safety pins to attach these creations to the tree; as a final touch, we sprinkle the branches with shredded cotton (picked in August for this purpose). My friend, surveying the effect, clasps her hands together. “Now honest, Buddy. Doesn’t it look good enough to eat!” Queenie tries to eat an angel.
After weaving and ribboning holly wreaths for all the front windows, our next project is the fashioning of family gifts. Tie-dye scarves for the ladies, for the men a homebrewed lemon and licorice and aspirin syrup to be taken “at the first Symptoms of a Cold and after Hunting.” But when it comes time for making each other’s gift, my friend and I separate to work secretly. I would like to buy her a pearl-handled knife, a radio, a whole pound of chocolate-covered cherries (we tasted some once, and she always swears: “1 could live on them, Buddy, Lord yes I could—and that’s not taking his name in vain”). Instead, I am building her a kite. She would like to give me a bicycle (she’s said so on several million occasions: “If only I could, Buddy. It’s bad enough in life to do without something you want; but confound it, what gets my goat is not being able to give somebody something you want them to have. Only one of these days I will, Buddy. Locate you a bike. Don’t ask how. Steal it, maybe”). Instead, I’m fairly certain that she is building me a kite—the same as last year and the year before: the year before that we exchanged slingshots. All of which is fine by me. For we are champion kite fliers who study the wind like sailors; my friend, more accomplished than I, can get a kite aloft when there isn’t enough breeze to carry clouds.
Christmas Eve afternoon we scrape together a nickel and go to the butcher’s to buy Queenie’s traditional gift, a good gnawable beef bone. The bone, wrapped in funny paper, is placed high in the tree near the silver star. Queenie knows it’s there. She squats at the foot of the tree staring up in a trance of greed: when bedtime arrives she refuses to budge. Her excitement is equaled by my own. I kick the covers and turn my pillow as though it were a scorching summer’s night. Somewhere a rooster crows: falsely, for the sun is still on the other side of the world.
“Buddy, are you awake!” It is my friend, calling from her room, which is next to mine; and an instant later she is sitting on my bed holding a candle. “Well, I can’t sleep a hoot,” she declares. “My mind’s jumping like a jack rabbit. Buddy, do you think Mrs. Roosevelt will serve our cake at dinner?” We huddle in the bed, and she squeezes my hand I-love-you. “Seems like your hand used to be so much smaller. I guess I hate to see you grow up. When you’re grown up, will we still be friends?” I say always. “But I feel so bad, Buddy. I wanted so bad to give you a bike. I tried to sell my cameo Papa gave me. Buddy”—she hesitates, as though embarrassed—”I made you another kite.” Then I confess that I made her one, too; and we laugh. The candle burns too short to hold. Out it goes, exposing the starlight, the stars spinning at the window like a visible caroling that slowly, slowly daybreak silences. Possibly we doze; but the beginnings of dawn splash us like cold water: we’re up, wide-eyed and wandering while we wait for others to waken. Quite deliberately my friend drops a kettle on the kitchen floor. I tap-dance in front of closed doors. One by one the household emerges, looking as though they’d like to kill us both; but it’s Christmas, so they can’t. First, a gorgeous breakfast: just everything you can imagine—from flapjacks and fried squirrel to hominy grits and honey-in-the-comb. Which puts everyone in a good humor except my friend and me. Frankly, we’re so impatient to get at the presents we can’t eat a mouthful.
Well, I’m disappointed. Who wouldn’t be? With socks, a Sunday school shirt, some handkerchiefs, a hand-me-down sweater, and a year’s subscription to a religious magazine for children. The Little Shepherd. It makes me boil. It really does.
My friend has a better haul. A sack of Satsumas, that’s her best present. She is proudest, however, of a white wool shawl knitted by her married sister. But she says her favorite gift is the kite I built her. And it is very beautiful; though not as beautiful as the one she made me, which is blue and scattered with gold and green Good Conduct stars; moreover, my name is painted on it, “Buddy.”
“Buddy, the wind is blowing.”
The wind is blowing, and nothing will do till we’ve run to a Pasture below the house where Queenie has scooted to bury her bone (and where, a winter hence, Queenie will be buried, too). There, plunging through the healthy waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel them twitching at the string like sky fish as they swim into the wind. Satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel Satsumas and watch our kites cavort. Soon I forget the socks and hand-me-down sweater. I’m as happy as if we’d already won the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize in that coffee-naming contest.
“My, how foolish I am!” my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. “You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond. “I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’11 wager it never happens. I’11 wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are”—her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone—”just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”
This is our last Christmas together.
Life separates us. Those who Know Best decide that I belong in a military school. And so follows a miserable succession of bugle-blowing prisons, grim reveille-ridden summer camps. I have a new home too. But it doesn’t count. Home is where my friend is, and there I never go.
And there she remains, puttering around the kitchen. Alone with Queenie. Then alone. (“Buddy dear,” she writes in her wild hard-to-read script, “yesterday Jim Macy’s horse kicked Queenie bad. Be thankful she didn’t feel much. I wrapped her in a Fine Linen sheet and rode her in the buggy down to Simpson’s pasture where she can be with all her Bones….”). For a few Novembers she continues to bake her fruitcakes single-handed; not as many, but some: and, of course, she always sends me “the best of the batch.” Also, in every letter she encloses a dime wadded in toilet paper: “See a picture show and write me the story.” But gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me with her other friend, the Buddy who died in the 1880’s; more and more, thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather! “
And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.
By Rosalie Tirella
The old Wyman Gordon factory site. Once a testament to Worcester’s industrial muscle. Now a shadow of it and its city’s former, greater!, working-class self! Now it is ugly, dirty, closed off from the neighborhood – no longer economic life blood for the residents of the hood. It sits at the edge of the Canal District under-used, under-loved. You drive past it down Lamartine Street and your heart grows heavy …
Through the years, there have been plans and dreams for this Woo inner-city eyesore – some more mundane than others. Like the Wal-Mart that was maybe gonna go in (nope, said the company, not enough potential customers), a Price Chopper (ditto for the supermarket chain), etc.
The summer before last it really looked like a slots casino, hotel, spa, pub-style restaurant were all heading for the Wyman Gordon site. But then-City Manager Mike O’Brien and pals pushed for the hotel to be built downtown, restaurant types felt uneasy about the casino’s pub taking business away, other folks wanted MILLIONS AND MILILIONS of dollars in mitigation funds – bribes, don’t you know. So Worcester, as usual, shot itself in the groin.
I myself was against the whole thing! But I reconsidered once neighborhood folks told me LOUD AND CLEAR that THEY REALLY WANTED – NEEDED! – ALL THE JOBS that the casino was going to create.
In hindsight, the classy, fun playground, with a concert venue!, that the casino guys proposed might have been a good thing. I know this for sure: All the jobs for the semi-skilled in the neighborhood and city would have been a GREAT THING!
Just getting some trees planted along Lamartine Street – this gal’s modest proposal for the WG site two summers ago! – proved to be too controversial!
So now we’ve got shit! The Wyman Gordon site is one big shit sandwich on Kelley Square, leading to the Historic Canal District.
Maybe it’s all the Halloween candy I wolfed down doing the talkin’ … but the Wyman Gordon site looks especially foreboding this time of year!
But today I have a new, INEXPENSIVE, INCLUSIVE, DOABLE, TEMPORARY SOLUTION to the problem: an inner-city mini-park, with or without a dog park.
Let’s all work together to get some soil trucked into this now fairly cleaned up and detoxified brownfield! Let’s put in trees, bushes, flower gardens, benches, picnic tables, some art …
If the liability issue can get worked out, let’s fence in some greenery, bolt in some fuckin’ benches, install doggy poop bags dispensing machines and get a little urban dog park going! It may work! It would be away from tons of homes with homeowners who don’t want to live by a dog park. Away from all the anal naysayers who will NEVER allow a dog park to be constructed in Green Hill Park. (Let’s not kid ourselves!)
If Allen Fletcher can have his fake canal, the Canal District should – through volunteerism? and donations? – create a fake city park that can be disassembled once the Wyman Gordon folks sell the property, which will never happen because the owners are demanding WAY TOO MUCH $$$$.
We’ve got stabbings, prostitution, murders, garbage dumping in/near the historic Canal District. Maybe if the hood’s RESIDENTS get something they can truly feel part of, make their own, there would be more pride in the neighborhood coming from people who live here 24/7.
The real neighborhood.
The real neighborhood people who need a CVS, bank, supermarket, maybe even a health center or public library branch, in their neighborhood. The very stuff the neighborhood’ s movers and shakers all have and take for granted.
Now that would be historic!
By Rosalie Tirella
There he was, looking like something straight out of a Charlie Chaplin movie: a black and white pit bull tied to a bus stop in Green Island’s Millbury Street. Medium built, almost slight, bow legged and wearing a torn, thin, orange sweat shirt that had obviously been worn by a guy when it was in much better shape. There stood the pitbull on this cold autumn day, tied to a bus stop, no room to turn around, lie down etc cuz there was only two feet of leash between him and the bus stop sign. If he had to piss it would have to be on himself. His two front paws were in the front sleeves of the old sweatshirt. The sleeves had been cut, tailored to fit the dog.
The little pit was oblivious to the cars, the people, the city life roiling before him. And believe me when I say Canal District or no Canal District Millbury Street still roils. It did when my mom worked there for 30 years and my sisters and I hung out at the diners and shops there after school, waiting for her to end her day at the dry cleaners, and it roils today as the drug deals go down, the boa constrictor s (really! ) are found blue from cold in the gutter and men and women on the edge try to get through another day.
The pitbull at the bus stop, like all pitbulls, radiated his loyalty, tenacity, stoicism. But he looked funny in a sad way as he waited at the bus stop in that oversized shabby sweatshirt – staring at the neighborhood restaurant/ bar 20 yards away. It was 3 p.m. He had been standing like that since 10 a.m
An old woman from the seniors housing project across the street flung open her sixth floor window and stuck herself half out. I’M CALLING THE POLICE, she screamed, very melodramatic now that she had an audience, me and my gal pal, on the sidewalk below. I’M CALLING THE POLICE. THAT POOR DOG HAS BEEN LIKE THAT SINCE MORNING.
My friend, who lives on Millbury Street, jumped in, just as loudly: It’s like this every day! That poor dog stands like that right there every day!!!
What? I said, still trying to get my bearings because things happen so fast in the inner city. I had just popped over to give my friend a cookbook!
Clearly, we would not be talking carrot cake today.
We would be talking, in the middle of Millbury Street, animal abuse. Neglect. Pain. The usual fucking depressing shit that so often, too often, is the stuff impoverished neighborhoods are made of.
This has been happening all week, my pal said.
He can’t even lie down, I said. The lead is too short.
My pal ran into her building to call the cops.
But as soon as she disappeared and I got back into my car, I noticed a woman, in her late 30s, a tanned, weather beaten woman, yet very beautiful, with long black hair and carrying two plastic bags filled with what I think was clothing, go to the pitbull and untie him and lead him off. She, like the pitbull, was wearing old clothes. She, like the pitbull, felt “street.”
The dog walked by her side, nervously but obediently. Sitting quietly in my car, I could see, because they were only two feet away, that the dog was quit thin under his sweatshirt. His paws scarred. He walked with a slight limp even though he was young.
My heart broke for the both of them. I thought maybe the dog’s sweatshirt had once been yhe woman’s who had such a beauty despite the brown, leathery skin. A homeless street woman, I thought to myself. And I thought I saw her being dropped off on Millbury Street, saw her get out of a car.
My brain began spinning the back story: a street woman being dropped off by a john going to fetch her dog, her one true friend. A former junky just comming back from Merrick Street where she got her dose of methadone at Piedmont’ s methadone clinic. An abused woman being dropped off home after working the day shift at Dunkins. The money she makes she saves for a new apartment, away from her lover who beats the shit out of her. Right now she is couch surfing in Green Island.
I drove off when the woman and pitbull walked by me, and a few seconds later I called my pal who was now in her apartment.
DON’T CALL THE POLICE, I said. I THINK THE DOG BELONGS TO THAT WOMAN. MAYBE SHE’S GOT NO PLACE TO KEEP HIM WHEN SHE’S DOING WHAT SHE’S DOING.
THAT DOG COULD BE THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS TO HER!
My pal squelched my sappy narrative with: NO WAY, ROSE. Then she told me the pitbull belongs to the guy who works in the Millbury Street restaurant/ bar. That the guy just got out of jail. That last year he had another pitbull that was “vicious” and had to be put down by Animal Control. She said he treated his pits like shit.
My gal pal is great but sometimes her inner city stories
reflect her fears, her demons, her needs…
What was THE TRUTH? How best to help a malnourished pitbull tethered to an innercity bus stop? A sad, dirty, possibly sick pit wearing a tattered orange sweatshirt. A dog left to stand, STAND, for four hours in the cold, hence the sweat shirt. Or was it to cover up wounds/scars? Looking comical with its white paws, delicate paws, jutting through the sleeves of that orange sweatshirt, the body of which hung low, almost touching the pavement, as the pitbull and the woman walked down Millbury Street. Like a clown.
Pitbulls are genetically tailored to be aggressive with dogs. You have to really work with them to make them ok with other canines. And sometimes it never happens. But they are great with people. Fantastic with their families. I read somewhere they were bred to be so tractable with folks cuz when they were in the middle of a bloody fight in the fighting pit and an owner wanted to extricate his dog from the bloodbath, he needed a dog who would allow him to pick him up, grab him, pull him out of the fight. The American pitbull type dog of the early twentieth century was smaller also, making it easier for owners to pull them out of the fight pit. This dog on Millbury. Street seemed a throwback to that era. Loyal, stoic, obedient, focused on his masters.
So. Today I will try to write a happy ending to this story. I will meet with some friends and try to come up with a few bags of basic dog food. Big bags of Purina. I will take the cozy, pretty green plaid sweater I bought Jett, my husky mix, and put it in a gift bag, along with one of Jett’s leashes and collars. Maybe I’ll put in two or three collars. Jett has about 13 collars , a real woof wardrobe. He wears his collars with his usual high spirited state of mind, but he hates sweaters and cries like a two year old human baby when I put them on him. They may as well go to his distant cousin, the Millbury Street pitbull. I will probably throw in a blanket, too.
Then I’ll go to Green Island with my doggie goodies and butt my nose in where it has no business being.
Cuz that’s what we Green Island Grrrls do.
Just wanted to tell you I stumbled across your website while looking for stories yesterday on Spag’s, one of my great childhood memories. Started reading and just wanted to let you know I found it engrossing. I think hyperlocal sites are the future of journalism and you seem to have a good handle on what it should be. Good read, good coverage, good stuff.
Senior Investigative Reporter