By Rosalie Tirella
Relaxing with my critters. Just took an apple tart outa the oven – gotta try baking this breakfast treat with peaches, plums … different kinds of apples. If I have the $, next time I bake an apple tart I’ll add walnuts, raisins, maybe even a handful of almond slivers.
It’s a weird turn of events…baking apple tarts in a gorgeous loft-style apartment after snoozing in parking lots – for months! Hatching this new life out of my cracked old one…going from urban decay to rural renewal! Feeling content here in the country … while feeling repudiated by the city I once loved, Worcester, my hometown. I mean, come on, if the Worcester city manager or any one of the City politico phoney baloneys found their 60-year-old sister or mother or Irish auntie homeless, do you think she’d be writing out her Christmas cards in her car, during a December snow fall, in the church parking lot across from St. Paul’s Cathedral? Would she knock on the door of nearby Abby’s House rooming/apt building for low-income women and ask to use the ladies room and be met with: NO!!!! GO AWAY!! YOU CAN’T PARK YOUR CAR AND SLEEP HERE!!! … and then to have to walk over to the Abby’s House shrubbery and discreetly take a pee on their sleeping tulip buds. The flowers will pop up in all their pastel glory in four months or so, but there is no promise of spring for you!
If this were your experience, how long would it be before you hated Worcester’s guts?
How long would it be before you realized: these City Hall fakes will never think outside the box and have the guts to solve Worcester’s homeless crisis. BECAUSE THEY DON’T WANT TO. They will never get their people off the sidewalks of Millbury Street or Main Street or Vernon Street because they are ok with having not enough affordable housing units or enough housing vouchers or seeing human suffering right under their noses. They will talk the talk but never walk the walk. They want the city’s poor and vulnerable to move out, to relocate to the hinterlands. Or to just die! Disappear. Worcester’s new motto: If you don’t build it, they won’t come! … And new rich people from Boston will supplant the vulnerable locals. Worcester city leaders love the humongous crappy new apartment buildings that are now all over the city, with their $3,000 rents and Boston renters. City councilors don’t care if the rents in other blue collar, even downtrodden Worcester neighborhoods, top off at $2,400 – because that’s what gentrification is all about. A kind of fascism. A kind of economic and even racial cleansing. But Worcester city leaders call it a “renaissance.” Half the city population is in a slow, undignified unraveling…emigrating to Orange or Warren or some other rural area in Worcester. But they call it a RENAISSANCE.
There are crappy new Worcester apartment buildings sprouting up every other month all over Woo – not just in the Canal District, my old childhood neighborhood that we used to know and love as Green Island. Nail guns and planks of pine are their hallmark, but the junk edifices lure the Boston renters who don’t give a hoot about architecture or history and think the $3,000 Worcester rents are a steal compared to Boston’s $5,000. And the trains and Mass Pike are near enough…and the amenities they want are now in Worcester – dog parks, upscale coffee shops, fancy artisan wine kiosks. We finally look like Providence! Tim Murray’s wet dream has finally become our hideous reality!
But as Worcester grows more congested, more car-clogged, more gun-happy, more murderous, more impersonal, more physically ugly and plastic … small towns like Spencer, my town, grow more attractive. The one-on-one friendly, easy conversations I have here with perfect strangers are so nice! The miles of forest and open space I see through the WRTA Elder Bus window as I make my way to my excellent occupational therapists at my excellent rural hospital, Harrington Hospital, are a visual tonic. The way people interact with my dogs Jett and Lilac is … healthy. Every other person here owns chickens or cats or dogs or horses, so they love animals – including mine! The town library is in a historic Spencer building and staffed by gracious, always helpful and knowledgeable librarians. You can have conversations with them – and not be blown off the way you are sometimes in Worcester. The town high school is slated to be totally renovated after the town’s young parents with their small children got a referendum rolling and got a question on a town ballet and voters went to town hall to vote YES or NO on the renovation question. The young and progressive types out numbered Spencer’s old and cheapskates. These types are dying out and Spencer is beginning to take on a luster all its own. A true renaissance as people rethink their futures, not just clamor for some stupid, trendy, expensive clothing shoppe. It’s more real here. The values feel different, more basic: families, animals, the natural beauty of the natural world, conversations, crafting, cooking … backyard farming. Spencer is also becoming racially and ethnically diverse, without a lot of noise, a lot of crazy meetings at City Hall with the accompanying histrionics and false promises made by politicians – a la Worcester. Spencer, my town now, is the place where I’ve seen more biracial couples than I’ve ever seen in Worcester! Not just the kids or the young but the middle-aged and older. A white guy in his 50s and a Black woman in her 40s walk to their car after a meal at the restaurant downstairs from my apartment. They are holding hands in the Spencer moonlight …
I was all smiles when I first drove into town and saw all the young moms with their kiddos outside my old New Leader newspaper office on Main Street, by the traffic light and one of Spencer’s few busy intersections, waving to me and other motorists – and waving their placards: VOTE YES! VOTE FOR THE IMPROVED HIGH SCHOOL! I smiled at the young moms and waved back and thought: Things have changed here. I have got to go to town hall to register to vote.
And that’s really the good news – young locals with young children, young couples from different cities and towns – with the women (they look like girls to me!) pregnant with their first babes – all embarking on an adventure – their new adult lives in a town that is changing and beginning to support young families, young readers at the library, young students as they ready themselves for college and career. The fancy schmancy amenities may not be here. Yet. But they will be. The old timers, political and otherwise, are dying out. Hopefully, this next generation will shape their town in new better ways. For example: the Worcester Community Action Council is in the middle of counting the town’s homeless to help and support them. The town senior center has a director who is trying new things and offering us old timers more than the same old same old … There’s a yoga class and a writing class and a friendly coffee klatch chat all offered at the library…
And the school department’s official website proudly calls Spencer a Gateway Town and welcomes new students into the fold. The town high school’s parking lot is filled with cars AN HOUR AND TWO AFTER SCHOOL HAS BEEN DISMISSED. Monday through Friday. You see the high school marching band practice playing their instruments and marching in this same school parking lot. You are impressed by the students. You are amazed at their teachers’ commitment. You feel the small town love and cohesiveness – and want to be a part of it.