By Rosalie Tirella
Rose’s Ward Street digs! Photo: R.T.
Still my all time best digs: a gorgeous fourth floor apartment (two bedrooms) on Ward Street in Worcester’s lower Vernon Hill neighborhood. Chef Joey’s dad’s building. Totally revitalized by Skippy, the family’s long time carpenter, so I got to enjoy real tile squares in the bathroom, sleek hardwood floors, a view of Worcester from my kitchen windows that slayed me every night when I pushed back my sweet kitchen curtains back to look for the steeple of Saint John’s Church, lit up and a perfect white against the cobalt sky. Like all three decker flats there were lots of windows and the kitchen was big. Bonuses: a new gas stove, plus the original pocket door, mahogany, still functional and beautiful. Old Joe Cancelmo installed an extra wood bar in my hall, running the entire length of my hallway, so I could hang up all my coats, jackets and coat sweaters (dozens). I remember the day he and Skippy came up to install it: Skippy scrawny from drink and the cancer; Joe hearty and healthy and confident from money and success. Mr. Cancelmo, as I called him, was an insurance salesman and Woo landlord with many three deckers and buildings under his belt when he and his wife Helene were younger. Now, both in their mid-80s, they were down to four or five Woo buildings. Mr. Cancelmo gave me my first gin and tonic when I visited him and Helene to sign the apartment lease. I had never been asked if I wanted a gin and tonic upon entering someone’s apartment to sign a lease – very continental! And very understand because the senior Cancelmos lived in Southern France – outside Cannes – for half the year and just grooved in a different way than we chaotic Americans. I remember Mr. Cancelmo was wearing a black cap, almost a beret, over his white hair and had a very nice coat. Skippy was wearing a windbreaker that flapped in the breeze. He was borderline homeless for years. Both men died several years ago.
I set up my bedroom in the living room of 48 Ward St. to take advantage of the room’s roundness and three huge windows. I was so happy with all the sunlight pouring in, all my fur babies sleeping with me on that big old bed at night, all my music and a small bookcase filled with my favorite books just at the finger tip. Three strings of twinkly lights were wrapped around the bed’s headboard I had fashioned from a curtain rod and sheer draperie panel. My vintage sheath dress hung elegantly from the window. A big old painting that a biz class pal had painted and given me 20 years ago still hadn’t been donated to the Salvation Army thrift store on Cambridge Street.
More girly than what I have today. Obviously, I mourn the Blackstone River Road theft of my audio cassettes – and my wavy CD stand! – but with a few tweaks, this bedroom in the country could also be perfect Rose Room.
I stopped kidding myself: The days of being creative, living a free, artsy, boho life in Worcester’s older neighborhoods, in nice apartments where you could write short stories, paint, make music and maybe substitute teach on the side to pay your small, manageable bills are over. Worcester’s older three deckers in its old ethnic neighborhoods like Green Island, Vernon Hill, Main South, Piedmont, Quinsigamond Village are no longer priced for us bohemians – or working class families. Having sophisticated old landlords who insist on mixing you a gin and tonic as you sign the paperwork? Forget about it!
The developers are here slicing and dicing the old three deckers and charging exorbitant rents for a quarter of the space. Trying to refashion itself as an artsy city, the new Worcester has actually pushed artistes out. There are no cheap tenements for painters, musicians and writers to ply their trades, to develop as artists. Even if it’s only to find out it’s a hard way to live! So Chalk it Up to youth! Chalk it up to idealism … and become a full time teacher and savor the memories of exploration and dreams! Now, today in Worcester? You’ve got a hollowed out, ugly Downtown…an overpriced, over-built Canal District. The old great restaurants, cheap yet culinary treasures, are gone. Poof! The funky three deckers and airy light filled apartments with the old ethnic landlords who weren’t greedy but emotionally tied to their property! Because they grew up in the building or their wife was born on the first floor or their sister still lives on the second floor and sometimes his wife still dreams about the old Perry Ave apartment even though now they live in a nice single family house on the other side of town …
My entire InCity Times newspaper writing adventure got started in Worcester almost a quarter of a century ago because the city was so inexpensive – housing, cool eateries, shops – you name it. I never felt poor as a young woman banging out InCity Times every two weeks in Worcester, from various three decker flats in the city, but I was! But I was happy. Writing, reading, editing stories, selling ads, delivering my papers, working with other writers just as thrilled as I was to have a forum … A blast! I didn’t feel deprived in any way because I was living in Worcester, my hometown – a city where you could chase your crazy dreams. For cheap.