By Rosalie Tirella

Mr. Gilman’s gift. Photos: R.T.

Posted my SHANE movie review here on our website – with different pics from what’s on my FACEBOOK pages (check them out!). The film, with its sensitive and realistic depiction of the boy character, Little Joey, and the terrific scenes in nature, of the Teton mountains, the deer grazing right outside Joey’s bedroom window … has me rereading my book, THE YEARLING, once again. READING this special copy of the novel, my very own, with its corner chewed a smidgen by Cece and its inside covers illustrated with portraits of the dusty old industrialists of Worcester and its simple, wood-cut style pictures introducing new chapters of the novel.

The book was given to me more than a half century!! ago by my fourth grade teacher at Lamartine Street School, Mr. Gilman. It was the end of the school year, and Mr. Gilman was cleaning house in his always tidy fourth grade classroom on the second floor of old Lamartine – now the headquarters for the City of Worcester Building and Code Department. I was a smart kid and a good kid all school year, and I was one of Mr. Gilman’s accordion players – Mr. Gilman was a terrific accordion player and gave lessons to any Lamartine kid after school, once a week, for free. He had about five serious students – and I was one of them. Mr. Gilman loved any kid who wanted to learn how to play the accordion – his favorite musical instrument in the world. I remember he wrote in my Fourth Grade Autograph Book: “Rosalie, don’t ever stop playing the accordion!” We students had the little used accordions we rented from the music store downtown; Mr. Gilman had a big, beautiful, adult-sized accordion, like new, with a shiny iridescent panel by the instrument’s keyboard and three rhinestone studs on his C buttons. My old accordion, rented and very much used, always wheezed a bit when I played it. Mr. Gilman’s accordion sounded tremendous – like it was right off the Lawrence Welk Show – a polka-making machine! The genial band leader with that perpetual goofy grin of his, Lawrence Welk, was very big in my Polish family when I was growing up in Green Island. The Polish-themed TV musical program of the 1960s and 1970s was my Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy’s, #1 TV show. She made us kids watch it with her every Sunday night. Sometimes she’d sing along with the soloists in her funny, sad voice. Other times she’d just clap her fat old arthritic paws to the beat.

Worcester industrialists …

When Mr. Gilman gave me THE YEARLING, I felt: YIKES. Such a thick book to read! (I was only 9) Mr. Gilman must think I’m very smart to give me this present! … I tried to not let my teacher down. I tried to read the book that summer during school vacation, but it proved too advanced for me. So I just had fun looking at its cool pictures over and over again.


The years rolled by and I never got around to reading THE YEARLING, a novel about a young boy growing up poor in the Florida Everglades, nor did I ever see the classic Gregory Peck film based on the novel. But all that changed 10 years ago, when I found myself a cozy spot in bed, opened the book’s vintage covers and entered the world of young Jody, his family and his colorful neighbors. And, of course, the natural world which was the young boy’s world. I read it fast because I was enthralled. Then I reread it, more carefully.

Beautiful illustrations …

So here I am, almost the age of my Bapy!, thinking about accordions, Green Island, THE YEARLING, baby deer, loving your very own fawn, puppy or kitten. Being young and playful, right along with them! I’m also thinking about Mr. Gilman and the humble gifts Worcester Public School teachers used to give to their favorite students, many of us poor, many of us with less than ideal dads or moms at home. We saw the teacher’s gift for what it was back then: a book, a book-mark, a calendar, a statuette. We grew up treasuring those gifts because of the feelings behind the gift-giving. It was a long time ago, a time when teachers were trusted, often idolized – and a bit freer to give to their students and their families. And, for me at least, the relationships, their small gestures of kindness, were so positive and helped shape my life … for the better.
Jody, the protagonist of the novel.