Category Archives: Green Island Grrrl

CRACKER JACK!

By Rosalie Tirella

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2022 Cracker Jack … pics: R.T.

I picked up a 3-pack of CRACKER JACK at the dollar store the other day. I was curious: had this snack classic, at the height of its wow-ness during World War II, changed since we Green Island kids scarfed it down on Lafayette Street, always a bit stale, having sat on the shelf of Eddy’s Penny Candy Store for a couple of months, but still pretty terrific. From popsicles, to Nutty Buddy ice cream cones, to cream-sickles (my mom’s favorite treat) to huge ropes of purple bubble gum that turned our lips a lurid indigo, Eddie had all the goodies – plus a few loaves of bread and bottles of Moxie, if you needed a meal. Moxie was/is a dark brown soda pop with zing to it that I liked a lot as a kid. Rose had MOXIE! My mother did, too, as she loved the soda pop and always had a bottle of it in our old refrigerator.

“Eddy’s” was located across the Lafayette Street three decker in which we lived and was the penny candy mecca of our neighborhood. Eddy had one side of his store dedicated to just penny candy. Hundreds of sour balls, malted balls, gum balls, candy canes, licorice twists, lollipops, little wax figurines filled with colored sugar water … all individually wrapped sitting in their own cubby waiting for you to say to Eddy: I’ll take that one, Eddy, and that kind, Eddy, and that one, Eddy! You never touched. You just pointed at the candy you wanted. The cubbies were built onto a huge brown table/stand, so as a little kid you looked over this sea of candy, each kind, in its own nook, and Eddy stood over you holding a little brown paper bag and picked out the candy you pointed to and dropped it into your wee paper bag. He did this not out of sanitary or health concerns but because he didn’t want us kids – most poor, many bold (boys and girls both) – to steal even one gum drop from him. I tried once – when I thought Eddy wasn’t looking. I thought I very smoothly placed my chubby little paw over a wrapped butter scotch … PUT THAT BACK! Eddy screamed at me, in front of all the other kids waiting their turn for candy. I looked up at his red twisted face and felt ashamed. Chastened. A sinner. THOU SHALT NOT STEAL was the Seventh Commandment! Would Eddy tell my mother I tried to STEAL the next time he saw her? I skulked out of Eddy’s and never tried to pilfer his penny candy again.

Eddy – an epileptic who often had his seizures in the back room of his store, which signaled to us kids: come back later to buy penny candy – wasn’t a kid person or even a candy and snack person. His little store at the bottom level of his mother’s three decker (he lived with his mother above the store) was a way to bring in some money – and set off store fire crackers in the middle of Lafayette Street, creating little pyrotechnics shows for himself and us kids. Eddy loved the pop sizzle pop of the fire crackers, and he always drew a crowd of us because we kids liked the smoke and noise and unpredictability of firecrackers and secretly hoped Eddy would have one of his “fits” in front of us while setting off his fireworks. Now that would be a terrific show!!

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Rose and kid sisters at Rocky Point – Rocky Point clam fritters better than Eddy’s stale Cracker Jacks!

Sometimes I’d go to Eddy’s and buy not firecrackers but a roll of “caps” and just bang out the red strip of caps with a stone, right in front of our house. With the dots of black fire cracker powder in the middle of the strip I knew exactly where to slam my stone and loved the smell of the cap powder once released. I had a cap gun that my mom bought for me at the Mart…a real Western John Wayne cowboy lookalike gun that you could feed a roll of caps into. You felt like a real cow girl shooting at the TV set or your kid sister! My cousin Ann had cowgirl boots, a cowgirl vest, a cowgirl hat and two cap guns to stick in her brown plastic holster that she wore around her fat waist. Ann was my Uncle Mark’s daughter and was spoiled. She wasn’t poor like me and my kid sisters – she was the daughter of a school principal and always got any toy she wanted. Uncle Mark called her his “Polish Princess” and never disappointed her …

My mother, a baseball fanatic, didn’t have the money to buy me cow girl outfits or even two cap guns, but she did teach me how to sing TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME, an old baseball tune that immortalized CRACKER JACK with its lyrics: “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack/I don’t care if I never get back!/It’s just root toot toot for the whole team … It’s a shame if they lose but It’s one! two! Three strikes you’re out!! at the old ball game!” This is the song my mom would whistle around our tenement when she was washing clothes over the big concrete basins in our kitchen – holdovers from the 1920s when the wife washed the laundry by hand in one bath tub and rinsed it in the adjacent one. Both concrete and ugly. When not in use there was a slab of concrete that went over it. I think my mom covered it with yellow daisy contact paper she bought at White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street to make this industrial hunk look pretty. During birthday parties Ma would set out her buffet on this concrete slab with a pretty paper table cloth draped over the dark stone. I remember watching in trepidation as Ma fed pieces of wet laundry – tee shirt, apron, dress – in between the two big black hard rubber rollers that rolled and rolled …this squeezed out all the water in the articles of clothing, leaving Ma with flat-as-pancakes clothes for her to hang on our third floor clothes line, square and hanging from a metal pole from our back porch. I always worried she’d get her careworn fingers stuck between the big rollers and they’d get caught between the rollers and they’d be a horrible accident. But my mother was always sharp and ready for anything – except my father, who strode into our kitchen when he was in town to call my sweet mother, doing our laundry, “a dumb jackass” for working so hard. Didn’t she know they had invented the washer and dryer?! Didn’t she read the Sears and Roebuck catalog?!!

Didn’t Daddy know we were poor?

And so Ma whistled the CRACKER JACK song when she washed our clothes, tuning our peripatetic father out of the picture. A cozy, domestic picture my mother lovingly created for her three girls and Polish immigrant mother, Bapy.

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Rose, 10, standing before our washing basins in our Lafayette Street kitchen. The basins are covered up and ready for a CECELIA birthday party!

I always liked the free prize in my box of stale CRACKER JACK that I had bought at Eddy’s. Eddy couldn’t ruin the prize no matter how long the box stood on his rickety store shelf. Every box of Cracker Jack came with its own secret prize, usually at the bottom of your box of Cracker Jack. It was often a terrific glow-in-the-dark plastic ring, or a red whistle that really sang, or a little plastic magnifying glass that worked!, or a strip baseball tattoos – bat, mitt, ball – that I used to rub onto my forearm and wash off with warm, soapy water before I went to bed …There could also be a maze, with little silver balls that you tried to roll into an enclosed picture. The balls were the eyes of a cat, or a baseball in mid-flight over the pale green outfield of your little picture. Lots of kids bought their box of Cracker Jack just for the toy inside! And the box was colorful, festive, fun. You felt great carrying a box of Cracker Jack. You sparkled.

So here I am 60 years old, with my boxes of Cracker Jack. Ma is dead, so is White’s Five and Ten…the dollar store has stuff made in China, including their bags of penny candy. I open my dollar store Cracker Jack box tentatively. What a bust – for me – for any kid! The box is small and cheap looking. The CRACKER JACK history is touted for all to read …

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– but it’s not respected by its current manufacturer.

The Cracker Jack is BIOENGINEERED …

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Ick!

I taste it… tastes Ok. Not enough peanuts. The free toy is a small flat square piece of paper, no bigger than a postage stamp. Really nothing I want to explore. Same piece of crap free toy in all three CRACKER JACK boxes! No variety, no zip, courtesy of Frito Lay, a multi-billion dollar $$$ global corporation that could definitely afford to sell big beautiful boxes of yummy Cracker Jack, with glow-in-the-dark rings that boys and girls love to wear to bed, or red whistles that you can string on some red yarn and blow into them and pretend you’re a police officer busting in to catch the criminals: Frito Lay. Global capitalism.

John in Rose’s space: THE SUMMER SLIDE

“SUMMER SLIDE” CAN BE PREVENTED – WITH THE HELP OF PARENTS!

By John Monfredo, retired WPS principal and teacher and WSC member

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Mr. Monfredo. photo: R.T.

For years I have emphasized the importance of reading in the lives of our WPS children and spoke about the “summer slide.” The “slide” takes place during school summer vacation time due to our children not being engaged in learning activities.

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Read! photos submitted

Please remember that the summer slide is real! Our school professionals see the decline in reading and math achievement in our students when they return to school in the fall – just from being away from school for a few months! Often this happens with students who can least afford to lose the reading gains they’ve achieved during the school year, the kids who fall the farthest behind when they return to the classroom after a summer.

Research for years has stated the following: Children who don’t read during the summer risk losing up to three months of reading skills they achieved during the school year.

Without intervention, by the time these students, enter our high schools, the achievement gap widens. It’s even more important this year as we emerge from the Global Pandemic and already there has been a learning loss due to COVID.

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Make learning fun!

That’s one of the reasons why, through “Worcester: the City that Reads” my wife Annemarie, also a retired WPS teacher (Nelson Place), and I have collected over 1 million books. In 18 years! We did this for our children in Worcester; the books we’ve collected have gone to children in the community, children living in a families with financial challenges, kids who may lack books in their homes … This poses the greatest barrier to achieving literacy.

Families in need of additional books, please let me know! Email me at incitytimes@hotmail.com …We’ll provide your children with age-appropriate reading material!

Remember, the greatest gift is a passion for reading. As a society, we need to be reminded about that often and do something about it! Let’s look at just a few ideas parents and grandparents may want to consider this summer to assist children …help them avoid the “SUMMER SLIDE”:

First question … Have you enrolled your child in one of the many summer programs available in Worcester? The Worcester Public Schools have a host of programs – many elementary schools with transportation available. The program has started, so if you want to enroll your child, you need to move fast. If you need assistance, call the superintendent of WPSchools Office at 508-799-3115.

In addition, there are many social agencies in the city who can help: the United Way, YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Club, and Rainbow Child Development…they have summer programs. Check it out!

Next, be sure to visit the Worcester Public Library! Just last week they started their summer literacy program. Our libraries are the best buy in this community – they are free and the library opens the door to learning.

Please sign up for lots of great opportunities at our main and branch public libraries!

Let’s look at other ideas that parents need to consider …

Devise a plan. Tell your child that reading and learning activities will be an important part of their summer. Assure them that they’ll still have lots of time for play.

Transform everyday activities into learning opportunities. Children can count change at the store, read directions for a family trip, check a map, write a shopping list or help calculate a recipe’s measurements – and measure cooking ingredients!

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Have children hone their math skills through baking/cooking … measuring and adding ingredients, halving recipes call for science/math skills. photo: PETA

Gather those activity books! Give children their own activity books with crossword puzzles or number games, customized for their specific age group. Set a “due date” to keep them on track, but let them work at their own pace. You can buy many of these coloring and activity books at the Dollar Tree stores for just $1.25. Also, they sell cute notebooks, sticker books, pens, crayons and more.

Reading aloud . Parents of toddlers, let me emphasize that reading aloud to young children is the most important way to get them started on the road to being successful readers. This summer, read to and with your child as often as possible. This is a way to spend time with your child – and if it’s convenient for you, read at bedtime. Twenty minutes of reading aloud will accomplish more than you can ever measure!

“The more I read,

The more I know…

20 minutes a day will help me grow.”

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Summer day trips to your local public library = fun! Books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, Kindles and more can be “checked out”!

Have reading material available. Keep books, magazines and newspapers in the home and be a reading role model. Be sure to obtain a library card for your child, and then visit the library and take books home.

Libraries also have movies and CD’s. A child who is a reluctant reader might be more interested in reading a book once he/she has seen the movie. Comic books are also a great way to get your child to read and build their vocabulary.

Cooking can be a reading activity … A good home activity is cooking with your child. This is one of the best ways to integrate math, reading and following directions. Let your child design the menu, too! Help your child put together their favorite recipes in their own special cookbook. A fun arts and crafts project!

Field Trips … How about a field trip to a local museum or park with walking trails… have your child keep a journal about your travels and have him or her write about it …

Vocabulary ideas …Another home idea … on the refrigerator door, place new words for the week each Sunday and have the use the words in conversations throughout the week.

Vacation time …If you are planning on taking a vacation this summer, you can turn it into a social studies activity. Ask your child to research the destination’s history, cuisine, popular attractions, etc. Also, once you reach your vacation destination you can schedule tours of famous landmarks and locations, which will increase your child’s social studies knowledge.

Family Reading Night …How about a Family Night each week? Bring out the popcorn and read a book. Try once in a while to get a book based on a movie. Then, show the movie and see if the book did follow the movie script. Many movies can be obtained at the Worcester Public Library.

Importance of summer writing… Be sure that your child has a diary in the summertime and have him write the highlights of his day each evening before going to bed. Other writing activities could be writing a letter to a friend or relative, or even writing to me! It’s important that your child writes often for the more he writes, just like reading, the better he will become with this skill. In addition, be sure to have your child write about their favorite book that they read this summer and send their essay to me – John Monfredo, 8 Cherokee Road Worcester, Ma. 01606. I will select the winning essays from grades K to three, grades four to six, and from seven up. The winners will be rewarded with new books. How is that for an incentive!

I hope that I’ve once again raised parents’ awareness of the importance of supporting your children’s learning in the summertime. I also hope I’ve provided some interesting and fun activities that can prevent the summer slide!

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Always have school supplies on hand so children can get creative during summer break! photo: R.T.

Mr. Monfredo in Rose’s space!⚾🧢

The Kid from Green Island” – Richie Gedman – makes good! THE RED SOX HALL OF FAME!

By John Monfredo

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John Monfredo, this summer. John began his WPS teaching career at Lamartine Street School. He later went on to become principal of Belmont Community School. After retiring from our public schools, John ran for the Worcester School Committee and won. He served on the committee for many years. photos: R.T.

All teachers will tell you we never forget some former students – and relish in their success. As a relatively new fifth-grade teacher in the Worcester Public Schools – at the former Lamartine Street School – the same applies to me. One of my former students was Richie Gedman, star Red Sox catcher who just recently was elected with former players David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

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Photo of Rich Gedman when he was John’s student … on the cover of July CECELIA! On stands now!

The significance of this story is that “Geddy” grew up a “stone’s throw” from Polar Park … on Lafayette Street. He is now the batting coach for the Worcester Woo Sox who play at the ballpark a 10- minute walk from his childhood home. See, one can come home again! And you can be remembered by so many in your hometown – and Worcester County. As a matter of fact, the editor/owner/publisher of CECELIA/InCity Times, Rosalie Tirella, “Rose” was another standout student of mine at Lamartine Street School around the same time. She grew up close to where the Gedman’s lived.

Geddy was an outstanding athlete at Lamartine, and he was an outstanding and dominant player later as a student on the St. Peter-Marian High School baseball team. It was there that he caught the eye of many scouts as a pitcher and first baseman. He signed as an undrafted free agent right out of high school, in 1977, and was sent to the instructional league to learn the fine art of being a catcher.

The Red Sox saw the potential in Geddy and wanted to convert him into a catcher. That was what the Red Sox envisioned him to play – and he succeeded! Three years later he was brought up to the Red Sox. He made it to the big leagues, not only because of his ability but because he had the work ethic and drive to make it happen. According to “Geddy,” his greatest thrill was being called up from Pawtucket and putting on that Red Sox uniform!

Rich Gedman went in to have many great years in the 1980s hitting for power and average and played for the Red Sox for 11 years. He also received a number of honors during that time.

Some of the HIGHLIGHTS of his career include:

Twice named an All-Star … The Sporting News AL Rookie of the Year … Selected for the All-Star Team by UPI and The Sporting News … Caught Dennis Eckersley’s one-hitter … Set two AL records for putouts in a game (20) and in consecutive games, for that year Gedman was the battery mate for Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens when Clemens struck out 20 batters … Hit for the cycle and drove in seven runs against the Blue Jays … Reached base in all five at-bats of historic game 5 of the 1986 American Championship Series.

This included a two-run home run in the second inning and a hit by a pitch in the ninth inning that set up Dave Henderson’s dramatic two-out home run.

As one of his biggest supporters and fans, watching Rich’s career unfold, I was thrilled when he signed with the Red Sox! But I was more excited when he was named Rookie of the Year by Sporting News Magazine. I immediately went to see former Worcester Mayor Jordan Levy and requested that the City honor Rich Gedman – not only because he was named Rookie of the Year but because we were all proud of him as the All-American Boy from our city, Worcester! Levy loved the idea, and I was honored to be named chairman of the committee.

This, Worcester held a Rich Gedman Weekend! The festivities started with a banquet at St. Peter-Marian High School where Rich once attended school and played baseball. Paul X. Tivnan, county commissioner, and I served as masters of ceremonies.

At the dinner, the mayor presented Rich Gedman with the Key to the City and read a special proclamation stating his accomplishments. In addition, the Worcester Chamber of Commerce presented Rich with a special gift from its members. The weekend ended on Sunday with a parade in Rich’s honor. Rich rode proudly with his superstar wife, Sherry Aselton, best known for her own accomplishments (softball) at St. Peter-Marian, where they met. High school sweethearts.

The parade included marching bands, floats and T-shirts donated by Mac-Bens Sporting Goods Store …they read: “I’m a Richie Gedman Fan.” It also included a number of special guests, including then-Worcester City Manager Francis McGrath; Bill Norkaitis, Rich’s high school coach; Bob O’Coin, president of the Worcester Chamber of Commerce; Joe Morgan, manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox; and William Short, executive vice-president of the chamber, just to name a few of the guests.

As most teachers will tell you, we enjoy the interaction with our students. Rich was one of the students I had at my and my wife’s house many times, and he went to his first Red Sox game with me. When visiting my house, my wife Anne-Marie would bake him cookies to take home for him and his family. Growing up, Rich always spoke about the Red Sox and, like many youngsters, dreamed of playing for his hometown team. During Lamartine’s recess time, I remember seeing him playing ball and organizing all sorts of sports games in the schoolyard and after school. Other fond memories of Richie in the classroom: he did exceptionally well in school and was one of my leading actors in many of the reading plays that we put on for the school.

All who knew him and those who grew up in the old “Island” congratulate Richie on becoming a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame! And, in the now Canal District, the Woo Sox recently honored their batting coach with a “Rich Gedman Day” complete with “Geddy” bobbleheads for fans.

We are all very proud of our “Green Island Boy”:

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Rich Gedman when he was a 5th grader at Lamartine Street School – here at one of Mr. Monfredo’s classroom reading stations.

OUR FIRST RESPONDERS👮‍♀️👮

By Rosalie Tirella

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Worcester’s, America’s First Responders see, experience so much trauma. How do they “process”? photo: R.T.

I know, it’s FOX, but I want to talk about a photo – a video frame, frozen in time, courtesy of Fox News TV. It’s on my Face Book page. It’s after the Highland, Illinois, mass murder. At the left, in the photo, you see the local police officer, walking away, his hands covering his face. An American First Responder in agony. A human with an all too human response – his hands covering the agony – his human “response” to immense suffering, sorrow and death. This cop is not wielding his gun. He’s not channeling Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger, chest out, running into flames and gun smoke, all macho man. He’s just a guy. A youngish man not wanting to share his feelings with the TV cameras or TV pundits or news crews … not wanting to talk at all, to anybody.

What did this Illinois First Responder, first on the crime scene, first in this latest American war zone, see? What did he hear? What did he touch? What did he smell? … Maybe this first responder is a man with his own little boy or girl, a child who was at the parade or who was watching the festivities on the local cable station before all hell broke loose in this wealthy Illinois suburb, an IT-COULD-NEVER-HAPPEN-HERE, LEAVE-IT-TO-BEAVER kind of American suburb. He’s a man, just a man, exiting his local war zone! …where he saw – maybe he was the first to see – the dead child with legs blown off; a father, dead, too, his body thrown over his little toddler as he, in his last moments of life, wanted to save his boy, give the gift of LIFE in a war zone. Nearby, his wife dead. … Did the First Responder see all this…the bloodbath, the father’s heroism?

The child will face this day for seemingly eternity: as a grade schooler, as a teenager heading to the prom, as a college student graduating from college, as a young adult just starting out … as an old person close to dying.

Did the police officer think of this as he “responded” to the murderer?

First Responders – our local police officers, state police and EMT kids (they’re often in their 20s!) – see all the horrific, unfathomable carnage. They hear the final moans, maybe prayers to God or some saint … or a loved one. They must wonder, like me, WHEN WILL THIS MADNESS END?

How do these First Responders, our local men and women, out on the job every day, sometimes not getting the respect they deserve, “process” this kind of crime scene? A scene our soldiers saw during WW II or the Ukranians experience daily as Putin pounds their country to dust? How do regular local guys and gals, our neighbors, go home … and go on living? They’re not superficial, chatty TV personalities maybe making a career out of a murder, blabbing the same cliches over and over again into mics. They’re just our local cops and “staties” – they’re not “word people.” They’re America’s first responders!

A housekeeper at a Connecticut motel spoke to me a while ago – three or four American mass murderers ago! … She was older, overworked and underpaid. She was sad over this last mass shooting in our country, shaking her head over her big rolling cart of towels, hand soap, bathroom tissue … She said she was friends with a local state trooper who was the first to respond to a local murder scene – a real nice guy – who “killed himself.” She said all the trauma was too much for him, it’s cumulative for these guys and gals. Her heart ached for her First Responder friend who chose not to “respond” any more.

🇺🇲Fourth of July, Green Island style!🗽

Here’s a Fourth of July column I wrote years ago, tweaked this morning:

FOURTH OF JULY, GREEN ISLAND STYLE!

By Rosalie Tirella

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Happy Fourth of July, Worcester! photo: R.T.

I’ve celebrated the Fourth of July on a blanket in Boston listening to the Boston Pops and guest vocalist Johnny Cash. I’ve celebrated the Fourth at East Park here in Worcester. Always a lovely time. Last night I was thinking about my Green Island Fourth of July’s – the years when I was a kid and lived with my mother, father, sisters and Polish immigrant grandmother in “the Island”…

I am a little kid – about 9 years old – and I am standing on our three decker’s back porch. Third floor. It is the afternoon and the sun is shining sweetly. I am looking at “Val,” the buxom, brassy, red-lip-stick-wearing middle-aged woman who lives across the way from our rickety three decker. Val’s in her rickety, six-unit tenement building, on the corner of Bigelow and Elsworth streets. She’s on her third-floor porch. A big, weed-choked, empty lot lies between our buildings but that is all. The wild weeds and vegetation haven’t kept Val from inserting herself into ours – everyone in the neighborhood’s – lives.

Val is wearing a hot red negligee today – for the Fourth of July. I can see it from my back porch, which I am standing on, bring a curious little kid. Val is on her back porch talking loudly, with curse words sprinkled liberally throughout her conversation to herself. I swear I can see her bright red lips from my third floor porch! In 10 years or so I will have learned the word “slatternly” from my reading the classics, and the word will remind me of my old neighbor, Val. But today I am a little kid so Val is just … Val.

Val is drunk on this national holiday – in a happy, friendly way. She can be a nasty drunk, but the Fourth of July makes her woozily playful. She is talking with anyone who walks by her building, her ta ta’s damn near falling out of her negligee as she leans over her porch railing to chat up passersby who always talk back – a few folks out of fear. They have seen Val fight on the street outside her building, they have heard her vitriol … They will kiss up.

I am standing on my porch, quiet as a mouse, smiling knowingly because I know Val can be scary sometimes. On a few occasions she has verbally battled with my 80-year-old Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy. Val had called Bapy, also feisty, a DP. “Dumb Polack.” It was a common ethnic slur a half century ago, and Val had spewed it at Bapy during one of their shouting matches – held across their back porches for the whole neighborhood to hear. DP, my mom tells me, really stands for “Displaced Persons,” what they sometimes called Eastern European immigrants who chose to build lives in Worcester. Val is being mean when she yells DP at my granny, who doesn’t miss a beat and yells back to Val: KISS MY ASSY! KISS MY ASSY!! and Bapy turns her plump little dumpling shaped butt to Val – while standing on our back porch – and tap, tap, taps it. Her bum is covered in those sweet flannel nighties with little pink rose buds on them that Ma buys for Bapy at the Mart in downtown Worcester. Bapy wore those flannel nighties year ’round – even in the summer.

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Rosalie, before her mother’s sandwich-making station. Yum … Wonder Bread!

Granny is not battling Val today. Granny is inside, sitting in her easy chair we have set up for her in our kitchen (Bapy lives with us). Bapy sits at the head of the kitchen table, a place from which she can drink her cup of coffee, eat her boiled egg sandwich and see and comment on all the household happenings. She has been sitting there my whole life! She drives me and my kid sisters crazy, but we love her with all our hearts!

But I digress. Val is out on her porch today in her red negligee because it is the Fourth of July, a special day for America – and for Val. Val has turned and walked back into her apartment, a flat that is also home to her quiet-as-a-mouse boyfriend, her gorgeous, blond 18 year old daughter, the child of another guy, and two huge attack dogs: a German Shepherd and Doberman pinscher. Both dogs are fierce. Both having chased me up a nearby fence more than a few times. Val doesn’t believe in walking her dogs to do poop or to pee. She just lets them out of her apartment. The huge dogs rush down the three flights of stairs like a couple of moose in heat and poop and pee in Val’s little front yard. Then they rush back upstairs. Val’s boyfriend picks up the poop later – Val has everybody trained to a tee.

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Bapy lived with us. Here we all are, hanging on poor Bapy as she sits in her old easy chair at the head of our kitchen table.

Now Val has come back out of her apartment – this time she is carrying her beige portable record player and sets it on a folding chair and plugs it into an extension cord she’s run outside the apartment. I am watching her preparations from my back porch – not saying a word … just waiting. Val goes back into her house, then comes out with an lp, a vinyl record – a big one, the kind with many songs on it. I am guessing it is the same record Val played last year and the year before – the songs the whole neighborhood must listen to every Fourth of July: patriotic tunes. Souza. Irving Berlin. Some sung by Kate Smith. Some belted out by Ethel Merman. Most instrumentals – the kind of songs you can – like Val – march around to on your Green Island porch. Tubas and drums. And trumpets.

Val puts on her record and cranks up the volume of her portable record player! Da da de dum da! Dum de da da da da de da da! La da da da de da da! Boy, this music is good! Up beat! I love hearing Val’s concert every year. I am tapping my feet! I look across the way and see Val crack open another beer and take a sloppy swig. She begins to sing. Loudly. Then she marches around her old porch – then she dizzily lies down on her long beach chair, still drinking. I can see her through the slats on her porch through the slats on my porch …

The music is great! So LOUD AND PATRIOTIC! An hour later Val is up again and singing to the entire neighborhood once again. She’s turned the record over several times, playing both sides – A and B. The folks on Lafayette, Elsworth and Sigel streets are getting ramped up! They’re coming out of their three deckers. They are carrying rugs, tires, old wooden chairs, a beat up sofa… They’re throwing their chairs and sofa and old tires into a big pile in the empty lot a few lots down from Val’s place, diagonally across the way from our three decker. I go in doors and yell to my mother: GETTING READY FOR THE BIG BONFIRE, MA!

Hooray!!!

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Iconic American film actor Jimmy Cagney dancing to YANKEE DOODLE DANDY! Val danced on her Green Island porch to this cheeky American tune every July 4th.

My mother, careworn, grimaces from the stack of soapy dishes in her kitchen sink. She’s washing dishes. She doesn’t say a word. Ma never voices her disapproval of Val, but I know she is not thrilled with her. Sometimes Ma is the one who calls the Worcester Fire department when the flames of the bonfire grow too huge and lap up the July night air and orange sparks fill our Green Island night. The fire has never spread because the neighborhood kids and adults have kept it in check with big poles that they use to poke it into submission. But the flames still worry my mother …

But the night has just begun! I so want to be a part of the celebration and throw some of Bapy’s rags onto the bonfire! My grandmother has so many rags that she wraps around her withered arms to ease her arthritis. Old country ways/cures die hard in Green Island!Bapy never really changes her clothes. Just gives herself sporadic sponge baths and peels off her old rags and puts on new ones. She always smells fecund.

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Rose’s Polish immigrant grandfather, Jaju, and cousin Mary. Jaju rolled his own unfiltered cigarettes. He always smelled like Camels …

These days I miss my Bapy’s smell! If only we could re-conjure the odors of all the people and pets we have loved over the years. The men I have been with, sweaty and grunty; my late mom who held me to her big, perfumed breasts – Heaven Scent … my Bapy’s cabbage-y, eggy odor … my long-gone dog Bailey’s gamey scent.

Anyways, the bonfire was being readied for the big night, but my mom would never let me join in the terrific mayhem! It was all too wild for us good Conservative Catholic girls. My mom, the perfect mom who worked so hard at the dry cleaners and went to church with us every Sunday, wouldn’t allow it! My mom knew everyone in the neighborhood and was always polite and talked with folks – she was not a snob. But, she liked to us, she would never sit down and have a cup of coffee with the ladies of the ‘hood. Green Island women enjoyed visiting each other in each other’s tenements, gossiping, bitching about their husbands and boyfriends, smoking their cigs…Val smoked little cigars!

Our mother was busy raising her girls, making sure we went to school every day and did all our homework and got all As and went to bed early and ate well. She had no time to wallow in our poverty – or her husband’s wild ways. She – we – transcended the shit. We girls were all going to college some day!

So, there I was, stuck on our Lafayette Street tenement third-floor porch. Just an observer. My sisters would be home from Crompton Park soon. They loved this spectacle, too! Not as much as I did, but they would hang out on the porch, eating Freeze Pops, their lips ice blue from the sugared ice treat – and they’d watch Val and the bonfire.

My father, Daddy, would disappear for the day. Celebrate the Fourth of July in his own fashion, cheating on Ma. He was as crooked and violent as some of the guys in the ‘hood, but he played out his deviltry in other parts of Worcester. I suspect the East Side. What my mom and we kids didn’t know wouldn’t hurt us …

It was dark out now, and Val was still singing up a storm and marching around her porch. La di da di da!!! Bang bang!! went her steel pot covers – her cymbals! Someone had lit the bonfire and everyone was gathered around it! Except for me and my sisters. We were on our back porch eating our Freeze Pops, mesmerized by the flames. They must have been two stories high! The folks in the neighborhood had out done themselves this year! It was all like something you would see in an old Western movie on TV – perfect for roasting a buffalo or dancing around. People’s faces were orange from the glow of the flames.

“Come out here, Ma!” I yelled to my mother. “You gotta see the bonfire!”

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“Ma” and baby …

My mother was indoors getting our clothes ready for the Fourth of July cook out we would be having at our Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s house the next day. Our relatives, my mother’s sister, lived in a a cute pink ranch house in the Burncoat area – a nicer part of town. My mom liked this part of the Fourth of July holiday best of all. A day off from the Millbury Street dry cleaners! A day off when she could be with her favorite sister in her sister’s big back yard, my Uncle Mark grilling hamburgers and hot dogs on his big, three legged grill filled with those black coals. They made the hamburgers and hotdogs yummy! Earlier in the week my uncle had driven to the Nissan bakery by Crompton Park to buy hamburger buns and white bread and drove to Iandolli’s to buy potato chips, soda, Cheez-Its, the typical American BBQ junk food of the 1960s. Heaven!

Ma would have none of Val’s antics or the bonfire show. She was busy making sandwiches for the cook out at Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s. She wanted us in bed early for tomorrow.

We kids would have none of it. The bonfire’s flames were roaring! Some jerk threw too many old tires on the bonfire, so now the air smelled awful! Like burning rubber. The sky was thick with black smoke. We kids started coughing. Ma came out and took a look at the mess. Her mouth fell open. She looked at her three girls and frowned and snapped: GET IN THE HOUSE. I knew what was coming next. Ma was in the parlor, standing over our heavy olive green telephone and dialing 911.

In a matter of minutes the Worcester Fire Department firetruck had rolled in. The fireman were hosing down the bonfire with their big hoses…the water from hoses looked like waterfalls. The flames were doused out! Smoke everywhere.

BOO! BOO! BOO! shouted all the kids and adults at the firemen.

You could hear their laughs, too!

“Boo, Boo! Boo!!!” my sisters and I yelled from our back porch, laughing. “BOO! BOO!”

It had been, as usual, a fab Fourth of July! Green Island style!

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Rosalie, middle, and her two cute kid sisters

July 4th Musings …

By Rosalie Tirella

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The old Table Talk factory at Kelley Square is razed. photos: R.T.

The Canal District is a trend that’s destroyed my Green Island and the nearby Oak Hill and Kelley Square neighborhoods. These inner-city, older, ethnic neighborhoods’ working poor folks, young, blue-collar kids, seniors and children have been thrown to the curb, thanks to gentrification. … Displaced. Evicted by new, greedy landlord/developers. Priced out

The Worcester City Council has not understood the suffering or done much to alleviate the suffering, mitigate the situation. Because they’re stupid – and because they’re middle class and cannot relate to our struggles.

In 10 years when the “cool kids” have abandoned the Canal District and moved on to the newest, trendiest trend in another Worcester neighborhood and more founding Canal District business owners grow older, move on/sell out, we’ll have a neighborhood bereft of family housing, racial diversity and socio-economic diversity. The damage will have been done. … Green Island and Kelley Square will evolve again. But how? In what direction?

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Millbury Street: How are we supporting Green Island children today?

These days I drive down Green and Harding streets and already see fewer people at the Canal District “hot spot” bars and shops. Why? Visitors realize these shops are purveyors of dry cupcakes, overpriced skirts and dresses … average stuff/food that’s way overpriced. People try it all out, spend way too much of their hard-earned money in the Canal District – then move on to other neighborhoods in Worcester or other cute, touristy towns down the road, like Putnam, Connecticut. Even Westboro has a cool, trendy downtown area!

BUT WHAT HAPPENS TO THE OLD NEW GREEN ISLAND AND ENVIRONS? THE NEIGHBORHOODS’ WORKING FAMILIES, BLUE-COLLAR WORKERS, WORKING POOR, SENIORS AND CHILDREN? How do WE reclaim our beloved old neighborhoods?

One important thing: We Green Islanders and friends need to re-establish our long-gone Green Island CDC and Oak Hill CDC – our community development corporations that were squeezed out by gentrifier Allen Fletcher and fellow snakes. We need NEW iterations of our old CDCs, CDCs with new, diverse leaders, not our nice, well meaning but naive old timers: Lorraine Laurie, Sue Moynagh, Billy Breault, his pointless niece, etc … We need to avoid this crew, jettison the old and gather new CDC members who won’t screw up this time! Won’t turn corrupt! Won’t be flattered and then bamboozled by smooth talkers Fletcher, Bobby Largesse and the late, often sharp-elbowed 3G’s Johnny G.

WE NEED NEIGHBORHOOD PEOPLE TO TAKE OUR NEIGHBORHOODS BACK!

But we need to be smart this time around – not so trusting, not so willing to say “yes” just because someone invites us to a fancy “planning meeting” and shoves plates of finger foods under our noses. We’re dealing with gentrifiers … snakes! Money people! Their gentrification of our neighborhood has wreaked havoc on our housing prices, streets, relationships …

We need to be strong enough, organized enough, to HAVE A VOICE in new neighborhood developments, new happenings, whatever comes down the pike … the continuing evolution of one of Worcester’s oldest and best loved neighborhoods: my Green Island and beyond.

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Table Talk … the old becomes trendy

☘️BUCKLEY!!! …A sign👏 for Izzy ❤️ and Charlie!❤️

By Rosalie Tirella

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The Heywood shoe factory building with its famous heart

The other day I was driving by the Heywood shoe building – now a mixed use development and a Canal District staple owned by the sweet and handsome Tortilla Sam’s “Eric” – when I noticed this sign (pictured) at the end of Eric’s property: a kind of BUCKLEY WAS HERE, as in this is the spot where an Irish immigrant named Cornelius Buckley owned and operated a general store. The historical marker tells you Buckley and his family lived on the first floor in the 1800s and lists some interesting architectural facts. More Canal District IRISH history! With a mere mention of the Lithuanians and a few other ethnic groups who passed through Green Island, now the gentrified Canal District. It’s all about the Irish and their da*n canal – which is no where to be found in the Canal District!

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BUCKLEY!!!!

When I first drove by the sign and saw the word BUCKLEY I laughed. I couldn’t help but think of Spencer Tracy spewing out the word in disgust in his FATHER OF THE BRIDE movies. Big hits in the 1950s – and still fun to watch. Buckley! Ahhh! Buckley! Buckley the gangly and hapless man-kid Spencer Tracy’s beautiful daughter – ELIZABETH TAYLOR!!!! – was going to marry. Elizabeth had fallen madly in love with this skinny nerd and would make Spencer Tracy the Father of the Bride, no longer her first love and hero. Spencer had a distinct distaste for the nincompoop BUCKLEY and was flummoxed: how could his gorgeous daughter fall for a BUCKLEY?!!! BUCKLEY!! There was always a look of quiet exasperation whenever Buckley did something ridiculous – which was pretty much everything because Spencer couldn’t wrap his arms around him… everything Buckley did pissed of the Father who hated losing his “little girl.” Forever. Kitten, I think he called her, would leave home to build a life with … Buckley. These days Buckley was kitten’s master! Buckley was in – and Pops was definitely out!

So today I say: BUCKLEY!! BUCKLEY!! As in who cares? Why should Buckley get a historical marker in the chi chi Canal District, and my old, dearly departed friends – the real Market Kings of the Canal District, Izzy and Charlie GOLUB – get nothing? Get no historical marker on the spot where their sweet little store stood?

You kiddos may ask, Rose, who were the Golub brothers?

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The Green Street Market – along with owners Charlie and Izzy GOLUB – were here! For a half century! Their little ethnic gem is gone, but Canal District history buffs should put up a sign – WITH A PHOTO OF THE GOLUB BROTHERS – to commemorate the HISTORIC space, now a parking lot.

Why just across the way from Buckley, on Green Street, sat the iconic Green Street Market owned by Izzy and Charlie. For a half century. The sons of Jewish immigrants. The sweetest guys. Joined at the hip – “close” doesn’t begin to describe their relationship. These brothers loved each other and you felt the love every time you walked into their market to buy an apple or a can of soda. You’d go into the Green Street Market pay for a grinder and then maybe Izzy would give you a little wicker basket or two for the plants in your apartment. He’d ask you how you were doing – and listened as you told him about your new job or kitten. …The neighborhood wino would walk into Green Street Market and Charlie would give him a sandwich for free. Of course, they had an incredible business …a meat counter – cold cuts cut fresh for your order. They had soups and fresh veggies and fruits. They had special Jewish foods and other ethnic delicacies. They sold the local newspapers, and they always wore big white aprons. I’ll never forget they’re big aprons because Charlie was a tall, bigger guy. So he had a really big apron. Because they were working hard and the blood from the fresh hamburger sometimes stained their hands, their white aprons were smeared with the stuff of their business. The GOLUB’s were the nicest guys…it wasn’t all about money, though they lived in beautiful houses on Worcester’s West Side. It was really about the Kelley Square neighborhood, their families, education, serving their country in World War II, reading, writing letters to their special ladies …wives who would grow to love these two wonderful men for more than a half century.

Charlie and Izzy would charm you, kid you… reminisce with you. Always in quiet tones. There was nothing crass and loud about these two men who lived deep in their Jewish faith.

The tiny spot where the market was, now owned by Allen Fletcher who turned it into a parking lot, should get its own historical marker. Because IZZY AND CHARLIE GOLUB are Canal District history, too. No, they didn’t build a canal. No, they weren’t Irish, but THEY WERE HERE TOO AND ADDED TO THE VIBRANCY OF A TERRIFIC, IF POOR, INNER-CITY NEIGHBORHOOD. Give the GOLUB Brothers and Green Street Market their historical marker!

Their market and sandwich shop was bought by Fletcher about 24 years ago, right after he bought the Ash Street School, directly behind Green Street Market. Allen rented the building to an African entrepreneur who just couldn’t make a go of the place. By then the Golub brothers had died – both were in their 90s – and the magic was gone.

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Missing the late GOLUB brothers! The two men were life-long best buddies! It was a joy to see them working together!

MOM AND BUTTERCUP ON MILLBURY STREET🌞

By Rosalie Tirella

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Innocence. photos: R.T.

I saw this little girl today, she was walking down Millbury Street with her mom, and I fell in love with them holding hands, making their way through the inner-city, daughter dressed in butter yellow tutu, mom dressed in a grey burka. They reminded me of my mom and me decades ago … holding hands as we walked “under the tunnel” after having mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church on Ward Street … we were walking home to our Lafayette Street tenement.

When I asked to take their photo – together, holding hands like when I first saw them – Mom declined to be photographed … was adamant about not being in the pics. She stepped back a couple of yards to make certain I didn’t even get a teeny bit of her in the frame of my photos. But she allowed me to take a bunch of pics of her little girl, me high spirited and smiling, her little girl tentative, yet definitely enjoying being the center of all the attention in the middle of busy Lafayette Street, the cars zooming by, big kids walking to Crompton Park.

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🌞

I had given mom a copy of CECELIA when I first stopped my car and ran out to introduce myself to the pair – and to ask for a photo or two. To be published in the next issue of CECELIA. They made such an interesting pair! The American Dream writ large! Child in bright yellow tutu, the buttercup of Green Island, posing for pictures, open to the world around her. A little American. First generation American. Mom, a Muslim woman: quiet, modest, covered head to toe in conservative garb – a grey burka. Over her shoulders a navy blue cape. She was a mystery to all. Half her face – mouth, chin and cheeks – ensconced in a swath of grey cloth. No words for me, just nods and a shake of her head NO when I tried to coax her into the pictures. She pointed to her little girl as if to say: she’s the one! she’s the future! The mother seemed to enjoy the attention her child was soaking up like a sponge. I imagined her smiling when the corners of her eyes – her only facial feature exposed to the world – crinkled as I explained my job to her: writer! editor! owner of a newspaper! Mom seemed impressed – and game! Yet the layers and layers of cloth to hide her body from the world – as well as her face – were a wall between us. A pretty smile, an elegant nose? We’ll never know. How long was her dark hair? No one could tell on Millbury Street. Big-breasted or flat-chested? Her loose-fitting burka swirled around her like a tent. She was a triangle – in motion – not a woman. Yet she was a woman. Which is the point. Her culture wants her modest … and still there she was – herself. I liked her. And her daughter was the innocent buttercup waving to mom who was standing behind me. She was smiling at her mother who, she knew without having to see her lips, was smiling right back.

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🌞

Winners and losers

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose’s Bapy, right, and auntie, in their tenement, in The Block, during World War II.

It’s true: the “winners” (usually the rich white WASPs), write our history. When Blacks were making gains in the South, laws changed to keep them down – and rich white people everywhere who didn’t want social change started building these HUGE CONFEDERATE MONUMENTS – to Robert E. Lee and his cohorts – everywhere. Even though General Lee, surrendering at Appomattox, was for peace and healing for ALL Americans after the Civil War, the rich white folks built the big statues and wrote the history books that enshrined “the lost cause.” In misplaced nostalgia and lies. The white money people controlled the towns and the cities: the Confederate statues were erected – life-sized, marble, granite Confederate soldiers on their trusty steeds, swords drawn, Confederate uniforms without tatters or tears. These monstrosities were built right in front of state houses, city halls and town halls and schools. Schools and other public buildings were named after Civil War confederate “heroes” like Jefferson Davis and pompous dedications were held, with the local newspapers covering the events, the manufactured history, the omissions and falsehoods.

With Worcester’s Canal District coming into its own, we must admit it’s been molded and run and is OWNED by rich white men who have never given Green Islanders what we’ve begged for: a fully staffed bank branch, a pharmacy, a supermarket … And these men, we now see, have rewritten or omitted Green Island history. They’ve chosen to forget, to omit, during their recent ceremonies and monument dedications and mural painting, the Polish/Eastern European immigrant experience that defined Green Island/Kelley Square/Water+Green streets from the 1920s to at least the 1970s.

A whole half century defined by the Polish and Lithuanian churches and three decker and The Block tenants like my Polish mom and my Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, and grandfather Jaju. All the Jewish small businesses of Water and Green streets, the ethnically beautiful mom and pop stores of Millbury Street selling made-from- scratch pierogis, jars of pig knuckles and large links of freshly smoked kielbasa (Polish sausage). The dance halls of Millbury and Water streets and Green Street where all the kids of Green Island danced to Benny Goodman in the 1930s. Millbury Furniture. Whites five and ten with Mrs. White and her jet black, foot high bouffant hairdo. All missing from the Canal District scene. As if they – this part of Canal District history – never existed.

Maybe it was all too earthy. Too grubby. Too poor. Not the story Allen Fletcher and Ed Augustus never wanted to tell …

You want a Worcester public market? Un-curated? Natural and springing up organically from the people of the neighborhood? Take a walk down my old Millbury Street, the Millbury Street of 1940 – 1969, and be enthralled. Eat like a princess, buy yourself a pair of slippers at Lisbon’s, visit the tailor with his large cage filled with yellow and peach and white canaries sitting next to his sewing machine, so he’d have company as he sewed … THAT IS HISTORY. THAT scene, that experience, deserves its own tribute, its own monument.

The great thing about the old Millbury Street – now one long stretch of dirty, garbage-covered, homeless shelter – you saw the WONDERFUL and the real, when shop keepers yelled at their young help, Mrs. White pushed those new polyester curtains for your kitchen …on Green Street the neighborhood “wino” got that free submarine sandwich from Charlie or Izzy Golub at Green Street Market.

According to Allen Fletcher, Ed Augustus and the other monument erectors, Green Island’s history is all about the Irish canal leaders, the Pickett’s and the Tobias’s … Little parades have been held in their honor, plaques hammered in walls, a tiny water fall with a grassy yard built by the ball park…all honoring the history these rich white men want us to remember.

OPEN-DOOR POLICY!

By Rosalie Tirella

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Millbury’s Saint Brigid’s Church. photos: R.T.

Miracle of miracles! As I was driving through downtown Millbury this morning I spied a CHURCH WHOSE FRONT DOORS WERE … OPEN! St. Brigid’s Catholic Church on Main. The light beige brick church with the big crosses had its big dark wooden doors flung wide open, as if to say: Hey, everyone! Come on in! Cone on in and pray!!

The church (and its rectory) face a busy street with lots of cars and pedestrians zipping by, yet it welcomes all, invites all to step out of the hurly burly and calm down in, bask in the quiet, dimly lit, pew-lined church. To meditate. Focus on a friend or family member in prayer. Wish, hope, dream … This is true for today, Sunday; it was true for yesterday at Saint Brigid’s … even Friday its front doors were open and I wanted to walk in and take a peek. Any one could walk in to take a peek …to pray to God, Jesus, Mary … Saint Brigid (whoever that is – and as an old Catholic grrrl, I know my saints)!

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Heading to Sunday Mass

In Millbury this morning it was 1955 all over again – a time when churches of all ilks all over America opened their doors to one and all pretty much from dawn to dusk – so you could pop in to say a little prayer before work, visit at lunch-time, stop in after your work day, especially if it was trying and you prayed for inner strength – or terrific and you were grateful to God and wanted to thank him for the raise or promotion. It was a time when churches weren’t robbed with a-holes fleeing, running out the back door with gold-leaf candle sticks or chalices or Holy Communion platters … or even sound systems and microphones with stands. We Americans were unafraid of being gunned down by some sicko – murdered as we were about the sing a hymn. Together. We were not attached to our smart phone and too lazy to join a real community. We were all a bit more spiritual, less rapacious. Money wasn’t so important: families were happy with modest houses, modest cars, basic vacations once a year. There were more rosaries among our middle class than more boob jobs. I suspect there are now more Boob jobs. We have Botox treatments and so many other body-enhancing but soul-depleting “treatments.” Yet we all die.

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Saint Brigid’s rectory

My Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, loved going to our Lady of Czestochowa Church – our neighborhood church in Green Island. There was also St. Anthony’s at Kelley Square and St. John’s on Temple. You really had quite the Catholic menu – the strict Poles of St. Mary’s, the cool Father Frank, the street priest for the poor, at St. Anthony’s or …the Irish of St. John’s. She was a proud parishioner, as was my late mom, as was I – up until college of St. Mary’s. Bapy, though poor, filled her little parishioners envelope with quarters every Sunday. Ma dressed us girls like dolls and together we walked every Sunday morning to weekend Mass where she always sat us in the pew directly behind a beautiful, beautifully dressed young woman and her daughter. The daughter had Downs Syndrome but was also beautifully dressed and so close to her mom who so obviously loved her.

I left the Catholic church when Freud, Erickson and Jung filled my brain, pushing God out of it – or at least the way I had been trained to “see” and worship Him in our working class household.

Now I say: God is pure love.

But what does that mean?

Pure happiness? Pure joy? Is God when you’re with people you love? Animals you care for? Nature. Is it feeling close? Understood? Cared about?

I don’t know. I try to be a better person every day to every molecule of life that wafts by, but I really liked believing in God decades ago when I was young. I was more optimistic, less burdened. Belonging to a parish and knowing everybody in the pews was cool. And looking up behind us, in the balcony of our little Polish church, sat our little Polish organist, dwarfed by our huge church organ with many tall golden pipes. He played the church hymns so passionately. I struggled to keep up with him! Ma always sang off key, her face contorted in pain. Sing along with our little maestro who strode into St. Mary’s every mass with his winter over coat or light jacket dramatically draped over his small shoulders was pure hell! And yet didn’t Ma love it when he strode by her and bowed ever so slightly and said in Polish, Good evening Pani. And he’d smile at Ma and her three perfectly dressed little girls, with our ribbons all aflutter, our Communion pocket books white and sparkling, Ma’s work-hardened hands covered, softened in her pale pink gloves that were so demure… so soft to the touch, going up to her wrists.

Ma used to tell me how often Bapy went to church when she lived in the Block on Bigelow Street: every morning. Every morning. She put on her cute blue hat with the fake flowers tucked in the band and walked to church in her black no nonsense shoes. Winter, summer, fall, spring. Every day.

Ma went to church every week day with the nuns at St. Mary’s School – they walked down Richland Street, where their little brick school was, and crossed Ward Street and piously filed into St. Mary’s church. On Sundays she made the trek with Bapy.

During my Green Island girlhood, when Ma and us three kids would be running an errand and just for the heck of it Ma would say: Do you want to go to church, to light a candle? Our Lady of Czestochowa was a little gold painted church on Ward Street, 20 yards away from the yet widened I-290, but I loved visiting. It always looked so cute, surrounded by pink and red flowers, the stairs painted white …inside the smell of incense was intoxicating.

Yes! we kids would shout, and we’d walk down to our church – whose doors were always unlocked – and we’d kneel once we entered the main area, Ma gripping the back of the last pew for support as she got back up from kneeling and blessing herself after entering God’s house … Then we’d walk softly to the right of the marble altar …to a huge statue of the Virgin Mary – Ma’s fave saint!- and Ma would place a dollar bill in a box, take a long stick and touch its end to an already lit votive candle and it would flare up and Ma would take the flame band ever so carefully light a votive candle that was a bit closer to the statue, closer to Blessed Mother. Then we’d all kneel on the long pale red velvet kneeler, bless ourselves and quietly say a prayer. Each of us saying our own prayer to Jesus. Ma probably praying to make rent. Me probably praying for an A on my book report. My two sisters murmuring their Hail Mary’s, too little to ask for anything … just happy to be boppin’ along with Ma.

When church doors were open …
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Ma as a young lady. She loved going to church!