Category Archives: Green Island Grrrl


By Rosalie Tirella


I visited my old Green Island neighborhood a week or two ago. My birthplace and stamping grounds for my first 18 years! The locus of so many childhood joys and horrors: my angel mother, my loving Polish immigrant grandparents, Bapy and Jaju … my first dog, Belle … and my distant, emotionally abusive father … the loud barroom brawls right outside our kitchen windows, the grinding poverty. … Being so cold on winter nights, being so happy with the little bags of cashews Ma would buy us at the Millbury Street package store during the Christmas holiday, walking over to McGovern’s in her trim boots after her job at the dry cleaners across the street. Then walking down Lafayette Street to our old three decker. … Sledding at Crompton Park with my kid sisters and being thrilled with my cousin’s second-hand furniture (the cheap pine bed had a bookcase for its headboard!) … friends’ hand-me-down sweaters (kinda neat!) … Puppies being clubbed to death…the big white sled dog who lived across the street walking down Lafayette with blood dripping from his face and body … walks to and from my school in the fall when there were still big maple trees on Grosvenor Street and you could gather the leaves off the sidewalk to press in your thick dictionary at home. Loving Lamartine Street School – our school yard faced the old jail! Once, as a cautionary field trip, one teacher took us there for a tour! … The fragrant lilacs in bloom on the two big lilac bushes – little trees really! – in front of our ramshackle house. … All the violence and beauty of the urban ghetto neighborhood experience of the last century. My childhood.

Rose, about 10, in the kitchen of the family tenement on Lafayette Street.

I was looking for my old friends – my late mom’s favorite Lafayette Street family! I wanted to tell them what I’d been through this past year – and for them to see Jett and Lilac, as they love my dogs and had so many pups and kitties through their years on Lafayette Street! They were our downstairs neighbors for decades. Back when no one moved around or ever left their neighborhood. The mother was smart as a whip – after work she’d read her romance paperbacks in the backyard – and biracial – which we never noticed. Her husband was a short-tempered alcoholic in recovery who adored all dogs… their kids were sharp and lively. Our age.

I wanted to see the daughter and son – friends who still lived in the old three decker in my old neighborhood. With a few of their kids and a few of their dogs and a cat.

But they were gone! After a century+ of living on Lafayette Street! On that day my big ramshackle homestead was empty: no mail box, no curtains in the windows, no barking dog at my footsteps… As I ran to the back of our three decker, panicked, looking for clues as to where they could have disappeared to – all of them – I cried, got all choked up! HELLO! HELLO! I yelled up into the Worcester winter sky, hoping for a HERE WE ALL ARE, ROSE! HERE WE ALL ARE!

But I knew, based on the City papers taped to the window panes, that they were all gone and maybe I’d never find them again. I looked at what was such an ugly edifice (for years!), so broken down and ready for the wrecking ball, and bawled like a baby! I saw the husband … he was a short order chef at a Millbury Street restaurant now long gone. He was at his gas stove making his beans. He made his own baked beans – a vat of them! – during the winter months. The best baked beans around! Sweet and savory, with big bits of pork swimming around in the molasses sauce. Always he gave us a huge bowl for dinner. “John” would knock on our front door and say in his gruff, impatient voice: CEL! GIRLS! I MADE SOME BEANS!! HERE! TAKE THE BOWL! Ma would practically run to our front door – it was a favorite family dish. You could smell those baked beans in our hallway, opened the door and their delectable, comforting aroma wafted right in! Ma would always invite John in to our tenement, but he was kind of a jumpy guy, so he never entered our parlor. Just gave Ma his gift and rushed down the stairs back to his clamoring clan. THANK YOU, JOHN! Ma would yell down the stairwell to John, who had already closed the front door to his flat.

Then Ma would shout: ROSALIE! John brought up his beans! …Then she’d walk to one of our kitchen windows and yell out the window: TWINS!! UPSTAIRS! John’s beans! And my two skinny but athletic kid sisters would run from the field outside lickety split….and clunk clunk clunk their brown buster brown type shoes would sail up the three flights of stairs to our flat. Ma would be spooning out our Christmas treat in little five and ten bowls, and we’d all sit around the kitchen table and eat those baked beans. Ma and I would scoop up our beans with slices of soft white Wonder Bread to get every drop of that sauce. My sisters ate their beans “plain.”

But John had died years ago! And now his, our, three decker faced its almost certain demise! After decades of family life and friendship on Lafayette Street! The family I had most wanted to wish Merry Christmas to! Every last person – vanished! Their used cars parked out front no longer. Their mail box ripped off their ancient front doorway. I ran in front of my old ramshackle home and looked down my old ramshackle street – now on the outskirts of the tony, gentrified Canal District. Soon enough it would all disappear, and another McMansion market-rate apartment building would be thrown up. A real dump. The rents would be exorbitant, no place for poor families to bond, to help each other, to lighten the burden of being poor in America …

Lafayette Street – Rose grew up here.

I turned around and saw a young Black guy walking up my Lafayette Street. Our neighborhood was always multiracial. I said: Do you know what happened to “Junior” and his sister and family? Do you know where they moved to?!

Never heard of them, the guy said.

Why, they lived here for 55 years! I said.

The guy mumbled something to me and moved on. He looked so poor! Just like we all did on Lafayette Street!

And so I took some pictures of my childhood home, where the Green Island Grrrl was born, where tears were shed, where giggles filled our bedrooms, where baseball bats were swung as practice, where I heard my first Beatles song, where Ma tried to teach me to dance the Polka, her rough, veiny hand placed gingerly on my waist, the other one holding my right hand high, up very high: NOW, ROSALIE, FOLLOW ME! ONE, TWO! ONE, TWO! The home where my kid sister displayed her trophies for second or third place at the Friendly House neighborhood road races. The spring from which all my Green Island Grrrl columns flow. The best part of myself.


By Rosalie Tirella

Last night …

I watched the classic IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE last night. It’s been a few years since I “screened” it in my digs. I forgot just how great – as in without peers! – this film is! For a while ELF was my go to Christmas gem, but after last night, there was no comparing! Beautiful story. Warm and quirky touches. OUTSTANDING REAL ACTING. Ward Bond. That terrific Irish American character actor. Donna Reed. Frank Capra directing. Best of all: James Stewart. It was after World War I I and Stewart was a hero, had flown bomber planes for the US military. Led a bunch of guys – including Worcester’s Tony Hmura! But the war had taken its toll: Stewart had had a nervous breakdown and Hollywood wondered what his new roles would be. He could no longer be the charming, handsome, young romantic lead. He was older now, beaten-down looking. A war hero with the emotional scars that come with it.

Then comes IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, and everything that made Jimmy Stewart Jimmy Stewart at that moment rose up to the tippity top of his soul – all his fears, loves, knowledge, world weariness…
All this seen in Stewart’s face and body language, especially in the second half of the movie, when George Bailey’s (Stewart’s) guardian angel makes him non-existent. George was driving to the falls to jump off the bridge and kill himself because Uncle Billy misplaced their bank’s $8,000. He wanted to escape jail, loss of status, maybe even his wife and kids. So poof! Clarence his guardian angel appeared and saved him by showing George what life would look like if he had never been born. Clarence guides him thru the consequences. George sees what his small town would be without him. It is a surreal, intense experience! Not cutesy at all! Mr. Gower, the drugstore owner, is a homeless alcoholic. George’s mother is cruel and hard from running a boarding house to survive. Uncle Billy’s in an insane asylum. And Mary is alone, never married, never had kids and a family. George sees all the losses, the missed moments, the ripples of love he created thru all his good deeds that he never gave a second thought about BUT THAT NEVER HAPPENED! He was a good man! The close up of George’s face when he realizes he was never married to his lady love – Mary…Guy wrenching, terrifying. A deep deep close up of Stewart’s exhausted face is too much to bear! George had already seen his kid brother’s gravestone, Mr. Gower’s alcoholism and homelessness, his mother’s bitterness, his town’s metamorphosis: from postcard cute to rough, poor, dumpy and filled with whores of all kinds …is too much. His cute town owned and operated by the evil Mr. Potter! Because George wasn’t there to be the light in the darkness!

To see George’s face when he awakens from this nightmare! YES!!!HE’S ALIVE! HE IS HOME! WIFE, KIDS, UNCLE BILLY, MA, BAILEY’S BUILDING AND LOAN, SWEET OLD BEDFORD FALLS!! All there! YES!! George leaps into the winter air! He runs down Main Street, all decked out for Christmas, waving and shouting to all the mom and pop shoppes – and the Bijou movie house! Stewart is tall and lanky and athletic…so he looks very beautiful. He slides to a halt to hug Ernie the cop or to pat his old jalopy, the one he crashed into a tree, all the while yelling MERRY CHRISTMAS! MERRY CHRISTMAS! to everybody!

An ordinary guy living in a small American town having a religious experience. LOVE = CHRISTMAS!

What wouldn’t “be” if you weren’t embodied in your you-ness?

Gone from Worcester, planet earth? Poof! Like magic! What good deeds, kind words, rescues – great and small – would disappear from the universe? Forever! Who would be left … alone, bereft, lost, hungry, homeless? If you’re a teacher or nurse or fireman…you know the answer. But what about you captains of industry and chamber of commerce types? What would Your IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE look like? What would your Worcester neighborhood, Worcester County town or city look like sans YOU?

Living in a car for seven months changes you! Looking up at the night sky, purplish and star-less, staring at it all from my car windshield!!, I sometimes thought: What if? What is the point of ME? Look at me! In a car! At Christmas!!! But then Jett and Lilac and the morning birdsong and the fresh new day made me … happy! Nature and animals drew me back into life, and I would think: my pups need me! It’s beautiful outside! Let’s run the dogs and buy a fresh cup of coffee at McDonald’s and work the problem. And the people and streets of my hometown made me feel happy!

I was lucky. I had a car – and friends who saved me in snow storms and heat waves. But many homeless folks don’t have that – they depend on their town or city for shelter and compassion. This Christmas all the churches in Worcester – except one – said NO to housing our homeless folks during the coldest months of the year. NO the pastors told the mayor and city manager, they couldn’t make room for the poor in their church community rooms or buildings or even church basements. Father John Madden at St. John’s Church on Temple Street did so for many years – the City’s guardian angel – but this winter new needs sprung up in Worcester (mostly a housing crisis, coupled with COVID) – and our churches, houses of God, said: No room at the Inn!

What would George Bailey have done?

Mike Moreshead of Worcester’s Friendly House

By Rosalie Tirella

The gift. photos: R.T.

Last night I made this kinda rough looking Dollar Tree gift basket for a guy who saved my life. A lopsided token of thanks for a guy who got me and my two dogs out of my car, out of homelessness, a few months ago, and into this beautiful apartment.

It’s my first gift basket ever and I’m a little ashamed of it. It’s so … prosaic. No glitter, no sparkle, no big red velvet ribbon tied at the top. The gifts are from Dollar Tree. It’s smallish, too, especially when you consider that Mike performed a MIRACLE.

I had been homeless for more than a year when I met him. I had hit all the Worcester social service agencies and filled out all their application forms (hundreds), multiple times, it seemed. I had connected with Congressman Jim McGovern’s office and a few other political poo bas. They couldn’t have cared less about my predicament. Except for Pam Ortiz and Christine at Central Mass Housing Alliance, every social worker type had their head up his/her arse. FILL OUT THIS FORM, they’d say, obliviously. GET ON A COMPUTER AND GO TO THIS LINK, they’d say, callously. CALL THIS PHONE NUMBER! GOOD LUCK! …Holly, the young woman in charge of Congressman McGovern’s office, actually laughed at me. Laughed in my face! So I was expecting more of the same when I drove up to the Friendly House on Wall Street one sunny afternoon.

I’ll never forget meeting Mike Moreshead, assistant to the Friendly House director: I was desperate, stinky, depressed. Out walked Mike to “assess the situation.” He stood by my car, neat as a pin wearing dress pants and dress shirt, blue neck tie. He had a pen and clip board in hand. He was soft-spoken, fine-boned, short – I’d say he weighed no more than 100 lbs – and looked almost as depressed as me. I thought to myself: GREAT! LOOK AT HIM! I NEED A STRONG PERSON! WE’RE HOMELESS! WE NEED HELP – BIG TIME!! AND THIS IS MY SOCIAL WORKER?! We’ll be in my freakin’ car forever!

Boy, was I wrong about Mike Moreshead – now the assistant director of the Friendly House! Did I ever underestimate this quiet, understated social service … POWERHOUSE. Mike actually did the work, filled out the paperwork and followed through with scores of phone calls on my behalf. I checked in with him every day. He gave me my side of the equation to work but went over it all before PDFs were emailed. Made copies and kept the duplicates. When you’re homeless file folders are a luxury.

No fancy ribbon up top!

When I despaired, Mike stayed strong and focused, worked his contacts for me, THOUGHT THE PROBLEM THRU. Once he got me a few weeks respite in a motel. When property directors started getting a bit obscure or didn’t call me back like they said they would, Mike called them on my behalf – and stayed on them. He had clout but used it wisely, softly, diplomatically … the opposite of this old broad’s interpersonal style! I learned a lot watching Mike Moreshead!

Mike loved Jett and Lilac. Whenever I drove up to the Friendly House, he’d come out and I’d feel reassured, “on track” as he caressed Lilac’s old face and say, Only a few weeks more, girl … or pat Jett and tell him: Just a little longer, Jett. You’ll have a home! You could see the compassion in this young man’s eyes. You could tell his heart broke for my two dogs, my Jett and Lilac.

Mike’s softness doesn’t make him a pushover. He’s tough, very strong willed, eyes on the prize. I’m tenacious. Mike Moreshead is twice as tenacious as I am! For all his Friendly House clients, for social justice. By the end, I was urging him to run for Worcester City Council. WORCESTER NEEDS YOU, MIKE! I’d say over and over again.

Mike’s letters have real grace – I framed one of his recommendation letters about me! A “me” that I want to be now! Every day I strive to be the Rose in Mike’s letter! UMass Amherst gave him that great liberal arts education: he’s well spoken, can do the research, write well, read critically … He’s gifted!

Gift basket making is another thing. It is not as easy as the YouTube videos make it out to be and if you don’t have a lot of $$. You need gifts, first of all. The influencers say you need to color coordinate and get your bows all in a row, small to large, in a special holiday caddy! I have no bows or caddies, just bought the transparent tape last week! … But I thought of Mike Moreshead when I put it together. I remembered all he’s done for me and my dogs this past half year and got inspired! I went to the dollar store and mixed and matched and really hunted for things that would make Mike smile. For all his phone calls, his sympathetic ear, his gentle ways, his openness, the call backs, the intelligent advice, the honesty, the perseverance. The love for all his Friendly House clients, for all the poor families and struggling single moms in the neighborhood. Once outside Mike saw a woman struggling with a heavy food box and said: GOTTA GO, Rose! SHE NEEDS HELP CARRYING HER BOX!

The pancake spatula is Christmas red!

I tried to be creative when creating Mike’s Christmsas gift box! Tried to transcend the pennies in my purse! Mike is a young guy just starting out with his young hairdresser wife. Mike is the owner of two dogs – and a cranky cat. Mike Moreshead, is now the very very busy assistant director at the Friendly House. So I thought of a relaxing Sunday morning or day off and bought him a box of Old Fashioned Pancake mix at Price Chopper – I like their baking mixes – and a spatula to flip those pancakes. And I put in a serving plate for all those warm pancakes, plastic knife and fork tied to a Christmas ball. All strategically arranged in a cute dish I found on the side of the road (and washed!! Shhhh! Don’t tell Mike!) My favorite breakfast gift item I put in Mike’s Christmsas gift basket? This potholder set! Christmas pups and kitties celebrating “Santa Paws”! I know he’ll love it!

Adorable “Santa Paws” potholders!

When Friendly House Executive Director Gordon Hargrove retired after decades of loving service to the people of Friendly House, to Worcester’s poorest of the poor, I was worried. Gordon was so wonderful! So giving and caring! So intellectual but also so hands-on – and wise and savvy. How could anyone ever take his place? I feared the Friendly House would shrivel up and die – or become just another pointless Worcester social service agency. Again: boy, was I was wrong. They’ve got Trish and Mike Moreshead and Josephina at the helm – and a great staff to help serve the community.

Mostly, in my opinion, they’ve got Mike Moreshead.

🎶☃️The St. Mary’s Folk Group🎶🎄

By Rosalie Tirella

Noel! photos: R.T.

This little homemade “Noel” Christmas tree ornament is 4O+ years old! Gifted to me when I was in high school and in the folk group at our Lady of Czestochowa Church on Ward Street, my family’s parish. The St. Mary’s Folk Group sang at every Saturday night mass in the little church in our old Polish neighborhood, Green Island. We sang traditional religious songs and a few that were more in tune with the times – a bit folksy, acoustic guitars needed. We sang in front of the whole congregation, a few yards away from the altar as the priests and altar boys led us through prayers and hymns and … folk songs. My mother went to watch us every week – my sisters were in folk group too, so it was a family affair. The mass felt a little edgier than what Ma was used to at her old Sunday mass. On that day the hymns – some sung in Polish – were played on our church’s fancy organ, with a million big golden pipes rising up in back of it. The organ was up in the church balcony of Our Lady of Czestochowa and played at every mass (except ours) by a little Polish man who spoke no English and played the organ very dramatically. He always wore his long coat draped over his shoulder, like a real maestro, as he entered the church with great fanfare. His coat billowed behind him as he bowed to my mom and said, softly in Polish, “Hello, Pani!” We kids were enthralled!

Anyways, our St. Mary’s folk group had a bit more swing than the church organist’s mass did. We sang traditional hymns but we also sang a Beatles song now and then. We were pretty good! We sang two part harmonies…I was an alto. We practiced once or twice a week in the evening, our two leaders – a nun and a college kid – were the ones who chose the songs and played the accompanying music. Both of them were terrific acoustic guitar players. It was a fun two hours for all of us! Creative!

There was no Internet, no social media, no smart phones back then – people tended to get together over a ton of activities: bowling teams, knitting circles, pen pal clubs … I remember the group leader was considered “cutting edge” for the day (1970s) with his huge 8 track tapes and his very own 8 track tape player in his car that played his big, book-sized, cartridges – the albums, the music, “Hank” wanted to hear! How cool was that?! … Who sang JESUS IS JUST ALRIGHT WITH ME? Hank played that song in his car often, and he absolutely loved Cat Stevens and Jackson Browne. He could play and sing their songs so beautifully! Self-taught! Hank was the one who turned me onto Jackson Browne and Cat Stevens. These artists still speak to me – an old lady with her bleach blond pixie hair cut…no longer 16!

The book Rose’s favorite nun gifted her in 1978!

In the late 1970s every teenager in America was in some kind of choral group, rock band, school chorus or school marching band – or they owned a drum kit or “borrowed” their big brother’s acoustic guitar. Most of us tried to learn the songs we heard on the radio, beautiful songs by Fleetwood Mac, Journey, Kansas, the Beatles, Warren Zevon, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Carol King … a million great rock groups and singers and singer/song writers! Melody! Lyrics! WE BABY BOOMERS HAD IT ALL! WE WERE MUSICALLY BLESSED … these great songs – thousands of them – permeated American culture. You couldn’t help but join your church’s folk group!

The folk group I was in had about 15 high school kids from St. Mary’s High School across the street from the church, on Richland Street. It also had kids from the church’s after school CCD classes. My sisters attended St. Mary’s. I went to Burncoat Senior High School, a city school, but attended St. Mary’s CCD classes every Monday evening – ever since first grade, per Ma. The group was co-directed by “Hank,” a young college guy who had graduated from St. Mary’s High four or five years ago and the nun – who taught at St. Mary’s High School. Our nun, in full nun habit, though her dark skirt fell just below her knees – didn’t skim the ground like the old nuns’ habits did back then – was special. Sister “Ann” was a very cool person! She was born and bred in Brooklyn when it was blue collar and diverse – not gentrified. So she was street savvy and real. She had a rich, emotional singing voice … hung out with us kids after practice … and gave us gawky, insecure teens hugs. She actually listened to us, liked us … laughed and danced with us. She gave me some beautiful books, cool hippy type spiritual books. I reread this one last year:

The sister wrote Rose a little note inside the “hippie prayer book” …

Sister Ann was the best. She was the popular nun, the one you could imagine running to catch the bus on Millbury Street. So unlike the other nuns over at the convent on Endicott Street (now a homeless shelter for pregnant girls who don’t want to abort their babies and need support thru delivery), her housemates, so to speak. Sister Ann wasn’t a push-over, but she wasn’t severe or judgemental like the other nuns. Some sisters verged on the sadistic! Not Sister Ann. She was very artistic: played her guitar, painted, sang, sewed, sketched, embroidered. One year she made all us kids in folk group these beautiful Christmas ornaments. I loved mine. You see it here… Kept it close to me even after the group disbanded after just three years because the monsignor at Our Lady of Czestochowa thought we were all smoking pot. (Just Hank – and he still sang beautifully, played a terrific acoustic guitar and led the group with real charisma!)

The monsignor thought our leader was too charismatic … a radical. So he broke us up. So Catholic Church!

“Hank,” the leader of the church folk group, gave Rose this book …

… and wrote her a note inside. People did this all the time in the ’70s!:
From “Hank”🎼…

“Hank,” was a cool cat. He’d hitchhike “cross country.” He’d drive into Boston to see plays. He’d go camping on these islands down South. He had a girlfriend who was 33 years old! One year his best buddy from college gave him a curly “perm.” Afros were in back then. Hank had wonderful wavy hair but still looked adorable in his curly perm! It was about that time that the old Polish monsignor disbanded us. He had a face like a bull dog and I was afraid of him. I think, after seeing the perm on Hank, he saw a “white Negro,” a white Negro with a big afro singing Cat Stevens songs, surrounded by young girls with crushes on him … all this happening five feet away from the altar while the monsignor got the communion hosts ready to perform a holy sacrament, to give out the Holy Communion to his good, socially conservative Polish congregants. We were just too much for him.

So he killed the music.

But not the beautiful memories …


By Rosalie Tirella

As you know, my CUBESMART storage unit on McKeon Road, by Holy Cross, was broken into – TWICE! We can only guess who the creeps are who stole some of my lps, audio cassettes, blankets … and, I think, my Bapy’s Christmas nativity figurines from Poland – or turn of the 20th century Green Island. I put up Bapy’s creche – I still have that vintage treasure, it’s about 90 years old – and the few figurines I did manage to gather together when unpacking boxes in my new digs: my Polish immigrant grandmother’s horn-playing shepherd, my Italian granny, Maria’s, tiny blue ceramic angel, a porcelain shepherd and two little ocean babes. The blue angel was a gift from Maria to my father. My Italian Grandfather Sabino missed the holidays at home with his family. He was on the road selling his Italian cheeses and meats to ladies all over Worcester County after having driven his truck into Boston’s North End markets to buy all his Italian foodstuffs wholesale. Or he was up the street giving Christmas gifts to his mistress – Granny Maria raised their 10 kids pretty much alone, had a huge backyard garden bigger than their little Summit house that Sabino built with his eldest sons. Food for everybody during the Great Depression!

Rose’s creche. photos: R.T.

Anyways, besides Maria’s blue angel, I found a porcelain shepherd – the one that went with a fancy nativity set one of my sisters bought for my mom decades ago. Twenty little statues, including porcelain sheep, a cow and a donkey leaning over the manger, filled with straw and a baby Jesus. Too fancy for my tastes! So one Christmas I mailed the entire set – except for the shepherd – or is he Joseph? – to my other sister in Boston as a holiday gift. I kept the one shepherd/Joseph to remember how kind my first, best sister always was! Loving my late mom so much when we were young! Always thinking of Ma … My sister was my mother’s right hand when she was just 15 years old! “Jan” went grocery shopping, weekly, and worked almost full-time at the fruit store on Millbury Street when we were all in high school. She gave her paycheck to my mother to help pay the bills. Jan was the father bread earner we were missing as Daddy disappeared for months at a time. She kept our poor little family afloat! She’s the one with Parkinson’s today …

Ocean cherubs

And finally, the two little sea babes – one holding a fish and another steering the ship – gifts from the owner of a long gone Green Island restaurant, one of my first InCity Times customers. A Brazilian eatery on Millbury Street… 22 years ago. I had just started InCity Times. They had just opened their restaurant – in the old Steeple Bumpsteds. I’d sell them ads and they’d say: SIT DOWN! HAVE LUNCH ON US! GO TO THE BUFFET TABLE! ENJOY, ROSA! … It was a long time ago, when people seemed gentler with each other…more open to each other’s stories. I’d skip their grilled meat but enjoyed their veggies – a heaping plate full at a cozy booth. We all chatted, joked, their little children running around me, playing, laughing. Their waitress was nice, too. The owners and I talked of starting a new biz, through broken English and my ridiculous hand gestures and loud talking – and how hard it was. We wished each other luck – survival! I gave my friends free ads, hoping I could help them. They fed me to sustain my health during winter months when I slogged thru the dirty snow, selling ads to my Worcester customers. But they closed shop in a year or two. My friends whom I still miss whenever I drive down Millbury Street.

One day their waitress gave me the ocean babes – plus two more little statuettes, four in all. She said her family, in her “old country,” were fisherman, and these little baby cherubs were for good luck there, people prayed to them. The fishermen prayed to them especially – for success at sea: the cherb holding the fish was for a great catch…the little steering cherub meant safe travels in the wild fierce ocean. There were two others ocean babes but I lost them years ago, and I’ve forgotten what they symbolize.

So today I put the ocean babes in my Christmas creche – substitutes for MIA baby Jesus. I looked at my creche! What would Jesus think of the whole scene? I was missing the most important part! The Holy Family!

Many years ago: CECELIA’s Christmas card to daughter Rose!

So I went to the Dollar Tree. No luck. I called a pal or two – no extra Virgin Mary’s or Joseph’s! Then, I opened up one of my memory boxes and found some old Christmas cards. Believe it or not, I don’t save many holiday cards – but I did save these two gems: a small, five and ten Christmas card from my late mother. From decades ago! The Holy Family on a sweet blue little card from a package of 15 she probably bought at the old White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street. There was an adorable Jesus as the centerpiece. And inside the card, when I gently opened it, a little note from my Mom, signed by her, with her signature kisses and hugs, her x o x o’s always in teeny hearts – carefully drawn, the way she always closed her little notes to me. When I saw those kisses in Ma’s little hearts I remembered my mother at Christmas! On Lafayette Street! Trudging home through the snow, pulled her shopping cart filled with Christmas foods and Christmas presents for her three little girls. She was alone! She was so poor! Yet she was always full of love and hope – did everything with such grace!

Love, from Mom!

Then, beneath Ma’s Christmas card, I found a little homemade card. I opened it up carefully. It was to me from two little boys! 30 years ago! I remembered: I was a substitute teaching in the Worcester Public Schools – a part-time job I had unexpectedly come to enjoy as I tried to launch my newspapering career. The inner-city junior high kids I spent my days with made me laugh and cry. So, it was Christmas time at Worcester East Middle School, and I had asked the kids in my 7th grade class to make some Christmas cards for their family and friends. They took out their boxes of crayons from their old desks and I walked over to the huge paper cutter and cut rectangles of beige construction paper for them. I walked up and down between the rows of desks, giving each of my students several pieces of old construction paper. I said: FOLD THESE IN HALF! COLOR A HOLIDAY PICTURE ON THE COVER AND WRITE A MESSAGE INSIDE! GIVE THEM OUT TO YOUR FAMILY FOR CHRISTMAS! The kids, so many poor, so many with crumby parents they still loved, seemed enthusiastic about their project and set to work. At the end of the period, two little Black boys ran up to me, sitting behind the teachers desk. HERE, MISS T! one boy said. Then they ran back to their desks.

From Tranel and Keith!

I opened up their little card they gave me. They had drawn a pretty Christmas stocking on it. Inside, their holiday message: TO THE BEST TEACHER IN THE WORLD! FROM YOUR FRIENDS TRANEL AND KEITH. How beautiful! THANK YOU!!! I said.

Later that day I put my friends’ Christmas card on my refrigerator and years later framed it, and here it was in my memory box, in 2022. It would be a part of my Christmas creche! A new Nativity scene! I placed it by my Christmas scene, on my wicker end table, the big lamp shining…the birth of a new life in the country … a gift from two city boys, poor like me, like the Little Drummer Boy on that first Christmas night, Keith and Tranel, two Black boys in Worcester, following their own star of Bethlehem, playing their own song of love, giving me their simple gift. From the heart.

So this Christmas I have a new Christmas Nativity set, made of everything that means LOVE to me! It’s a bit unconventional, but it tells the story all right …

What Christmas is all about …


By Rosalie Tirella

This morning Cece has taken over.

❤️ photos: R.T.

Lilac looks old (she’s around 8 yrs). I look old (I’m 61). Rough 17 months, in the rear view mirror but not forgotten: my two dogs and I as homeless as the original family in the original Christmas story! Go away! You’re too poor! No room in our Inn for you! Take a hike, Joseph and Mary – we don’t care if Mary’s pregnant (with Jesus). Good luck, Rose! Try and stay warm!

Last winter … Worcester’s homeless… Millbury Street.

Me…In my car, last year, Christmas time, seeing in the dead of a Worcester winter night all the homeless folks sleeping on the sidewalks in the Canal District, Vernon Hill and Downtown Worcester. Unwanted. Shunned. Treated like refuse. Driving around my city and seeing the suffering. I remember shedding a few tears as I thought of their situation and our situation: Rose, Jett and Lilac in Rose’s car. Rose addressing her Christmas cards in her car, in a parking lot at night, the December snow falling down and looking pretty against the street light. The Star of Bethlehem?

The crumby motel rooms. The pleasant motel rooms. Organizing the stuff in my car trunk – like I was organizing my personal stuff in this bedroom! My family snubbing us. Friends sympathetic but unwilling to open their doors. Unlike the Blessed Mary or Saint Joseph, I reacted in a very human way – my heart has hardened. I see people bustling with their trees and mistletoe and flat screen TVs and they’re dead to me. They clutch their Play Stations and Apple computer watches and fancy sneakers and Christmas feels far away …

It’s about needing love, needing community…not avarice. The human race usually falls short.


This holiday season I look back at my homeless “journey” – and remember the only person who personified Christmas for me, the only person who opened her home to me, gave me respite in her “inn”: Edith Morgan, CECELIA contributing writer for several years (p.4), former Worcester School Committee member, former foster parent and retired reading teacher (the Shrewsbury public schools). Edith isn’t a dog person, so I had to board my pups, but she was the only person who made a little bed for me in a spare room in her home and said, Stay a week or two. Two or three times. She was the only person who gave me a pillow for my head and sore neck and blankets for warmth and night gown. I hadn’t slept in a night gown in weeks! And she gave me bedroom slippers! Edith lectured me … a bit too often and severely, in my opinion, but she also taught me how to use a French press to make my morning coffee. I could open her refrigerator door whenever I wanted to and nosh on the cheese and grapes in her fridge. I could eat bowls of her bran flakes and pour real cream into my cups of coffee and watch the Rachel Maddow show with Edith at night in her living room. The radio in Edith’s living room was tuned to a classical music station all day, and it soothed my soul and provided the background music to Edith’s daily life: writing stories on her computer upstairs, getting ready to go out to various local political meetings, unpacking bags of groceries after going out shopping with her late husband, Guy – a real sweetie. Edith trusted me with her house, her stuff, her gifts, her dishware, her records, her family photos, her Christmas candy, everything. Decades ago, a dad in her neighborhood had thrown his unruly son out of his house. Goodbye! You’re too much for this family! … Edith let the teen live with her. Gave him a bed, meals, guidance …

Edith in her garden.

It is hard to open up your personal space to a non-relative, a “stranger.” I know I couldn’t do it! To have another human – an interloper – in my path! No way! And I was homeless! Edith transcends the stupid prejudices, is bigger than stuff and safeguarding stuff. For her, it’s about experiencing life, learning, teaching, meeting people, supporting kids, celebrating community. She’s a cool old hippie in her mid-90s! She still digs and hoes in her urban garden outside her house. She still cooks and watches her weight. She has a best friend that she’s known for more than a half a century. She eats an apple a day She writes beautifully and is thoughtful about everything.

So this Christmas I’ll never forget Edith Morgan and her understanding and goodness.

Oh, Holy Night!


By Rosalie Tirella

Rose’s ROOTS table. photos: R.T.

I just got in and plopped my just bought Babka bread on my ROOTS-table – the place in my new apartment where I’ve displayed photos and memorobilia of deceased dear ones, so I see them every day, so they’re a part of my daily life, inspirations for good living – and hopefully good columns! I plopped the Babka bread, a tall, round, Eastern European sweet bread, next to the big picture of my Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, seated with her eldest daughter, my Aunt Mary, and it landed with a thud. I smiled.

Babka bread is my favorite bread, and it was Bapy’s favorite bread. She could eat it every day of the week – plain, without butter – and never tire of its light texture and light, sweet taste. Bapy had no teeth and never wore her dentures, so she would “chew” away on her soft hunk of Babka, tearing pieces off and putting them into her small, shriveled mouth. She chewed all her food in a kind of yammering manner – her egg sandwiches, her slices of pound cake, her mashed potatoes, her mashed turnip, her cooked canned spinach – always looking a bit pained, but she wasn’t in pain – she just had to work a little harder at masticating. And she was in heaven during Christmas and she was feasting on Babka bread! Ma always served her a nice thick hunk of Babka on a pretty saucer, and she placed it right next to Bapy’s cup of Sanka, always brown with coffee stains and covered with bits of bread crumbs or egg yolks from the day’s meals.

Rose’s Babka.

Babka is soft and sweet and practically melts in your mouth. There’s plain and raisin and raisin with rye seeds. Babies – as well as toothless Bapies – can eat plain Babka bread. I always loved the one made with raisins and rye seeds. Real peasant food: the rye seeds got stuck between your teeth but they gave the bread a hearty flavor, and the raisins were never added that special something, and you still tasted the egg and vanilla paste …

My big hunk of heaven was on sale at Price Chopper today for $7, so I grabbed it: a Polish girl’s childhood Christmas treat! I remember diving into so many “loaves” as a kid growing up in Green Island. Water, Green and Millbury streets – the neighborhood’s commercial streets – still had that Eastern European flavor, still reflected the delicacies and dreams of the Polish, Jewish and Lithuanian immigrants that once lived and worked in the neighborhood – my Jaju and Bapy from Poland, then Ma and her siblings, Bapy and Jaju’s kids. You could buy an ok Babka bread at the bakery on Millbury Street – and maybe pick up a pretty good one – not baked on the premises – at Bueler Brothers Market down the street – the famous sausage place. You could buy your Babka to go with the guys’ fresh made kibasa and jars of pigs knuckles. But cross Kelley Square, and the bakeries on Water Street were where the best Babkas in Worcester were sold. Every holiday season Worcesterites from the West Side, East Side, South Side, Main South, Downtown and Green Island converged on Widoffs and Lederman’s to buy the breads for their holiday dinner tables. Thousands of bulkies, tucked into thousands of brown paper bags, were sold. Hundreds upon hundreds of rye – marbled with pumpernickel, seedless, seeded – flew out the doors. Customers entered the bakeries, grabbed a number from the red ticket machines and stood shoulder to shoulder, smooshed up against the bakeries’ display cases for what seemed like eternity, waiting, waiting , waiting for their number to be called. “I’LL HAVE TWO DOZEN BULKIES! … AND A BABKA!” went the mantra. Our little family was so poor! But never felt poor on our street – Water Street! The bulkies were cheap, we bought them every Sunday morning after mass, along with hundreds of Worcester folks. The Babka was a bit pricey…but it was Christmas time, and Ma had her small Christmas bonus from the dry cleaners, so she could treat us and Bapy to a fancy bread. Bapy lived with us on the third floor of an old Lafayette Street three decker – she was old and crippled and never left our tenement, but when she was young and raising her children she – and Jaju – shopped in Water Street. In the early part of the 20th century, the street had more of a market place feel to it – Jaju said the shop keepers sold live chickens and rabbits for stew and he’d tease the little monkey wearing a hat and dancing for the customers’ pennies. The monkey’s best trick – sticking his rear end out to customers – and patting it. He was saying: Kiss my ass! Jaju always got a kick out this. Then he bought his bread and walked home.

Bapy and Jaju in their tenement in The Block on Bigelow Street in Green Island, mid-1940s.

Years later Ma’s customers at the dry cleaners in Millbury Street gave her boxes of candy or Christmas cards with $20 bills in them as holiday gifts. Ma was a great counter girl – neat, polite, well spoken, excellent with numbers, never making mistakes on the cash register. She was well loved by lots of her customers – even the East Side goodfellas, toughs who’d bring in their long camel haired coats to be dry cleaned for Christmas. For church. Once Ma showed me the lining of one such fella’s coat – a few long, extra pockets sewn inside, large rectangles that no one could see. “That’s for his guns,” she told me, her eyes looking into mine. I was a little kid – and knew no better – so I was fascinated. Probably as fascinated as Ma was. I liked “Tom” – he chatted so amiably with my mother over the counter at the dry cleaners whenever he came to pick up his suits or coats. And he was always so nice to me and my two kid sisters. We were never afraid of him – he was right up there with the politicians and Holy Cross priests who came in with their dry cleaning! And Christmas time he always gave Ma a big tip.

The Old World Water Street. I miss it.


By Rosalie Tirella

Tony. photos: R.T.

I visited my old pal Tony Hmura this afternoon. He has been dead for several years now, living longer than most old people – eating very little for years because he read somewhere that being very underweight increased your longevity. Swore by fresh cherries and cod liver oil as cures for his arthritis. Voted Republican every election cycle to save his hard earned cash but let all the Democrats running for office in Worcester stick their political signs all over his property… He delved into weird conspiracy theories about who and what wanted to take over America. A little scary. … Despite all that, Tony Hmura was my good friend. Sometimes a great one – for 15+ years. Tony had a lot of common sense and was easy to talk to and didn’t try to change you. When the going got rough, I found myself at Breens bar on Cambridge Street gulping down spoonfuls of their delicious homemade soup or munching on a grilled cheese sandwich – bowl of soup and sandwich courtesy of Tony, who sat at the bar with me and nursed a beer.

Worcester County is a quieter, less controversial and less fun city (for me, at least) now that my pal is no longer walking – with a bit of a hitch – this earth. Canterbury and Cambridge streets were Tony’s world. He loved his sign shop, Leader Sign, located on Canterbury Street, and he loved going to Breens after work or the Webster House. He loved getting all kinds of visitors – feral cats, which he fed… drug addicts, whom he always gave a fiver to … women on the cusp, whom he took under his wing and gave $20 bills to…at his shop. He took one neighborhood lady to his grandson’s birthday party in the suburbs one summer. With 30 guests milling around, she still managed to steal $500 bucks. Tony’s sons were livid. Tony felt she wouldn’t have stolen the cash if she didn’t need it. Tony felt bad for the women who prostituted themselves for drug money. Once he told me about the woman across the street from his sign shop who gave a guy a blow job on his porch…They’re sitting on his porch, afterwards, watching the pigeons. She says, “Pigeons are such dirty birds.” The guy cracks a beer bottle over her head.

Tony’s sign shop.

Tony saw the ugliness of city life, but he went back at trying to make things better in Worcester every single morning. He was at his sign shop by 8 a.m., Monday thru Saturday, even when he was in his 90s. Tony talked with everyone, heard and reacted to their hard luck stories. A social worker without the degree but following his misguided heart. He felt addicts would always be addicts – so why lecture them? Just give them the dough. For their booze or their drugs. Tony had a line of alcoholics and more waiting for him at Leader Sign every morning. After he died, they all went away.

Tony was born on Lafayette Street in Green Island and, because his Polish immigrant dad had a nervous breakdown and became incapacitated (was in his bedroom all day) when Tony was very young, Tony never had the dad he had hoped for. Tony began working to support the family when he was 7. He started an earthworm business and went around Green Island selling earthworms out of his little red wagon to guys who were going fishing. Tony got a full-time factory job while still in junior high school. He gave his money to his mother for bills – and saved the rest. He was the sole provider for his mother, father, two sisters and brother. They were very poor, but Tony was growing his bank account. Tony got very tough – boxing, running – and cynical – his life was pretty crumby – and at such an early age. He deflowered many a neighborhood girl who needed money during the Great Depression. He had no problem paying them. He even worked for a veterinarian as a vet tech – no anesthesia for the dogs they castrated!

After the war, Tony became a Worcester sign maker and owned his own shop on Canterbury Street for decades. A proud Polish American – first generation – Tony fell for the glamor of America in a big way: he loved Hollywood movies, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, pop songs, JFK, FREEDOM. Tony was obsessed with freedom – freedom from nagging wives, freedom from his own kids, even. He loved going out and driving and being unencumbered by family and responsibilities of the heart … he loved the ladies, night life, clubs and restaurants … and money. Like most Americans, Tony believed that with the right amount of cash, he could get exactly what he wanted – fancy wrist watches and suits, fancy trips to Florida, fancy ladies … yet he never seemed happy.

The Polish Santa!

There was his lovable side: Every Christmas, year after year, Tony dressed up as the anonymous “Polish Santa,” giving out little gifts to neighborhood kids or classrooms of kids at St. Mary’s elementary school on Richland Street. He would give waitresses at various dives $50 bills – and be happy with their hugs of thanks. Occasionally, his good deeds went … punished, like the time he bought 30 Christmas turkeys and tried to give them to a local social service agency – and they didn’t want Tony’s turkeys. And Tony didn’t know what to do with them. Or the time Tony went to a City of Worcester elementary school as the Polish Santa with his sack of toys for a classroom of students, many underprivileged – and the school rejected the Polish Santa’s presents for the kids because two students in the classroom were Johovah Witnesses. This enraged Tony! Every Christmas he’d tell me the story and wonder what America was coming to. A stupid, Christmas-loathing country, that’s what! “Drill holes in their heads! Sawdust will pour out!” he’d say to me of his fellow Americans.

Tony’s final sign: his tombstone. Tony picked it out, paid for it, designed it, had it erected several years before he died. Here’s his WW II bomber plane – Tony was a gunner.

You can see him spraying bullets at the enemy in this detail:

Tony proudly fought for America during World War II – not so much hating Hitler as wanting to prove his manhood, his toughness…to be a HERO. He was about 18 when he enlisted and was up for the adventure of a lifetime. Turned out it wasn’t that way at all – Tony’s plane was shot down a few times, and he thought he was going to die. Some of his pals died – crying for their mothers. After a bombing raid they’d be cigs laid out on the guys’ cots – and shots of hard liquor. Guys’ hands would be shaking as they put their cigarettes to their mouths, Tony used to tell me. But Tony refrained – he felt smoking and drinking were signs of weakness. Years later, I believed Tony suffered from PTSD, from the war. Once a week, without fail, he’d go to a local support group for vets. He never told me what anybody talked about – but I know this support group made Tony feel better.

During the war, Tony and bomber plane mates were led by Hollywood film actor James Stewart. Tony liked Stewart – “He was a regular guy” … “He told us Ginger Rogers was the best piece of ass he ever had.” I loved the Clark Gable stories too… loved the photo of Jimmy Stewart and his crew – Tony included – standing in front of one of their bomber planes, some wearing bomber jackets, Stewart looking like a movie star, all of them young and a bit cocky. All of them smiling easy-going smiles, their jaws relaxed, their arms casually draped over each other’s shoulders. Tony isn’t hugging anybody and you can see the fearlessness in his eyes – he was a loner even back then. But you can tell he’s glad to be with his mates, a Green Island kid fighting for his country. America!

Stop by Leader Sign and see this terrific photo that Tony framed and hung on the wall in his sign shop so many years ago. His son, Bryan, still works there, part-time. He’d be glad to show it to you.


By Rosalie Tirella

Rose’s boots. photos: R.T.

Winter’s coming on, and I’ll be delivering thousands of CECELIAs/ICTs in the snow, sleet and mush – like I have been doing for the past 21 years. I’ve traipsed through so many miles of snow, gone through so many pairs of boots … all in the name of a good local read. My moxie was inherited from my late mom and Bapy, but the boots were courtesy of gal pal Dorrie. Thank God for my former vintage store owner friend – she knows her product, she knows what size my feet are, she knows what styles will suit my needs and fashion sense. Dorrie’s kept me in warm, cute, walkable boots for years! I’ve been able to run my newspaper, deliver InCity Times or CECELIA with dispatch and in style, in all her winter boots: black ones, fringed ones, hippie style ones, booties…beige and faux fur lined! But last year I was so dispirited about my situation that as soon as the ground began to thaw I dumped my perfectly fine UGG knock-offs Dorrie had gifted me to survive homelessness – and promptly forgot about them. I had worn them continuously all last winter while homeless. Without socks they were so warm. I even wore them to sleep; they covered my calves and were fake fur lined. They kept me warm in the snowy fields, as my dogs loped through the snow, excited and so happy. Which made me happy. Me, my dogs, my boots … They were in good condition when I let them go, still, I didn’t want to own them anymore, see them, be reminded of the hard winter I had spent. In a car! At age 60!!!! So one warm March morning, I just drove up to a Dumpster outside a restaurant, brushed my boots clean and gingerly, strategically, placed them next to the Dumpster. For the next homeless person to find – and hopefully wear. They looked ok.

Rose’s cool, dog-walking boots.

Last winter I also owned a pair of cute, almost-new, grey, ankle boots. Kept them under the passenger’s seat. But my ankles were swollen from mostly sitting in my vehicle – not having a bed to sleep in, an apartment to walk around in – so they didn’t fit right. Way too tight around my ankles! I gave them to another gal pal to keep – or to give away to a young person who might have needed them. They were that cool – and in excellent condition.

This year Dorrie gave Rose a pair of real UGGs!

This year is a celebratory year – we are HOME!!!! I have all my Dorrie boots lined up on a shelf IN MY HUGE, WALK-IN CLOSET! To reflect the daily weather – and my fashion whims. Yes! I can be fashion conscious, have fun with clothes again! I can slog through the snow looking good. I can slip and slide on black ice with panache in this pair of black UGGs Dorrie gave me just a few weeks ago (pictured). “They’re UGGs!” Dorrie said with pride. … Or I can pull down and pull on the multi-colored beauties she gave me three years ago – my Quinsigamond Village Jett and Lilac walking boots. Or I can take the Dorrie black booties that were a staple of so many winter days, looking just fine with skirt and leggings.

Poetry in motion!

See these fringed boots? Well, about four years ago I was walking to my car in a Worcester shopping plaza parking lot, when a youngish guy stopped driving, jumped out of his red truck and handed me a $10 bill! Wow! That never happened to me! Before I could thank the guy, he had already jumped back into his truck and was taking off. He had just admired the poetry of those fringed boots in action (pictured here). They do have a rhythm of their own – the fringes bobbing up and down, some of the strands catching the wind and flying in all directions… I told my then CECELIA art director about the incident – happy. I appreciated the compliment – and needed the 10 bucks. A former gal pal, she was appalled: “Rose! You didn’t take the money!”

I said: “You bet I did, Ruthie! I didn’t do anything! I just walked across a parking lot in these great pair of boots!”

Sometimes gals who aren’t your real pals can make you feel like a whore.

But like blue eye shadow and shiny gray locks, every old lady needs a pair of calf-hugging, fringed boots – to channel her inner-Janis Joplin! To feel young again!!!

Barbara Haller

By Rosalie Tirella

The Barbara sign on her building. photo: R.T.

Former Worcester District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller died a few days ago. I drove by Haller’s Main South office space yesterday and saw her sign on her building at the corner of Main and Castle streets, the sign that’s been at the top of the edifice for all to see for years … big, bold and direct: BARBARA HALLER CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 4.

Someone once said to me, miffed: She lost the election! That sign is still up!

The person was hinting that the old guard – Barb – just couldn’t let go, couldn’t face the fact that the new guard, a Latina representing the now pretty much Hispanic district, District 4, was the future. That the white working class that had voted Haller in a decade ago, the same folks who voted in the late great D 4 city councilor Jan Nadeau, Haller’s political mentor, were dying off, not really defining the Main South, South Worcester and Green Island neighborhoods anymore. The heart and soul of District 4. When Nadeau died, her supporters and political network became Haller’s. Haller, even though brilliant, artsy, educated – really phenomenal in so many ways – reflected their old school values back on to them, thru her presence on the Worcester City Council. She represented her district well for that time: She, like everyone else, declared NO prostitution in our neighborhood! NO drugs! NO PIP wet shelter! NO homeless people! NO crappy three deckers with their crappy slumlords! WE MUST TAKE BACK OUR MAIN SOUTH! WE MUST TURN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD AROUND SO WE CAN ENJOY OUR BACKYARDS, PARKS AND SIDEWALKS ONCE AGAIN!

During her council tenure, Barbara Haller did all that – and more. Not only – as D 4 councilor for more than 10 years – did Barb Haller “clean up” her Main South neighborhood and surrounding ‘hoods – she helped them flourish. Made them walkable. Made them greener. Made them artsier, healthier … It was Barb and life partner Frank Z and former mayor Joe O’Brien (a one time denizen of Main South living a few streets away from Barb and Frank on Castle Street) who cleaned up Castle Park and made it pretty, clean and safe – devoid of used heroin syringes, garbage strewn under trees … It was Barb who got former City Manager Mike O’Brien to revive the last municipal swimming pool in Worcester as he was shutting the rest down. Not only was the Crompton Park pool saved, it was redone with adorable amenities like spray slides and new benches, new shower area … everything! Crompton Park, in D 4, is a city gem – Barb helped make it sparkle.

Barb got the handball courts rebuilt… they’re off the old Maloney’s Field on Cambridge Street in South Worcester – not in Main South, Barb’s neighborhood. Still, she brought her passion to the project, and they went from being drab to beautiful and new. These inner-city handball courts instantly drew hundreds of Latino folks during all seasons to play, exercise and have fun. Families who bring babies in strollers and sometimes pack a lunch to enjoy a summer day at their park together!

Barbara would patrol her District 4, a densely populated, sometimes dangerous D 4. She quit her job at National Grid to devote all her working – some would say waking – hours to her beloved District 4. As a reporter and friend I drove around the district (also my childhood stamping grounds – I grew up in Green Island) with Barb. More than a few times. I was with her as she checked on all her neighborhoods, three decker by three decker, park to park, mini Mart to liquor store. In her big old rusty SUV, Barb braking and accelerating, stepping on the gas or brake pedal in her cute signature brown or beige sensible shoes, wearing her faded denim long skirt, white cotton shirt and topped off with a black cotton blazer, Barb was on a roll. Little notebook by her side, pen by notebook, she checked the three deckers with busted windows, broken doors, used works – needles and other crap that heroin addicts had left behind in HER district. Barb was fearless in these inner-city fact finding missions, where she’d check on drug houses or abandoned warehouses, climbing over fencing, pushing aside bushes and brambles. Once, on one of our little jaunts, always followed by a nice lunch at Peppercorns or the Webster House – always on Barb – she and I saw two groups of young guys, in their late teens and early 20s, squaring off in front of a liquor store in Piedmont, baseball bats in hand. Fearing violence, smashed heads galore, I said: Barb, Oh, no… there’s gonna be a fight. Let’s call the police!

Well, Barb, being Barb, doesn’t hear I word I say and stops her vehicle just two yards away, in front of the soon to happen brouhaha and opens the SUV door to get out …

I say: No, Barb! What if someone pulls a gun on you?

All were so young and strong, bicep muscles showing definition in the summer sun…Barb was a senior citizen, heavy and sometimes … waddled.

I’m 63, she tells me, quietly. I’ve lived a long life …

and she gets out of her vehicle cool as a cucumber, John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS. Barb walks up to the guys, talks with them and they disperse.

My late mom used to love to watch our city council meetings when Konnie Lukes and Barbara Haller were on the council. She admired Konnie’s toughness and in your face political style. She thought Barbara was always intelligent – and that she always looked so cute! “She’s wearing her outfit!” Ma would say, between sips of coffee and nibbles on her danish. “She has her pencil sticking out of her bun!”

Yep. That was the great Barbara Haller. Fine grey hair pulled back into a neat little bun with a yellow number 2 pencil protruding. I don’t think I ever saw Barb’s hair down once, even when I visited her in her home – always her neat bun, a few grey wisps of hair framing her round pleasant face. The pencils spelled brilliant mathematical genius engineer – and they were also there in case she needed to take notes on District 4.

I am making Haller sound a bit severe – and she could be. That was maybe part of her political downfall – seeing every Main South addict as a criminal, every homeless person on Charlton or Sycamore streets as the enemy, every PIP client someone to eject from her neighborhood forever. Her biggest political mistake? Saying, on the record, that some days, walking past the PIP, walking along Main Street, she felt she was “the only legitimate person” in her ‘hood. This comment brought on a slew of haters and political opponents. From then on Barb had one political opponent after another vying for her seat on the city council, election cycle after election cycle – in Worcester, that means every two years! So there was Lynn, a founder of the Worcester Youth Center, Grace the progressive but pokey WAFT saint, even Dave from Dismas House on nearby Richards Street got into the act and tried to register homeless people to get them to vote for the person running against Barbara that year. Barb called him on it through placing a call to a T and G columnist who wrote a scathing column on Dave, making him look sneaky…reprehensible. Dave quickly moved to Westboro with his wife and little child.

Which leads me to say: Barb was a politician. A very savvy one. A true operator. I say this with pride, as a woman. Barb was ALWAYS the smartest person in the room. She knew exactly what every character was up to – and she knew how to foil their plans, making those phone calls, button holing this person, taking that person to lunch. Male pols do this all the time. It’s high time we acknowledge female politicians for doing the same…for better and for worse.

Barb was a joyful person: after she and partners sold the Gilrein’s blues club on Main Street to new folks, she threw a party. I went to it and watched Barb dance up a storm! The music started, the boxy, buxom Barb lept up, and light on her feet, with grace and rhythm, boogied with Joe O’Brien’s wife and then maybe one of Joe’s (at the time) young kids and then … alone. Just for the joy of the dance.

Once I gave Barb a Dollar Tree Christmas mug for Christmas. It was the best I could do that year. We were in her SUV when I gave her snowman mug to her. She looked at it and started to cry. She said: Thank you! It’s just what I needed!

When I got home later that day I wondered, why the waterworks? A few years later I realized it was because she loved me …

I could go on and on about how terrific a human being Barbara Haller was and how lucky Worcesterites were to have her live with us, for us. … A few years back, right before they were going to tear down the beautiful Notre Dame church in downtown Worcester, I saw a small group of people putting on some kind of farewell concert to the church – right before its demise, in front of the ugly brown tarp and silver chain-link fence that had cut the church off from the community. But the community had come! A few high school and college kids were reading poetry before the church, another person was playing a violin to her … There was a small audience. And sitting in a folding chair, before the little group of young people, before the great church with its high arches sparkling in the sun, there sat Barbara Haller, witness to it all, waking a friend that would soon die, even though she tried to save her! Barb was swaying gently to the music, and though I only saw her from behind, I bet she was smiling … and crying a bit, too.

Just like I am today! Goodbye, old friend! Like Note Dame, you were a once in a lifetime gift to Worcester!

Love …