I, like most Worcesterites, didn’t know Jason Menard, the 39-year-old Worcester fireman who died a horrible death this past week while doing his job. But I, like all of Worcester, love him. Not so much for “fighting” the flames in that Quinsig Village flat but for perishing while saving two of his “brothers” – fellow WFD firemen – up in that third-floor fire-trap on Stockholm Street, in Quinsigamond Village, Worcester’s old blue collar Swedish neighborhood. A neighborhood, like many of our older, ethnic neighborhoods, filled with 100-year-old two- and three-deckers: Kindlin’ wood.
One Worcester fireman was a newbie and couldn’t find the staircase in the carbon monoxide- and smoke-filled building. Jason found him (by touch? by words?) and led him to the staircase (did they hold hands?, lean together shoulder to shoulder?, whisper? cry out?). Jason helped another fellow fireman to an open window … to safety. And they say Jason was searching for the tenants’ baby when, and the cliches tumble out now: when the fireman was “overcome,” “overtaken,” “succumbed” … “didn’t make it.”
What does all the verbiage mean? Safe, sterile “nothing” words that can never convey the physical pain or emotional and bodily shock Jason experienced – or how a WFD “brother” pulled Jason’s body out. How that fireman felt lugging his dead friend out of all that crap. We call it smoke-inhalation, carbon monoxide poisoning, but Jason’s lungs were burning up! On fire like that building – his delicate, fluid filled lung membranes inflamed, burning… Only Jason gasped for fresh, clean, cool air. Only he felt his fireman suit and gear grow heavy! An encumberance between him and the stars in the cold Worcester sky, it turned out.
What if we could empty those Worcester night stars like coffee cups? And have Jason’s wife’s tears flow out of them to wash our city souls clean? Have Tina Menard stop all our clocks! Shut our city down!! To shout, like an ancient woman warrior: MY HUSBAND, A GOOD MAN, A GOOD FATHER TO OUR CHILDREN, IS DEAD!!
The man she loved at the grill, by their kitchen table, over their dishwasher, in bed, under the quilts … Jason died hurting and suffering in that crumby old Worcester three-decker.
FireFIGHTER. That is the trendy term to describe all firemen these days, including Jason Menard. Implying the guys FIGHT fires, BATTLE flames – which they do. But to me the term renders the men plastic, Disney-like, super-hero action figures – all iron-clad muscles, steely gazes, red cape-wearing fearlessness, even godlike … when in truth, the WFD guys – all firemen – are just guys. Guys who maybe love the challenge more than most of us, but men, often in the middle of life and love: youngish wives, young children, aging parents, mortgages, college savings accounts for their kids. They have fancy lawn mowers they love because they remind them how successful they are – married with kids and a nice home in the nicer parts of town. Leaf and snow blowers mark the seasons in their big back yards. Sex, BBQs, wide-screen TVs, Red Sox games – the fun stuff of guys in their 30s and early 40s! In their prime!
But these firemen, when they get into these fire-trap three deckers and warehouses in our old New England factory towns – Lawrence, Lowell, Worcester … – become guys in their prime doing their best. They save lives – and families. And communities. They save each other, too. All the time. Grabbing, holding each other hands, as they stumble to safety … giving each other hearty hugs of encouragement … pulling and pushing each other to that open window … sighing and maybe crying in all the smoke and darkness and admitting to the fireman next to them: I’M AFRAID, bro! A firefighter once told me, smiling: “There have been plenty of (WFD firemen) guys who’ve saved my life.” … intimating that he had returned and would continue to return the favor, again and again. If that’s not intimacy, true love, then I don’t know what is!
And that’s why the guys seem so close when you drive by one of their many Worcester neighborhood fire stations: together, they grill steaks on their grills/BBQ smokers outside their firestations; one guy will make a big pot of homemade soup or chilli for his crew on the station stove; they sit on lawnchairs outside on the drab cement parking lot, talking in the inner-city sun or maybe listening to one of their mate’s bag-pipe playing out by their sparkling red, just washed and hosed fire trucks, safe in their bays, ready for a parade – or a 3-alarm fire!
Jason Menard and the Worcester Fire Department firemen (and -women) are firefighters … but, best of all, they’re HUMAN BEINGS rushing into the void, not knowing, not thinking, about their mortality. Innocent as lambs.
Some things never change in Worcester – like all the illegal dumping. Despite the City’s revamped recycling/trash plan!
Here’s Blackstone River Road, where I live, yesterday afternoon. Right outside my house – huge trash bag thrown onto the middle of the sidewalk! Our neighborhood’s trash-pick up day is Friday! If no one removes it, it will be on the sidewalk all week!!!: 😢😢 pic: Rose T.
But some things DO change: like we’re on FACEBOOK! 20 years after the rest of the world!! Oh well …
Sign in to FB and explore, share, comment on and like our 3 pages!
♥️Our FACEBOOK pages are:
CECELIA the newspaper
🍁P.S.🍁Next issue of CECELIA hits Worcester stands this Friday/weekend!🍁
🇺🇸Story ideas? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jett and Lilac, yesterday afternoon, during our Greenwood Street walk!
Walking Jett and Lilac in my long socks and heavy skirts these days …
Jett & Lilac♥️♥️:
A big Thank You! to Dorrie for gifting me this cutie vintage autumn-rain coat! Lined and cozy😊! Perfect for walking Jett and Lilac in October!: pics/text: Rose T.
Yesterday was Jackson Browne’s birthday. I’ve been listening to him since senior year Burncoat High School.
I have this lp, bought YEARS AGO, somewhere. Real and beautiful picture of life on the road, according to a lighting technician I loved at UMass/Amherst who toured with Billy Joel, Madonna and was planning on accompanying Marvin Gaye (but Gaye was murdered by his father!):
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)!
Announcing RespectAbility’s New NDEAM Webinar Series!
The Right Talent, Right Now!
Fighting Stigmas and Advancing Opportunities for People with Disabilities
If you have been working in disability employment, inclusion or workforce development for any length of time, then you should know that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This month marks a key opportunity to celebrate the incredible contributions of employees with disabilities.
It also is a good time to educate employers about strategies for recruiting, training and promoting people with disabilities. The theme for 2019’s celebration of employees with disabilities is “The Right Talent, Right Now.”
As such, RespectAbility is delighted to invite you to join us this October for an exciting webinar series promoting best practices in disability employment, employer engagement and workplace culture. Each webinar is FREE, includes open captioning and features a subject matter expert sharing their insights, perspectives and strategies-you-can-use in your own work.
🌞First up, on Wednesday, Oct. 9:
We invite you to join us for a conversation with James Emmett
about “Structuring the Workplace for Long-Term Success.” Emmett has been closely involved with some of the nation’s most successful workplace inclusion projects and will be there to share his insights with all of you.
🍂After that, on Wednesday, Oct. 16:
We are delighted to be hosting two private-sector titans of diversity and inclusion to talk about “
Disability Inclusion, Assimilation and Success.” Learn from
Jim Sinocchi, Managing Director of the Office of Disability Inclusion at JP Morgan Chase about launching “new era of disability inclusion” and “hiring professionals with disabilities into the robust culture of the firm.” Likewise, Vincenzo Piscopo, Community and Stakeholder Relations Director for Coca-Cola will talk about the key work that Coca-Cola has done to bring greater diversity to their team, their culture and their brand.
🇺🇸Lastly, on Tuesday, Oct. 22:
We will shift gears to how the workforce development system can
successfully engage employers
and get more jobs for people with disabilities. To do that, we are hosting leaders from Iowa’s Vocational Rehabilitation System
who have built up a robust network of business partnerships and have had great success serving rural communities. We hope you will join us for this great learning opportunity.
All our webinars are FREE to enjoy and will feature accessible slides, captioning and downloadable materials.
If you have any questions or need more info, go to RespectAbility.org
🍁Structuring the Workplace for Long-Term Success with James Emmett
Date: Wednesday, October 9, 2019
For years, James Emmett has been at the forefront of promising practices and proven strategies for getting more and more people with disabilities jobs. Join us on Wednesday, October 9th for a special conversation where James will share key insights from his trailblazing work in the private sector. Learn from him about taking an integrated approach to recruitment, accommodations, and promotion to structure the workplace for the long term success of employees with disabilities.
🍁Disability Inclusion, Assimilation and Success – Lessons from JP Morgan Chase and Coca-Cola
Date: Wednesday, October 16, 2019
🍂Join us for a special conversation with some of the nation’s leading experts on disability, inclusion and success. Jim Sinocchi and Kevin Sylvester will speak about their efforts to launch a “new era of disability inclusion” at JP Morgan Chase, by “hiring professionals with disabilities into the robust culture of the firm.” They will share key lessons they have learned about how to identify, training and promote professional with disabilities.
🌻Likewise, Vincenzo Piscopo will talk about the key work that Coca-Cola has done to bring greater diversity to their team, their culture and their brand. From the new Unlabeled ad campaign to his personal experiences as a leader in the firm, Vincenzo will offer insights from a globe-trotting careers as a successful inclusion leader.
🌄Iowa Voc Rehab’s Stories of Successful Business Engagement and Disability Hiring
An intensive workshop where Fellows will gain the tools needed to revise and refine their pilots and navigate a changing industry landscape
The great state of Iowa has been at the forefront of outreach work to educate business partners on the bottom-line benefits of hiring more and more people with disabilities.
We invite you to join us for this webinar to learn how Iowa’s Vocational Rehabilitation system has built up a robust network of business partnerships with Kwik-Trip and other diverse firms. We are also excited for our guests to speak about the unique challenges of meeting the workforce training needs of youth with disabilities in rural Iowa.
Brilliant! GREAT IDEA, Team Beto!
Go, Beto, go!!!
From Beto for America:
Credit cards have enabled many of America’s mass shootings in the last decade:
For example, the man who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, got away with buying $11,000 in assault rifles, gas masks, grenades, and ammo. He just charged it to his credit card.
However inadvertent or deliberate, credit card companies and banks profit off of those who terrorize our communities. And we know that in this moment, no one can sit on the sidelines. Everyone has a responsibility to do their part.
These companies are no exception.
That’s why today we’re calling on the financial industry to do their part to cut off the sales of these weapons of war. …
We’re calling on banks and credit card companies to:
Refuse to provide services for the sales of assault weapons.
Stop processing transactions for gun sales online or at gun shows without background checks.
Stop doing business with gun or ammo manufacturers who produce or sell assault weapons.
If this Congress and this president won’t act, the least the financial industry can do is stop profiting off of sales of these weapons.
If enough of us speak out, they’ll consider it!
The financial industry has played a part in government efforts to stop the illegal drug trade, trafficking, and other violent crimes. It’s time for them to step up now and stop the easy flow of assault weapons to terrorists.
If enough of us make our voices heard now, we stand a chance to make that happen.
To contribute to Beto’s presidential campaign via check, please address it to Beto for America campaign, P.O. Box 3628, El Paso, TX 79923.
Wild animals must stay in the wild! Not tortured, exploited, slayed …
Yay, presidential contender Joe Biden! 💚💚💚💚
Did you know Democratic Presidential Candidate Julian Castro HAS AN ENTIRE ANIMAL RIGHTS PLATFORM? To HELP ALL ANIMALS💚: wildlife, dogs and cats, puppy mill dogs and more:
WE LOVE YOU, JULIAN!!!! 🇺🇸🇺🇸
Did you know Democratic Presidential Candidate Cory Booker EATS NO MEAT or Animal Products – has been vegetarian for years?
Thank you, Cory and AOC!❤️❤️:
We miss you, George Jones! Today is your birthday:
Cutline … above: Cecelia, Rose’s late mom, leaving for work, about to head down our backstairs to walk Lafayette … our old Philco TV in the background (we now have a color Zenith!), the casual resting spot for Ma’s laundry basket filled with damp just-washed clothes ready for our old clothesline, pictured, also.
Ma never owned a car but she did plenty of shopping – especially grocery – on Millbury and Water streets during their – and her💛 – heyday. Lots of Green Island women – single and married – did. Their vehicle of transport? The receptacle for all their goods and goodies? The trusty White’s Five and Ten “shopping wagon” – a steal at $10. Ten bucks for a foldable, relatively light weight, metal, portable shopping wagon. They must have had them in the shtetls of Eastern Europe because when I was a little girl growing up in Green Island I saw a bunch of them pulled by the married and single Polish and Lithuanian women of Green Island/Vernon Hill. For grocery shopping all along Millbury Street, maybe Water, too. Millbury was lined with scores of tiny mom and pop stores!
My mom’s White’s shopping wagon went clickety clack behind her as she walked down the cracked Millbury Street sidewalk in her beige, sensible work shoes – the Hush Puppies she had bought for herself at Lisbon’s Shoes – on Millbury Street.
My friend’s mother, who was married to a Pole who survived the Russian work camps after World War II (he did lose his hearing in one ear) was used to deprivation. She pulled her metal shopping wagon with a ram rod straight back, head held high, looking directly ahead, never turning her narrow face to catch some distraction, like a cool car or stray pup, never cracking a smile – even though she was a good, sweet person and an INCREDIBLE POLISH COOK – everything bought on Millbury Street, everything made from scratch, even her delicious egg noodles! She and her husband owned a few three decker’s in Green Island and Vernon Hill (where they lived with my school buddy, Barbara). Mrs. K made weekly walks to Millbury Street from her family’s Vernon Hill three decker apartment, her White’s Five and Ten shopping wagon behind her – pulled by her strong work hands, tightly held. Her husband had a truck but that was for his landlord business – he’d never think of giving his older wife a ride down or up the big hill for grocery shopping! Women’s work!
It was many years ago when Green Island/the Kelley Square area was a shopping mecca – for the local working class and poorer folks from the ‘hood but also for shoppers all over Worcester who came for the ethnic specialties at shops like the Bueller Brothers Market – sausages made from scratch – Polish sausage. Ma loved her kilbasa – boiled in water, sliced then placed between two pieces of pumpernickel, one piece of bread slathered with mustard. I loved my kilbasa sandwiches, too! Or the outsiders from the other Woo ‘hoods came to Widoffs or Lederman’s bakeries to buy a dozen or two of their freshly baked, pillowy, fragrant, warm bulkies … always given to us shoppers in brown paper bags. They’d be eaten up by the evening, so why plastic??? Hundreds of folks flooded these two bakeries after going to Mass or services on Sunday mornings – a Worcester tradition that was both homey and a little extravagant for us!
The ol’ Water Street: the side of the now gone Weintraub’s Deli
My old neighborhood was home to grocery stores, fish markets, bakeries, Bueller Brothers, diners and dairy bars with takeout, the iconic Charles Restaurant and Messier’s also with takeout, the unforgettable Widoffs and Lederman’s, and a billion barrooms with a few flop houses thrown in for good measure. All shoppers rubbed shoulders in Green Island /Water Street! No one was elite on shopping days in my old neighborhood, now the gentrified Canal District where the local poor are disrespected and shut out of the activities. Nope, back then Ma pulled her shopping wagon filled with groceries before Charles Restaurant where she’d wave to some of the politicians who were going in for a famous Charles seafood lunch – they’d say, Hi, Cel! She was their counter girl at the dry cleaners where they brought in their suits to be cleaned and pressed. She smiled at her beloved customers – like the good hen admiring her cute chicks.
There was a young guy on Lafayette Street, several houses away from our old three decker, who had his own shopping wagon. He was severely crippled, his skinny legs sticks that were permanently bent like number 7s, yet he could walk wicked fast, at an angle, and with gusto! He was in his 30s but had a paper route just like the kids in our neighborhoods. He couldn’t carry the newspaper satchel on his crooked shoulders. So he had his newspapers in his own personal White’s shopping wagon – from which he grabbed his newspapers and flung them onto our back porches.
The late Tony Hmura’s mom lived in my ‘hood, too – on Scott Street. She was older – the same age as my Bapy. She looked a lot like her, too. I’d see her maybe once or twice a year walking home with her White’s shopping wagon filled with brown paper bags stuffed with groceries. But mostly Tony, who owned Leader Signs, or his sister, did the grocery shopping for their mom – using their cars.
The always controversial Tony!
One older lady who worked in the envelope factory kept her White’s shopping wagon outside her back-door area. I could tell because she lived directly across from us – a tiny front yard separated the back porches of our two three deckers. Every Saturday night, as a little kid, I’d stand on our back porch and I could see Jenny sitting alone on her back-stairs, quiet, to herself (she didn’t even own a car!) nursing a beer. Jenny was in her late 4Os; she had lived alone her whole adult life … nursing a bottle of beer every Saturday night outside her apartment, on her wooden back stairs. Tight curly perm, no nonsense dusters from White’s … shopping every Saturday afternoon on Millbury Street. She was carless just like my mother, but Ma was happy: she lived with, was surrounded by, people and pets (the people: Bapy, Jaju, her three little girls, sometimes Daddy), plus the German Shepherd mix and Old English Sheep dog pup I talked her into adopting for me, AND later a tabby kitten, my pet hamster Joy and two newts which I kept in a big muddy aquarium in my bedroom. One escaped! and Ma found him emaciated by the toilet (his brother was so fat and healthy in the aquarium). Ma didn’t seem to mind all the work and grocery shopping … Everyone in our neighborhood knew Jenny, and she was always a quiet, polite neighbor. Years later, I see: a lonely woman, a life of “quiet desperation.” Alcoholism, too. I wish I could go back in time, give Jenny a big hug and invite her to our Lafayette Street three decker flat for one of my mothers’s raucous Sunday baked chicken dinners – with all the fixings! So delicious! If I only knew then what I understand now …
Finally, when we were older, teenagers, Ma gave her big shopping list and cash to my beautiful kid sister who dutifully took up the White’s shopping wagon and made the trek to Supreme’s, the fruit store, sometimes even Widoffs, every Thursday eve. The saint of our family, she shopped right after working in Boston! She grabbed Ma’s rickety old shopping wagon and still in her pretty secretary dress booked it down Lafayette Street waving to neighbors, smiling to all, saying Hello! I see her now, walking home, lugging a wagon full of food, looking a little tired … long day. I rush downstairs to help her carry up the bags of groceries. She is so pretty, yet her brown eyes seem so sad …
“She was gold,” my mother’s best gal pal once said to Ma.
This Labor Day, as I make myself a late lunch … 🍅🍅🍅🍅 pics: R.T.
I remember … onions.
I photograph onions!
I praise onions!
I eat onions!
I always have a bag in the house:
I eat one now!
Whole, raw – just like that!
Just like a good Polak!
… while my lunch cooks …
And I remember the story that “Ma,” my late mother, told me: how my Jaju from Poland (her father, my grandfather) got ready for work, real labor, at the textile mill in Douglas, where he was a dyer. He made two or three onion sandwiches for his work day, she said, and she gave me Jaju’s recipe. My Jaju, a poor immigrant who never learned to speak, read or write English, liked to cook, but he was a master carpenter! He built my mom a backyard glider-swing for her Lafayette Street backporch when I was just a baby! So I could be rocked to sleep!
He loved working with his hands!
He loved onions!
And mushrooms and blueberries, too! He picked both with my mother, when she was a little girl and he was young, in the wilds of Worcester! Together they rambled o’er Vernon Hill, my mother way ahead of my Jaju, and my Jaju worried about his favorite daughter whom he nicknamed his “Scravonik” – “Little Sparrow.” Ma had been sickly as a toddler and almost died – she was such a skinny little girl now! Every winter Jaju gave his oldest daughter Jane this assignment: Sew your little sister the best new winter coat … made of wool, with a thick lining. Thicker than last year’s!
I have Bapy and Jaju’s pedal sewing machine on which Ma’s coats were made by Aunt Jane. It’s in my bedroom:
Here is Jaju’s onion sandwich recipe, which he followed meticulously on Bigelow Street, in his and Bapy’s tenement in The Block. Before heading to the Douglas textile mill … (a guy from the neighborhood worked at the mill, too. He had a car, so he picked Jaju up every day, and they rode in together):
2 slices of Wonder Bread
1 whole onion
Miracle Whip Mayonnaise
Slice the onion into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place the rounds on one slice of your Wonder Bread.
Spread mayonnaise on your other slice of Wonder Bread and … Voila! A tasty, healthy veggie lunch!
My mother helped Jaju get ready for work: she took his little metal rolling machine, his can of tobacco, and little square tissue papers and rolled his cigarettes – unfiltered – for work. She did this in his bedroom, where Jaju liked to smoke!! after work – and play his harmonica.
Every day Jaju took the cigs my mother made for him and his onion sandwiches and left for Schuster Mills which my uncle, his son, called “Pa’s Hell,” after working a summer vacation there side by side with his dad – who never complained about the working conditions – or anything – but was SO PROUD WHEN HE JOINED THE UNION! I have, tucked away in a desk drawer, Jaju’s union booklets, cards … He saved EVERYTHING union!
Earlier in the morning, Bapy had made Jaju a big scrambled eggs breakfast, and she’d be cooking his from-scratch, homemade supper all afternoon. She was in love – wild about her husband – until the day he died, 50 years after their wedding day. A half-century of marriage.
Theirs was a true love story: Bapy, 18, and Jaju on their wedding day. Other pic: The Bishop
Jaju’s onion sandwiches were just snacks! Before the Worcester Board of Health shut it down, Bapy and Jaju raised rabbits on their back-porch for stew. Jaju once made me a white rabbit’s foot keychain!
In the 1930s/40s when Ma worked in Springfield, along with her two older sisters, as a housekeeper/maid for the Bishop of Springfield she would make herself onion sandwiches when she was lonely – missed her family and their food. She was farmed out to work in Springfield by my grandparents when she was just 14, during the Great Depression, and stayed there for 10 years. Such good Catholic girls! So lucky to have food, room and board and a job/$$ when half the country was starving and unemployed! “Ma,” left, and her sister Mary at the Bishop’s during their day off.
So now it’s my turn … My turn to remember my mother on Labor Day and how she, a single mom, worked 60 hours a week for minimum wage at the dry cleaners on Millbury Street to support her three girls … how she ate, like a man when she had worked up an appetite, onion sandwiches at our ugly painted green kitchen table in Green Island. She was pretty back then, but she was worn out: her back slightly hunched, her hands veiny and arthritic. When I was in high school I was ashamed of Ma and her onion sandwiches – they were so poor. I cringed at all the Polish peasant dishes Ma cooked for me and my two sisters on Lafayette Street: Cabbage. Pigs feet/knuckles. Beets. Potato pancakes. Hard boiled eggs. I ate them all, embarassed. But now they are the suns and stars of my culinary universe! The beautiful latke! The perfect onion! The crimson beets on their cracked plate – a beautiful painting! The scrap beef floating in broth … and the potato pierogi brought down special for Bapy – who LOVED PIEROGI – by Aunt Jane, after she had made a few batches at her house.
So I chop up a small onion and throw it into the tomato and rice dish I’m making on the stove. I look at the onion’s layers and peel them off each other slowly this Labor Day. I do not cry …
Lamartine Street School class photo: Rose, seated, first row, far right.
When I was a little girl growing up in Green Island, back-to-school time, usually right after Labor Day, was not about buying stylish back-to-school clothes or wearing the coolest designer sneakers or bragging about exotic summer vacations in Africa or France … or the recent purchase of your new portable TV for your bedroom – just for you – by Dad. My mom, a single mother who worked 60 hours a week for minimum wage at the dry cleaners down the street, couldn’t afford any of that upper-middle-class social/academic enrichment.
It wasn’t about sports, either – though sometimes it was about trying out for varsity or jv football teams for our cousins – the boys. Baseball practice for them in springtime, too.
But mostly for us kids, like it was for lots of first-generation Americans and their off-spring in the 1950/60s, September signaled the start of another school year, another 10 months of intense ACADEMIC COMPETITION between mothers, aunts, uncles and even grandparents who treated us kids like the finest thoroughbreds – raced against each other and all the other students in the Worcester Public Schools for the grand prize: highest A in math class, the A+ in spelling … the coolest styrofoam-ball solar system model in science class!
TO ACHIEVE IN AMERICA! LAND OF FREEDOM AND OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL – IF YOU WORKED HARD AND HAD EVEN A SMIDGEN OF ABILITY! Our mothers, aunts, uncles and even grandparents believed this (myth???) to the very narrow of their bones. They picked their faves (one of us) and set their dreams squarely on our tiny shoulders or tall, lanky frames, knowing, just knowing!, that we kids – students all! – were going to be their American Dream realized.
Our lives would be their gifts, bought with their minimum wage jobs in the dry cleaners – for 60 hours a week – or their toil in the hellish heat in the Douglas textile mill (my grandfather from Poland). We kids were our family’s, AMERICA’S, BEST AND BRIGHTEST. Gold to parents and grandparents, the sod busters of Ireland, the turnip diggers of Poland, the grape pickers of Italy, the factory or mill workers of Woo’s Quinsig Village, Green Island and South Worcester. We kids were gonna wash the grime out from under our fingernails to become … professionals! Courtesy of America’s public schools – the Worcester Public Schools!
Our parents and grandparents meant business when it came to public education – we kids attended school every day, unless we were dying. Unable to get out of bed because of a high fever, chicken pox, a burst appendix. They didn’t care if our teachers were racist, classist, insensitive or even nasty. To our parents, even the most ignorant and/or incompetent teacher had knowledge we could squeeze out of them. Make lemonade from lemons! they seemed to tell us. Our parents backed up our teachers at parent-teacher conferences, too – and when it came to discipline, they didn’t challenge the schools. Usually, they double-downed.
In my extended family, we were not allowed to fritter away Monday through Friday with Barbie dolls or Tonka Trucks (that was for the weekends when we kids got to play, play, play). During our “work week” we were expected to work hard at being students … We would get straight A’s at Lamartine Street School, study our hearts out at Providence Street Junior High School (even buying our homeroom teachers little Christmas presents) and come in early to help our chemistry teacher set up the lab before first period at Burncoat Senior High School. If we did all this – and I did! – we would grow up to be brilliant American professionals, dressing in skirts and blouses for the girls, suits and sleek, black pointy shoes for the boys. Working with our brains – not our hands. Making good money just for THINKING! For being a smart person! Only in America would we get this chance! We Dumb Polack kids or swarthy Italian kids or Irish Mick’s who were still outsiders in WASPY America – the places our parents wanted us to be. But we didn’t know anything. We were just kids. We were kids who were being scrubbed with a hot soapy wash cloth behind the ears, under our armpits, by our moms or getting our hair cut at drunken Molly’s on Green Street for day #1 of the Worcester Public Schools – we Lituanian-, Polish-, Irish- Swedish-, Italian-American kids whose parents or grandparents dared to believe in America. Many of them couldn’t write very well, or even read. So they put all their eggs in their kids’ baskets! My mother told me the story of a boy she knew as a little girl living in “The Block” on Bigelow Street. His parents kept him locked in his room and, when he got out, he would grab a newspaper and run to his friend, an older kid, begging him to teach him to read! She was telling me: We were the beloved! Look! she said to me. Uncle Joe bought his son, my cousin Tommy, a doctor’s bag! It is “just” a toy, she said, but the black stethoscope inside the bag is almost as impressive as Dr. Piekers’s, our pediatrician’s. The doctors bag (back then docs made house calls, with doctors bags) also came with 5 Band-Aids, 2 fake orange plastic syringes (no needles), 1 plastic thermometer, a fake head lamp for the doctor … and a Red Cross sticker.
I wanted to be a teacher, so Ma walked to White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street and bought me pens, pencils, rulers, note pads, drawing pads and crayons so my two kid sisters and I could play school in the living room, after real school. I was the teacher. Sometimes my real first grade teacher at Lamartine Street School would have to go to the classroom next door … and she would make me get up and go around the classroon to help the other students with their reading. I was the teacher! That’s because I was the best reader – already she knew that and accelerated my course work – had me reading second- and third- grade books.
At night, at the end of their work days, my mother and Aunt Mary took turns telephoning each other to compare notes about their kids’ school days!! – really to brag, to compete. Very American. My mom bragged to her sister, my Aunt Mary, about my A+ book report. My Aunt Mary matched that news with her son’s, my cousin Fred’s, 100% correct math test! Math was harder than reading, she intimated to Ma. So the next night my mother called my aunt to announce: Rosalie got 100% in her math test! My cousin was a year older than me; he was a grade ahead at his school in the Burncoat neighborhood. So we were pretty evenly matched. No comment from my aunt. This “contest” went on three or four nights a week – between Ma and Aunt Mary – for my entire WPS career, K – grade 12.
My mother never expected less from me because we lived in a ramshackle tenement on Lafayette Street and my cousins lived in a cute cape off Burncoat Street. I don’t remember her ever using the word “poor” during my childhood or teen years! And I never felt poor! Just loved by her … To Ma, I was as strong in the I.Q. department as my boy cousins – a bit stronger, I think. She believed I could do or be anything. Powerful stuff for a little girl growing up in the 1960s/70s!
My kid sisters and I, thanks to Ma, were well fed, well rested, well behaved. So why not excel at school and go on to college? Why not be a writer? Or a painter – just like my Italian cousin who went on to paint sets in Hollywood! Why not have her Rosalie take free violin and accordion lessons at Lamartine Street School? The Italian side of my family was full of musicians – banjo players! My Uncle Al had a jazz band during the Depression – he was the conductor. His band had a girl singer – they called them “chirps” – who wore sexy evening gowns. They played weddings, reunions, parties, and they made good money. They were professional musicians who didn’t need day jobs to pay the bills, my late uncle used to crow: Rose’s uncle and his band✨✨
In the end, thanks to the WPS, both my boy cousins went on to Holy Cross college where they majored in pre-med. Then they went to and graduated from med school. One’s at U Michigan, working in the radiology dept; the other’s in Western Mass – a sports doc who cares for the elderly.
My other cousin, my other aunt’s girl, was pushed and prodded by my aunt to be perfect! Auntie could be so much more “strict” and demanding than my mom or Aunt Mary. My cousin’s goal, per my aunt? To be “the smartest person in the world”! WPI almost got “Janey” there! She was part of the old Worcester Polytechnic Institute second-generation of female engineers. Just a handful of young women back then – WPI was filled with guy engineering students – girls weren’t encouraged to major in math or the sciences. As a little girl, Janey’s hair was brushed – by my aunt – 100 times every night. To circulate the blood in the scalp, my mother used to tell me, looking a little afraid. Ma was not my Aunt who was married to a physically abusive house painter. My aunt wanted my cousin to escape the abuse, be safe and self-sufficient! This meant being the best in the Worcester Public Schools!
Sometimes they’d visit us in our Lafayette Street flat, my aunt and my beautiful cousin, who was always red-faced, always so crushed-looking, always on the verge of tears. My aunt was stern with her, my uncle brutal … but her pets saved her. The family had a cat, two guinea pigs – Daisy and Lil’ Abner – who lived in a big double story hutch my uncle had built for them – and painted a happy red – and, of course, their Dobermann pinschers. My aunt adored the breed – she had Dobies from when she was 25 to 81, an old lady who lived alone in her house off Webster Square, with her last beautiful Dobie, Fawn. My cousin loved all her pets. When she became an engineer and moved Out West with her husband, she ran her own little animal rescue farm: two horses, five dogs, a bunch of cats, a hamster or two.
Sometimes my mother, who left school after 8th grade at Girls Trade to work as a maid at the Bishop’s to help support the family during the Depression, got into my school work. Big time! She wanted me to read my little essays to her – sometimes she’d suggest a different ending, one with a little more pizzazz! She would show me how she would draw the cover to my 7th grade book report for Mrs. Nedwick’s English class at “Prov” Jr. High. This was after an 11-hour day at the dry cleaners! But now I see: she was relaxing, dreaming … for herself, through me.
Why is it so different today in the Worcester Public Schools? Kids hitting our teachers. Their parents jumping into the fray! Showing no respect for teachers, books, learning, education … the American Promise!
No excuses! The WPSchools were racist, tough, classist in my day. But if any kid was serious, did the homework, respected the teachers – even if the teachers had blindspots, were jerks, even – YOU GOT SOMETHING OUT OF THE SCHOOL DAY.
I remember a junior high class field trip to a Worcester weather station. One of my classmates, a sweet kid who had been kept back twice and struggled to read two grade levels below our class level, ran to the big black swivel chair behind the weatherman’s desk and grinning from ear to ear, jumped in it and began to swivel, trying to look impressive – clearly impressed with himself! And having fun!
Our teacher, not a very nice person, said to him: Well, John, at least you can pretend!
John’s face went pale, froze up. His smile floated away like a cumulous cloud. He stopped swivelling.
I was devastated! Johnny was such a good kid! Always nice to me, my classmates and his teachers! He didn’t – no one did – deserve our teacher’s meanness!
The field trip ended, we got on the big yellow school bus to go back to Prov. When I got home from school, I didn’t discuss our field trip with Ma or my sisters … didn’t talk about Johnny in the weatherman’s chair and what I had learned that morning.
“The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War” by H.W. Brands, Doubleday, New York (2016, 437pages)
Reviewed by Steven R. Maher
One of the reasons I write book reviews is to educate my readers about the historical origins of some of today’s global and political challenges. With that in mind, I decided to look at the issue of Korea and nuclear arms. To understand why so many older Americans are freaking out over President Donald Trump’s antics, the reader might want to take a look at The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by H.W. Brands. It is a good starting point for explaining the history and background of the countries and characters involved.
The Korean War
In June 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea in what can only be described as a naked act of aggression. Our President at the time was Harry Truman, who became President after Franklin D. Roosevelt died during his fourth term in office, near the end of World War II, in 1945. Truman was informed that the United States had developed a nuclear bomb. He ordered the bomb dropped on two Japanese cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered.
Douglas MacArthur was the Pacific theater commander in World War II. He developed an “island hopping” strategy in which he used amphibious squadrons, with Marine units, to invade deep into enemy territory.
The Marines cut off Japanese supply and communication lines by seizing well picked and strategically placed islands (Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa). When the Korean War began, MacArthur employed these tactics against North Korea. He devised a brilliant flanking amphibious assault at Inchon, far behind the North Korean supply lines, that cut off and destroyed the North Korean army.
As the author Brands details, the U.S. then invaded North Korea to reunify the country under U.N. auspices. It would have been a tremendous U.S. victory at the dawn of the cold war. Both China and the Soviet Union warned they would enter the conflict militarily if U.S. forces approached their border. MacArthur said these warnings were empty saber rattling the Chinese couldn’t back up militarily. MacArthur said the Chinese lacked the armed forces to effectively intervene and told Truman at a Wake Island conference that U.S. airpower would slaughter the Chinese if they intervened.
In November 1950 the Chinese attacked the U.S. forces with an army of 300,000 men. In a considerable gaffe, Truman stated at a press conference that the use of nuclear weapons was under consideration and that the decision of where they were to be used would be left to the theater commander, i.e., MacArthur. This was hastily clarified, but MacArthur’s reputation was such that British Prime Minister Clement Attlee flew immediately to the U.S. to explain how unnerved America’s allies were by the thought of MacArthur being able to order nuclear strikes: “The story that lead the day’s news was his [Truman’s] threat to use atomic weapons against China.”
As the allied forces staggered back in retreat in late 1950, MacArthur urged the deployment of nuclear technology. He wanted a “Super-Inchon” where he would seed North Korea’s borders with radioactive nuclear materials, sealing the country off from China and the Soviet Union. Once again, this set off alarm bells in U.S. government circles, showing the danger of nuclear technology.
The U.S.-Korean history shows how dangerous miscalculations can be. Both sides miscalculated. North Korea underestimated how the U.S. would respond to a Hitler-style blitzkrieg against a U.S. ally, which led North Korea into a conflict where North Korea’s own army was destroyed. The U.S. and its allies effectively ignored Chinese warnings not to approach China’s borders with U.S. troops, resulting in a bitter and bloody war that went on for years.
One can only hope that the Trump era’s conflict over North Korea’s nukes can be resolved diplomatically – something that has evaded U.S. governments, whether Democrat- or Republican-led, for decades.
On August 20, 1619, the first ship of enslaved Afrikans reached the shores of the United States. Official documents record “20 and
odd negroes” aboard a ship landing in Jamestown, Virginia, marking the
beginning of chattel slavery in the United States ofAmerikkka.
2019 marks the 400-year anniversary of this monumental moment
in our country’s history – though it is rarely ever acknowledged, if at all.
While this history and others like it are swept under the rug nationally, it is deeply important for us to hold space for and remember the forgotten narratives of those who came before us with our family, friends and community.
Please BE THERE, Worcester!
While there is no way to ever know exactly how many people were stolen from West Afrika and brought to the “New” World, scholars have estimated approximately 10 million Afrikan people survived the three-weeklong Middle Passage, ending up in parts of South America, the Caribbean and the United States.
The enslaved and slave owners.
Enslaved people were forced to labor under the threat of constant gratuitous violence.
The fear that they or someone they loved could be beaten, killed or sold away lead to enslaved people laborin exhaustively on plantations and/or running away and seeking a new life in the North.
Regardless of who or where they were, Black people always resisted the oppressive circumstances they found themselves in – and still do.
The beginning of chattel slavery in the western world makes Europe and
Amerikkka the “world powers”
we know them to be contemporarily.
There is no amerikkka without the forced labor of enslaved Afrikans. For the last 400 years, the descendants of those people have continued to face institutional anti-Black violence – the education system, the healthcare system, mass
incarceration, hyper-policing and brutality to name a few. This uncomfortable truth has been swept under the rug in this country for centuries.
It is important we remember the past for a multitude of reasons. We must honor the lives, traditions, work, struggles and triumphs of those who came before us. It is important that as we conduct
our day to day lives, we keep in our hearts and minds those who came before us, as it is their shoulders we stand on.
Additionally, it is up to us to push back against the erasure of
Black histories and remember
forgotten realities at the grass-
All of this is to say that we must always act with Sankofa in mind. Sankofa, roughly translated to “go back and fetch it” is an Adinkra symbol from West Afrika depicted
as a bird whose body is facing for-
ward and head is facing backward.
Sankofa reminds us that we have no
future without reconnecting with
and respecting our past.
In Worcester, on Saturday, August 24, OurStory Edutainment invites you to remember the ancestors of the middle passage, chattel slavery and freedom movements as a community from 4 pm to 6 pm
at Green Hill Park. You are welcome to bring photos of those who have passed for our communal altar
and flowers for our remembrance ceremony by the water. We encourage those who are able to dress in
white clothing, bring a chair and a small dish for sharing.
This is the first step for us to pay homage to those who came before us and make it clear to the generations who come after us that it is our responsibility to reclaim and take pride in the struggles and stories of our ancestors.
We hope to see you there.
FROM BETO O’ROURKE:
Beto for President!
I went to a gun show the other day. As soon as I walk in, a guy says, “Hey are you Beto? I’m a fan.” That was the last thing I expected to hear at a gun show.
He invited us to see his booth, where he was selling AR-15s. Before we walked over I said, “I’ll be honest with you, part of the reason I’m here is because I’m concerned about gun violence, that we lose 40,000 people a year. I want to listen to everyone on this. So I came here to listen to you. Tell me what you think. How do we fix this?”
I kid you not, the next words out of his mouth shocked me. He said he should not be allowed to sell weapons because he is not required to conduct a background check at gun shows. But he goes on to tell me that if you’re 18-years-old, can prove it, and have a pulse, he’ll sell you a gun. And then he says he doesn’t think that’s right. Even though he’s profiting from this current system, he knows the current system is broken.
Another guy, a Trump voter, tells me he has an assault weapon, and says he doesn’t know if it will do any good, but he would be willing to turn that weapon in if it’s better for this country. I was floored. Here are two guys literally at a show telling me we should close the gun show loophole, have universal background checks, and do something about assault weapons.
One of the things we learned from the Senate race in Texas was how important it is to not write anyone off. No matter where they live, who they voted for in the last election, how red or blue their county is. Never write anyone off.
That’s why we just traveled to some of the forgotten states in the Democratic primary: Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. We’re going to run everywhere. We’re not ceding an inch to Donald Trump.
I believe that if we do that, we will not only win the presidency in 2020, we will win it in a landslide. Democrats can take on Republicans, and win, in places we didn’t even think we could compete. And in doing so, we can bring this country back together again.