Category Archives: Green Island Grrrl

Mom and Autumn Leaves

By Rosalie Tirella

At Butler Farm in Millbury, it’s so gorgeous out here: God’s gift to me and my dogs during hard times. …A few days ago I was at the farm’s dog park working on CECELIA, writing up invoices, when I opened my file folders to find a few autumn leaves pressed between my notebook covers: a little scarlet leaf, a little gold leaf. They must have fluttered inside my open notebooks from the trees above where I sit at the dog park. The farm’s trees look like a vintage necklace now, amber, gold, ruby, as they completely surround the park, right outside the dog park fence.

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11/9: Jett at the dog park. Photos: R.T.

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Trees surround the park

When I saw the two autumn leaves in my folder all at once my heart lept up! My late mother came to me, and all the love I felt for her when I was a child swallowed me whole. It was a happiness I hadn’t experienced in years! I saw my late mom, in her early 40s, picking autumn leaves off the sidewalk on Grosvenor Street, beneath that huge huge tree that covered Helen’s Corner Store like an umbrella…here it was fall and she had walked out with me after work to pick out the most beautiful fall leaves in Green Island. We had so many trees on Grosvenor Street – you walked to Lamartine Street School under the rustling canopy…and were transported…

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The leaves in Rose’s notebook

Rosalie! my mother shouts to me. Look at this one! and she shows me a big yellow leaf. She doesn’t know the tree’s name – I don’t ask, neither do I, though I’m certain we had a quiz on them in science class. I pick up a ruby maple leaf – also huge – and yell back: Look Ma! We are ankle-deep in autumn leaves. Waves and waves of beautiful but brittle leaves, so they crackle as we wade through them all. We walk to the next tree – a different kind – and stoop to gather a few of its fallen jewels. We are holding our big beautiful leaves like bouquets of flowers … There is a chestnut tree down the street and we go to it so I can grab a handful of the gorgeous round nuts. I love their deep brown. My Jaju from Poland – my grandfather and my mother’s father – used to roast them and eat them by the stove. When my mother was a little girl he’d take her blueberry picking with him in the neighborhood. He’d pick mushrooms, too.

I can hear thousands of leaves rustling in the wind as Ma and I collect the fallen ones. I look up at the crisp blue sky and see them all clinging to their branches for dear life, swaying in the October breeze. “Nothing gold can stay” I recite the Frost poem, two stanzas, easy to remember, for my recitation project at school. Someone has tried to remember all by heart The Raven by Poe. I chose easy – I am shy, my classmate is brave, but I remember my Frost poem today and whisper it to myself.

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Evocative leaf …

It’s almost supper time, so Ma and I stop collecting leaves and walk home to our Lafayette Street tenement. It’s a pleasant five-minute walk. After my sisters, Ma and I have eaten supper, Ma and I take out our beautiful fall leaves and press them in Ma’s old gold -leafed dictionary. It’s got a black cloth cover. It’s thick and looks like the Bible. But Ma would never press leaves in a Bible! It’s her dictionary, the one she lets me use to do my homework for Mr. Monfredo, my teacher. Her old boss, the Bishop of Springfield, gave it to her years ago during the Great Depression. Here it was 1969 and we were living in Green Island and I was in fifth grade at Lamartine Street School and Ma was helping me make a leaf collage for art class. Ma loved art, drawing … sketching little lambs with my number 2 pencil in my notebook.

To press the leaves, Ma went to her tall white metal kitchen cabinet whose doors never stayed closed and got out her roll of wax paper. Tearing 15 or 20 squares off the roll, she had me gently place one individual leaf between two squares of wax paper. Then she slid the square between two of the pages in her six-inch thick dictionary. It contained every word in the English language she once told me! We did this for the prettiest leaves; the rest I took into my bedroom and laid them on my bed and stared at their beauty and turned them over and touched their fine veins with my index finger and brought one to my nose to smell it. I would scotch tape a few to my wall, right next to my David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman pictures I cut out of my cousin’s hand me down Tiger Beat magazine. I would be in my room, with my little girl treasures, content, even a little giddy.

My mother had made my day. Once again.

Worcester Public Schools, face the changes

By Rosalie Tirella

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Teaching – more than books and pens … CECELIA file photos.

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Our city kids are up against a lot – the WPSchools must strive to improve every student’s chances for a good life.

Hoping the new Worcester School Commitee is serious about hiring more minority teachers for our public schools. Squeezed-out Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Maureen Binenda gave the idea lip service. Nothing more. A product of the good old Irish boys Worcester political network, a system rife with nepotism, Binenda was thrown under the bus by the present Worcester School Committee, her boss, after the Worcester School Committee/City of Worcester was face to face with a lawsuit demanding district representation, a way to bring more minorities and poor people into the school committee mix.

The City’s inequitable at-large system kept our school committee white and West Side. District representation on the Worcester School Committee is gonna finally happen – or else embarrassing, expensive court time. A blood bath for all. By voting to hire a new WPS school superintendent who most likely will be a person of color or, at the very least, not be one of the city’s good ol’ boys or gals, Worcester’s self-dealing political machine hopes to placate the local NAACP and the city’s growing number of minority leaders – and save individual political skins.

All this after the Worcester School Committee voted AGAINST district representation several years ago – to save their seats on the school committee. No one wants to relinquish power and dough $$$. It takes a fight. In this case it took the threat of a very ugly, very public lawsuit by Worcester minority leaders for the city’s political machine to finally capitulate: dump Maureen Binenda, make district representation on the school committee a reality – and HIRE MINORITY TEACHERS for a minority-majority school district: the Worcester Public Schools.

None of this will make our public schools much stronger. Decades ago I was a substitute teacher in the Hartford Public Schools, a majority-minority school district, staffed by mostly Black teachers and school principals – a school system in state receivership. It was one of the poorest and neediest school districts in the country. Most of the teachers, my colleagues, were excellent: smart, super-educated, professional, good people who came to school every day to make a difference. They welcomed me, a young white woman, into their school and treated me with grace and kindness. … But they couldn’t erase the extreme poverty, family dysfunction of their students. They were up against it all because Hartford’s public schools students and families were up against it all. The same will happen with Worcester. Still, it’s important that Worcester’s political leaders and public servants are reflective of the city they serve … And that Worcester keeps striving to be open to all people via jobs, housing, education and more. That’s how a city evolves into something better …

Tom and America

By Rosalie Tirella

You know our country is going to he*l when you go to AutoZone for some motor oil and the Latino kid – really about a young MAN about 20 years old – is in the parking lot next to you, standing before his beautiful new sports car and blabbing on his terrific smart phone and DEMANDING the AutoZone counter kid “POP OPEN MY HOOD” AND FIND HIS MOTOR OIL hole and “OPEN IT” and pour the motor oil in. I looked at this dipstick, dumbstruck. I thought every red blooded American boy knew how to pop open his car hood … and add motor oil. Plus read dipsticks, change a flat tire, maybe change oil. In the 1950s and ’60s every Dad taught his son to drive and basic car maintenance. My late father could take a car apart and put it back together. He had a junky truck which he loved working on, usually with his junkyard German shepherd dog lying a few yards away, snoozing in the shade. When and if he came home, he entered our Lafayette Street apartment with grease on his white tee shirt and his hands black. He used to buy this special grainy soap to wash his hands clean. I tried it once. It hurt my hands it was so gritty!

All WW II guys loved playing under the hood. For hours. When I was a kid most of my boy cousins were into cars and fixing them – adding all kinds of bells and whistles like exhaust pipes that roared or shiny new hub caps for car wheels. There was always a bottle of Armoral hub cap cleaner and buckets of soap bubbles and hoses to wash their babies down. Often they had white bucket seats in front. And stick shifts. At Providence Street Junior High we had a Car Club – open to boys and girls, ninth graders only. Mr. Chiras taught the class in the school parking lot, using his station wagon as the classroom. My friend Ann joined the club, along with a ton of boys and girls – some of whom already knew how to drive. In Car Club Ann learned how a car worked, how to charge a car battery, how to change the car’s oil, how to jack up the car and remove a tire and put on the spare tire. She was 13 1/2.

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Grafton Street AutoZone. pics: R.T.

The was all below the ignorant kid standing by me at AutoZone. A Latino fella who did not even watch when the AutoZone staffer, another Latino kid who KNEW about cars, did his dirty work for him. I watched the kid play on his phone. At 60 I feel I know enough about life to opine in public. The old broad looked at the kid and said: You know when I was your age EVERY YOUNG MAN KNEW HOW TO OPEN THE HOOD AND POUR HIS OWN MOTOR OIL. WATCH HIM AND LEARN. … DIDN’T YOUR FATHER TEACH YOU HIW TO DO THESE THINGS?

The kid looked at me and said: NO. I’M ALL ALONE. By myself.

I said, half believing him: “Yep. That’s the problem these days.” Then I added, disgusted: THIS COUNTRY IS REALLY FU*KED UP. Then I walked into AutoZone and asked the other kid, Tom, pictured here…
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Tom🇺🇸🇺🇸

… to help me out. I said: meet my new jalopy. Always able to do for myself but I can’t open the hood! …Tom got my motor oil, walked out of the store into the AutoZone parking lot, showed me where to place my fingers, popped the hood and read the oil dipstick. I decided one quart of motor oil would be good and Tom was nice enough to pour the oil in, then screw the cap, then read the dipstick again, then wipe my motor oil bottle clean and then he proceeded, with his white work cloth, to wipe off the oil that missed the hole and had spilled on my engine. I didn’t want a funnel. Late for an appointment. He smiled as he gave me my oil back. He went on to help the next customer in the same knowledgeable, courteous way. I was dumbstruck: Tom was the exact opposite of the other kid. He was respectful, nice, smart, hardworking. The kid with the new car and phone did not have a smidgen of dirt on him. He looked down on Tom and the others – just servants in dirty brown uniforms.
Tom looked like a young working man. Tom was my hero. Of course America doesn’t reward a smart professional kid just starting out: he was most likely making minimum wage …not a $15 living wage. He was scrawny and looked underfed. I wonder if he even owned a car…and what make and year? Tom …

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Free community college for American youth – guys like Tom.

I guessed the entitled Latino kid was being kept by a girlfriend. Or maybe still living with his mother.

I thanked Tom and got into my car, angry. American society, our economy, should reward a Tom. Instead he is exploited. Instead…NO FREE COMMUNITY COLLEGE WHERE HE COULD TAKE SOME BUSINESS CLASSES OR LEARN MORE AUTO BODY REPAIR. Or earn his associates degree in a subject he really loves. Nope. The Republicans killed that part of the Biden Bill, as did Joe Manchin, a senator from COAL COUNTRY WHERE THERE ARE A MILLION TOMS.

I drove away upset and ashamed of our country, our families, our disdain for the next generation, if it’s poor …

So I stopped the car. Got out a card and long envelope. Wrote: THANK YOU TOM FOR BEING SO KNOWLEDGEABLE AND PROFESSIONAL. – Rose

I put a $10 bill in the card, stuck it in the envelope, sealed the envelope and drove back to the Grafton Street AutoZone where I found Tom with a customer, squatting before a shelf looking for the right brake fluid for the person. I gave him the envelope. THANK YOU, Tom! I said as I handed him his tip. It was so little but the least I could do.

President Joe Biden and Congress must help kids like Tom better their lives through education. Community College for free. Usually it’s the only way up in the world for the Toms in our lives. THEY DESERVE IT.

UMASS MEMORIAL HEALTH CARE CHUMP CHANGE! Remember the Plumley Village Health Clinic!!

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose just turned 60. Low-income writers need access to great inner-city health clinics so they stay healthy! pics:R.T.

Yeah, UMass Memorial Health Care system just donated a cool million$$ for Health Equity initiatives in Worcester, but (a few years ago) they CLOSED THEIR PLUMLEY VILLAGE HEALTH CENTER! They did the health care damage they are trying to undo now with this one-time contribution. Pennies …

Two years ago Worcester city councilors, the public housing project’s families and the center’s patients, from PLUMLEY, begged UMass to keep their UMass health center open. For their physicals. Their health screenings, diabetes screening and monitoring. Asthma help. Pediatric care. Vaccines. Nutrition counseling. Xrays. EKGs. Referrals.

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UMass Memorial health care shut down their terrific Plumley Village Health Clinic a few years ago – it was a place where low-income Plumley residents could get medical help for diabetes and other health issues.

The Plumley families cited the great health care they got at their health center, a 2-minute walk from their apartments. Many residents don’t have cars. … They said their families KNEW THEIR DOCTORS AND NURSES – and loved them. Advocates said poor folks from PLUMLEY HAD CONSISTENT HEALTH CARE at their UMass clinic, MUCH OF IT PREVENTIVE … which saved society $$$$ in the long run. But no, UMass, like any corporation seeking to save millions $$$$, was adamant and cold. The UMass Memorial president and board of directors opted for the brutal way: take out the Plumley beloved docs and health care providers of this inner-city clinic, remove the diagnostic equipment and close its doors … forever.

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Type 2 Diabetes can worsen as you get older, if you don’t have medical assistance. Many people of color and poorer folks struggle with diabetes and are helped at neighborhood health clinics.

Now UMass Memorial throws this bone to Worcester’s poor.

Chump change.

They think we’re stupid. Remember: UMass Memorial health care recently received a $175 million DONATION!!!! Which the UMass poo-bas say they’ll use for RESEARCH. Screw the city’s poor! Screw great public health care!

The people of PLUMLEY VILLAGE want their UMass neighborhood health clinic back!! UMass must use some of their $$$millions upon millions of dollars they just received as THEIR BIGGEST DONATION EVER to REOPEN THE PLUMLEY VILLAGE HEALTH CENTER.

NOW.

WHY NOT MAKE COLUMBUS DAY “ITALIAN HERITAGE DAY”?

By Rosalie Tirella

I get it: We must ditch Columbus Day. Let’s forgeddabout the Nina, the Santa Maria and the third ship Christopher Columbus sailed over from Italy in his global quest for rare, exotic spices (that’s what we were taught as students at Lamartine Street School while we colored our paper plate Columbus ships for Columbus Day). And no, the guy in colorful tites, with that big plume stuck in his puffy silk hat did NOT accidentally discover America. The Mr. Magoo cartoon we Baby Boomers watched on TV every October, before the Peanuts Great Pumpkin Halloween TV special, got it wrong. It was all a lie. Or confusion. Or fantasy. Or a revisionist retelling of the history we wanted to believe. Myth making at its most desperate.

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We Italian-Americans are proud of our artists – some of the greatest in the world!

More damning, once in the New World, Columbus, like all the European explorers of his time, embraced slave labor and genocide. All in the name of acquiring new lands for Queenie Isabella or King this or that – and personal riches. Columbus was the beginning of the end for native peoples in the Americas and pretty much the beginning of All Things Beautiful and Horrific from Europe. So, yes, there was horrible horrible death…but there was life, too: Herman Melville, John Coltrane, Neil Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, the Pilgrims, the US Constitution, Teddy Roosevelt, Jane Austin, Nikki Giovanni, Sylvia Plath, Mark Twain, JFK, Richard Wright, The Band, MLK Jr, Chuck Berry … and Frank Sinatra. And Dean Martin. And Frankie Valle. And Bobby Darren. And Tony Bennet. And Mario Cuomo. And Martin Scorsese. And Al Pacino. And Joe Mantegna. … And my grandmother Maria, from Northern Italy, who settled with her no-account husband Sabino (my grandfather) in Worcester’s “Summit” neighborhood. Maria gave Sabino 10 kids, and he gave his mistress up the street presents. Sabino, a ladies’ man extraordinare, was a traveling Italian grocer. Every day he’d drive his little food delivery truck to Boston’s North End to pick up terrific Italian sausages, cheeses and breads; then he’d drive back to Worcester to sell them fresh to his Italian customers. He beat his kids – especially my father – and during Prohibition he was a bootlegger. He wore spats.

But Maria was a loving person. She put her heart into her big brood, had a garden the size of a city pocket park and cooked and baked Italian food from scratch, most of the ingredients coming from her ginormous garden. She sent two kids out of the 10 to college – and one to Hollywood where he painted movie sets/scenery. One son, Al, had a swinging jazz band in Worcester during the Tommy Dorsey craze. And her youngest, the small Georgey, around 5 feet tall and a City of Worcester mechanic (he worked on the City garbage trucks and called them “honey wagons”), played the banjo and was the sweetest husband in the world, according to my Aunt Rita, who still misses her long passed soul mate.

We Italians can be wild, dramatic…even violent. But we can love like crazy: our kids, our dogs, our cats, our soul mates, our soul food, music, church and art. My grandmother Maria was no Sophia Loren, and I don’t know if she could carry a tune. But she PERSISTED. In America. She raised her children in Worcester, Massachusetts. She was self-sufficient and had a ferocious work ethic. As did Frank Sinatra’s mom, I imagine. And Mario Cuomo’s. And Martin Scorsese’s.

Italian Americans don’t know who the he*l Christopher Columbus is and we really don’t care. But we came to America and put the work in – we deserve a little credit. We, like the Irish, like the Brits, like the Africans, like the French, like every immigrant rag tag band of bounders poured our hearts and souls into this freakin’ place. Contributed. Big time. Our history, our lives, in America shouldn’t be demonized.

We can make November Native American Month and learn, mourn, celebrate, improve … grow as a nation! But let’s keep the real meaning behind Columbus Day, what the day and the parades and the homemade marinara sauce really mean to us Italian-Americans – a day to celebrate US in America! Not Columbus! But my grandmother Maria! And Mario Cuomo!And Frank Sinatra! And millions of proud Italian-AMERICANS. Just rename it: ITALIAN HERITAGE DAY.

Presto. Now, that’s Italian!

We “slipped” up!

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose’s slip

You know America is falling apart when you visit a major discount department store in Worcester, walk into the ladies “intimate” section and ask the pretty young sales clerk: “Where are your half slips? Or slips?” and she says, “What’s a slip?”

You say, incredulously: YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT A SLIP IS?!!

She says: NO.

You say, it’s something silky women wear under their skirts and dresses so the sunlight or a car headlight doesn’t reveal the crotch area when you’re walking past the light …it’s made of thin material, usually nylon or polyester.

She looks flummoxed.

I say: Don’t you wear a slip when you wear a dress or skirt?

She sweetly stares at me.

It’s like I’m talking to a box of dog biscuits.

So I move onto the next pretty sales clerk in the discount department store and ask her sweetly, because I think the other young sales clerk is the exception to the rule, WHERE ARE YOUR SLIPS?

She says: WHAT’S A SLIP?

Disoriented, befuddled, I walk to the underwear racks and rifle through ALL their intimate apparel: bras, panties, thin “shape wear” – today’s girdles – and their sporty camisoles … several long racks of ladies intimate apparel. No slips. One of the store managers walks by me, curious. I shoot him an angry look but do not ask him for help, ask him if he has any slips. He’s a guy.

I leave the discount department store and drive to another discount department store in Worcester to buy my two half slips. Being on the road means my slips (most given to me by gal pal Dorrie who knows what a slip is and has given me some very pretty ones through the years) are in storage or were chucked in some motel room or pal’s place as my dogs and I search for an affordable apartment in Worcester and Chris Orcutt at SMOC shuts his building down on Chandler Street because he has COVID. This development after his week-long vacation. So my search for housing – and hundreds of other folks’ – is interrupted because Chris is a pointless paper-pusher who doesn’t serve SMOC’s clients. Chris probably doesn’t know what a slip is either.

But I digress. Like I said: It’s been an interesting journey! I’ve lost a lot these past months – antiques, a fake fur coat I planned to send to my sister who has Parkinson’s, a ladies electric razer kit, a bottle of witch hazel … and my half slips. Dorrie’s stepped up but is exasperated. BUY THEM! she texted me, when I texted her: Dorrie, I NEED SOME SLIPS! Large!

So here I am at Marshall’s looking for half slips. Everything looks so classy and put together here. Surely, the attractive young sales clerks will be able to help me. I walk over to one and ask her: WHERE ARE YOUR SLIPS?

She says: WHAT’S A SLIP?

I tell her and she is still stumped. I say: Just point me to your intimate apparel section. She does. It’s the same story here: nylon body shapers, bras, bikini panties, hip hugger panties… but no slips. I decide to buy some panties: cotton, high waisted. Basic. Functional. No go. Everything is polyester! I want cotton! Cotton breathes! Everything is way below the belly button. I want waist-high panties! Fuming, I tear through the five long racks of underwear and, finally, land on some thin cotton hip hugger panties. Large. There are five panties artfully hanging from little clear plastic hangers. They are ugly. I buy them anyways and leave Marshall’s where you can purchase gorgeous on-trend rugs, poofs, furniture and even exotic coffees BUT NO SLIPS.

Dorrie suggested that I go to Good Will. They’d probably have slips there. Just wash them before you wear them! Dorrie instructed me. A new day, a new hunt. I drive to Good Will on Park Ave. I throw caution to the wind and run straight to the Latino kid working the cash register and ask him: Where are your half slips?

He says: What’s a slip?

I crumple on his cash register. Practically in tears, I say: Why don’t you kids know what slips are?! What is wrong with this country?! Your mom probably wears them! Or your older sister! This is unbelievable!!!! This is too much!!

The Good Will kid was a guy but he was sympathetic. I explained to him what a slip was and told him of my quest for TWO FREAKIN’ HALF SLIPS IN THE CITY OF WORCESTER and almost cried. “PLEASE!” I pleaded. “I am so tired!! I just want to buy two half slips. I don’t care about their color. I DON’T EVEN WANT TO GO LOOK FOR THEM!!!

The young Latino kid smiled sympathetically at his distraught customer and walked out from behind his cash register and went into the miles and miles of Good Will clothing racks and knick knacks and electronic shelves and shoes on stands and came back with TWO HALF SLIPS! Nylon. Large. One was black, the other white.

I said, “WOW!!”

He said, “My grandmother buys hers at Walmart.”

Thanks.

When did American ladies – with slips in their hospital overnight bags – give birth to babies who would grow up to wonder aloud: What’s a “slip”?

When hospitals kicked you out hours after you gave birth! When America got cheap and plastic and distracted and half slips were lost to plasma TVs, a 7 dollar minimum wage, MCAS tests, empty churches, millions of guns and not enough unions!

When my mom had me she spent one week – ONE WEEK!! – like all new moms – at Memorial Hospital on Belmont Street recovering from childbirth. For one week she was spoiled by the nurses, visited by her obstetrician. She was served breakfast in bed. Wore pretty pink quilted bed jackets. Visitors came to her bedside with flowers. AND SHE HAD A SLIP FOR UNDER HER DRESS WHEN SHE WAS DISCHARGED FROM MEMORIAL HOSPITAL!

America has changed since I was a kid – the days every girl grew up learning what a slip was! And wore them! Worcester moms bought our slips – and theirs – at Woolworths, Denholms, The Deb Shoppe, The Mart, depending on your economic class. And we girls wore them under our First Holy Communion dresses, prom dresses, school uniforms if we went to Catholic school, first date dresses, Easter dinner outfits for Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s …When we took home the leftovers in TUPPERWARE MADE IN THE GRAND USA!

When did we slip up?

DESTROYING GREEN ISLAND’S LAFAYETTE STREET

By Rosalie Tirella

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This summer: the upper part of Lafayette Street is a bit more residential than the strip that runs into Millbury Street. That section is car-clogged thanks to an autobody shop run amok. Pic: R.T.

My beloved Green Island Grrrl – as in Girl – street: Lafayette Street. The street I grew up on years ago before it all became the Canal District. My Ma’s street. And Bapy’s. And my kid sisters’. And Rich Gedman’s childhood stamping grounds, too! A five-minute walk to the old Lamartine Street School from our three decker; a 10-minute walk to Millbury Street and its scores of mom and pop shops. Today – I should have snapped a few photos as City workers slapped lime green warning stickers on a ribbon of cars – Lafayette Street has become the personal street of an African autobody business that treats the street like its personal garage/junkyard. These guys have taken over half of Lafayette Street – a pretty long city street! Literally! The neighborhood has the look and feel of a chop shop on steroids, thanks to these morons.

Yes, Lafayette was always zoned residential and industrial but this is nuts: every day 30 or so
cars – in varying degrees of disrepair – all illegally parked onto Scott Street, too – hog every square inch of Lafayette Street streetscape. Engines rev. Car doors open into the middle of the street. Smashed Caddy’s wait in the wings on Scott Street. To drive down Lafayette Street is to think like a trapeze artist whose tight rope is frayed…all the African car guys and their customers walk boldly in the street going from car to car chatting and you drive down your tight rope …fuming.

They talk cars, you quietly curse in your vehicle and wonder why the City of Worcester – Code is on Meade, the next street over – enables these neighborhood polluters and defilers. The source of the street’s ugliness, noise … selfishness.

I grew up on Lafayette Street – it’s what inspired me to start InCity Times two decades ago. Memory upon memory…the people, the pets, the shops, the school teachers…the collective unconscious for so many Eastern European immigrants and their offspring…our ghetto…our American story, rich and instructive and inspiring.

Today? Forget it, kids! You can’t even walk down your own street because the African business guys – immigrants with no respect for other newcomers? – are so greedy, so oblivious, they’ve trashed an entire city street! Its residents deemed worthless by guys who’d brook none of this is their “nicer” Worcester neighborhoods.

The physical company is located in a small two-bay garage – what used to be the old Murhall Sign shop of my childhood. Decades ago it was always neat and self-contained (work never even spilling out onto the sidewalk!) with the sign guys – three or so – going about their work inside. We kids walked to school or church and sheepishly looked inside as their big garage doors were always rolled open. The guys inside quietly went about their sign making- the lettering easy to read – the font basic and often fire engine red. Murhall, along with Leader Sign, was one of the first sign companies in the city. Tony Hmura of Leader knew and respected the Murhall guys.

Now it’s all dirty, noisy…the new workers and their customers are bold. They’re dismissive of the laws, common courtesy and common sense – most important, the people in the neighborhood! They think they own Lafayette Street – a public thoroughfare! They’re living proof of an America dumb-downed, greedy and garish.

Enter Donald Trump.

CANAL DISTRICT FUTURE, PAST

BY Rosalie Tirella

Late last night – I should say super early this morning – I drove through my old stamping grounds, Green Island, now dubbed “The Canal District.”
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pics: R.T.

All the gentrifiers were fast asleep – it was 2 a.m. – but THERE WERE HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE OUT – AND IN A CELEBRATORY MOOD! SCORES AND SCORES OF YOUNG PEOPLE OF COLOR OUT ON MY OLD STREETS. Hispanic kids, Black middle-aged ladies, Black men, Asian-American girls, most exquisitely dressed. Their gatherings were just getting started! On the corner of Harrison and Water streets a hundred or so 20-somethings, all impeccably coiffed, were hanging out in the street and parking lot; the autumn breeze was chilly to me but the kids were just chillin’: laughing, flirting, chatting. I drove into the scene smiling … Down on Millbury Street the old PNI Club was hosting a party with celebrants just heading out to their cars with gift bags. All folks of color. All looking lovely. A wedding party? A birthday bash? As a child my Polish relatives and their friends had held their wedding receptions at this PNI, at the end of our old Eastern European neighborhood, Green Island. The Polish bride was always pretty and wore white like she meant it! The Kielbasa was home made – smoked in a shed in Chicopee by her uncle. The pierogi were plenty and varied made by the chochi and Bapy’s who taste-tested a batch for lunch before bringing down their huge Tupperware containers filled with potato, blueberry, cheese, mushroom and meat pierogi. We danced and danced like the peasants we were – all polkas. And we sang Polish drinking songs, too. “MAY YOU LIVE ONE HUNDRED YEARS!!” It was a scene right out of THE DEER HUNTER.

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Rose’s old neighborhood

But last night, looking at the PNI, peering into the door way and seeing the Hispanic crowd all happy and danced-out with their trays of homemade food, I thought: HERE IS A NEW MOVIE. THEIR MOVIE. And I felt great about it.

Over on Harding Street, behind 3Gs sports bar, another group gathered. A bit more raucous than the other two …but I drove through it feeling safe. A hundred or so kids of color. It was their night, not this old lady’s.

The Canal District scene in day light is youngish blond bland girls, isolate, catty and hard. The boys their knights for the day with no fashion sense. This scene is difficult to take because Worcester is a majority-minority city, and there are usually two people of color in this Canal District day scene. You need money to attend most of their parties. They drive up the rents in my old ‘hood, and the old factories all have new windows. Their spacious, high-ceilinged, high-end apartment lofts now, not my Polish grandfather’s – Jaju’s – sweat shop.

I had a weird experience: an old biz pal put me up in his converted CD factory building. Now lofts and stained hardwood floors and painted beams. Beautiful. My pal is living proof of HANDSOME IS AS HANDSOME DOES. He said my plight moved him, so he gave me respite, shelter from the storm. Simple as that – but oh the world to me!! His assistant showed me downstairs: WE HAVE A COURTYARD! she gushed. But as she opened the big glass door and I walked out into this cobble-stoned yard inside the factory with four high brick walls and no ceiling – just a square of sky – all around me – I winced. The building’s five stories high – and windows all lined in a row…heavy doors across the way. It felt like prison. I thought: THIS WAS THE SHOE FACTORY WORKERS’ “BREAK ROOM.” How awful. Jaju had one like this, I bet, in Douglas, at the textile mill he worked at. … A soft-spoken man who never questioned his lot in life, Jaju was stoic, but his son, my uncle, worked a summer off from Holy Cross college with his dad in the Douglas mill and told my mom: IT WAS LIKE WORKING IN HELL.

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Old Green Island factories: brandy new for the kiddos!

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Newly installed new windows …

The factory in the Canal District was built in the 1860s, pre-union, mostly exploitative piece work, pre-OSHA, too. Hundreds of men – immigrants from Europe like my Jaju – toiled all day in the room I had slept in! And now I stood in what I felt was a perpetually dark space, a controlled space, a trap, not a courtyard. It was where the guys smoked a few of the cigs that their daughters or sons had rolled for them the night before for work. Then it was back to toiling …

At the Millbury lake: soldier’s gone fishin’!

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose, Jett, Licac…with open hand.

What were the odds of our paths crossing? … Mine and the soldier dad’s. The day after the Kabul suicide bombers detonating themselves in a blood bath of body parts so that the ISIS-K gunmen could feel empowered and plunge into the swelling crowd of US soldiers and thousands of Afghani people to finish the job. To aim the muzzles of their AK47s willy nilly, blowing up babies, tearing toddlers’ arms off, ripping old men’s faces to the bone, shooting out the hearts of young women, virginal and some beautiful. And killing our American military men and women – American soldiers, USA warriors and protectors … “Kids” to me, an old lady.

Our American “kids” were doing all the right things at the Kabul airport: cuddling babies, offering bottled water to young women in ankle-length dresses overcome by the garbage, dessert heat, desperate pleas all around them …sitting dazed in the desert sands. Some American soldiers were photographed by the news agencies holding young boys’ hands as they led them inside the airport to the planes, planes that could hold an entire Afghan village!

Maybe this Millbury soldier had held his little boys’ hands as they embarked on a plane to fly to Disneyland … perhaps. I’m in Millbury, sitting on a rock at the edge of a pond, looking at the soldier dad, a US soldier – active duty – imagining … He is teaching his two little boys to fish at the muddy mouth of the little pond this August afternoon. He’s with HIS Dad, who’s 67 and a Millbury native, a blue collar guy recalling when you could buy a cup of coffee in town for 50 cents and none of the gourmet bakeries with their $5 cupcakes had yet moved in. He’s the gentle hand, smiling, pulling out his smart phone to take pictures of his grandsons with their catches dangling from their fishing rods – the rods are kiddie sized but totally functional. I wince as I watch the kivers flap listlessly in the sun, their green-yellow scales twinkling in the sunlight.

I notice the soldier son has bulging, well defined calf muscles and biceps; his shoulders are wide and lightly sculpted. He wears his shorts, tee shirt and sneakers like a uniform. His shorts are perfect, with creases in front; sneakers spotless, tee shirt smooth and pristine looking. His baseball cap is not soft and faded like some guys’ – it’s stiff and white looking. A bit nerdy. His cap hides the top half of his face – so he seems expressionless as I continue to search for his eyes.

“They [President Biden] thought this [withdrawal] through their third [hole],” he just said. He sounded disgusted. Fed up. You could tell he hated President Joe Biden and probably voted for Trump (both times). You could tell he expected only incompetence from Biden and cabinet. He was curt to me, dismissive of my small talk. Earlier he had said: I’m regretting the move back. I was away for ten years. We should have stayed in Colorado. But I’m back. In Massachusetts.” He said “Massachusetts” like he was spitting out one his sons’ earthworms.

“Too liberal for you?” I said. Then, making things worse: “You know, I’m a liberal Democrat and I run a little lefty paper in the city, but even I think Biden screwed up! And I support our soldiers! You can be a progressive Democrat – a liberal- and still support our troops!”

The soldier dad was unimpressed with my patriotism and continued to bait the fish hook at the end of his older son’s line…the boy wasn’t putting the hook into the worm right. The soldier seemed unhappy. He was sharp with his boys – giving orders to them, judging them for just wanting to loosen up a bit and goof off fishing. But he made them stand at the end of the lake with purpose…they didn’t dare leave their fishing posts. I sensed he loved them but was demanding a seriousness that three year olds lack. His littlest boy seemed sheepish. The soldier dad didn’t raise his head once to look at me, but he did mention something about “this end of the lake getting crowded” and maybe they should decamp and move up a ways.

From me, I guessed.

Which made me clap enthusiastically as his three year old caught his first ever kiver. YAY! YAY! HOORAY! I said. GOOD JOB! And I clapped my old veiny hands and clapped and clapped. This pleased the little boy to no end who now smiled at Jett my cute lil’ Husky mix. Jett was excited, too – he couldn’t take his eyes off the semi-circle of a fish flapping on the end of the little boy’s fishing hook. Jett had caught and killed a snake in the Millbury Dog Park the day before; the hunter in him was roused.

The little boy seemed to bask in my praise – over-the-top because his Dad had treated him so like a little soldier – scolding him for muddying his sneakers by the water’s edge, directing him to walk away from the water so he could clean off his sneakers and re-tie the laces, even though they had never come undone.

As I turned to focus on Jett, the little boy squealed: I WANT A WORM!!! He shouted mightily into the summer sky. Dad put one on his hook and the little boy giggled at me – he had gotten my attention! I watched him, with the help of his strong soldier Papa, pull the rod back and then flick it forward so the little plastic ball that acted as a buoy landed out a ways in the lake. Everybody watched it – the fish hook wasn’t far off – to see if a fish would tug at the worm. Grandad had taken a photo of the little boy and his first catch of the afternoon. Seeing his pretty fishy hanging lifeless from the line, the little boy, worried, sweet and good hearted like all babes in the woods, yelled to his father: “Can we put him back?” I wanted to hug him and shout: YES! YES, WE CAN! LET’S! But I knew Dad would be against it – and be angry with me for softening his son. So I shut my mouth.

The soldier dad’s tightness stayed there with us all at the lake. Not even his good sons could make him smile. Maybe he was hiding his pride and happiness. Or was it marital strife that made him act so determined at the pond surrounded by kivers, kids, silly Jett? Military training? Massachusetts? All of the above? I loved his little boys but wanted to leave. He was too oppressive. I said goodbye to the boys and grandpa. Soldier son went right on baiting his sons fishing hooks, ignoring me. I could tell he was thinking: Chatty, opinionated, liberal old broad. FROM MASSACHUSETTS.

But his 3 year old looked back at me and gave us a weak smile. I could tell he still wanted Jett, me and Lilac around, but he’s got to be the brave soldier … and eventually learn to have fun on his own. Maybe he’ll grow up to be a vegan.

Kelley Square Field of Dreams

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose, this week: driving by an “American tune”

Baseball can be so corny.

I guess that’s why we love it.

No matter how much teeth-grinding I engage in over the Kelley Square stadium being the final nail in the gentrification-coffin of my old beloved neighborhood, Green Island, I love driving by the ballpark just before game time and seeing the dads, uncles and big brothers leading the little boys in their lives into the stadium … down Green Street, up Madison Street, across Harding.

The little boys are four and five years old, and their tiny hands are engulfed in Dad’s big, reassuring paws because there is a ton of traffic. The boys are walking all jangly, half running!, as they strive to match the pace of the man-heroes in their lives – pops, big brothers and granddads taking them to their first baseball game! Invariably, they are in classic little boy uniform: soft blue jeans, sneakers that you can hold in the palm of your hand, a small cotton tee shirt (blue, green – often older – ready to catch the mustard and ketchup from clumsily held Coney Island hot dogs ). A baseball cap, often on askew, “caps off” this all-American picture as the little boy hustles down the street with the tall grown-ups, part of the baseball parade – women, teenaged girls and their beaus, old timers – that is winding its way to the baseball park.

Always, as I watch this scene from my car (idling in traffic on Green Street), I smile. I’m oblivious to the traffic jam I’m in! A few times, a few tears have rolled down my cheeks.

Baseball …

https://youtu.be/Ug4bsd4LqqM