Category Archives: Green Island Grrrl


By Rosalie Tirella

Rose’s new digs. Photos: R.T.

Relaxing with my critters. Just took an apple tart outa the oven – gotta try baking this breakfast treat with peaches, plums … different kinds of apples. If I have the $, next time I bake an apple tart I’ll add walnuts, raisins, maybe even a handful of almond slivers.

Apple tart, hot out of the oven!

It’s a weird turn of events…baking apple tarts in a gorgeous loft-style apartment after snoozing in parking lots – for months! Hatching this new life out of my cracked old one…going from urban decay to rural renewal! Feeling content here in the country … while feeling repudiated by the city I once loved, Worcester, my hometown. I mean, come on, if the Worcester city manager or any one of the City politico phoney baloneys found their 60-year-old sister or mother or Irish auntie homeless, do you think she’d be writing out her Christmas cards in her car, during a December snow fall, in the church parking lot across from St. Paul’s Cathedral? Would she knock on the door of nearby Abby’s House rooming/apt building for low-income women and ask to use the ladies room and be met with: NO!!!! GO AWAY!! YOU CAN’T PARK YOUR CAR AND SLEEP HERE!!! … and then to have to walk over to the Abby’s House shrubbery and discreetly take a pee on their sleeping tulip buds. The flowers will pop up in all their pastel glory in four months or so, but there is no promise of spring for you!

If this were your experience, how long would it be before you hated Worcester’s guts?

How long would it be before you realized: these City Hall fakes will never think outside the box and have the guts to solve Worcester’s homeless crisis. BECAUSE THEY DON’T WANT TO. They will never get their people off the sidewalks of Millbury Street or Main Street or Vernon Street because they are ok with having not enough affordable housing units or enough housing vouchers or seeing human suffering right under their noses. They will talk the talk but never walk the walk. They want the city’s poor and vulnerable to move out, to relocate to the hinterlands. Or to just die! Disappear. Worcester’s new motto: If you don’t build it, they won’t come! … And new rich people from Boston will supplant the vulnerable locals. Worcester city leaders love the humongous crappy new apartment buildings that are now all over the city, with their $3,000 rents and Boston renters. City councilors don’t care if the rents in other blue collar, even downtrodden Worcester neighborhoods, top off at $2,400 – because that’s what gentrification is all about. A kind of fascism. A kind of economic and even racial cleansing. But Worcester city leaders call it a “renaissance.” Half the city population is in a slow, undignified unraveling…emigrating to Orange or Warren or some other rural area in Worcester. But they call it a RENAISSANCE.

There are crappy new Worcester apartment buildings sprouting up every other month all over Woo – not just in the Canal District, my old childhood neighborhood that we used to know and love as Green Island. Nail guns and planks of pine are their hallmark, but the junk edifices lure the Boston renters who don’t give a hoot about architecture or history and think the $3,000 Worcester rents are a steal compared to Boston’s $5,000. And the trains and Mass Pike are near enough…and the amenities they want are now in Worcester – dog parks, upscale coffee shops, fancy artisan wine kiosks. We finally look like Providence! Tim Murray’s wet dream has finally become our hideous reality!

But as Worcester grows more congested, more car-clogged, more gun-happy, more murderous, more impersonal, more physically ugly and plastic … small towns like Spencer, my town, grow more attractive. The one-on-one friendly, easy conversations I have here with perfect strangers are so nice! The miles of forest and open space I see through the WRTA Elder Bus window as I make my way to my excellent occupational therapists at my excellent rural hospital, Harrington Hospital, are a visual tonic. The way people interact with my dogs Jett and Lilac is … healthy. Every other person here owns chickens or cats or dogs or horses, so they love animals – including mine! The town library is in a historic Spencer building and staffed by gracious, always helpful and knowledgeable librarians. You can have conversations with them – and not be blown off the way you are sometimes in Worcester. The town high school is slated to be totally renovated after the town’s young parents with their small children got a referendum rolling and got a question on a town ballet and voters went to town hall to vote YES or NO on the renovation question. The young and progressive types out numbered Spencer’s old and cheapskates. These types are dying out and Spencer is beginning to take on a luster all its own. A true renaissance as people rethink their futures, not just clamor for some stupid, trendy, expensive clothing shoppe. It’s more real here. The values feel different, more basic: families, animals, the natural beauty of the natural world, conversations, crafting, cooking … backyard farming. Spencer is also becoming racially and ethnically diverse, without a lot of noise, a lot of crazy meetings at City Hall with the accompanying histrionics and false promises made by politicians – a la Worcester. Spencer, my town now, is the place where I’ve seen more biracial couples than I’ve ever seen in Worcester! Not just the kids or the young but the middle-aged and older. A white guy in his 50s and a Black woman in her 40s walk to their car after a meal at the restaurant downstairs from my apartment. They are holding hands in the Spencer moonlight …

I was all smiles when I first drove into town and saw all the young moms with their kiddos outside my old New Leader newspaper office on Main Street, by the traffic light and one of Spencer’s few busy intersections, waving to me and other motorists – and waving their placards: VOTE YES! VOTE FOR THE IMPROVED HIGH SCHOOL! I smiled at the young moms and waved back and thought: Things have changed here. I have got to go to town hall to register to vote.

And that’s really the good news – young locals with young children, young couples from different cities and towns – with the women (they look like girls to me!) pregnant with their first babes – all embarking on an adventure – their new adult lives in a town that is changing and beginning to support young families, young readers at the library, young students as they ready themselves for college and career. The fancy schmancy amenities may not be here. Yet. But they will be. The old timers, political and otherwise, are dying out. Hopefully, this next generation will shape their town in new better ways. For example: the Worcester Community Action Council is in the middle of counting the town’s homeless to help and support them. The town senior center has a director who is trying new things and offering us old timers more than the same old same old … There’s a yoga class and a writing class and a friendly coffee klatch chat all offered at the library…
And the school department’s official website proudly calls Spencer a Gateway Town and welcomes new students into the fold. The town high school’s parking lot is filled with cars AN HOUR AND TWO AFTER SCHOOL HAS BEEN DISMISSED. Monday through Friday. You see the high school marching band practice playing their instruments and marching in this same school parking lot. You are impressed by the students. You are amazed at their teachers’ commitment. You feel the small town love and cohesiveness – and want to be a part of it.

Quiet Time

By Rosalie Tirella

CCR. photos: R.T.

When I was a fifth grader at Lamartine Street School, we were a rough, emotionally closed-off crew of ten year olds. Most of us were frightfully poor, from the Green Island neighborhood; many of us came from “broken homes” where boyfriends and girlfriends moved in and out of our apartments with a confusing regularity. Five or six of us were “kept back” for a year or two or even three – so a few of the boys were really teenagers and looked different from us little fifth grade kiddos. They towered over many of us! Even their voices sounded different…and to hear them struggle in their almost grownup voices as they tried to sound out an easy word in our fifth grade story book when they were called on to read aloud … it made me feel … uncomfortable.

There were plenty of bullies who’d give you a sock to the stomach and kick you when you were rolling on the cement school “yard” in pain. Having grown up with parents fighting all the time – literally taking swings at each other – this kind of behavior was typical, acceptable in our young eyes. Everyone, me included, if pushed, could yell or be emotionally abusive. A few of us carried real knives. I remember one classmate who brought in her pet guinea pig for show and tell. During recess she brought out her big knife, practically a carving knife, and did another kind of show and tell in the Lamartine school yard. She was a quiet kid who was always nice to me; she smelled like her guinea pig: like wood shavings that had been peed on. But she had the coolest red hair and freckles. That afternoon, my classmates and I had made a tight little circle around her as she showed us her big knife. We were quiet, interested…impressed. When the recess bell rang, signalling it was time for classes, she put her big knife away, in her purse, and we kids ran to the big Lamartine Street School doors to re-enter our school. No one thought to tell any adult about the knife.

A few of the girls had real boyfriends. Often they were the ones who were kept back and had their periods and were sexually active. I’ll never forget watching a sister of a classmate walking into our junior high school. She was very pregnant. She was in eighth grade. Because she was so beautiful with her long dark hair and dark beautiful eyes and was always so quiet and sweet, I got it into my head that she was the Madonna, some saint who had been blessed by God with an immaculately conceived baby. I never asked my mom or any adult to explain the situation; I just thought the girl was beautiful – pregnant, especially so – and had received a special gift from God.

Back to Lamartine Street School…So, in walks “Mrs. Harrity,” our school music teacher to give us fifth graders our weekly music class. Now, you’d think that this would be one of the high points of our week, that we fifth graders would be ecstatic to put away our math books, tuck those spelling books deep inside our metal desks to have some fun singing or even dancing with our music teacher. But it wasn’t like that at all. It was like going to the dentist, taking a trip to the gas chamber without ever having to leave the classroom. Mrs. Harrity was pretty, early in her middle age, dressed in no-nonsense skirts and blouses and always wore beige panty hose and flat shoes. She had a nice smile and spoke very softly … but something was lacking. She would walk into our classroom, smiling, carrying her acoustic guitar in its black guitar case, pass out some sheets of paper with music lyrics typed on them and offer us kids tambourines, bells, shakers, etc. to accompany her guitar strumming and singing. Most of us declined to take a musical instrument, except maybe the bigger boys who could be very percussive! We dutifully passed around the lyric sheets. Then Mrs. Harrity would take her guitar out of its case, go over the song, sing it once to us, and then ask us kids to join in for the second sing a long. We never did. As students, we were to be graded on participation and effort, but we didn’t care. We never ever sang a song with Mrs. Harrity.

Why was that?

Every week our nice, polite, milquetoast Irish American teacher would come into our classroom, offer up songs that were pleasant and easy to sing. She’d pass out her mimeographed sheets of paper with song lyrics. We’d all politely accept the light blue or green or pink sheets of paper – and then clam up. For about 35 minutes. Our classroom teacher was gone for this music session – on break – so we kids were alone with Mrs. Harrity. She never scolded us or got mad – but she never really talked with us, either. She never joked around with some of the bigger boys or asked us about ourselves, our lives, our hobbies. She just mechanically pulled out her colored mimeographed sheets of paper, week after week, and sang her pleasant songs and asked us to sing along. We never did. Maybe a few kids would mumble a chorus or two … I think I’d mouth the words halfheartedly but not actually sing them. And I liked to sing at home! We had music on the radio all day. My mom loved music and danced polkas across our kitchen floor. If you know anything about Woo’s old three deckers, then you know the kitchen was the biggest room in the apartment. So we’re talking practically dance hall floor dimensions, here! And I had taken violin and accordion lessons – at Lamartine!! Some of the kids played drums when they went home. A few were into their big brothers’ Beatles collection, the recent Abbey Road was popular back then …

Why couldn’t we sing along with Mrs. Harrity? Just for the hell of it!

A hit with whom?

Years later I realized my music teacher lived four houses down from my aunt and uncle and their kids, in a big beautiful house in their nice Worcester middle-class neighborhood. Mrs Harrity’s husband worked at a science center and they always had semi-exotic animals in their backyard, like peacocks and small water buffalo. They had an English setter that I loved and couldn’t wait to see and pat whenever I visited my cousins.
But I never made the connection as a kid.

So, clearly, the Harrity’s were “nice people.” But maybe too nice for Lamartine Street students? Too middle class for our rough and tumble lives? Too uncaring to care?

But one day sticks in my brain: it was the day Mrs. Harrity came in with the Credence Clearwater Revival song “Looking Out My Backdoor” – the lyrics mimeographed onto her sheets of mint green paper. We kids had heard the song on the radio. It was a hit back then. I remember reading the lyrics on my sheet of paper and smiling. “…Do do do looking out my back door! /a giant doing cart wheels /a statue wearing high heels/ Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn! …

“Tambourines and elephants are playing in the band/ Won’t you take a ride on my flying spoon?/ Bother me tomorrow /today I’ll buy no sorrow/ Do do do, looking out my back door!”

This song was made for little kids to sing! And Mrs Harrity sang it with real spirit. I remember a few of the kids even volunteered to try out our teacher’s tambourines…I think a few of us sang … sort of. But it was still the usual bust.

Next week it was back to the same musical pap. Mrs. Harrity had given us a great song to sing with her last week – a real rock n roll song that we were probably dancing to in our bedrooms at home – and we had still failed her. We had still shut her out.

Looking back, I think we kids had decided, without ever discussing: Mrs. Harrity wasn’t cool, so it wasn’t cool to sing with her. Mrs. Harrity wasn’t wearing the mini-dresses the way our old third grade teacher, Miss Zaterka, did. Mrs. Harrity didn’t even seem to see us sitting before her, many of us … sad. Mrs. Harrity wasn’t out playing softball with the kids and other teachers after school the way Mrs Nedwick at Providence Street Junior High School did – with real gusto! – her fancy silk scarf blowing in the spring wind on the Vernon Hill ball field. Mrs Harrity would never play a grand game of kick ball with us the way Mr. Chickarian used to play with his sixth grade class during recess – really having fun with his students in our beat up old school yard, with the big cracks in the pavement … even when the best, most powerful kicker in his sixth grade class, Fanny, kicked that big pink rubber kick ball so hard, it went smack into Mr. Chickarian’s genital area. “Right in the nuts!” one of the big boys had screamed, doubling over with laughter. Mr. Chickarian had doubled over, too – in pain. His eyes were bugged out! But you could see he was laughing, too – through the tears. Then all of us kids in the Lamartine school yard had joined in and we were laughing, too, with Mr. Chickarian. Unlike Mr. Gilman, Mr. Chickarian or Mrs. Nedwick, Mrs. Harrity never really had fun with us. Never seemed to like us. And kids, no matter how rich or poor, can always tell if someone likes them.


By Rosalie Tirella

Stuck! photos: R.T.

You know, I’ve been a reporter/writer since 1986! And here I am living in the town where it all began! The New Leader newspaper, home to my first reporter gig, is a glorified circular now. But decades ago it was a real AWARD-WINNING newspaper with an office (now a nail salon on Main Street), a kick-ass editor (Sandi), a wonderfully gifted sports writer who is probably writing novels as I write this post – and three other “town reporters,” Tom, Loreena and me. Tom was a Holy Cross college grad, like our sports writer, and could quote H.L. Mencken and tried to write his Spencer columns in the style he imagined his literary idol would pen them. Loreena was a UMass Amherst grad, unbelievably conscientious and all around excellent: a true reporter, a terrific writer, a caring confidante. She was the conscience of our newsroom – kept us all together when we felt too constrained in Spencer or too ambitious for East Brookfield. Spencer was my town, too, full-time, after graduation, from UMass Amherst. It was around 1987. We were all in our 20s. We were all idealistic, passionate about writing and … clueless about government. Big city or small town. I had no idea how dysfunctional town government – government in general – can be! It’s hardly of by and for the people. Mostly it’s of the moneyed by the politically connected and not at all for the poor or people of color.

So here I am in the town that I remember from the late 1980s and several years back when I lived here, in the rough part of Spencer, and saw its really poor people and tried to help. I tried to get a Food Hub started in Spencer and went to Congressman Jim McGovern’s office to see if we could get a Food Hub built in town. No luck. I went to another pol to see if we could get a community garden planted where some hoped to pour a parking lot. The parking lot peeps won. I went to Spencer Town Hall to demand that more polling places be set up in town so the poor and people in wheelchairs wouldn’t have to walk or roll to Town Hall to vote in the sleet and snow, like I’d seen them do when I voted in our recent town election. I went to Congressman Jim McGovern’s office again and told his toady Seth: Spencer is a physically BIG town. Only the middle class with their cars can make it to Town Hall to vote every election. You should see what I saw! All these people in their wheelchairs or using canes going to town hall to vote in the sleet! Awful. How many stayed home in the storm?! Why not put a polling station in the public housing complex where a few hundred folks live? Why not in a seniors apartment complex, too? No go. Voter Suppression wasn’t mentioned back then. But now we have the words – Voter Suppression – and that is what it was. I could go on: the Spencer people nice, real … and stoic. The blue collar town had lost most of its blue collar jobs. The schools were inadequate, almost losing state accreditation…but it didn’t matter to Town Hall if the majority of Spencer kiddos weren’t “ready” for the Kindergarten or that hunger was a big issue here. The politically connected and old timers were doing ok in their homes in the country. Why rock the boat? Who cares if teenagers were walking the streets in fuzzy slippers in January? Poverty didn’t count because the poor didn’t vote.

Poor Jett peed!

So, here we are, decades later – in Spencer again!!! This morning Jett, Lilac and me – stuck in our building elevator. For an hour! Jett has already peed in the elevator. I have the bags of garbage earmarked for the dumpster outside but they’re here in the elevator with us and things are starting to get stinky. My heart is starting to pinch, too, and I am getting warm. The dogs are ok, but I am starting to panic.

The bags of garbage, Dumpster ready!

The Spencer police and fire department are here. Love the Spencer firemen. They rescued me when I fell and broke my wrist outside the building – they iced my wrist, put a splint on it, made a homemade sling, gave me a bottle of water and stayed right with me as WE WAITED 45 MINUTES FOR AN AMBULANCE TO COME (Spencer area has like two ambulances and the selectmen refuse to buy another ambulance for the town). When I was loaded into the ambulance, the two Spencer firemen looked in on me, worried, like two mother hens! … This morning a few Spencer firemen were outside my elevator, and the Spencer cop was serious. My landlord was on the cell phone with me trying to be compassionate. He called the elevator company and they were en route.


If you’ve never been stuck in an elevator: the first 10 minutes are spent trying to push, pry open the doors. I got the first set of doors open but not the second. The next 10 minutes are spent making calls …to everybody. Fire department, landlord…etc etc. Then the rest of the time you worry about oxygen and, wow, it’s getting warm in here. Finally, you pry open the inside doors for an inch of oxygen, fresh air. The building manager gal is here with her baby trying to comfort us. The baby has a preternaturally round head – like a little pumpkin! You thank God you can see him and humanity through the crack in the elevator doors. You pray Jett and Lilac – or you – don’t have to take a poop.


Everyone seems to care, outside the elevator. Everyone is trying. Except for the bureaucrats at Spencer Town Hall. You make that phone call and ask to speak to someone in the code or building department…any one with a bit of knowledge. You’re blown off. “That’s not our building,” the lady tells me, curtly. Almost rudely.


If it’s Spencer, maybe not. Just look across Main Street from where our building sits – the Mexicali restaurant building. There sits a huge grey behemoth of a building with busted windows galore, abandoned. Downtown’s haunted house. The landlord died and his ancient wife is doing nothing to keep it up. I hear the town’s homeless live there. I’ve seen the good Spencer firemen parked outside that old building in the early morning. Did someone OD?

So, of course, no one can or will help me at Town Hall. I press the secretary for solutions. She tells me there’s a State of Massachusetts number I can call. But she can’t find it. Neither can anyone else at the Spencer Town Hall.

The view this a.m.

Finally, 25 minutes later, I’m sprung from the elevator and my dogs are champing at the bit for their a.m. walk out in the yard. I persist. I ask the elevator guy: didn’t the town hall bureaucrats have any capability?

Yes, he says. The Spencer Highway Department has a key to activate, deactivate the elevator.

Of course.

And, you know this morning, after my elevator ordeal, I remembered my New Leader days and what editor Sandi taught us cub reporters decades ago in our little New Leader building, on Main Street, in ol’ Spencer. Circa 1988. GET OUT OF THE OFFICE, GET OFF THE COMPUTER, SIP THAT LAST SIP OF BAD COFFEE AND GET INTO YOUR TOWN. Chat with people, meet them, hang out at the local diner, have experiences with them. That’s how you learn about your town and the townspeople. That’s where the stories will come from.


By Rosalie Tirella

City of Worcester officials can’t seem to wrap their heads around Worcester’s homeless and affordable housing crises. Photo: R.T.

Re: the City’s Inclusionary Zoning proposal. Tomorrow night, March 15, is the hearing before the Worcester City Council’s Economic Development sub-committee. Then the Worcester City Council votes on it. The city council must do the right thing and vote for the 50% income guideline recommended by City Councilor King, a social worker who knows the issues families in Worcester face. He knows their struggles. …2. Wish the city council would increase the number of affordable apartments mandated under this new proposal. Developers shouldn’t be able to come in and change the face of a community just because they’ve got the dough$$$$ – and displace the locals or throw us a bone or two. They’re in and the Boston area folks who can afford the new Woo rents are in. Worcesterites – especially our working poor – are out!

Are we even a Gateway City these days?

Or are we Worcester Chamber of Commerce President Tim Murray’s wet dream come true – a chi chi satellite of Boston?

Tim’s been at it for 25 years – a quarter of a century. He has been trying to make us into a minny Beantown for years. A pro-circus, pro-Tif, pro job creation for his pal O’Leary at UMass medical center after working for him in the LG office – and then almost doubling his salary in a year. Murray knows the game. Why he practically doubled his own Chamber of Commerce salary when hired by the Chamber after he’d disgraced himself politically and was political dead meat in Massachusetts and nationally. Murray hates raising the minimum wage but doubled his salary from the high 90s$$ to almost $200,000 a year when he first negotiated his Chamber contract. Why isn’t this puke in prison?

HOMELESS. I struggled with it for 17 months and know the issues. Because I’ve lived the issues. A brutal reality. Unnecessary suffering. Hurt. Exhaustion. Despair. Worcester city councilors, most of them are comfortably middle class and thru their city positions have gotten their relatives into pretty good city jobs and housing – so they can’t relate to the average Woo person. A few of them, like City Councilor George Russell, City Councilor Candy Carlson and CC Moe Bergman are upper-middle class $$$$ – and may be entirely pointless when it comes to advocating for Worcester’s young people and working poor. Maybe if these rascals all lived out of their cars for a month or two they’d see the light.

Homeless in Worcester … a housing voucher that doesn’t work – doesn’t cover the sky high Worcester rents … a Worcester exodus in order to secure, be able to afford, a nice apartment (in another town in the county) … uprooting yourself from the places in Worcester that you love and your Woo pals/support network. I’m older, so it feels sort of ok to slow things down a bit. BUT IF YOU’RE A WORKING FAMILY, YOUNG PERSON JUST STARTING OUT or A NEW HIRE TO THE CITY SCHOOLS OR HOSPITALS the exorbitant Worcester rents will lock you out of the city you need to be in!


People, please connect with Worcester’s city councilors and the Economic Development Sub-committee Chairman – Councilor Rose – and demand MORE Woo affordable housing units be created FAST – like yesterday – to keep us a Gateway City. Tell them the City of Worcester must forge a STRONG Inclusionary Zoning Law THAT TRULY BENEFITS THE PEOPLE WHO NEED IT MOST.

I’m Old!

By Rosalie Tirella

Today – Rose and Cece.

Selfies with Cece this afternoon. These days I’m living in a lovely one-bedroom, loft-style apartment in the country: safe, secure, warm and watching classic Westerns (STAGE COACH today) on my lil’ TV, as I recover. But I’m overweight, and my daily walks with Jett and Lilac have seemingly added to my flubber! I’ve stopped baking cakes and other sugary treats and cut back on the mashed potatoes, but I look more and more like my dumpling-shaped Green Island Bapy from Poland!

People guess my age way too easily, too. Like when they called the ambulance to take me to the emergency ward after I fell, and the dispatcher asked the town librarian’s husband who, along with several other good souls, had run to me to help: HOW OLD IS SHE? the town dispatcher had asked him.

I’D SAY 60, he said – in a nano-second! Without having to think about it!

All those decades of my slathering sunblock on my face were for naught! All those cups of green tea and plates of veggies with their damned antioxidants and swallowing the Vitamin D3 caplets every morning with a large glass of water were a waste. I may as well have been drinking gin and tonics and/or doing drugs! I’d have had more fun, and the results would have been the same! The ambulance drivers, when they finally came – looked like kids to me – and treated me like their grandmother. Yes, I was splayed out on the driveway, wearing my ugly night dress and, yes, it was in the early morning and I was wearing zero makeup, but still …


My age.

I’m me, Rose, but I’m “vintage” now – unique but a little moth-eaten along the seams and I was in my prime in another era … when The Partridge Family ruled the airwaves and bell bottoms were king. I look old in photographs. My skin feels like crepe paper no matter how much body lotion I apply. My boobs droop to practically my belly button, which looks flaccid and no longer cute, like young belly buttons do! I talk a bit too long when asked to explain things – or maybe most people just don’t want to look at an old lady talking so they get annoyed and dismissive. I never knew I was long-winded! So you learn to be succinct – or shut up entirely. But I’m a very opinionated person who likes to share her opinions! Depressing!!! When you’re old – unless you’re Ernest Hemingway or Orson Welles or Judy Garland – no one gives a shit what you think.

Many of my friends have died within these past several years, which makes me feel even older! My dead pals were more animated, more loved/loving and more consequential than I am, yet they’re all gone! Hearts gave out, ugly cancer cells ate all the beautiful good cells, an operation went south or it went ok but the person picked up a super bug at the hospital and died.

You begin to live with your own mortality – and realize you weren’t that great a human being, after all. You decide to “mellow out” and no longer “sweat the small stuff.” All the cliches but they’re true. The end is closer than I choose to think about. Why be pissed about a stolen Neil Young triple album?

Selfies ain’t what they used to be!

I like to think my death is a ways out yet, if I’m lucky … 20 years or so … down the mountain path, just past that bend in the river, like in SHANE, when Alan Ladd, his body ripped by the bad guy’s bullet, rides on, his arm lifeless in the dusk. The Teton mountains are still in the distance, but they’re a deep purple and majestic as darkness closes in. So inviting! Shane’s pretty horse, the one with the blaze on his forehead, knows the way.

Heroic Shane! photo: R.T.


By Rosalie Tirella

“Ma,” left, and her big sis.

Green Island kitchen … our Lafayette Street flat, a half century ago: My mom, left, a few days after she got home from Memorial Hospital on Bell Hill. She had given birth to my kid sisters (twins) and was wiped out. So my aunt (pictured here), Ma’s big sister, left her husband, two kids and Doberman pinscher on the other side of town and came down to help Ma with me (just 1 1/2 years old) and her two new born girls. My father had disappeared after the birth of my sisters. The going was too rough for him: dirty diapers, breast feeding in the middle of the night, three wee ones crying, my sisters so tiny and vulnerable (they were “preemies” who might not have survived). Ma was left holding the parenting bag. My aunt, who knew what my father was but never berated my mom for her choices, stepped in to save the day.

(Notice the Jesus picture above the old refrigerator in the original photo. Notice it in my apartment today, its old tin frame painted brown decades ago. Ma prayed to that Jesus picture – directly, with an earnest heart, “blessing” herself before it at least twice daily – all through my childhood.)

Jesus picture in Rose’s house. photos: R.T.

But Ma was a romantic, despite all her trials and tribulations and unanswered prayers. And she was an optimist. She didn’t resent us kids because we were a lot of work but loved us because we were cute, engaging, fun to dress up and, most of all, loved her back. Mostly on her terms. From baby-hood I can remember her singing love songs to me in the kitchen. All the songs she grew up with and adored, many country-tinged: “Jambalaya,” the Hank Williams version. “You are My Sunshine,” more Hank Williams. “April Showers” – she had the original Al Jolson record! (flip side, “Mule Train,” I think). Sad Polish tunes that her mother, my Bapy, had taught her or that she had learned in church. Ma loved Elvis, polkas, Chuck Berry, Dean Martin and the Beatles, but her #1 singer was Patti Page, a 1950s warbler who was very popular during the Eisenhower era. Ma used to go around the house singing Page’s biggest hit, “Tennessee Waltz.” All the time. She’d sing it to us kids over and over again in her deep, sexy but not very pretty singing voice (she had an amazing speaking voice … she belonged in some Frank Sinatra movie sipping a gin and tonic.)

Page’s greatest hits

I’m listening to “The Tennessee Waltz” now. I am playing my Patti Page Greatest Hits album that I picked up at a yard sale several years ago – the lp with Patti on the cover singing over some sheet music and looking elegant in her white, strapless evening gown – listening to the record I never even bothered putting on my turntable once! Too cornball for me!

Playing Patti in the country, today.

Now here I am … singing along with Patti Page! Moved by an old country standard. Funny: I know “The Tennessee Waltz” by heart! Every single word and note! It’s as if I were singing The Pledge of Allegiance! The tune imprinted on my heart 60 years ago by my mom. Such a sad, pretty song for such a sad, pretty mother! Young and so poor with three babies and a good looking but wayward husband, a husband she would never stop wanting and loving.

Now I see why The Tennessee Waltz became the theme song of my babyhood. Now I see why I had bought the LP: it was for the song, for my dead mother, the real fan, who would have sung The Tennessee Waltz to her child, but mostly to herself, to soothe her own soul. Ma never complained to anyone about anything. I saw her cry just three times in my entire life. It was through music that my mother expressed her emotions, through songs, through singing. Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Patti Page … they were Ma’s soulmates. “I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz/an old friend I happened to see/I introduced her to my darling/and while they were dancing/my friend stole my sweetheart from me.”

Says it all.



The song:


By Rosalie Tirella

The videocassette of SHANE. photos: R.T.

SHANE. Such a terrific film. Such graceful performances. So many complex feelings and complicated conversations. Mystery made extra haunting because the action unfolds against the Teton mountains in Wyoming, filmed so beautifully. (Shane won the 1953 Oscar for best cinematography). You can learn some American history watching SHANE – open range cattlemen being supplanted by the new homesteaders; hired gun fighters being replaced by the rule of law. But there’s so much more to this 1953 Western directed by George Stevens and starring Alan Ladd. Mostly you can learn about love – the cozy, deep, familial kind and the exotic, exciting, restless kind. The unrequited kind and the kind that comes with rose-gold satin wedding gowns and forever vows.

Little Joey, Marian and Joe Starett

The film begins with Shane, a tanned, handsome Ladd wearing a fringed buckskin outfit, riding onto the property of homesteader Joe Starett – Van Heflin – and his wife Marion – Jean Arthur. The Staretts, farmers in the middle of their work day, look grubby. Ladd, arguably the territory’s fiercest gunfighter, looks glamorous. Naturally, the Staretts’ little boy, Joey, is starstruck by this very cool interloper. And for all his sex appeal, Shane is a super sensitive type, sensing the boy’s curiosity, innocence – and sweetness. He likes him. So he rides right up to Joey, who’s sitting on a fence, and says, “You were watching me for a while, weren’t you boy?” Joey sits quietly, with his head down, too shy to answer Shane. Shane reassures him: “I like a man who watches things…It means he’ll make his mark some day.”

Joey lifts up his head, smiling …

Shane sees Marian through the cabin window and is immediately attracted, drawn to a love, a life, he’s probably never known. I believe Marian is attracted to Shane, too. After all, it’s Marian who asks her husband to ask Shane to stay for dinner and spend the night. This happens after a misunderstanding surrounding Joey’s unloaded rifle and a startled Shane showing his true gunslinger instincts. Shane is slight, not very tall. Alan Ladd had a movie career full of standing on platforms to look as tall as costars or costars standing in trenches to look shorter than Ladd. In SHANE director Stevens let’s him just be, and it adds to Ladd’s portrayal of the taciturn gunfighter, gives Shane another dimension. After all, it’s more about brains than brawn. We see the physical puniness of Shane, yet marvel how it’s erased by his self-confidence, skill and sheer guts. He has a quiet lethality all his own.

Yet something in Marian’s serving of the slices of homemade pie, after her home-cooked dinner … pie with fresh coffee, with the special dessert forks … the quiet beauty and goodness of wife and mother Marian that moves Shane. After dinner – during which Shane furtively catches glimpses of Marian cooking over the hot stove, pouring the coffee at the supper table, serving a slice of pie to her son – Shane walks to the window and then to the seated Marian and thanks her: “It was an elegant dinner, Mrs. Starett.” Now it’s our turn to realize Shane is the elegant one here. Shane the poet, for whatever reasons, has made his living by his fancy gun.

How did such a man end up leading such a murderous life?

Now, seeing Marian, loving Joey, too, Shane – who’s handsome enough to have had any woman during his travels – realizes what he’s been missing, what he really wants. When husband Joe asks Shane during supper, “Where you headed?” Shane, his eyes sheepishly settling on Marian, says: “Some place I’ve never been.”

It’s a snow day: watch the film!

Marian understands. Husband Joe, a good, decent man full of integrity and honesty and his own brand of bravery, is a bit clueless here and grunts his approval before taking another bite of a chicken wing.

The Ryker brothers, the open range cattlemen hell bent on busting up the Staretts and the other homesteaders’ farms so they can run their thousands of head of cattle to market and to graze, are getting more aggressive with Joe and friends. They want these newbies OUT of their world. So they bully them and destroy their farms bit by bit: tear down fences one day, run their steer over planted crops another day. They kill a family’s sow sucking her piglets. The head Ryker boy eventually hires a professional gunfighter, Wilson – another Shane, only sadistic – played by Jack Palance – to murder Joe. Ryker knows that with leader Joe dead the other homesteaders will crumple.

So it’s up to Joe Starett – says Joe – to fight Ryker and save everybody. But he doesn’t know there’s a professional gunslinger – Wilson – waiting for him at Grafton’s general store and saloon. Shane knows what Joe’s up against and tells him he’s no match for Wilson. He’ll do the killing for Joe…and for Marian and Little Joey, whom he grows to love more and more each day. And the other homesteaders. Joe has hired Shane to help him on the farm, and Shane has gotten to know and like the other hardworking families. Shane, who respects Joe, has been staying on as his farm hand/ laborer … and friend. During this time Shane’s feelings for Marian grow stronger, and she senses she is falling for Shane, too.

What if your soulmate rides up to your family farm one day – and makes you feel feelings you never felt before? What if looking out a rain-streaked window, you see him, the one, hat on head, leather jacket soaked, his handsome face drowning in rain drops, looking back at you. You. The only one … with such sadness and longing. But you’re a mother. And you’ve been married for 10 years to a good man who loves and respects you and provides for you. What can you do but tell your little boy: “Don’t get to liking Shane too much …”

“Why not, Ma?”

“Because some day he’ll be moving on, and you’ll be upset.”

Then you blow out the flame in your lamp, and all of a sudden it’s dark.

What if …?

🏘️THE OLD WORCESTER: Bohemian Rhapsody!❤️

By Rosalie Tirella

Rose’s Ward Street digs! Photo: R.T.

Still my all time best digs: a gorgeous fourth floor apartment (two bedrooms) on Ward Street in Worcester’s lower Vernon Hill neighborhood. Chef Joey’s dad’s building. Totally revitalized by Skippy, the family’s long time carpenter, so I got to enjoy real tile squares in the bathroom, sleek hardwood floors, a view of Worcester from my kitchen windows that slayed me every night when I pushed back my sweet kitchen curtains back to look for the steeple of Saint John’s Church, lit up and a perfect white against the cobalt sky. Like all three decker flats there were lots of windows and the kitchen was big. Bonuses: a new gas stove, plus the original pocket door, mahogany, still functional and beautiful. Old Joe Cancelmo installed an extra wood bar in my hall, running the entire length of my hallway, so I could hang up all my coats, jackets and coat sweaters (dozens). I remember the day he and Skippy came up to install it: Skippy scrawny from drink and the cancer; Joe hearty and healthy and confident from money and success. Mr. Cancelmo, as I called him, was an insurance salesman and Woo landlord with many three deckers and buildings under his belt when he and his wife Helene were younger. Now, both in their mid-80s, they were down to four or five Woo buildings. Mr. Cancelmo gave me my first gin and tonic when I visited him and Helene to sign the apartment lease. I had never been asked if I wanted a gin and tonic upon entering someone’s apartment to sign a lease – very continental! And very understand because the senior Cancelmos lived in Southern France – outside Cannes – for half the year and just grooved in a different way than we chaotic Americans. I remember Mr. Cancelmo was wearing a black cap, almost a beret, over his white hair and had a very nice coat. Skippy was wearing a windbreaker that flapped in the breeze. He was borderline homeless for years. Both men died several years ago.

I set up my bedroom in the living room of 48 Ward St. to take advantage of the room’s roundness and three huge windows. I was so happy with all the sunlight pouring in, all my fur babies sleeping with me on that big old bed at night, all my music and a small bookcase filled with my favorite books just at the finger tip. Three strings of twinkly lights were wrapped around the bed’s headboard I had fashioned from a curtain rod and sheer draperie panel. My vintage sheath dress hung elegantly from the window. A big old painting that a biz class pal had painted and given me 20 years ago still hadn’t been donated to the Salvation Army thrift store on Cambridge Street.

More girly than what I have today. Obviously, I mourn the Blackstone River Road theft of my audio cassettes – and my wavy CD stand! – but with a few tweaks, this bedroom in the country could also be perfect Rose Room.

I stopped kidding myself: The days of being creative, living a free, artsy, boho life in Worcester’s older neighborhoods, in nice apartments where you could write short stories, paint, make music and maybe substitute teach on the side to pay your small, manageable bills are over. Worcester’s older three deckers in its old ethnic neighborhoods like Green Island, Vernon Hill, Main South, Piedmont, Quinsigamond Village are no longer priced for us bohemians – or working class families. Having sophisticated old landlords who insist on mixing you a gin and tonic as you sign the paperwork? Forget about it!

The developers are here slicing and dicing the old three deckers and charging exorbitant rents for a quarter of the space. Trying to refashion itself as an artsy city, the new Worcester has actually pushed artistes out. There are no cheap tenements for painters, musicians and writers to ply their trades, to develop as artists. Even if it’s only to find out it’s a hard way to live! So Chalk it Up to youth! Chalk it up to idealism … and become a full time teacher and savor the memories of exploration and dreams! Now, today in Worcester? You’ve got a hollowed out, ugly Downtown…an overpriced, over-built Canal District. The old great restaurants, cheap yet culinary treasures, are gone. Poof! The funky three deckers and airy light filled apartments with the old ethnic landlords who weren’t greedy but emotionally tied to their property! Because they grew up in the building or their wife was born on the first floor or their sister still lives on the second floor and sometimes his wife still dreams about the old Perry Ave apartment even though now they live in a nice single family house on the other side of town …

My entire InCity Times newspaper writing adventure got started in Worcester almost a quarter of a century ago because the city was so inexpensive – housing, cool eateries, shops – you name it. I never felt poor as a young woman banging out InCity Times every two weeks in Worcester, from various three decker flats in the city, but I was! But I was happy. Writing, reading, editing stories, selling ads, delivering my papers, working with other writers just as thrilled as I was to have a forum … A blast! I didn’t feel deprived in any way because I was living in Worcester, my hometown – a city where you could chase your crazy dreams. For cheap.

🎂Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme Birthday Cake🎂

By Rosalie Tirella

Earlier today. Photo: R.T.

My mom’s birthday was the 22nd, just a few days ago. Maybe that’s why, when out grocery shopping a few hours ago, I gravitated to the Duncan Hines Strawberry Supreme cake mix in the bakers aisle. When we were little kids growing up in Green Island Ma always made Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme cake for our birthdays. I think she liked the pink cake for her little girls.

Her formula never failed: at the kitchen table, wearing the old orange half apron that my sister sewed for her at the Girls Club on Winthrop Street … Very serious … No talking to Ma to spoil her concentration … And no running or jumping when the cake was in the old gas oven – it might “drop.”

First the cake mix, eggs, water and vegetable oil coming together in her one and only big mixing bowl – a pale green one in which she did all her mixing: Betty Crocker boxed brownies, homemade chocolate chip cookies – and our Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme birthday cakes. That was my mother’s sweet-baking repertoire. All through my childhood, she never strayed from the tried and true. No coconut cream pies or apple turnovers or exotic ingredients like lemon rind for Ma. She had found her baking niche and was comfortable in it and stayed in that Eisenhower era groove until we were in high school.

I always watched Ma make my birthday cake and licked our big green mixing bowl after she poured the pink, fragrant batter into her two square cake tins. She only had the two. No Bundt cake pan or round cake pans for us…we were so poor! But Ma did splurge for three cupcake tins at White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street. She used them to make Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme cupcakes for our school bake sales at Lamartine Street School. To have my pretty mother walking down Lafayette Street with us (we never had a car), to our school!, with a dress box full of her Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme cupcakes, all neatly lined up like kids coming into Lamartine after recess, beautifully arranged – my mother was a perfectionist – on a layer or two of “wax paper,” well, my sisters and I were so proud! We ran around our mother giggling. We looked up at her now beaming face and vied for her attention and approval. Our mother had the most beautiful smile to go with the most beautiful cupcakes!

Rose’s mom, CECELIA, in her youth. Bridgette, one of her beloved Dobbies, was her favorite dog of all time!

After delivering the treats to our classroom at Lamartine or the school auditorium, wherever parents were supposed to drop off their baked goods, Ma would turn to the front door and then walk out of our school, down Grosvenor Street and up Lafayette to the drycleaners on Millbury Street, where she was a “counter girl” for 60 hours a week. For minimum wage. 40 hours regular pay check. Twenty hours under the table for cash. Our father was a bum who decided supporting a wife and three kids cramped his style. So he contributed pretty much … nothing. No money towards rent or the gas bill, no little gifts for Ma or us kids, not even a kind word or two, and definitely no birthday presents for anybody. Ever. Hell, he never once watched any of his three girls blow out the candles on their Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme birthday cakes. We never missed him!

Rose’s kid sister in her party dress

Back to baking…Then Ma, in our big old kitchen, would take a box of Pillsbury chocolate frosting mix out of our kitchen cubbard – a tall white metal medicine cabinet, second hand, our father had picked up during his junk travels, the one whose right door was always flinging open – and she would make the frosting expertly by adding softened butter to the dark powder – in a large cereal bowl. Voila! Smooth, creamy chocolate frosting – which I also tasted. Then Ma would frost the cool cakes after she had carefully placed one on top of the other. A double decker dream cake! Then she’d grab a small jar of bright red happy maraschino cherries out of the refrigerator – she had bought them special for decorating the cake – and cut the cherries in half with a steak knife. Then she’d place the cherries all along the top border of the frosted cake and on its sides, too. Finally, the special pink plastic flower birthday candle holders that she used year after year would make their appearance and she’d artfully arrange the candle holders on the cake, each holder representing one year. And then the five and ten cent store candles from White’s. Always new. Always a soft pink, green, yellow and blue …

Bapy … not too happy on birthday party day!

And then Ma leading us, her girls, in the Happy Birthday song after we had eaten our dinner. Cake time! Often Ma would throw a birthday party for us and invite her two sisters and their husbands and kids, our cousins, over to help us celebrate. Bapy, our Polish immigrant grandmother, lived with us, so she never missed a birthday party. All the noise and people grated on her nerves. … Then out came my mother’s cute pin the tail on the donkey game. Taped to our beige kitchen wall. Out came my purple taffeta party dress with the lilac ribbon for a belt. Out came the dozen or so party hats and paper horns from White’s Five and Ten. My aunts had married into the middle class and lived in nice homes in the Burncoat area and across from Hadwen Park. We were poor and living in an old three decker on Lafayette Street. But you wouldn’t have known it if you’d heard the laughter and the joking, watched us kids play happily together or the grownups flirt and make fun … and ate a slice of my mother’s Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme birthday cake, with maraschino cherries on top.
Rose and her two kid sisters, in the Lafayette Street “parlor,” mid-1960s.

❤️love columns


By Rosalie Tirella

RUMOURS on the turntable! Photos: R.T.

Here at the shack: listening to the ultimate make up/break up/make up album – Fleetwood Mac’s RUMOURS, which I’ve owned since I was 17! Still a terrific LP to dance to and listen to. Still, beautiful and true, with its songs about players, cheaters, true love, moving on, girl bravado…”You make loving fun!” … “Songbird,” Christine’s deep love song slays me these days … touches me in ways it never touched me when I was a teenager.

My YOUTH. Spent decades ago! A terrific memory around this album: My gal pals and I skipped school one day and left our senior classes at Burncoat High in the dust when we piled into Kathy’s jalopy and headed to Hampton Beach. We were six Honors/AP students skipping school for the first time. We were cute, pretty. One of us was a true Irish beauty. We were giddy, silly, tentative. The car was an 8-cylinder, maybe a Nova?, with a dying muffler. It had serious giddyap but looked like hell: a bronzy, brown, silver behemoth whose color I could never figure out. Its roof was pock-mocked as if Kathy routinely drove through sandstorms. Foam was jutting through a busted seam of the backseat. One of its windows couldn’t crank down all the way. No matter! We felt like girly kryptonite! We were graduating high school and ditching all its suffocating rules and boring teachers in their suits and ties (the men) and LEGGS panty hose (the ladies) … We were saying bye bye!! to our parents (very Catholic second-generation strict), heading to college (hundreds, maybe thousands, of cute boys awaited us!) … and becoming who we wanted to be: doctors, writers, math geniuses.

The band! Back cover art, from the lp RUMOURS.

Our soundtrack up and back to the beach on that perfect sunny day? – literally, because Kath had an 8-track player in her dashboard and only one 8 track tape – RUMOURS. We knew all the tunes by heart and sang every song over and over again, loudly, to the tree tops that lined the wide open highway that day …feeling so free! Kathy couldn’t carry a tune but our other friend, Sue, had a pretty voice. Together, they tried to harmonize, laughing at their musical mashup and, maybe, Sue placing one of her elegant arms over the shoulder of Kathy, our chauffeur, a bit chubby but still cute and a very fast driver.

Looking back, I think it was one of the most innocent, happiest days of my life.



By Rosalie Tirella

One of Rose’s homemade Valentine’s.

I didn’t have the dough for Valentine’s Day cards this year, so I made a few yesterday. Sent them out late. Weird: I had hoped to just get it over with, another task to plow thru during my recovery, but I found the project absorbing, fun and … romantic. I dug up some nice white, card stock in a binder. About 50 sheets. Had it for four or five years – a delight to pull out of the mover’s box, after 17 months of homelessness! Made me feel refined…after pissing in parking lots, sleeping in a few too many dirt bag motels I needed to see that pristine white card stock.

So I pulled out a few old illustrated kids books I keep on a shelf and some note cards and note paper. Scotch tape, colored yarn, scissors, all at the ready.

Then I made my Valentine’s Day card #1 – my first since grade school! It was for a gal pal – a thank you note for her help these days, as well as a Valentine’s Day wish. To make it, I ripped off the book jacket of a romance novel I picked up – a lurid portrait of the bodice ripper contained within! There was the gorgeous hunk, his long dark hair whipping in the wind. There was his lady love, protesting, yet still in his arms, her bodice half torn, her round, voluptuous ta-ta’s heaving. I tore the picture carefully around its edges and scotch-taped it on to the middle of the white card stock. Then I took some blue yarn, the eye lash kind, and placed it along my card’s border taping and trimming the edges. Then I wrote my note to my friend and punched a hole in the top corner and ran some yarn through it in case she wanted to hang it up – at work! Ha!

Then I filled a nice jar with doggy treats for another friend’s Valentine’s Day gift. For his dog, rather. Wrapped the top with more pretty yarn and attached a note:


Finally, the old beau’s card: he’s saved all my greeting cards over these past 20 years almost – when we were going out and when we became “just friends.” His girlfriend said he’s a got a special table dedicated to all my cards, birthday, Easter, Christmas, Saint Patrick’s Day, Get Well, Thinking of You … a place where they stand up proud, opened for him to see every day. He’s also got a Rose wall: the pictures of birds and flowers I’ve given him over the years and the framed photos of Bailey, my old retriever, and the framed picture of Jett and me, outside his house, me hugging my new little pup. Jett eying an escape … Jett looks beautiful; I’m sporting an ugly haircut.

The Old Beau’s had quite the few years… surgeries galore (typical of retired contractors/carpenters after a life spent crawling on rooves, hauling doors and installing windows) – and now this latest incident, a “heart incident” in his car, passing out, vomiting in a Shaws plastic bag. The ambulance came and took him away. He was getting a pace maker put in at St. V’s yesterday as I made his Valentine’s Day card. Or a redo surgery, as the first pacemaker operation went awry – the surgeon left in a malfunctioning wire so “Fred,”‘s heart – the electrical hub of the body – was misfiring. The surgeon was going in again to fix the wire situation.

I said to Fred: We’re in rough waters. Me with my accident. Now you with yours.

Fred was in his hospital room, annoyed and said: I lunged at a male nurse today. He told me I couldn’t go home, couldn’t discharge myself home. So I lunged at him. He ran out of the room. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

In a hospital johnny, misfiring old ticker, the old beau was still the toughest guy in the joint. I heard the undercurrent of pride in his still sexy voice. Yes, he’d kick ass to get where he needed to go: HOME. After his big operation a few years back, Fred was placed in a rehab center in Webster. It was nothing more than a glorified rest home. No exercises. Unhealthy meals. Just lying on his back all day. He wasn’t doing that again.

Years ago, watching him drink his beers and smoke his cigar after a long day’s work Fred seemed cool and distant. Which he was. And self absorbed and selfish. Which he was. I was in love!

So yesterday I made this old tough guy a Valentine’s card. Which I know he’ll keep forever. Which made me work, want to try to capture the essence of the unfathomable Fred … to think about Fred and his likes as I leafed through the outdated Christopher Columbus kids book was a joy. Looking for the art to illustrate his card made me smile. There were many illustrations. There were many memories. Here, in the book, was a drawing of Columbus as a baby in his crib, then another – Columbus giving colored beads to an Indian, as a gift; then Columbus chatting with a stern Queen Isabella sitting on her fancy throne. All lies …until the drawings of Columbus adrift, almost drowning, in the ocean, hanging to the bow of a ship half submerged in the sea. There was a ship, wrecked. Funny, his hair wasn’t wet in the illustration – in fact it looked like the old Beau’s hair style of many years ago. A kind of Dutch Boy Paints haircut that the he eventually grew out and into a Greg Allman hair in style – very long and fine, parted in the middle and dyed platinum blond. So I cut out that illustration because it reminded me of Fred’s almost drowning in rough waters.

Then, on the next page, I saw a seagull flying over a placid ocean and he was framed in a window, and I remembered how Fred loved all birds and how once in Boston, before a Moody Blues concert, after dinner at one of the few restaurants at the wharf before all the redevelopment, before the shiny new modern museum, he and I took out a bunch of bread from our dinner table and started throwing it up into the sky to the scores of seagulls flying just inches above our heads. More than hovering. I didn’t even have to reach up to touch their grey or white bellies! They cawed and cawed into our ears and it was like being in a dream, them swooping over us again and again to grab the pieces of bread we held up to them. We were engulfed. It was like being in a huge seagull igloo, white, beige, the strong claws and beaks…the sky blotted out, just the birds’ loud cawing and the ocean churning just yards away. Then the romantic concert … Justin Heywood and the boys sounding perfect, singing all their ’70s hits: Nights in White Satin, Tuesday Afternoon, Blue Guitar … I was swept away in a wave of happiness…

Now I was stuck home, recovering. The old Beau was stuck eating cold hospital food and listening to loud hospital TV. I made a call to the hospital’s kitchen to rectify the food situation. Luis, the worker there, promised me he’d bring up some tasty food to my old boyfriend, as soon as we got off the phone. Calling him later, Fred told me: the scrambled eggs were still cold! The food sucks!

And, finally, the last picture book illustration: the tools of Columbus’ trade – not exactly a hammer and a nail gun, but interesting looking. I knew Fred would know what they were and how they worked. He was just like that: so smart about all trades, fascinated by all the tools. For years he carted around his grandfather’s level with him because it was beautiful – and he used it because he said it was better than the Home Depot stuff. I remember watching him tying up his ropes in a fancy braid at the end of his day – not in a pedestrian coil like most carpenters would do. His grandfather, also a carpenter, had taught Fred how to tie those fancy braids when Fred was just a teenager … They hung from the poles in the back of Fred’s shiny red truck looking more decorative than utilitarian.

All this is what I loved about the old beau. Why I loved him. And I tried to put it in my homemade card. It was good to remember it all this Valentine’s Day.