Wow. Here we all are – in our own science fiction novel. Dystopian with classic characters and situations:
THE EVIL PRESIDENT/KING who misleads the people to stay in power and maintain his cult of personality. The rush to supply stores to buy THAT LAST TINY BOTTLE OF HAND SANITIZER! IT COULD SAVE LIVES! There is NO VACCINE! WE MUST ALL USE COMMON SENSE … but, at the end, it will mean ruthlessly fending for ourselves and our families. Scientests are working hard to make a vaccine, BUT THE KING PRESIDENT HIDES AND DENIES THE SCIENCE. He doesn’t make (for every man, woman and child) – and we🇺🇸 can – THE CORONAVIRUS TEST. He continues to spend Billions$$$ on THE SPACE FORCE. AND BOMBS. So … it is survival of the fittest. The young and healthy will survive …the old – our moms, dads, grandparents – may die as the puny number of VENTILATORS AND RESPIRATORS are given – by the doctors – to the peeps with the most potential: young worker bees …
THIS IS AMERICA TODAY – FOR THE NEXT HALF YEAR OR SO. Some experts predict TWO YEARS.
And our mad/king president Trump is NOT UP TO THE CRISIS. He is no FDR during WW II or JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. HE IS A FU* *ING MORON. We, his people, all know this. There is talk of a soft coup … FBI just quietly asking him to step aside, self-quarantine for a while. … Then we get Pence – the VEEP who calls his wife Mama and let scores of AIDS patients die when he ruled Indiana…
My sci fi novel outline … Needs a hero. Maybe MICHAEL MOORE AND HIS PODCAST RUMBLE♥️. MAYBE SOME GENIUS KID AT WPI who makes the vaccine next week …
Yesterday, I know I looked silly, but I decided to eat my lunch in the old Green Street parking lot. Deep in the parking lot, in my car, yards away from shored-up banks of dirt, big gaping holes in the land, big trucks and the far-off hum of construction equipment, too many tools and trucks to count or tease out the specific sounds … of jack hammers, cranes, forklifts, hoses. TOO MANY TOO COUNT!!! And all in that gawd-awful safety color yellow. A Kelley Square STUFFED WITH URBAN RENEWAL MAYHEM!
Lunch time! pics: R.T.
Green Street – construction city
The Picket Parking lot is on the edge (near downtown/the Green Street Bridge) of my old stamping grounds – Green Street/Kelley Square, the shopping district of my childhood where there was so much fun – and pain. I let it all wash over my old face: memories of an immigrant neighborhood filled with great/crazy people, food, small businesses, big dreams. No one was trying to be unique back then – no one humble bragged on Facebook about their recent jaunt to Disneyland (we were all too poor to go anywhwre!), but we all were so kick a*s!♥️ DIFFERENT, UNIQUE, WEIRD, and wounded …
So yesterday I ate, seriously, quietly, inside my car, my mutts in the back seat, deep inside the Pickett Municipal parking lot, my Broadway lunch. A big bagel cheese and veggie sandwich with fresh homefries made by Broadway sweet short order cook “Iggly,” who chats with me while he makes my lunch. He calls me “talented” in a matter of fact way while dropping my bagel in the wide-slatted toaster. I smile widely and feel like a million bucks. The Old Worcester!
The Pickett parking lot, soon to be defunct. Soon to be a Woo Sox stadium entrance cum pocket park. In a city that is slow to physically transform itself, a city where it COMFORTS me to drive by the my old, 100-year-old elementary school and the 100-year-old three deckers of my Green Island girlhood, SO MANY BIG CHANGES HAPPENING. … Me and my ilk about to fall over the edge.
Looking at all the construction trucks and big holes and shored-up banks of dirt, I think: THAT IS WHAT THE POWERS THAT BE WANT TO HAPPEN. Us to go away, quietly fade away …
I look out my car window as I drive outa the lot, having eaten my excellent lunch, and see all the well off – and the very poor and homeless!! – in the Canal District. They walk by each other but don’t mix. Or maybe we mix but definitely do not match! … Nothing for us underclassers…All the new construction and still NO FULL SERVICE BANK BUILT for poor locals who don’t own cars…still no Price Chopper or real supermarket that is affordable…THAT ACCEPTS EBT CARDS/FOOD STAMPS.
Blatantly two-tier…the way city big wigs want it to be. They want us out. I shed two tears …
… many more …
Yesterday, as I was driving through Kelley Square and dealing with THE TRUCK IN REVERSE, and taking pics of THE TRUCK IN REVERSE, I realized, later on, as I looked at my photos: THERE IS A HUGE TRENDY BAR JUTTING RIGHT INTO KELLEY SQUARE!! And across the street there is another BAR/BBQ feeding into Kelley Square. And up Green Street and on Water Street there are more BARS/GLORIFIED PUBS where patrons can guzzle alcohol – get drunk, whoozy, booze-buzzed – and then DRIVE THROUGH KELLEY SQUARE. Get into their cars and DRIVE RIGHT INTO KELLEY SQUARE TRAFFIC! The rats’ maze that it is now – or the new multi-laned Peanut Mess which will have cars driving thru at a FASTER speed because it will be multi-laned and laid out straight by Mass DOT.
WOW. Think about it – all up and down Green and Water streets: 20 to 25 bars/pubs where you can drink beer, wine, mimosas, martinis … AND THEN DRIVE THROUGH KELLEY SQUARE.
So different from my childhood WHEN KELLEY SQUARE WAS REALLY ABOUT WORKING CLASS PEOPLE, THEIR BUSINESSES AND THEIR KIDS. I grew up on Lafayette Street and felt: Kelley Square was a serious/fun biz district that accommodated my mom and us kids. We had:
Jack and Jill children’s clothing store on Green Street – great for First Holy Communion dresses and pocketbooks and Easter dresses
Atlas Fabric Store on Green Street – millions of yards of all kinds of fabric for our moms and grandmas – or anyone who liked to sew skirts, dresses, coats, etc.
Molly the hairdresser for those brillo pad shaped curly perms for moms and grannies – and cheap haircuts for us kids. Cheap and basic.
Then the Automotive Parts Distributors biz on Kelley Sq…and next to it, the blue collar/working class King of Kelley Square, where Allen Fletcher’s building now sits and houses the Wachusett brewery mega bar that juts into Kelley Square: Edward’s Paint. BIG, MAJESTIC, A GIGANTIC NEON SIGN EDWARDS PAINT SIGN. Pink I think. At Edwards: thousands of gallons of paint, paint brushes, rollers, painters pants, paint trays, heavy canvas drop cloths, infinite paint colors … ALL MEANT for Worcester’s contractors, handymen, house painters, do-it-your-selfers. The worker bees of Worcester.🐝🐝🐝🐝
Then Water Street: strictly for families and fun. Not a barroom in sight. A special place for fsmilies overflowing with rootbeer floats, homemade pastrami on rye sandwiches, french fries, apple struddel, blueberry pies, birthday cakes!, Babka Bread, brownies, bismarks, BULKIES!!!!!♥️♥️♥️:
Charlies Surplus Sports Store♥️ – kids and adults basketball shorts and jerseys, sweat pants, basketball socks and more! And the gregarious Charlie!♥️
The Broadway Ice Cream Shoppe and restaurant! With its inimitable proprietor, Sam♥️!!! Always Sam looking so natty in his beige sports coat, standing, every Sunday morning, at the Broadway’s front door … to shake hands/greet every man woman and child who walked in! Usually after church – for a hot fudge sundae – icecream made at the Broadway – or a burger and fries or a plate of scrambled eggs, homefries, bagel with cream cheese. Sam made my mom, a single working mom, a counter girl at the dry cleaners on Millbury Street … Sam made Ma feel like a million bucks when she walked in! The warm smile, the handshake, the Hello, girls to us! He made everbody feel special – factory workers, shirt pressers, brick layers, mechanics and short order cooks.
Water Street was great! No bars. No pubs. No booze. … ABSOLUTELY BUILT FOR workers, then KIDS AND PARENTS – AND FUN AND SUGAR HIGHS! You could spend your day on Water and Green streets AND DRIVE HOME THROUGH KELLEY SQUARE unscathed. Or you could walk across it, like Ma, me and my kid sisters did. Holding hands. Looking two, three, four ways … serious but feeling safe.
Crossing Kelley Square with a grin because we just had icecream cones at the Broadway or bought a dozen bulkies for home at Widoffs. All affordable – all made for the working families of the neighborhood, Green Island and Vernon Hill – and any other Worcester guy or gal with a few bucks in his or her pocket.
My uncle’s gold Electra sailed effortlessly through Kelley Square – with all of us kids and grownups in it – to the 290 on ramp…He had just bought two dozen bulkies at Widoffs. For sandwiches my mother and aunt would make at the beach…We were going to Hampton Beach and sailing through our beloved Kelley Square to get there …
…I spied Worcester City Council sweetheart-gadfly “Jo” – the old woman who, for several years, attended each and every Worcester City Council meeting, every Tues nite. And each Tuesday nite Jo got up and calmly railed against the stupidity and pointlessness of Worcester and our elected officials. No one ever really “got” what she was saying, but listening to Jo you felt Worcester was on the brink of an existential crisis. Long grey hair in a smooth pony tail – or in a puffy bouffant sometimes – umbrella and tote bag in hand, a tan raincoat on her slim body, Jo was our inner-city prophet – sometimes speaking in tongues we did not understand. Yet the council – everyone in the room – was always respectful. Haughty yet ever ready with a thin-lipped smile, Jo was da*n serious when she stood up to pontificate – for the papers and the public record and her sense of purpose: WORCESTER’S SIDEWALKS WERE A MESS, THE LEADERS OF THE CITY CLUELESS, THE INFRASTRUCTURE NONEXISTENT. … Didn’t we all get it? Couldn’t we SEE?
Still, it broke my heart when I saw a disheveled, confused looking Jo walking down Front Street. Without that sense of haughty purpose. Without that lean, clean, angular walk – sometimes too hell bent on fixing Woecester to walk on our crumby sidewalks! She walked in the gutter, agsinst downtown traffic.
So it was no surprise to hear that this winter, while walking the streets of Worcester, she was hit by a truck. A plow truck.
Seeing her at a shop, seeing her in our downtown – NOT SEEING HER AT CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS – makes me sad. … I called out to her from my car when I saw her on Front Street yesterday: Hi, Jo! Do you need a lift? Where are you going? Walking past CVS, she said: The Worcester Court House! … A sweet Latina girl helped her cross the street and get into my car. My mutts were happy to see a new person in the jalopy, I held her coffee as she struggled to get in. The girl held her bag and eased her in … A Mass State Police SUV pulled up aside of me: A PROBLEM?! … I said: No officer, this woman has special needs. I am giving her a ride. He hurumphed: YOU’RE BLOCKING TRAFFIC.
In the car Jo immediately told me I had the heat on too high and that her legs were burning up from my heater. “It’s a mild day,” she said, giving me that famous don’t you get it? look. Exasperated at my stupidity. …She had a point. It WAS pretty mild out yesterday.
She wore a big grey plastic neck brace. Her pocketbook was old and faded in spots, her shoes too big, her hair chopped like from razor strokes or a crazy at home infront of the mirror haircut. Four inch, two inch strands of hair jutted out from the back of her head.
I said: Are you Ok? Safe? A place to live? She said YES. What about a social worker from Elder Services popping over to help? I asked. She said: Nope. I am an independent sort. Besides, my building is a dump. I said: We haven’t seen you at council meetings. She said: Soon. She is still recovering from being hit by a truck.
I dropped Jo off at the Worc Courthouse on Main and made a mental note of the newer clothing, pocketbook, shoes Jo needed. Then I texted Dorrie for the goodies…
And as Jo, now hunchbacked and unsteady in the slush, trudged to the Courthouse Library, I yelled: SEE YOU AT CITY COUNCIL, JO!
Yesterday, I took my dogs out to the country for a run. Foggy ride up the hills, foggy meadow at the top. I tried to watch my ghost dogs … couldn’t see them. But a shout or two or three from me, and out of the mist … Lilac, front paws outstretched and muddy and snow-covered … still carrying her winter fat, but wanting to RUN REALLY FAST, despite her layer of chub. Jett running, too, wearing his relaxed Husky “smile,” as I shout “HOME, JETT!” He’s in love with me and I him.
Yesterday: fogsville. pic: Rose T.
❄️In my car it is all Elliott Smith all the time these days on my CD player … So, for the ride home, I pop in his first solo CD: “Elliott Smith.” Songs Smith wrote when he was 17, 19. His songs are BRILLIANT. ALL OF THEM. Not a dud in the bunch – and he was prolific! Smith’s songs are wonderfully melodic … my brain unreels, gets cozy, when I listen to them. But his lyrics are brutal, mournful, angry, witty, wry: PURE PUNK. So … yesterday, driving home, down the big hill in New England-winter time, white fog and mist enveloping my jalopy, struggling to follow the disappearing curve in the road, my feelings raw, I HEARD – FOR THE FIRST TIME – his “Southern Belle.”
And I got it.
Got his story – to me: the Southern Belle = his mom (he was born and spent his childhood in Texas). The killer of the Southern Belle = his stepdad. The narrator of the song = Elliott, a youth, the once upon a time little child who was sexually abused, molested, by his step dad. Elliott is adding it all up AND EXPLODING. In his song he nails his step dad’s – a preacher – personality. A screamer who makes others feel like crap. “You give people hell/It’s what they expect from you …” A preacher preachin’ , a sick f**k who ruined the Southern Belle’s (Elliott’s mom) life. Elliott sings: Aren’t you “sorry that you’re the one she got?”
He hates his stepfather for doing secret, terrible things to him – this hypocritical pillar of the community: “How come you’re not ashamed of what you are?” … “I wouldn’t have you how you want”
Elliott doesn’t want to be around his stepdad – he leaves home, runs away, at 14 to move in with his psychiatrist (biological) Dad in Portland, Oregon. “I don’t want to walk around/and breathe the air you breathe” he sings to his step dad. Softly. Enraged. He wonders HOW CAN YOU LIVE WITH YOURSELF after what he did to a little kid – him? “How come you’re not ashamed of what you are?” And for wrecking his mom’s life: “and sorry that you’re the one she got.”
The sick secrets of a child molester, Elliott nails them: “Aint nobody looking now. Nobody about to shout …” Seeing “red” – the community doesn’t see red, the alarms don’t go off. The predator’s a phony and his prey are quiet, helpless children.
In the song, only when I play the CD in my car CD player, can you really hear Smith’s devastation – which, I believe, he never overcame, stabbing himself twice in the heart at 34 and killing himself. …
… “But I wouldn’t have you how you want,”(me to be) Elliott sings angrily but with such intimacy. YOU MADE ME YOUR VICTIM – I WON’T BE YOUR VICTIM! And he isn’t when he’s singing and writing and performing to show, figure out and transcend his pain. Even for only a song. … You hear: Elliott shredding his guitar strings – this sounds, on his acoustic guitar, positively percussive! Loud without the volume! … Shaken, struggling to drive thru the fog, I had to pull into someone’s driveway yesterday to regroup and whisper … WOW.
A few weeks ago, I drove by her and smiled – happy at our chance encounter. I had almost forgotten her! My Aurora! Remorseful, I tried to snap a picture of her while driving by in my jalopy, but my cell phone camera wobbled in my left hand (I’m right-handed) so I missed the shot, especially with all the Main Street traffic speeding between us.
Downtown Worcester: I would have just driven by Aurora, over my left shoulder. pic: Rose T.
Aurora! The Main South enchantress of my Worcester childhood! The star of – the star ON! – the Aurora Hotel on Main Street – that 4-story-high red brick building almost on the corner of Main and Chandler streets! The beautiful, long-haired, swan-necked, life-sized Greek Goddess drawn onto the front entrance of the old downtown Aurora Hotel. Her figure cut into one of the Hotel’s entryway stone columns – a permanent “drawing” for all to admire: the smooth lines of the folds of her robe, the straight, noble nose, the dainty bare feet – sandal-less, naked, even in January! Aurora of the Aurora Hotel! Still young and flawless, face smooth and unwrinkled, just as you were when I stood before you to admire you 50 years ago! Eyes staring away in calm wonder. I bowed before you, Aurora! You were unmoved! Yet you continue to grace all the poor pedestrians hurrying by you to shops, to cafes, to city hall, to bus stops.
Drawn into stone, yet walking amongst us: the Hispanic grocery shoppers, men in recovery, drug sellers with their tiny white square packets … desperate women, addicted to heroin or crack, and willing to do anything for their fix. In their youth, some as beautiful as you, Aurora!
Goddess Aurora of the Aurora Hotel dreamily floating in stone, down Main Street, still with us – after all these many many years! Artsy signage for the old flophouse of my Worcester childhood. Before that, maybe a nice place to live for aging actors, or work space for a city photographer (Mr. Cocaine!). Later, for a decade or so, Aurora actually adorned the entrance way to the NEW main art gallery for Arts Worcester located on the ground floor of the Aurora Hotel! Wow. West Side matrons, patrons and art lovers inside the Aurora during art show openings, tumblers of white wine in their soft hands. Worcester cops outside the Aurora Hotel – now a non-profit residential building with studio apartments and rooms for rent to recovering women alcoholics/drug addicts – the cops with their guns in holsters, standing erect in their blue uniforms in the crosswalk in front of the old hotel … making sure all the beautiful people felt safe inside and the neighborhood people felt unwelcome outside the Aurora. What a picture that made!
But I will always remember the old Aurora Hotel of my childhood – its lobby a portal for the old Aurora clientele: bums going in and out with their flies open.
Shopping Goddess Aurora! As a little girl walking by you you made me happy because 1. You were so beautiful and 2. Ma, my two sisters and I were walking to my favorite store in the whole wide world, THE MART, just three or four doors down! (now a neighborhood supermarket) … Flawless, your dress never dirty or wrinkled, your eyes wide open, never droop-lidded like my tired and weary Ma’s – you said to me: Ask Ma to buy you a pretty MART dress, Rosalie! Run downstairs to the pet section and nag your mother into buying you a pretty little grey and white mouse – the one with bulging red eyes!
There she was. Still is! Aurora! On the hotel wall! Waiting for me. For you? For everybody! A new Downtown Worcester emerges – all the new murals and street art diminish Aurora. But only slightly. She is still beautiful and still calmly wafts above all the City of Worcester craziness. She’s been around for maybe almost 100 years. She will be here when we are gone – have stopped all our yammering about taxes and racism and potholes!
Aurora! The Roman Goddess of Dawn! Tiny waisted, every day you dreamily usher in the new day, announce the sun to all Worcesterites! City manager, mayor, college kids, junkies, house wives, doctors, babies, cabbies … you greet us with grace! And then you slide back onto your column by the revolving doors of the Aurora Hotel.♥️
Elliott Smith and this Elliott Smith song were the inspirations for this column.
I suppose I would have to ring out the Old Year and ring in the New Year with this disturbing image … Driving in Worcester’s Canal District, my old Kelley Square, two days ago in my new jalopy …
… I saw this sight: my beloved childhood pit-stop, Widoff’s Bakery, the bakery my extended family pounced on before our day trips to Hampton Beach for our two dozen Bulkie rolls for sandwiches, now transformed into a trendy, expensive, hipster gym! Our old reliable Bulkie roll factory (plain or covered with poppy seeds) that for decades filled the hole in my kid sisters and my stomach as we popped in after school to say HI! to the nice counter girl and buy 3 bulkies – 1 bulkie for each of us – so we could eat a very inexpensive after-school snack – gone, forever. The big, pillowy bulkie rolls so tasty they didn’t need a smidgen of butter or jam! After school, my two kids sisters and I walked down Water Street, crossed Kelley Square, then trotted down Millbury and hooked a right onto our street, Lafayette, eating our warm bulkies, so good, and talking about the nuns at my sisters’ school or the upcoming science fair at my school, Lamartine Street School. Widoffs and one of my kid sisters especially were the two loves of my young girlhood. Now, both gone. I taste the bread of life … it is the bread of my life!
Widoffs, the sweet baker’s shop where my sweet mother, tired from her 60-hour-work week at the sweat-shop dry cleaners down the road would come in to buy her favorite donut – the whipped cream and raspberry filled, powder-sugar-dusted, long, phallic, gigantic Bavarian. GONE. DEAD. Both of them. Forever!
Widoff’s. Always so famous in our city it was known to all Worcesterites as just “Widoffs,” the way everyone knew “Spaggs” as just Spaggs. An immigrant city with immigrant nicknames for the places it loved most. Both gone now.
For a half century, Widoffs was the destination of every Sunday morning church goer in Worcester who drove, walked, ran, or skeedaddled! to Widoffs (and Ledermans Bakery, right across the street), after attending Sunday Mass to buy a dozen of bulkies. For Sunday dinner. For sandwiches for the work week. They were always just-out-of-the-oven hot and maddeningly fragrant! And they were nestled in a crisp, medium-sized brown paper bag that you stuck your face into to get a good, deep, whiff of those fragrant beauties – like the glue sniffers who maybe hung out a few streets down in the old tenements. Always the brown bags. A Widoffs tradition as sacred as the Communion wafers we had just reverently swallowed at St. Mary’s or St. John’s churches.
Rose’s auntie loved her Widoff’s bulkies!
Sometimes we stuck our grubby hands into that hot paper bag, inhaling the warm, doughy aroma, to grab a bulkie to GOBBLE UP RIGHT THERE, IN THE MIDDLE OF WATER STREET, on your way home. You didn’t care! You were intoxicated – drunk with love for your bulkies!
Yeah, we St. Mary’s church or St. John’s church parishoners may have picked up a few brownies or even a birthday cake at Widoffs, but all of us, like brain washed cult members – Hare Krishners but heavier cuz we ate bulkies! – were really at Widoffst for bulkies.
Rose and her kid sisters, just after Mass – bulkie time!!
Sometimes, if the lines were too long at Widoffs (they were so busy you had to go to a ticket machine by the front door and pull a little lever to get a ticket with your service number on it), my mother crossed the street to buy our dozen bulkies at Lederman’s Bakery. Not as yummy, to me. There were known to be many passionate disputes between family members and friends: WHO MADE THE BEST BULKIES? WIDOFFS OR LEDERMANS? The one – or the other?! I was a Widoffs girl!
Now Widoffs has been transformed into A TRENDY GYM! FOR HIPSTERS! COMPLETELY UNRECOGNIZABLE! BOARDED UP with planks of light brown, shiny, fake-wood product! And painted an ugly, drab industrial gray! The topper? An on-trend, stupid, glass garage door – now Widoffs “signature” facade. THE GLASS GARAGE DOOR WILL LET US ALL GAWK AT THE JOCKS who, in turn, can stare at us pedestrians walking down Water Street. (Give ’em The Finger! Watch me!)
This turn of the Green Island gentrification screw hurts most of all – it is like seeing your favorite older cousin – the beautiful one – walking down the church aisle to seal her fate: marry some dolt because he’s got a great job and promises her the usual trappings: house, nice suburb, Virgin Island vacations, blah, blah, blah. I call it Prostitution. In this case, Ed Murphy, the kid-owner of the Widoff’s building, is the pimp, pimping her out to the highest bidder.
Rose today, with her kitty Cece! She is on a perpetual quest for that perfect bulkie!
I really do not like this guy.
Membership to this Banal District gym is almost $160/month! “CRAZY! YOU CRAZY!” as my Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, would say!
Here once lived – LIVED! – my old neighborhood’s shopping district! Open all day … fun, friendly, cheap, delicious, ethnic (Jewish, Polish, Lithuanian), accessible to all! REAL! A haven for outsiders, refugees, laborers and the exploited … the dusty and the damsal in distress. The pious and the predatory. We, our parents or grandparents fled Eastern Europe, the bottom of the barrel for us, and made Worcester our new home. Water Street was our culinary heaven, and it became our adopted city’s cool hangout. The Broadway restaurant, the drugstore that served homemade icecream sundaes, bakeries … Cooks of all ilk – and tourists – welcome!
When my late mother was a little girl, she’d go to the open air markets on Water Street with my grandfather, a Polish immigrant who loved Green Island too. They’d go shopping: buy the family’s bulkies, then vegetables and meat. She once told me of the small, trained monkey owned by one of the market’s vendors – a kind of cruel entertainment for customers, he was chained at the ankle and very nervous as he danced for their pennies. He kept turning around and around, patting his bony little butt for all the customers to see: KISS MY ARSE! he was saying to them! Kiss my arse! He wore a little red velvet vest and matching cap.
Where is that little monkey when you need him most?
If you are a Roman Catholic, even a “lapsed” one, Christmas gets stretched out to a weeks-long Season. Advent: waiting for Jesus’s birth, including the big day when an angel from Heaven flies down to earth to tell Mary: you’re preggo! With THE SON OF GOD! She can’t believe it! … Then Jesus’s birth, Christmas Day. Rejoice! The World is Saved (and it CAN BE SAVED) … Afterwards reality sets in: Mary, Joseph and their infant son Jesus head out and have a normal life. Sort of. Joseph is a carpenter, so he teaches his son Jesus his trade. Some Biblical texts say Jesus had a brother, also a carpenter. But Jesus, even at 12 years old, shows he is special – reveals his spiritual gifts to the community by discussing life and death so powerfully with the local priests that they are blown away! Everyone at the neighborhood temple – and beyond! – is impressed!
The birth of THE SON OF GOD, BORN TO A REGULAR PERSON, MARY, is a MIRACLE, if you are a “believer.” God the INFINITELY CREATIVE is made flesh: a human baby. Something, sadly, I can’t get back … long lost for me. I used to believe … wake up Christmas Day, as a child on Lafayette Street, and with my Catholic mother, old Polish granny and kid sisters go: YAY! GOD – JESUS – plus the HOLY SPIRIT IS BORN today!!! Magic! The MIRACLE MAN who I pray to for all my straight A’s at Lamartine Street School IS BORN! The little plaster of Paris Jesus statue on my bureau that I pray to every morning, before I walk down my street, up Grosvenor Street, to my teacher Mr. Monfredo’s 5th grade class at Lamartine is GOD! I “Bless” myself before the crappy little 25 cents statue my mother gave me one Saturday morning as she was cleaning out her bureau drawer: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” I say shaking with utter conviction … God is alive and watching over me and helping me live my life. Comforting. Reassuring. I am NEVER alone. God is always watching over me. This fact freaks me out a little, too, but it also makes me, the 10-year-old Rose who is a bookworm and near-sighted feel invincible! So every night, I “bless” myself before my plaster of Paris Jesus statue, and I write tiny notes to my Jesus statue (Jesus depicted not as a babe but as the sage, philosophical 12 year old – holding a book), and I stuff them into its hollow base, all crumply: DEAR JESUS GIVE ME AN A IN MY MATH QUIZ. – Rosalie … DEAR JESUS HELP ME GET AN A ON My BOOK REPORT. – Rosalie … DEAR JESUS I NEED AN A IN MY GRAMMAR TEST. – Rosalie Naturally, Jesus came through for me – I always got all A’s.
Then I went to college and met my boyfriend and his cool philosophy-major best friend – and I lost Jesus. Just like that. All the 17 years of Sunday masses with Ma, weekly trips to that big creepy box confessional booth at St. Mary’s, my prayer books, my nun pals, church folk group in high school! … 14 years of Monday evening catechism class at St. Mary’s … all down the toilet.
I never went to church again. Rose, left, – her First Holy Communion. Standing outside the front entrance with her two kid sisters of St. Mary’s church at Kelley Square. pic: C.T.
So, while I am not sure about the He-is-God-Almighty part these days, I do celebrate – in my own way – Christmas. I focus on the Christmas Eve Story – something I can relate to and believe in: being poor, being an outcast. An outsider looking in. No money? Then live in a barn – or a shithole tenement! The song remains the same – for eons and eons! But through the ages people have always transcended their mangers of hay! Rejoice!
I love the Christmas story! It was meant for this Green Island Grrrl growing up in a tenement with her poor beautiful sweet mother, Polish immigrant Bapy, fraile kid sisters. So poor, yet so loved! The precious gift. And yet so weary, like the weary, hungry, homeless Mary and Joseph looking for a room at any inn on that special night. No money? Then no roomie!! Into a barn (a crumby tenement) you’re shoved – with the sheep and cows.
The animals’ body heat and warm gusts of breath keep Jesus and his parents from freezing to death. Like a gas log in an old kitchen stove in any of Worcester’s poorer neighborhoods. So the Son of God – THE KING – is born in low, bad circumstances – literally a stack of hay!
I showed you my late Bapy’s baby Jesus:
Here is my sister’s. She upgraded – or so she thought – my Mom’s creche when she got her first real job:
It came with shepherds, angels with wings, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Kings, even a cow and a few sheep. I just have Jesus. We don’t talk much these days, but her Baby Jesus in the Christmas manger speaks to me through decades – brings so many Green Island Christmas days to me. Memories of her. … All the church going, the kneeling on our kitchen floor, or beside our beds, praying to plaster of Paris Jesuses … HOPE. LOVE. Always LOVE.
Instagram and Snapchat: social media platforms that are all about taking photographs. Millions of photos, now, fast, full color, full on via your cellphone (usually) and then “sharing” them with the world – really, whomever you like (a few close friends or Obama-millions). Pictures that can disappear in seconds (Snapchat) or often highlight bottles of beer, slices of pizza or exotic locales (Instagram). The first
category: junior high stuff; the second: show-off-y stuff you “share” with your co-workers or peers, people who don’t spend much time with you, or much like you.
No, today I sing the praises of the pictures taken when I and my mom were young. Photographs taken in big, maroon-velvet-drape-ensconced photo booths at Woolworths or with your $10 Kodak “Instamatic” camera – the little rectangular box camera that every American kid owned in the 1970s. It came with “flash cubes” that looked exactly like ice cubes! and made everyone’s eyes red in the color pictures you took.
Those photographs of my youth and my mother’s young adulthood feel worth more, maybe because film for your camera cost money and you had to put 50 cents in the front slot of the Woolworths photo booth before you could pictures. Years later, they look GREAT! Intimate! Real! Candid! True feelings revealed – blatant, out there. Or really really suppressed – inadvertantly out there!, exposed, just like the film.
These old photos seem more genuine than today’s billions of Instagram public relations pap, pictures that feel staged, are disposable, forgetable. Photos of my old Green Island neighborhood after the flash flood, my sister’s First Holy Communion photo – in front of the red dump truck … my father with his big Italian-bread belly hugging his old white Fruit of the Loom tee shirt. My mom, her hair in bobby pins so it would get curly, looking right at me, annoyed as hell because I am TAKING HER PICTURE! Today is her day off! Me pouncing on my cousin’s big sun-yellow Tonka Truck on Christmas morning! I want his toy! I never get great toys from Santa on Christmas morning!
Loves. Really. The moments in that photo booth with your boyfriend. Being hugged, kissed, smooched even! Or you were alone in that photo booth at Woolworths making a statement in your nice top or suit jacket – making/taking those two or three rows of tiny black and white photos of yourself for your true love, maybe fiance. This was about commitment. You were creating something – a keepsake of you for your love. A tiny black and white photo your honey would put in the photo section of their wallet – a little wallet picture. A little wallet picture of you that they would always have, that they carried with them pretty much everywhere they went. You would be with them. At all times. With a flip of their wallet’s plastic photo gallery they could see you – or show you off to friends or family. Or if it were really serious about you, your little photo would be slipped into that plastic frame next to the spot where you displayed your drivers license. No flipping – there you were, next to his license, for him and the world to see – at all times.
Somehow, I don’t know why, but I have the little wallet pictures my mother and father made of themselves: just three, teeny and fragile. One is of my father, Daddy, when he was 12. He looks so adorable – big smile, and his curly hair, cut in a bowl-shape by his dad, my grandfather Sabino from Italy, frames his face. I think I spy a few freckles! The second photo: of my mother when she was about 14 – a student at the old Worcester Girls Trade School. She is also smiling – her big pretty smile – all her teeth perfectly aligned and white, no orthodontist needed. God’s gift to her! Or curse?: Daddy used to say he married Ma for her smile, her perfect teeth – and I believe him. He was a shallow person who scorned my mother’s natural goodness/sweetness – and he had lousy teeth! They were all pulled out by the time I was a teen – just gums a flappin’ but he was still handsome and charming (when not abusive).
Up until a few years ago, I used to put these two little wallet pictures of my parents – so mismatched in marriage, so wrong for each other in real life – TOGETHER!! Like they were happy together! Really and truly happy! On my refrigerator, that is. Overlapping each other, a refrigerator magnet keeping them together! Stuck together. STAY! STAY!
So opposite of Daddy, a womanizing free spirit, who disappeared from our Lafayette Street tenement for weeks – or months and months! – at a time. As a little kid, I needed to look at pictures of my father just to remember what he looked like. And that I had a father. Somewhere out there, past Green Island. But now he was MISSING! Like the little kids in the pictures on the half gallon milk carton on our kitchen table! Would I get Daddy’s photograph put on milk cartons, too?!
Then there is the third one – and a fourth, if you count another little wallet picture – but not taken in a photo booth. It’s a bit larger than the little wallet pictures taken in drug stores or coffee shops. These two little wallet photos are of my parents taken 15 or so years later, after the first set, when they are in adulthood, in the middle of parenthood, jobs, homelife. They are serious pictures now. Ma fake smiling and Daddy unsmiling. Both are looking straight at the canera’s lens … . Even though married to each other, they look lonely.
These little wallet pictures make me sad, send me searching for reasons, feelings … My father is in a suit, a heavy tweedy one guys used to wear in late autumn, with dark, clip-on necktie. He looks handsome with his Roman nose and his thick curly hair styled high up in a pompador, but he also looks menacing. Bitter. Alone. And he is only what? 29? 30? 32 years old? Married to my sweet mother! My sisters were just born. Twins! I am only 1 1/2 years old – at my cutest. I still remember my mother sitting me up on her and Daddy’s big bed, up on the nubby pink bedspread. Daddy is whistling a tune and smiling and patting my chubby leg! Ma took a picture earlier – I looked so cute, like a little doll. She had even entered me in a baby photo contest. And I had won first prize!!
That’s when Daddy took off for about three years! Good! No more Daddy slapping my mother’s pretty cheek! Hooray! No more Daddy calling my pretty mother “Mule”! or “Fuck nut”! Yipee! Stop all the clocks! Freeze time – PEACE ON EARTH. Or at least in our third floor Lafayette Street tenement … Ma holding me on her lap as we sit on the sofa watching the Red Skelton Show on TV together … or Ma taking out her special speckled box and letting me play with her fancy jewelry – her big pink stone necklace, a gold snake bracelet, with slit snake eyes and gold rattle tail! I have put the snake around my little neck and am parading around the kitchen, in front of Bapy, my old Polish granny, who is sitting inher delapidated old easy chair at the head of our kitchen table. She is wearing layers of flannel nightgowns to stay warm and doesn’t take baths like the rest of us. She smells … fecund♥️! Bapy old and arthritic stays nestled in her nest and tries to tap my lil’ bum as I run in front of her giggling, wearing Ma’s snake jewelry! Bapy is laughing and singing an old Polish folk song for me – her fave grandchild – to dance to. I oblige!
Then Daddy will return, years later, and after a brief honeymoon period with Ma, will be just as shitty! Scream just as loudly! Disparage us all, red-faced, lunging at the front door, banging it! Bapy throws her hardboiled egg sandwich at him and calls Daddy: “RED DEVIL!” I am scared! My little sisters are in their bedroom, holding each other and crying!
WHY DIDN’T DADDY LEAVE FOR GOOD? Hook up with one of his whores, for good?
Who knows … little wallet picture #4. Of Ma, at her big sister’s house off Webster Square. It is Christmas day. She is standing in front of my aunt’s big Christmas tree. She is smiling, but it is a stiff forced smile. Perfect but more brave than happy. Her hands are folded at her waist. She is dressed for the holiday: wearing her jewelry, a nice skirt and blouse. Still, to me, she looks sad beneath the perfect smile. Like something serious is happening somewhere: which it is – her husband is now Nowhere Man, gone, a loss, an adult man in the male-dominated early ’60s who does not have a job and therefore does not provide for her and their three little girls. Ma lives with her mother in an old flat on Lafayette Street – not in the cottage of her dreams, with the husband of her dreams. Daddy has, in actions and words, jilted her. Us kids, too. She is now and forever a single working mom, RESPONSIBLE FOR IT ALL – working at the drycleaners down the street, 60 hours a week, for crappy minimum wage. No car. Pulling groceries home, with her three little girls running and giggling behind her, in a rickety shopping wagon. Even in the pouring rain, her plastic five and ten rain bonnet tied tight under her chin, even in the pelting snow, her snow boots soaked, making squishing noises in the slush. Her life. Her hard little diamond of a life, and her three little precious girls the rose gold band it is set in! The little wallet picture, sealed in plastic, now frayed at its edges, meant to be carried in her husband’s wallet, in the space right next to his driver’s license! But for years it stayed on her dresser, propped up against a little statue of Jesus. Little wallet picture #4. pics: Rose T.
Ma, AD – After Daddy
P.S. This song was the inspiration for above column.
Some things never change in Worcester – like all the illegal dumping. Despite the City’s revamped recycling/trash plan!
Here’s Blackstone River Road, where I live, yesterday afternoon. Right outside my house – huge trash bag thrown onto the middle of the sidewalk! Our neighborhood’s trash-pick up day is Friday! If no one removes it, it will be on the sidewalk all week!!!: 😢😢 pic: Rose T.
But some things DO change: like we’re on FACEBOOK! 20 years after the rest of the world!! Oh well …
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Jett and Lilac, yesterday afternoon, during our Greenwood Street walk!