When I was a kid growing up in Green Island, we never saw this scene, walking under the Green Street Bridge, on our way downtown to Woolworths or the Mart: photo below – of a gaggle of young, attractive homeless YOUNG people. People in their 20s or 30s with their whole lives ahead of them – zonked out, high, sprawled out before garbage pails overflowing with refuse. In the chi chi Canal District a 2-minute walk from the gourmet cupcake shop and organic makeup vendor and doggie speciality shoppe. …
On Lafayette Street, when I was a little girl, we had a few homeless people in the neighborhood, but they were usually guys – older guys, hardcore alcoholics suffering … from aloneness, hunger, DTs. They were, heartlessly, called bums or winos back then. No one talked about addiction or mental health or physical health problems. These guys were considered weak, “losers” – failures at life. No one expected them to ever get a job, get married and live with a wife in a home or even sober up, stop drinking. Lafayette Street, especially Millbury Street towards the Crompton Park side, was lined with crumby dank uriney smelling bars where these guys drank and drank for cheap and then stumbled to Hotel Vernon or some other Millbury Street flophouse to sleep it all off. As a teen, I once counted 24 stinking hole in the wall barrooms on Millbury Street. So Worcester’s Canal District was once Worcester’s Skid Row! … You saw the “bums” walking to school or catechism class at St. Mary’s
… There they were, sleeping it off, hunched over, disheveled and smelly in various and sundry Millbury Street doorways. The guys could be a little scary when they were awake – rush up to a little kid to demand a quarter. Many a day my kid sisters and I RAN past those Millbury Street bars on the way to visit our mom at work at the cleaners or grab a hamburger at Messiers Diner after school. The bums didn’t stop us from enjoying the real pleasures of Green Island – we just had to run down Millbury Street to get to them!
I suppose, despite the phony political correctness nowadays and new Canal District moniker and dreadful gentrifier Allen Fletcher STILL squatting on our Ash Street – THINGS HAVE GOTTEN WORSE IN MY OLD NEIGHBORHOOD. Instead of just a handful of winos sprawled out on the Canal District streets, there are a ton of heroin-addicted, glue sniffing YOUNG PEOPLE there! Street kids who have no flophouses to give them shelter from the storm – or a place to temporarily sober up. … Nope. Worcester is TEEMING with alcohol- and drug-addicted YOUNG PEOPLE – you see them by the train tracks outside the new Blackstone Visitors Center, a stone’s throw from Holy Cross College. You see them on Cambridge Street, Webster Square, Vernon Hill. Backpacks on tight, maybe walking with another pal from the streets. With the pandemic forcing many of us to curtail our activities, some days, driving around Worcester, that’s all I see is homeless people! Some days I will see MORE HOMELESS PEOPLE THAN average Woo working peeps. It is heartbreaking. It is bleak. It is the New Woo Normal. Encampments in our woodsier city parks or green nooks. Right before the last storm, I saw a guy, in his 30s, over stuffed backpack on back, casually walking into the woods on Greenwood Street – going home, to shelter in maybe the tent he set up.
WHY DO WE AS A CITY ALLOW THIS? WHY CAN’T WE HELP? GIVE THESE YOUNG PEOPLE SAFE, CLEAN, DRY PLACES TO SHELTER …or just to sleep it off? 50 years ago flophouses served a purpose, as did SROs, as did the PIP: to keep the lowliest among us from suffering in the gutter. Dying in filth. To GIVE ALL AN AFFORDABLE HOME. We have lost our way as a society. Our Worcester city councilors and city managers leading the march to NO EMPATHY LAND. We thought by eradicating these cheap cots/hots we would eradicate addiction, human pain, hopelessness from our city. But there is no limit to human suffering, and when the Red Sox AAA stadium is built the homeless kids under the Green Street Bridge will be pushed out … to a new Worcester bridge or underpass, with their used works, beat up cell phones and overflowing shopping wagons in tow.
Rose’s kid sister “Mary,” to the left of the pony, in the big play area of the Girls Club – or Winthrop House – on Vernon Hill with chubby sis Rose, far right, and twin sis standing next to Rose.
My sister, who lives outside Boston, has Parkinson’s Disease. I got the news about three weeks ago. Still “processing” it but have given up trying to figure out how I can SAVE her, how, as my wont, I can jump in and RESCUE “Mary,” make this awful sickness go away, like I tried to do for my late mom when she got sick. My kid sister, like all of us in the family, came up tough, so she is pretty stoic – her stoicism wrapped in HOPE and her love of God. So, like our late mother would do, probably like I would do, too, she is keepin’ keepin’ on: going to work, 9 – 5, Monday – Friday, except that now a special needs van picks her up and takes her to her job in the human services, which she LOVES, and brings her home at the end of her work day … going to church on Sunday, cleaning her apartment, being a part of her parish’s prayer group …
My sister, like our late mom, always loved to work. She got her first job at 14 1/2 (her new social security card and work card in her new Whites Five and Ten vinyl wallet) on Millbury Street working as a clerk at Commercial Fruit Store, working for one of her favorite bosses – “Macho,” a Greek(?) immigrant who was funny, loving/gruff and opinionated, spouting critiques of his customers and family who worked by his side and falling over little patches of ice in the big Commercial walk-in freezer. His goofy insults were delivered in jumbled, half-English “Machoisms” that my sister loved to share with us all, after she walked home from work, still wearing her mint green sales girl smock (proudly, I think). “Phillip, where you know … ” my sister would yell in a thick trippy accent or, because Macho was short, squat and had the butt of a picnic table, big and squarish, my kid sister would have fun backing into our kitchen the way Macho would back out of his Commericial Fruit freezer, butt first and swishing back and forth, his own bustling bustle, if you can imagine it. We all laughed at her Macho impressions! She was skinny but everyone could see Macho in her!!
Macho treated my sister like family and, even during her college years, Mary worked for him and his family with LOVE, reveling in the Christmas holiday spirit at the shop where, under soft yellow flourescent lights and surrounded by all matter of fruit beautifully displayed on sky-blue-painted staircase shelves that circled the entire little store she made holiday fruit gift basketd. Amid all the laughs, orders and the silly Machoisms flying in the middle of that Millbury Street staple (located next door to Lisbon’s Shoe Store), Mary made gigantic fruit baskets. Easy! She would take a ton of delicious Commercial fruit, a can of mixed nuts, a package of sweet, sticky, pitted dates and artfully place then arrange them in a big basket with big arched handle. Then she’d wrap it all in clear or colored cellophane wrap and shiny Christmas ribbon – then top it off with a big red or green bow secured to the top of the handle. Saw her work her magic a few times. Sometimes after school at Burncoat High, I’d visit. Mary was always industrious and smiling. She was the pretty one, with high forehead and straight teeth and pretty smile. She loved to walk downtown on a Saturday snd buy herself a pretty dress at Filenes Basement – and often a little gift for Ma and me.
Of course, my sister gave all her pay check to our mother, a single working mom struggling to keep our poor little gang together with her own minimum wage job at the drycleaners down the street. Our peripatetic Daddy was “with” us during our junior and high school years, but he left our Lafayette Street flat each morning, after Ma made and served him his breakfast, with his own agenda and itinerary. A job to help support wife, three kids and old granny definitely not on his list. So Mary, at 14 1/2 years old, was the Daddy.
Mary was so generous. She would, as they used to say, “give you the shirt off her back.” Ma raised her to be selfless, but it also came naturally to Mary, I think. She just loved to give. She was the kind daughter. Our downstairs neighbor was told our mother, with emotion in her voice: “She’s gold.”
Mary learned, through her early experience on Lafayette Street, that giving is its own reward, kinda like the way I felt when I gave out around 100 new donated hats and scarves to Worcester’s homeless folks this past winter. When I first got my first batch of donations from gal pal Dorrie, I winced and felt: This is going to be uncomfortable. BUT IT WASN’T! IT FELT GREAT!! TO GIVE SOMETHING TO SOMEONE WHO REALLY NEEDED IT, TO FEEL THEIR THANKFULNESS, to have them come up to you and say, BLESS YOU! THANK YOU, ‘MAM! THANK YOU FOR BEING SO NICE!
It was only a hat!
I got hooked on the love! I asked my friends for more donations, even got a beautiful long fake sheepskin winter coat, like new, AND GAVE IT TO A SLIP OF A WOMAN SITTING UNDER the Green Street Bridge. I would drive by in the dead of winter and see her in jacket coughing her head off … FOR HER, A WARM COAT …
Mary would do this years before it all became trendy. When I was in college, she would go to Charlies Surplus sports store on Water Street and buy and send me a half dozen pair of white basketball tube socks. I didn’t play basketball and they went up to my knees, but I loved them. Charlie’s!! When I successfully completed my first year at college, she sent me a dozen roses from her and Ma. She would give our loser father money, if her asked for it! Right after college, holding her first professional job, Daddy put the pinch to her – and Mary gave our loser father $800! A lot of dough back then! I went nuts! He is so awful! I said to her. GET IT BACK! She just looked at me and shrugged her shoulders …
So my other sister calls me last week with a similar gripe: “Mary is giving money to people she meets on the T! And on the streets! I told her: ‘You need the money!’ ”
I could hear the panic in my sister’s voice, but I was PROUD of Mary. And moved. Our Mary – as radical as ever! I could never be that GREAT. It was like standing next to my kid sis on Lafayette Street, by the old Philco, laughing about Macho, marveling at her sweet pretty smile. I said to my other sis: “It’s her money. Let her spend it the way she likes. This makes her happy. The people are grateful, they love her.”
Then I hung up my phone and said out loud to no one in particular: “Gold.”
Amherst: Rose, left, with kid sister “Mary” who came to visit Rose on Rose’s graduation day from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.
Too hot out to do anything (90 degrees here in the city) except hang out in my shack and lounge with the dogs …
Lilac lounging on Rose’s bed as Rose writes this blog post. pics: Rose T.
… and kitty Cece … three rotating electric fans on, HONEYMOONERS videos playing, making me smile, chuckle …. LOVE my Honeymooners. The TV show is 70 years old, in black and white, primitive set, picture grainy … you can see the beads of sweat trickle down Jackie Gleason’s heavy bulldog face as he acts his heart out under those bright, hot spotlights. He was inventing this new medium, Television, along with Lucy and Desi and Uncle Milty. … Gleason was also doing therapy on himself, bringing back to life HIS impoverished childhood in NYC … his struggling family, the early family deaths … he was channeling his Irish American father who was poor and died early leaving the young Jackie to support the family. My late mother loved Gleason. Now I understand why. Now I do, too.
I have my fave Honey Mooners episode on now:
The beautiful SONGWRITERS.
An atypical Honeymooners episode. The shows usually revolved around more homespun themes: Ralph forgets his wedding anniversary, Ralph wants to get the $50 that is in his old coat pocket, the old coat Alice just donated to the Salvation Army … Ralph and Norton buy a neighborhood candy store … The two couples, city slickers, go camping … Ralph and Norton have a fight and stop speaking to each other … Ralph and Alice almost, almost, adopt a baby girl abandoned on Ralph’s bus.
This show, for me, the best Honeymooners show, hands down, transcends all that. A Lost Epidode, but one that lets me find myself and America over and over again!
In it, Ralph and Norton buy a piano and they decide they are the next Rodgers and Hammerstein. Songwriters! From Brooklyn!! Sure, there are the usual fun Honeymooner bits: the hilarious Norton gestures and flailing arms, the make-up kiss Ralph plants on his pretty wife’s lips at the end of each episode, the trusty Trixie playing sounding board to the exasperated Alice, the fat jokes, the sewer jokes, but … Something about SONGWRITERS, for me
The show opens with the boys at their weekly RACOONs meeting; a professional songwriter visits these NYC blue collar Elks to deliver the new Raccoon theme song he wrote special for them. The Raccoons president pays him $100 for the song!! For a simple little ditty! Ralph’s eyes bulge – especially after the songwriter tells Ralph the $100 is peanuts for him – you make the big bucks as a professional songwriter: from royalties, radio play, records.
The boys think: THIS IS A SNAP! We can do this!! Norton has a way with the piano, he can play a song on a piano right after he hears it. Ralph used to write his own Valentine’s cards when he was in grammar school!
So the boys take the money with which Ralph was going to buy a new refrigerator for his apartment – the old icebox’s door fell off again – and buy a new upright piano. It is delivered to their apartment the next day when Ralph’s at work:
When Alice, at home being a wife, sees the huge delivery box in her kitchen, she thinks it’s a new fridge. Ralph comes home, pulls off the front and Alice pulls on her ENRAGED, I MARRIED A DOPE persona. Just a mask. …: “RALPH, GET RID OF THAT PIANO!!”
Ralph responds with his I Make the Money – I’m King of This Castle bellow: “Don’t tell me what to do!” GET OUTA THE WAY, ALICE! SONGWRITERS AT WORK!!
This 20 minute Honey Mooners episode says it all: America, the poor America, the dreaming America, the upward-bound America, the Great Depression America – before and after FDR. Back then, all of Hollywood’s writers and directors and the Broadway songsters ACTUALLY DID HAIL FROM BACKGROUNDS LIKE RALPH’S. They were often poor Jews, Eastern Europeans from THE BIG CITY GHETTO. FIRST GENERATION AMERICANS – or immigrants – that the rest of America looked down on, laughed at even: Irving Berlin, Billy Wilder, Herman Mankowitz, to name a few. Ethnic poor boy geniuses … who could self-actualize in the great, shiny America! Bloom here, change their names and work their genius, become rich and buy mansions in new beautiful neighborhoods in their new beautiful country! And they wrote the most beautiful American movies and songs! Movies we still watch and love, like SUNSET BOULEVARD or THE APARTMENT. Or songs we still sing with affection. Tunes that have the best lyrics and are a joy to chirp, like I’LL TAKE MANHATTEN! … Ralph and Norton were being realistic when Ralph bought that piano!
I’ll take it!
I also, in this lost HM episode, still see American city poverty. I see my Lafayette Street childhood. Irving Berlin’s and Jackie Gleason’s, too: the drab, old kitchen where ALL the important discussions took place. Where all the fights happened. All the hugs exchanged, all the kisses planted – demurely and passionately. For 17 years I did my Worcester Public Schools, K – 12, homework at our kitchen table, our old, round-cornered refridgerator up against the wall, humming in the background, Ma peeling potatoes for our beef stew over at the gas stove, Bapy’s Jesus picture from Poland nailed crookedly above the small fridge. Me, a kid, looking up at the Jesus picture, Jesus’s arms raised, his heart pierced and bleeding like in an x ray. I feel safe and content. In the ghetto.
In the ghetto kitchen impoverished lives unfolded. Didn’t happen in a living room, or a shrink’s office, or at a restaurant booth, or even in the confessional booth at St. Mary’s church! Nope. It all happened IN THE BIG KITCHEN, just like at the Kramdens. You opened your back door – really your front door – and walked right into your kitchen. The biggest room in your tenement. Communal. Community. Family. Food. Love. Plans. Disappointments. Coffee. Warm stove. … Bedrooms were small – meant only for sleeping. Bathrooms small,too, corridor-like – 100 per cent utilitarian! No spa-like experience ever in our Lafayette Street bathroom!
But I digress: Back to Ralph and Norton. They are in their big kitchen, Norton seated at their upright piano, Ralph hovering over the piano. They are trying to compose a tune. Create.
Norton is driving Ralph crazy with his musical warm-ups. Ralph is reciting his grammar school poetry: “ears as soft as a bunny’s…” he sings. … The night wears on. The piano goes back to the music store tomorrow. The boys are getting nowhere…singing snippets, Norton tinkling the ivories …
Then a neighbor upstairs in their building starts screaming: SHUT UP! YOU HAVE NO TALENT! Another: I CAN’T SLEEP!! Ralph gives it back to them, yelling: “McGarrity, you wouldn’t know a good song if you heard one!” McGarrity: “Why don’t you try me, Ralph?!”
… and this married dame in the building … her baby cries all night and keeps Ralph up! Why is she carping?! Ralph runs to the kitchen radiator pipe to hammer it in anger at her. … Then it hits him: His neighbors’ noise, the clanging garbage cans, the banging of radiators, his GHETTO WORLD … That’s the SONG! There’s THE POETRY!!!!
“THE GARBAGE CANS GO CLANG/
THE RADIATORS GO BANG …” Ralph croons.
The boys go with the flow, chronicling their city-living trials and tribulations, but still finding TRUE love, amid the city buses and sewers. They write a great song!:
“A car outside gets a flat/
Someone steps on a cat …
“… You can have your quiet/
It takes a little riot/
to make a house a HOME. …
“IT’S MY LOVE SONG TO YOU.”
Ralph’s love song to his life with Alice and their best friends. Jackie Gleason’s love song to his hardscrabble childhood and a poor but HOPEFUL America … a love song to my ol’ Green Island, too.♥️
Gleason only filmed 1 Season of The Honeymooners – 39 episodes.
Couldn’t find clip of Ralph and Norton singing the song.
Yesterday I saw our WPD – our day to day beat cops – at their BEST. Guns were fired on Hope Ave. and WHOOSH!!!! I was driving in South Worcster running my biz – but SoWoo quickly became A MOVIE! It was like the ENTIRE Worcester Police FORCE WAS RUSHING TO THE GUNFIRE. Scores of guys from all directions. To Save people. To get the bad guys! To put themselves in harm’s way for … the citizenry. In a matter of minutes!
On Cambridge Street I saw WPD police cruisers converged on a three decker.
Cambridge Street. pics: R.T.
Up a ways on Canterbury I saw one of their cool undercover vice squad guys zooming to the action. So young! So fearless. Now the lights were flashing and the the siren was on in his crumby hoodmobile. The cop looked just like a punk. I mean. WOW.
Then a ton more police cruisers on Webster Street where several kids were stopped, on the sidewalk, outside their vehicle looking … concerned. One cop was GINGERLY leading one of the kids into the paddy wagon. Handled with care. No police brutality to my eyes. And, of course, Hope Ave. was yellow taped and our boys and gals in blue were down there on top of things. Pics were taken of this long black box in the driveway of the Webster Sq Firehouse by a cool lady cop.
Webster Square Fire Station
Hard at work. Serious stuff.
Traffic was stopped and slowed down. All the cops were working together, no yelling, no strutting their stuff. … I couldn’t even hear them talk! And believe me, I was doing some serious rubber necking! Our police officers were total professionals. The WPD at its finest.
Now, a letter from one of our readers:
I am emailing you to let you know of the problem of fireworks going off and the WPD response to our complaints. I live at 44 Elm St. and a man comes to the parking lot of the Ghanaian Presbyterian Church almost every night (except when it rains) and shoots off fireworks. He has set a nearby bush on fire (photo attached) and terrified two Yemeni children rescued from the fighting living next door.
I am terrified he will set the trees under my unit on fire or disrupt the gas meters on the outside of the building. When I have called the WPD …there is no action taken when the fireworks are being shot off at that moment. Last night (7/8/2020) the police claimed they never heard of the Ghanaian Presbyterian Church (the former Chestnut Street Congregational Church)!!!
Today, myself and a friend went down,in person, to WPD headquarters to speak to an officer and were sent home with a promise of beat officers coming to speak with us. We came home and waited…no one called or came.
My friend called the WPD again…said no information or contact info was left…we left contact info. This is so frustrating.
Could you cover this problem? I am sure we aren’t the only people who have experienced this recently.
Editor’s response: Althea, we’ve been on this CITY-WIDE ISSUE since the end of June!! THESE NEW FIREWORKS ARE MAJOR. LIKE EAST PARK FIREWORKS. LOUD. PROPULSIVE. LIKE BEING IN A WAR ZONE. They can start fires in buildings, if fired too closely – which they usually are, right in the middle of our densely populated city neighborhoods. We call, too. And we stay on top of the guys that shoot the works! You have to! The cops are overwhelmed with major stuff(see my above post). … We called you – and left a voicemail. Call us!
– Rose T.
Ever want to make a pasta topping that doesn’t have tomatoes in it? Well, there are other options!
This quickie is simple. You need to take about four or five carrots, peel them and run them through your food processor or grate on a box grater …
Like a regular sauce, you add onion and some garlic to a sauce pan and sauté them down …
Add the carrots and a little water …
… and simmer with a cover. When the carrots are soft, add chickpeas or navy beans or any other kind of beans you like:
If you like, add a little salt and pepper. Voila! You have a great light summer sauce!
Instead of carrots, you can use zucchini …
… – or both! To really dress it up, just before you serve, add a handful of fresh, chopped basil. Enjoy!❤
GREEN ISLAND HOOP DREAMIN’
By Rosalie Tirella
I can’t wait for all this pandemic stuff to end … eventually … so the brandy new Crompton Park basketball courts can open up to Green Island kids and the city’s Crompton Park Summer Basketball League can start up again! …
The City of Worcester did a GREAT job: new courts, new hoops, new bleachers, benches, landscaping … outside: new sidewalks, trees …
The Endicott/Harding streets entrance to Crompton Park, left. Trees are being planted …❤
❤When we were kids growing up in Green Island, my younger sister Rita LOVED PLAYING HOOP! But the Crompton Park basketball courts – and league – were the boys’ business and young men’s, and the guys who hung out at Ben’s Cafe or the PNI on Lafayette Street – many tough, buzz-drunk and knife-carrying. I remember walking by the Crompton Park basketball court with Rita on the Endicott Street side. I was oblivious to the men, boys, sweaty, grunty pick up games, but Rita kept looking wistfully at the guys dribbling that b-ball and doing those fancy lay-up shots – which my kid sister could also execute, perfectly, with her own signature flourishes! – and taking those “free throws” from the court’s faded white lines – which my kid sister could also easily execute.
But the times were different back then. My sister and I knew that she was out of the games because she was a girl, a skinny girl, a quiet girl. Still, she found ways, as all athletic girls in the ‘hood found ways to celebrate their God-given talents. Rita was young and gifted: she found all the places in the city a girl, in the mid-1970s, could play hoop, could be brutally athletic, could run unabashedly, like a boy, and leap and yell and not care how she looked or sounded to the world. Not lady-like. But beautiful in her own beauty! … So Rita played hoop in my Uncle Mark’s driveway with our boy cousins. Uncle Mark had tarred the parking lot, nailed up a brand new basketball hoop with backboard above his garage door. Every holiday, many summer, spring and fall days Uncle Mark would leave his cozy Burncoat ranch and drive to our Lafayette Street three decker, and honk his car horn right under our tenement and Ma and us kids would run down the stairs, scramble into his big gold Elektra and drive off … so we could all hang out in his and his wife’s, our Aunt Mary’s, big back yard and have a hamburger and hotdog cook out, courtesy of Aunt Mary. Ma would sit at their big picnic table and chat with Aunt Mary as she made the feast. I would be on a blanket with my cousin Mary playing Barbies – my cousin had Barbie, Stacy, Skipper, Ken and three Barbie wardrobe cases filled with Barbie clothes and shoes. … Rita would play basketball with our two boy cousins. Both jocky. Whomp. Whomp. Whomp went the real, regulation sized basketball against the backboard. Whoah!! yelled my cousins and sister as their basketball game heated up. My Uncle Mark was an elementary school principal but had loved and played football in college and almost went pro at college graduation. But his life changed when he met and fell in love with my aunt, married her, had three kids with her, began teaching history, bought a teeny house in Burncoat and reveled in the Eisenhower American GI Dream. Uncle Mark loved to see ALL kids playing sports and running under hoops and nets. He always took the older balls from his school and gave them to us kids: scuffed up basketballs; pink, slightly deflated dodge balls; hard regulation sized brown footballs that could smash a window; and less than pristine (beige) volley balls … My sister coveted them all. Uncle Mark gave us our share … I see: Ma grabbing a football from Uncle Mark and smiling her pretty smile…I see het carrying it up our old stairs to our third floor apartment … where Rita slept with her fave Uncle Mark hand-me-down basketball!
Rita’s other second homes: the St. Mary’s high school gym with new basketball court and rows of polished wooden bleachers and shiny red and white painted line floor … and the Winthrop House Girls Club on Providence Street. Our Vernon Hill Girls Club had a big, beat-up basketball court that doubled as a roller-skating rink for us girls …free roller skates for us to use, a free p a system where we could play donated ROLLING STONE albums … Rita played hoop there or often roller skated along the perimeter to I CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION.
I read my old TIGER BEAT or played Jacks with my cousin, Mary, Uncle Mark’s daughter, in the gym, off to the side, swaying to the Stones. I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE ROLLING STONES MUSIC then, in the corner, outside the painted foul lines, of the Girls Club basketball court, playing Jacks with my cousin.
Anywhere there was rope netting strung through a metal hoop there was my kid sister! Rita loved to run on the St. Mary’s basketball court, the Lamartine Street School cement schoolyard, Uncle Mark’s little driveway … loved to run. Period. She’d hang out at the Lamartine school yard and play Dodge ball or even soccer, not as popular back then, with our downstairs neighbor boys. Sometimes the boys would come up to our flat, to our screen door and rap on it loudly and ask Ma: CAN RITA COME OUT AND PLAY BASEBALL?
It was in the sandlot next door – with a gifted kid named RICH GEDMAN leading the show! Rich lived down the street from us and had his own hardscrabble childhood to overcome. The future Red Sox catcher was a good, quiet kid who could swing that bat and hit that ball over the roof of Val’s building a half block away!! My sister would run wicked fast after that home run! Rich liked Rita. He, like all the boys, never had much use for me – never asked Ma for me to come down and play baseball or softball. Sometimes whiffle ball, if they were desperate and needed a warm body on their team. I was the useless book worm. Rita could hit, field, throw, even pitch. I watched outside our third floor window sometimes but went back to my crafts or my writing.
Rita never walked anywhere in our ol’ Green Island. She ran to Whites, to Oscars, to Messiers Diner, to Petes Dairy Bar on Millbury Street. I always ran after her, struggled to keep up with my jock sister, my knee socks falling down around my ankles. Wait for me, Rita! I’d yell. She had so little body fat. I was mostly body fat.
Our mother, seeing all the uncorked Rita energy EVERY DAY in our house, in our dirt backyard, on the sandlot next door pushed Rita to try out for the St. Mary’s Girls JV and Varsity Basketball Teams. Junior and Senior High Teams. Rita did – and made the teams. She got: a cool red uniform, b-ball practices in the school gym, demanding coaches, home and away b-ball games – and her #1 rabid fan: Ma.
Our single, working-poor, over-worked mother would walk to the St. Marys gym on Richland Street after working all day as a counter girl at the Millbury Street dry cleaners to watch Rita play her home games. …
Still standing: Oscar’s, the dry cleaners where Ma worked.
… or to get a ride with another parent to an away game. Sometimes I would join my mother, but I wasn’t into sports. I got bored during the games, only tagged along because I had a crush on Rita’s teammate and friend’s big brother John. He often went to the games to watch his kid sister play b ball. I went to gawk at him: his tallness, his pretty eyes, his artistic/drawing abilities … his beautiful, thick wavy blond hair that brushed the tops of his shoulders.
But Ma was really engaged! She watched the score board with hawk eyes. Got up and cheered and cheered! After a 10 hour day at the dry cleaners! After her paltry snack and brown bag lunch at work … I can still see her: dumpling shaped, with slightly hunched shoulders from all that labor … getting up, standing on her bleacher seat!! TO CHEER AND SCREAM if Rita intercepted the other team’s pass and got the basketball and was now dribbling the basket ball up the court, going for that lay up. To score those precious two points to help WIN the game!!!
GO! GO! GO, Rita!! our little hunch- backed mother would scream. GO!!! Rita dribbled that b-ball like mad, in her own zone, hearing Ma just along the edges, I am sure. I see my gangly kid sister, knobby-kneed, running and bobbing and weaving in and out of enemy territory TO SCORE! I see Ma in her plum, beige or maroon polyester pants and long matching vests in the same drab colors, the ones that covered her middle-aged-lady tummy, the vests she bought at White’s – with their two big side pockets that held her work pens, scratch pad, receipt pad … and rosary.
I was a little embarrassed. My little mother, an inch over 5 feet tall, flecks of grey hair at the temples, was going bananas! In the bleachers! With the other kids! Ma’s arthritic, knotty knuckles raised in fists with the kids … pumping up and down in the humid, sweat-smelly gym. GO, RITA! GO, RITA!!! Ma screamed.🏀🏀🏀🏀 Our unforgettable mother, Cecelia, with her great, unbreakable heart CHEERING HER SCRAWNY JOCK DAUGHTER TO THE HEAVENS! Hoop lady. Prayer lady! I am next to her now, turn to see Ma whispering a Hail Mary for Rita and making a cross with her crooked right thumb on her thin lips. Hoop prayers. Hoop dreams for her beloved daughter … Ma …
Still standing but soon to be gentrified: Lafayette Street where Rose and her two kid sisters grew up.
Ma and toddler Rose, at Crompton Park: on the knoll, now gone, a ways from the b-ball court.
Pic of Rose when Green Island celebrated July 4th with BONFIRES!
I’ve celebrated the Fourth on a blanket in Boston listening to the Boston Pops and guest vocalist Johnny Cash. I’ve celebrated the Fourth at East Park here in Worcester. Always a lovely time.
Last night I was thinking about my Green Island Fourth of July’s – the years when I was a kid and lived with my mother, father, sisters and grandmother in “the Island”:
I am a little kid – about 9 – and I am standing on our three decker’s back porch. Third floor. It is the afternoon and the sun is shining sweetly. I am looking at “Val,” the buxom middle-aged lady who lives across the way from our rickety three decker in her rickety six-unit building, on her third-floor porch. A big, weed-choked, empty lot lies between our buildings but that is all. The vegetation hasn’t kept Val from inserting herself into ours – everyone’s – lives.
She is wearing a negligee today – for the Fourth of July. I can see it from my back porch. She is on her back porch talking loudly. I swear I can see her bright red lips from my third floor porch! In 10 years I will have learned the word “slatternly,” and it will remind me of Val … but today I am a little kid so Val is just … Val.
AMERICA – ALWAYS #1 IN ROSE’S HEART
Val is very drunk on this special national holiday – in a very happy, friendly way. She is talking with anyone who passes by her building, her ta ta’s damn near falling out of her negligee as she leans over her porch railing to chat up passersby who always chat back. I am standing on my porch, quiet as a mouse, not even smiling because I know Val can be scary sometimes. On a few occasions she has battled with my granny, called my granny, also feisty, a DP – Dumb Polack – during one of their shouting matches held across their back porches. DP, my mom tells me, really stands for Displaced Persons, what they sometimes called immigrants. Val is being mean when she yells DP at my granny, who doesn’t miss a beat and yells back: KISS MY ASSY! and turns her plump little dumpling shaped butt to Val – while standing on our back porch – and tap, taps her butt which is covered in those sweet all flannel nighties with little pink rose buds on them. Bapy – Polish for Granny – wore those flannel nighties year ’round – even in the summer.
Granny is not battling Val today. Granny is inside, sitting in her easy chair we have set up for her in the kitchen, at the head of the kitchen table, a place from which she candrink her cup of coffee, eat her egg sandwich and see and comment on all the household happenings. She has been sitting there my whole life! I love her with all my heart!
But I digress. Val is out on her porch today in her negligee because it is the Fourth of July, a special day – for her and America. Val has turned and gone inside her apartment, a flat that is also home to her wimpy boyfriend, gorgeous blond 18 year old daughter from another guy, and two huge attack dogs: a German Shepherd and Doberman. Both fierce. Both having chased me up a fence more than a few times. Val doesn’t believe in walking her dogs to do poop. She just lets them out, they rush down the three flights of stairs like noisy moose and shit and pee in the little front yard and rush back upstairs. Val has them trained to a tee.
This ol’ Kodak Instamatic photo, taken by Rose when she was a kid, depicts her Green Island view from her third floor back porch. “Val”‘s building is on the right.
Val has come out of her flat – this time she is carrying her portable record player. I am watching all this from my back porch – not saying a word, not even smiling. Just waiting … . Val puts her record player down, hooks it up to a bunch of extension cords and I see her going back in, cord in hand. Then she comes out with a record album – a big one. I am guessing it is the same one she played last year, has the songs which we – the entire Bigelow Street neighborhood – heard last Fourth of July: patriotic tunes. The kind you can – like Val – march around on your Green Island porch to. Later I would learn these songs were written by John Philip Sousa.
Val puts on her lp. Cranks it up! Da da da da da da de da da! La da da da de da da! Boy, this music is good! Very up beat! I am tapping my feet! I look across the way and see Val crack open another beer and take a sloppy swig and lie on her reclining beach chair on her porch. I can see her relaxing through the slats on her porch through the slats on my porch!
The music is great! Val is getting drunker. …
It is a few hours later and Val is singing – to the entire neighborhood! The folks in our hood are getting ramped up! People are coming out and throwing chairs and sofas and old tires into a big pile in the empty lot a few lots down from Val’s place, diagonally across the way from our three decker flat. I go in doors and crow to my mom: THEY ARE GETTING READY FOR THE BIG BONFIRE, MA! To myself: HOORAY!
My mom, careworn, grimaces. She doesn’t say a word, never voices her disapproval of Val. But I know she is not thrilled with the situation. Sometimes she is the one who will call the Worcester Fire department when the flames of the big bonfire grow too huge and lap up the July night air and orange sparks fill our Green Island night. The fire has never spread cuz the neighborhood kids and adults have kept it in check with big poles that they use to poke at it. But the flames still worried my mom …
But the eve has just begun! I so want to be a part of the celebration and throw some of Bapy’s rags onto the bonfire! She has so many that she wraps her arms in for her arthritis. Old country ways/cures die hard in Green Island. … Bapy never really changes her clothes. Just gives herself sporadic sponge baths and peels off old rags and puts on new ones. She always smells fecund. I love her odor! I still miss her Bapy smell!! If only we could re-smell all the people we have loved through the years. The men I have been with, my late mom who held me to her heavy Heaven Scented perfumed breasts as a child and a teen, my Bapy’s immigrant odor, my long-gone dog Bailey’s gamey scent … .
Anyways, the bonfire was being readied for the big night, but my mom would never let me join in the mayhem. It was all a little too wild for us. We were the good kids. My mom the perfect mom who worked so hard at the dry cleaners and went to church with her three girls every Sunday. My mom knew everyone in the hood and was always polite and talked with folks, etc – she was not a snob. But, she liked to tell her girls, she would never sit and have a cigarette with the ladies, like half the women in our hood did – visiting each other in each other’s tenements, gossiping about folks, bitching about cheating husbands and boyfriends. My mother was busy raising her girls as perfectly as she could, making sure they went to school every day and did all their homework and got all As and went to bed early and ate well. She had no time to wallow in her poverty – or her husband’s wild ways. She – we – transcended the shit.
So, there I was, stuck on our third-floor porch. An observer. My sisters would be home from Crompton Park soon. They would love this spectacle, too! Not as much as I did. But they would hang out on the porch, eating Freeze Pops, their lips ice blue from the sugared ice treat – and watch.
My father would disappear for the day. Celebrate in his own fashion, I guess. He was as crooked as some of the guys in the hood, but he played out his crookedness in other parts of Worcester. I suspect the East Side of town. What my mom and us kids didn’t know wouldn’t hurt us.
… It was dark out now and Val was singing up a storm and marching around her porch. La di da di da!!! Bang bang! Someone had lit the bonfire and everyone was gathered around it! Except for me and my kid sisters. We were on our back porch eating Freeze Pops, mesmerized by the flames – they must have been two stories high! The folks in the hood out did themselves this year! It was like something you would see in an old Western movie – the Indians roasting an elk on a spit they had set up over the flames. People’s faces orange from the glow of the flames. Very primitive and real.
“Come out here, Ma!” I yelled to my mother. “Ya should see how big the bonfire is this year!!”
My mother was indoors getting our clothes ready for the Fourth of July cook out we would be having at our Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s the next day. They lived in a a cute pink ranch house in the Burncoat area – a nicer part of town. My mom liked this part of the Fourth best of all. A day off she could celebrate with her favorite sister in her sister’s big back yard, my Uncle Mark grilling hamburgers and hot dogs on the big three legged grill he had stoked with those black brickettes he always doused with lighter fluid. Yum, yum, yum ! We were all pre-vegetarian in those days – ate meat, Nissaan white rolls and buns, potato chips, soda, Cheez-Its … the typical American BBQ 1960s fare. Heaven!
Ma would have none of it. She was busy making sandwiches for the cook out at Uncle Mark’s. She wanted us in bed early for tomorrow. We kids would have none of it. The flames were roaring! So was Val! Some jerk threw too many old tires on the bon fire, so now the air smelled awful! It was thick with gray smoke. We kids started coughing. Ma came out and took a look. Her mouth fell open. She looked at her three silly girls and frowned. I knew … She was calling 911.
In a matter of minutes the Worcester Fire Department had come and the fireman were hosing down the bon fire with their big hoses. The flames were doused out! Smoke was everywhere.
BOO! BOO! BOO! shouted all the kids and adults at the firemen. You could hear their laughs, too.
“Boo, Boo! Boo!!!” my sisters and I yelled from our back porch, laughing. “BOO! BOO!”
It had been, as usual, a fab Fourth of July!
Chuck Berry. AN AMERICAN ICON. A FOUNDING FATHER OF ROCK N ROLL. … When I was in college, my boyfriend at UMass was a professional lighting technician for rock bands. All kinds of musical shows. Jazz and folk, too. He did lights for many a Chuck Berry show. He said: Chuck always worked alone. Not too friendly. Always brought his own gear. Tough to work with … A MUSICAL GENIUS.
… My guy LOVED DOING LIGHTS FOR BILLY JOEL AND BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. He said they treated their crew – everybody – with total respect and love.
The Red Devil is my father – handsome, passionate, hot-tempered and fair-skinned. Red haired as a youth. They called him Red when he was 12 and 13. 100% Italian but his roots were Northern Italy – they are fair-skinned up there. And his family owned land in Italia. Bragging Rights. The opposite of the modest, good, generous and gracious man my late uncle, “Mark,” was. Yeah, they called him Polack. Uncle Mark was thick-waisted, built like a Frigedair, but he was kind, stoic, the smart son of Polish immigrants. He went onto college – Fordam University – in the Bronx and became a school principal. You’ve read the columns about both men here but, as I grow older and the love of the superficial fades and becomes a yen for the gracious, generous and good, I think of Uncle Mark this Father’s Day. He was as close to a Dad as my two sisters and I ever knew. But today I am obsessed with my Italian father, too: the dross.
My sweet mom’s marriage to him was a disaster. …
My mother married my father for lust. And because she was pregnant with me! Surprise!!!! I recently learned this from my usually tight-lipped auntie who, after I took a good look at my parents’ marriage certificate, counted nine months … and pressed her, “fessed up.”
The marriage certificate
That’s right. Ma had me – her enchanted one, her Beloved – out of wedlock. A sin back then. After doing it for weeks and weeks with with Daddy in the cab of his big red truck!! According to my aunt who spared me no details. Under the yellow Worcester moon, under the spell of my vain, goodlooking father. Just dating. Not even engaged!
What was my pretty mother thinking?
She wasn’t thinking at all! She was flush with orgasms … This must be love, she felt. Felt!
No wonder Bapy hated Daddy all those years. Bapy: We kids (I am hugging her) with Bapy during a Lafayette Street birthday party!
No wonder Bapy was always enraged around Daddy in our Green Island flat – enraged at everybody, come to think of it. No wonder, out of the blue, Bapy would fling her hard-boiled-egg sandwich at my cocky father and start screaming in Polish: “DOGS BLOOD!! DOGS’ BLOOD!!” A terrible Polish curse usually reserved for the men. And it always sounded so menacing when Bapy spat it out! DOGS BLOOD! DOGS BLOOD.
I think it was menstrual blood …
It is all coming into focus.
What did Bapy and Jaju think of all this? Ma growing heavy with me, her belly starting to pop? Who took Ma to the Mart in Main South for maternity blouses and dresses? Did Bapy and Jaju think we were we all going to Hell for my mother’s Sin? Nakedness! Breasts!! Fornication!! For pleasure – not procreation!! Under God’s eyes!! – without coming to Him at the altar, asking to make sex holy … Ma virginal in a white wedding gown. … A glimmer of hope: I was not going to Hell. Babies, like me, if we died, we went straight to Limbo – not the beautiful Heaven but not the flaming Hell, either. As a kid I pictured Limbo as a kind of big white waiting room … boring … a no man’s land, but at least I would get to hang out with the other millions of dead babies – for eternity.
BAPY AND JAJU HAD TO DEAL WITH A PREGNANT UNMARRIED DAUGHTER. Ma. Their youngest. Their fave. The one they indulged. The one Jaju calked Little Sparrow because Ma, as a kid, loved to whistle tunes, was an excellent whistler. Bapy’s right hand. Ma, the perfect Catholic girl who once dreamed of being a nun, was a live in housekeeper – for A DECADE! – for the Bishop of Springfield, along with her two sisters. A good Catholic girl who attended St. Mary’s school by Kelley Square, prayed to the saints, God, Jesus, The Virgin Mary three or four times a day, reading her prayers to them from penny bookmarks and pamphlets you bought at O’Brien’s Religious Store in downtown Worcester. They were cheap, often photo copies, black and white, often adorned with a small picture of Jesus nailed to the cross and bleeding from his palms and feet – the places his tormentors drove the spikes thru. Under Roman law citizens were never crucified – just the slaves. The outsiders. They had no rights. Jesus the radical had no rights. Was Ma nailed to her own cross? Did she think she had rights? The right over her own body, the right to self-determination, the right to learning, a career … ? Of course not! Never mind that she STILL attended every Novena at our Lady of Czetchowa church near Kelley Square and prayed the rosary every night in bed. Big and round with Rosalie – named after Bapy, her beloved mother.
I was Ma’s beloved. Her gift to herself.
I try to picture Ma doing it in the cab of a truck with Daddy, panties off, skirt hiked up. She was small and lithe at the time, but still. And Red Devil Daddy knowing what he was doing all right, another notch on his steering wheel, covered in axle grease. Ma and the sterering wheel.
Me. The mistake. Pooh poohed by my dismissive father BUT ADORED BY MY MOTHER. The man who RUINED MY MOTHER’S LIFE pre-birth control, pre-abortion … Gave her 35 years working as a counter girl for minimum wage at the dry cleaners down the street. Poverty. Single, impoverished working mom.
But she was the gifted one! So she gifted me … Summers at the Worcester Girls Club … Music…reading…stories…dreams. I was the rickety little basket my mother put all her eggs in, the little girl she spent her hard earned money on to rent! the violin for, the one who took violin lessons at Lamartine Street School … the artiste. The dreamer of my mother’s dreams. All As in the WPS schools. Up until my senior year at Burncoat High – physics did me in. My mother took a nightmare and turned her into Rosalie, Her Beloved. Special art and science projects for her Rose at Lamartine Street School. I can still picture Ma proudly carrying my huge detergent flakes painted VOLCANO project on a gigantic slab of wood. Painted volcanoes and mountains! So heavy! Volcanoes molded by me – and Ma – on our big kitchen floor. Would I get an A for the project! Of course I would!… Join the Worcester Public Schools orchestra, Rosalie. Play your violin before hundreds! You can do it, my Rosalie! … I was shaking NO, Ma! I am only seven! … Ma’s brilliant mistake – the first in the family to go to college. And graduate cum laude! Later … a gal with her own community newspaper. Ma read every issue cover to cover – and would call me with her critiques! In the nursing home, at the end, she would wheel herself in her wheelchair to the nurses station and give the social worker a copy of InCity Times! See? she’d say, her hair matted and uncombed, See MY DAUGHTER’S NEWSPAPER? The social worker didn’t give a cr*p about my rag and snapped at Ma. I watched from behind my mother’s half closed door at the nursing home. Then I came out and said to the nurses at the nurses station: COMB MY MOTHER’S HAIR. SHE LOOKS DEMENTED. I NEVER WANT TO SEE HER LOOKING LIKE THIS WHEN I VISIT HER HERE.
So. I see. A lot now. This is why Daddy could never stay long in our old Green Island flat when I was a little girl, why he literally ran out the door. My father was never in love with my mother. She, my sisters and I – we were all a huge mistake. No love. He had a Rumanian sweetie in the next town. And she had a child by him – my half sister. Just found out. Jeez.
Daddy’s trapped persona is easier to understand now. His impatience at us and resentment of our poverty easier to grasp. Being dragged to City Hall by Ma, her parents, her big sisters and big brother – the justice of the peace did his duty. No priest at this wedding. Classic late 1950s/early 1960s saga. What a mess. The price paid by my mother and millions of naive Catholic girls who confused lust with love back then: physical, emotional abuse. The screams and recriminations. They were cheated on, too, and eventually – sooner rather than later – abandoned.
Daddy-o, with my two sisters on his lap. Bapy’s moniker for him: “Red Devil.”
So … Today I miss Ma all the more for learning her secret. She rose to the occasion. And more. … And I dismiss my peripatetic father – nothing but a sperm donor in work clothes. And I think of my Uncle Mark who did it all perfectly: Kept my Aunt Mary virginal, got down on his knees to propose marriage to her, built her a cute cape off Burncoat Street, supported her and three kids with a good job, family vacations … and day trips that we went along on:
Me and my older cousins at a religious shrine – Saint Anne’s? Saint Joseph’s?, I forget which one – in Leicester. Prayers followed by a cookout and games of Pickle at Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s!
Uncle Mark never hit or yelled at Aunt Mary – he never hurt anybody! He always hugged you and laughed and complimented you. He was even warm and nice to Daddy!!! He played touch football with his boys in their big backyard. He sent his daughter – he called Ann “my Polish Princess” – to Marion High School on the West Side and Anna Maria College in Paxton – all-girls (back then) Catholic schools where they studied hard, prayed to Jesus, went on dates with the WPI boys and, hopefully, stayed virgins until their wedding nights.
A whole other can of worms.
My mother loved this song – esp the Patti Page version.
Ever since my father died (about two months ago), I’ve been seeing him every where. When he was alive, he made about 1,000 entrances in my family’s life. Married with kids but not wanting to be married with kids, my father lived with my mother, two sisters and me some months and was Missing in Action (MIA) during others. He was as tentative as the junk yard dogs he loved so much (and owned).
Pieces of my father, photos of him all over the house
Some of his entrances were comical – like the time he waltzed into our Lafayette Street apartment with some Frank Sinatra LPs and sang “I Did it My Way” to me. My mother had sent him out for a loaf of bread!
But most of his entrances were cruel, small, mean. He made my sisters, my mother and me cry and succeeded at that so well that we eventually learned to … simply dismiss him — cut him out of our world the way you cut the bruise out of an apple. We went on with our lives, worked around our peripatetic “Daddy.” My mother held down a 60-hr-week job to pay the bills, we kids went to school, held after-school jobs, applied to colleges. My father popped in – for weeks or months.
Then, after all these years, my father died in the nursing home two months ago. And Bingo! He’s now larger than life for me – omnipresent, so to speak.
As I drive around Worcester selling ads for my newspaper, InCity Times, with the radio blaring and paperwork to the side of me, I see him. I’m eight years old; my sisters are six. It’s Easter afternoon and my father strides into our Green Island flat, chomping on a big cigar. My mom has my two sisters and me sitting in our three little kiddie rocking chairs waiting for her to get dressed. We’re going to Easter Mass! We wear new pastel dresses with butterflies embroidered on them. My mother “set” our hair the night before, and now our straight brown hair bounces happily around our faces in “baloney curls.” In my father strides, enraged. We had not seen him for almost … forever. We did not know from which land he strode – not the sweet and holy world that my mother and grandmother had created in our apartment, a world filled with prayers to the saints, rosary beads, homework papers, rules and pet hamsters! Was my father going to hurt anybody this time, I asked myself?
No! He was going to have his picture taken with the Easter Bunny! God love my wonderful, hopeful, dreamy mother, she had my father sit in the grownup rocking chair in the kitchen. She would put the big, vinyl Easter Bunny she had bought at the five and ten and blown up (to our merriment) near the rocking chair where he sat. Then she told us little kids to “sit on Daddy’s lap.” We would all say “cheese” on the count of three! It would be a great Easter picture!
Daddy and my two kid sisters, years ago.
I was only eight but thought my mother mad. No, I would not get on Daddy’s lap! No, I would not be in the Easter Bunny picture. My sisters – twins and safe in their look-a-likeness – happily clambered atop my father. Then my mother lifted her little Brownie camera, peered through the little viewer and said, “One two! Say Cheese!” and snapped the picture.
Today I look at the square little photo from the ’60s and see two little gangly girls in pretty dresses in baloney curls looking exactly alike and smiling widely. Each one straddles one of my father’s legs. The bottoms of their dresses fan out over my father’s lap. And there’s my 30-something father; he’s wearing a striped muscle shirt. His hands are on my sisters’ knobby knees and he stares into the camera, looking … trapped. His rugged handsomeness blows me away! When I was a little girl he seemed the ugliest person in the world!
When I’m on the road, I look out of my car window and think I catch my father’s eyes. But it’s just some old man.
“He’s dead!” I tell myself angrily and shake my head as if to shake out the images of him. Then four or so hours later I see my father walking down Shrewsbury Street (his favorite street) and I have to remind myself all over again.
When my father was diagnosed with cancer, he was not living with my mother and us. Mom had stopped giving him second and third chances a decade ago. My sisters and I had moved out of the apartment in pursuit of higher education/careers. So it was a shock to see him walking past the fish and chips joint on Grafton Street, red-faced, his nylon jacket unzipped, billowing out behind him. He wore no shirt that raw, autumn day and he looked dazed. Then there was his neck: as big as a basketball. The lymphoma had set in.
And yet my father went walking around Worcester – his hometown that he seldom traveled outside of –as if nothing unusual had happened. It was one of my aunt’s – his sister – who had found him in his mother’s old house, lying in the darkness, and said: “Bill, you’ve got to go the hospital.” And then he did – quietly and with some grace – because he knew he was dying.
Sometimes I look out my car window and see my father after the cancer ravaged him. I see a helpless old man – my father after the chemo-therapy, the radiation, the blood transfusions. The chemo treatment took all his curly thick hair away and left him with silver, wispy locks my aunt would cut in a bowl shape. Gone was all his wild, curly red hair that rode high above his already high forehead in some grand pompadour, the wild “do” that lead my feisty old Grandma (she was my mother’s mom and lived with us and loathed my father) to nickname him: “The Red Devil.”
Run, devil, run! There you are standing outside the Commerce Building on Main Street, waiting for the bus. There you are walking out of the Millbury Street fruit store, eating a juicy plum and throwing the pit into the gutter. There you are eating the same juicy plum over our Lafayette Street kitchen sink, my sweet mother looking absolutely smitten by you. You have no time for dishes, meals served on plates. Family sit-down meals are not part of your universe. “Gotta get outta here!” you used to say. “Here” being: our Green Island flat, poverty, a wife, three kids, responsibility.
You want to leave – I can tell. But I just can’t let you go, Daddy.
In honor of George Floyd, so much needs to be done to make Worcester a more equitable city. For Black, Hispanic people, all folks of color – AND Worcester’s poor, working poor:
☮️ Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus MUST APPOINT A Worcester Police Department Civilian/Public Review board NOW. He and other city officials have been giving lip service to creating such a board FOR YEARS!!
☮️For our Worcester Public Schools – all our schools – especially the all-white-teacher-Flagg Street School: HIRE MORE MINORITY TEACHERS!!!!
☮️Open and transparent City of Worcester hiring practices.
☮️New housing code rule for our city landlords – many absentee. The landlords MUST SUPPLY THEIR APTS WITH WORKING REFRIGERATORS. Not just stoves. The rule was changed years ago by the City. 1/4 of Worcester kids face hunger. Why not try to lessen the pain and. supply POOR RENTERS with refrigerators, so their produce, etc IS EDIBLE. For their kids. Refrigerator STAYS in apt, after renters leave – for the next renters.
☮️RENT CONTROL. Average crappy Worcester apt rent? $1,200-$1,400/ month!! This contributes to the pain, hunger, challenges of the people – thousands! – in our older neighborhoods.
☮️City Manager Ed Augustus MUST support$$ through HUD$ funds: the Green Island Neighborhood Center, South Worcester Neighborhood Center – and reboot THE QUINSIGAMOND VILLAGE NEIGHBORHOOD CENTER on Greenwood Street. We need a new site – and more than the Friendly House-run food pantry out of the church. Mostly white poor people live here in the neighborhood now, esp along the main roads.
Q Village!🌸🌸pic: R.T.
☮️Why not reopen a Quinsig Village Neighborhood Center and put in place: a social services advocate, an after-school program, a director on site – at least part-time – a neighborhood crime watch group, a college prep teacher/volunteer. THIS IS NOT THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF OUR PARENTS/GRANDPARENTS ANYMORE. It is a city neighborhood in need of SERVICES. 25 years ago – we had a great neighborhood center here, run by the late great Kathy Sullivan and, before that, the 85+years old, now-ailing Jane Petrella, a big education advocate for ALL CITY kids. Honor them, city officials! Reopen THE Q VILLAGE NEIGHBORHOOD CENTER I KNEW AND LOVED years ago!
Last week I ate my lunch outside my ol’ alma mater – Burncoat Senior High♥️ (class of ’79♥️). ♥️ pics:R.T.
In the my school’s parking lot, facial mask down, cheese and tomato sandwich in … I felt safe, proud of my high school, and I felt the emptiness. … No classes, no arts, no sports … no final few fun high school days, no autographing of yearbooks, no graduation parties, no graduation. All those high school rituals that I shyly loved and lived as a 17 year old Green Islander – fun and kid-generated – serious and adult-run – gone. …
The kids have lost out. The kids have won. Yes, they may feel the lack of closure, the one door closing but one door opening feeling you get when your life changes in a HUGE way. For the grads: college, work, the military, Ameri-Corps … Sorta kinda not there. Not yet. … What to do, how to think about this nebulous state of being WHEN YOU ARE YOUNG AND FULL OF LIFE, LOVE, HOPE, ENERGY, CURIOSITY!!!
Rose’s BHS yearbook♥️
A photo from Rose’s Burncoat yearbook: Rose, left, and her great pal! Whom Rose never forgot!
Parents and grads: Create your own Gap Year. Like they do/have done for years in Europe! Grads, look at this next year as a year to explore: music, poetry, nature, classic novels …
☀️Get your parents to buy you a guitar or banjo – and start strumming away! See if you have talent …
☀️Listen to ALL THAT GREAT BABY BOOMER music that was created in the crucible of war, partisan divisiveness, political chaos, nature, death, life, AMERICAN CHAOS – sorta the way our country feels today.
☀️Become a long-distance runner. I began to run after I quit college for a year. Yeah, I was no Bill Rogers, but I felt healthier, more in touch with my neighborhood, outdoors …
☀️Read stuff your teachers and grownups aren’t pushing on you: goofy romance novels, comic books, magazines, GREAT CLASSICS that you didn’t quite read in 11th grade English class at Burncoat. Try short stories. Need ideas? Email me … and we will talk writers and writing!!
📚Go to an art shop or Target and buy poster paper, drawing pads, pastels, water colors … and start creating.
☀️Adopt or foster a dog or cat. Become best pals! (My late mom pictured here with her beloved, Doby, Bridgette♥️):
☀️These covid days melt into new covid days. Time is malleable…pliable…dreamy. Make your own dreamscape. Maybe these days are anathema to Chromebook-style assignments – or even checking in with teachers every day. Maybe this pandemic is this young generation’s polio pandemic or the days beneath the bombs and fighter planes of World War II: time for kids to be free, experience the scary/beautiful world – to find themselves.