Category Archives: Rosalie’s Blog

Barbara Haller

By Rosalie Tirella

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The Barbara sign on her building. photo: R.T.

Former Worcester District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller died a few days ago. I drove by Haller’s Main South office space yesterday and saw her sign on her building at the corner of Main and Castle streets, the sign that’s been at the top of the edifice for all to see for years … big, bold and direct: BARBARA HALLER CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 4.

Someone once said to me, miffed: She lost the election! That sign is still up!

The person was hinting that the old guard – Barb – just couldn’t let go, couldn’t face the fact that the new guard, a Latina representing the now pretty much Hispanic district, District 4, was the future. That the white working class that had voted Haller in a decade ago, the same folks who voted in the late great D 4 city councilor Jan Nadeau, Haller’s political mentor, were dying off, not really defining the Main South, South Worcester and Green Island neighborhoods anymore. The heart and soul of District 4. When Nadeau died, her supporters and political network became Haller’s. Haller, even though brilliant, artsy, educated – really phenomenal in so many ways – reflected their old school values back on to them, thru her presence on the Worcester City Council. She represented her district well for that time: She, like everyone else, declared NO prostitution in our neighborhood! NO drugs! NO PIP wet shelter! NO homeless people! NO crappy three deckers with their crappy slumlords! WE MUST TAKE BACK OUR MAIN SOUTH! WE MUST TURN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD AROUND SO WE CAN ENJOY OUR BACKYARDS, PARKS AND SIDEWALKS ONCE AGAIN!

During her council tenure, Barbara Haller did all that – and more. Not only – as D 4 councilor for more than 10 years – did Barb Haller “clean up” her Main South neighborhood and surrounding ‘hoods – she helped them flourish. Made them walkable. Made them greener. Made them artsier, healthier … It was Barb and life partner Frank Z and former mayor Joe O’Brien (a one time denizen of Main South living a few streets away from Barb and Frank on Castle Street) who cleaned up Castle Park and made it pretty, clean and safe – devoid of used heroin syringes, garbage strewn under trees … It was Barb who got former City Manager Mike O’Brien to revive the last municipal swimming pool in Worcester as he was shutting the rest down. Not only was the Crompton Park pool saved, it was redone with adorable amenities like spray slides and new benches, new shower area … everything! Crompton Park, in D 4, is a city gem – Barb helped make it sparkle.

Barb got the handball courts rebuilt… they’re off the old Maloney’s Field on Cambridge Street in South Worcester – not in Main South, Barb’s neighborhood. Still, she brought her passion to the project, and they went from being drab to beautiful and new. These inner-city handball courts instantly drew hundreds of Latino folks during all seasons to play, exercise and have fun. Families who bring babies in strollers and sometimes pack a lunch to enjoy a summer day at their park together!

Barbara would patrol her District 4, a densely populated, sometimes dangerous D 4. She quit her job at National Grid to devote all her working – some would say waking – hours to her beloved District 4. As a reporter and friend I drove around the district (also my childhood stamping grounds – I grew up in Green Island) with Barb. More than a few times. I was with her as she checked on all her neighborhoods, three decker by three decker, park to park, mini Mart to liquor store. In her big old rusty SUV, Barb braking and accelerating, stepping on the gas or brake pedal in her cute signature brown or beige sensible shoes, wearing her faded denim long skirt, white cotton shirt and topped off with a black cotton blazer, Barb was on a roll. Little notebook by her side, pen by notebook, she checked the three deckers with busted windows, broken doors, used works – needles and other crap that heroin addicts had left behind in HER district. Barb was fearless in these inner-city fact finding missions, where she’d check on drug houses or abandoned warehouses, climbing over fencing, pushing aside bushes and brambles. Once, on one of our little jaunts, always followed by a nice lunch at Peppercorns or the Webster House – always on Barb – she and I saw two groups of young guys, in their late teens and early 20s, squaring off in front of a liquor store in Piedmont, baseball bats in hand. Fearing violence, smashed heads galore, I said: Barb, Oh, no… there’s gonna be a fight. Let’s call the police!

Well, Barb, being Barb, doesn’t hear I word I say and stops her vehicle just two yards away, in front of the soon to happen brouhaha and opens the SUV door to get out …

I say: No, Barb! What if someone pulls a gun on you?

All were so young and strong, bicep muscles showing definition in the summer sun…Barb was a senior citizen, heavy and sometimes … waddled.

I’m 63, she tells me, quietly. I’ve lived a long life …

and she gets out of her vehicle cool as a cucumber, John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS. Barb walks up to the guys, talks with them and they disperse.

My late mom used to love to watch our city council meetings when Konnie Lukes and Barbara Haller were on the council. She admired Konnie’s toughness and in your face political style. She thought Barbara was always intelligent – and that she always looked so cute! “She’s wearing her outfit!” Ma would say, between sips of coffee and nibbles on her danish. “She has her pencil sticking out of her bun!”

Yep. That was the great Barbara Haller. Fine grey hair pulled back into a neat little bun with a yellow number 2 pencil protruding. I don’t think I ever saw Barb’s hair down once, even when I visited her in her home – always her neat bun, a few grey wisps of hair framing her round pleasant face. The pencils spelled brilliant mathematical genius engineer – and they were also there in case she needed to take notes on District 4.

I am making Haller sound a bit severe – and she could be. That was maybe part of her political downfall – seeing every Main South addict as a criminal, every homeless person on Charlton or Sycamore streets as the enemy, every PIP client someone to eject from her neighborhood forever. Her biggest political mistake? Saying, on the record, that some days, walking past the PIP, walking along Main Street, she felt she was “the only legitimate person” in her ‘hood. This comment brought on a slew of haters and political opponents. From then on Barb had one political opponent after another vying for her seat on the city council, election cycle after election cycle – in Worcester, that means every two years! So there was Lynn, a founder of the Worcester Youth Center, Grace the progressive but pokey WAFT saint, even Dave from Dismas House on nearby Richards Street got into the act and tried to register homeless people to get them to vote for the person running against Barbara that year. Barb called him on it through placing a call to a T and G columnist who wrote a scathing column on Dave, making him look sneaky…reprehensible. Dave quickly moved to Westboro with his wife and little child.

Which leads me to say: Barb was a politician. A very savvy one. A true operator. I say this with pride, as a woman. Barb was ALWAYS the smartest person in the room. She knew exactly what every character was up to – and she knew how to foil their plans, making those phone calls, button holing this person, taking that person to lunch. Male pols do this all the time. It’s high time we acknowledge female politicians for doing the same…for better and for worse.

Barb was a joyful person: after she and partners sold the Gilrein’s blues club on Main Street to new folks, she threw a party. I went to it and watched Barb dance up a storm! The music started, the boxy, buxom Barb lept up, and light on her feet, with grace and rhythm, boogied with Joe O’Brien’s wife and then maybe one of Joe’s (at the time) young kids and then … alone. Just for the joy of the dance.

Once I gave Barb a Dollar Tree Christmas mug for Christmas. It was the best I could do that year. We were in her SUV when I gave her snowman mug to her. She looked at it and started to cry. She said: Thank you! It’s just what I needed!

When I got home later that day I wondered, why the waterworks? A few years later I realized it was because she loved me …

I could go on and on about how terrific a human being Barbara Haller was and how lucky Worcesterites were to have her live with us, for us. … A few years back, right before they were going to tear down the beautiful Notre Dame church in downtown Worcester, I saw a small group of people putting on some kind of farewell concert to the church – right before its demise, in front of the ugly brown tarp and silver chain-link fence that had cut the church off from the community. But the community had come! A few high school and college kids were reading poetry before the church, another person was playing a violin to her … There was a small audience. And sitting in a folding chair, before the little group of young people, before the great church with its high arches sparkling in the sun, there sat Barbara Haller, witness to it all, waking a friend that would soon die, even though she tried to save her! Barb was swaying gently to the music, and though I only saw her from behind, I bet she was smiling … and crying a bit, too.

Just like I am today! Goodbye, old friend! Like Note Dame, you were a once in a lifetime gift to Worcester!

Love …

The El

By Rosalie Tirella

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The El’s famous stuffed grape leaves. photos courtesy of the Worcester Historical Museum.

I loved the El – as in the now long gone El Morocco restaurant and jazz club up on Wall Street. Up on the hill, a bit past the Friendly House, the crown jewel of an East Side Worcester neighborhood that for years was home to Armenian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants.

My late mom adored El owner Joe Aboody who was the sweetest guy in the world. Joe had the cutest little grey poodle that was clipped to pom pom perfection, and he’d bring his poodle into the dry cleaners where my mother worked and plop him down on the counter. The dog would “sit” and Ma would give Joe his drycleaning, all the while admiring his smart, regal little companion, who was a star in his own right.

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The first El Morocco with a few Aboody family members.

At the restaurant/club Joe and his handsome brother Richie made the rounds as guests dined and wined. They’d visit every table making each and every guest – from actor Al Pacino to Cecelia Tirella of Lafayette Street – feel like a ✨star✨. The Aboody’s put 1950s glamor into gritty, “utility closet” Worcester and Woo wallowed in the opulence. There was gold painted on the walls, chandeliers that cried sparkling glass tear drops, camel decor on the outside of the building, sconces inside the restaurant that dramatically lit up the faces of patrons sitting at the bar or around dining tables, making everyone look beautiful …

How do some people do it? Attract EVERYBODY? Flash a smile and instantly gain a rapt audience? The Aboody brothers were the sultans of any room – they oozed charisma.

When older, in college, I’d go with my kid sister to the El. We’d take a cab to go listen to Scott Hamilton and other cool cats. Sometimes I’d see the assistant principal of Burncoat Senior High School, my alma mater, at the El! He’d be wearing dark shades and smoking a cigarette and acting very cool, blowing right past me! I loved it when after a jazz show Joe would invite me and my sister to the restaurant’s noisy, busy kitchen, seat us at a high, round table for two and serve us, on the house, plates of the El’s delicious hummus and baba ganoush with plenty of triangles of Syrian bread for dipping. Joe knew we were poor. He knew our mother was proud of us, her good girls going to college – she’d only finished the eighth grade. So he lavished us with his love – great food – and then he raced back out to the busy dining rooms packed with people. I mean hundreds of happy, gregarious, buzzed, dancing, flirtatious people, shoulder to shoulder … it was always a tight squeeze at the El …

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A restaurant booth from the first El – the second El was much fancier!

Every Christmas the Green Island dry cleaners Ma worked at would have their annual Christmas party at the El. I remember going a few times with Ma and watching her beam at the whole scene, out for some much needed fun, a little drunk from her drinks, soaking up all that Rat Pack Old Hollywood atmosphere: the gorgeously dressed and coiffed men and women, the clinking of wine glasses as couples canoodled, the silver rings of cigarette smoke spiraling up up up … everyone so florid … so boisterous…so happy … the gold shimmering on the walls, the bar packed with guys and dolls flirting. Ma loved to dance and always sashayed around the dance floor with the owner of the dry cleaners who was her ally for decades … Ma wore her Elizabeth Arden red lipstick that night, effortlessly reapplying it during and after her meal, straight from the bullet, no mirror needed.

I miss the El. You can see some of it, photos, forget me nots …. an old restaurant booth from the original El … at the Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm St. Trust me, the historic artifacts don’t begin to capture the excitement.

Drive safe, Worcester! … (Correction and photos))

By Rosalie Tirella

CORRECTION: LAST PARAGRAPH – it’s Gates Lane School.

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Slow down!! photos: R.T.

Above: barreling through my old neighborhood, this cement mixer extraordinaire: loud, dangerous, oblivious. Last week, the Republic Dumpster driver was speeding, I mean tearing rubber!, down Providence Street. Vernon Hill School is located on Providence Street – lots of five-, six- and seven-year olds, plus their young parents, will converge on the school in a week or so, making it an important part of their lives for the coming school year. Will Republic Dumpster trucks or Dauphinais Cement behemoths defer to Worcester’s most vulnerable citizens – little children – when on the road? Will the tiny tykes cross the street without fear? I doubt it. Last spring I saw a dumpster truck barreling down Mill Street, practically mowing down a young mom and little kids after she had gotten her children off the school bus. It screeched to a halt. Thank God for good brakes!

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Watch the yellow line! … Yes, they speed and run red lights in Worcester’s inner-city neighborhoods.

Mill Street is a 30-mile an hour stretch of street, but unless the WPD cops are there, on the look out, the vehicles go 40 miles an hour and much faster than that. Mill Swan elementary school is located on Mill Street – their special needs kids are of no concern to Worcester motorists. Often you’ll read in the paper of DRIVERS, DRIVING ONE-TON CARS, COMPLAINING, WHINING!, that the mowed-down pedestrian wasn’t walking in the crosswalk, so he got his! … The neighborhood where Feeney Brothers construction is located (Lincoln Street) has signs posted: NO TRUCKS IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD. A residential street, more Burncoat than Lincoln, lets its true feelings out: these middle-class folks don’t want the Feeney Brothers’ erratic driving in their neighborhood. Nor do they want their huge trucks’ pollution, noise, crap on their little street. They know the Feeney Brothers have no qualms about shattering neighborhood bliss, maybe even enjoying the mayhem they create …

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Probably politically connected – which emboldens their speedster drivers!

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The WPD can’t police every Worcester main drag. School’s back in session next week: SLOW DOWN!! And remember: PEDESTRIANS, IN AND OUT OF CROSSWALKS, RICH OR POOR, SOBER OR HIGH, SUBURBAN OR INNER-CITY, ALWAYS HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY.

As Worcester grows, builds, reinvests, develops like there’s no tomorrow … reinvents itself into something totally different from my Green Island girlhood to become a city that is way more diverse but also a hundred times faster, greedier, expensive, harder than many of us old timers ever experienced in our beloved ol’ Wormtown, we should all hang our heads in sorrow as Dauphinais, Republic and all the other trucking, garbage, cement and dumping companies lead the way in reminding us that families aren’t there for us the way they used to be, we’re a less cohesive community, the poor will get crumbs but no more, a permanent underclass is here to stay, and the happy, shiny transplants from the east have taken away some of our grace.

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The new Worcester?

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REMEMBER …

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Students at Belmont Community School enjoy reading in their library … CECELIA file photo.

PLEASE BE KIND TO OUR STUDENTS! … LET’S NEVER FORGET THE LITTLE GIRL WHO WAS MOWED DOWN ON STAFFORD STREET THIS PAST SPRING – run over, rushed to the hospital, suffering, in shock, dying, her mom and family devastated FOREVER. Gates Lane School is across from the Shaw’s Webster Square shopping plaza, on Main Street …

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Gates Lane School

But many parents pick up their children after school ON THE STAFFORD STREET SIDE of the shopping plaza:

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Parents and kids often meet on this side of the plaza, the Stafford Street Side. Many parents go to the Main Street side to meet their kids.

I’ve taken photos for CECELIA newspaper of parents picking up their little children after school on the Stafford Street side of the plaza – many walk their kids to their cars, parked in the plaza, and they drive home.

But the little girl who was killed by the car and her mom were pedestrians. THEY WERE CROSSING STAFFORD STREET AFTER THE SCHOOL DAY – TO GET HOME. The happiest part of their day – reuniting to talk of, maybe laugh at, their experiences in school, or work, or home turned bloody, horrific, life-shattering.

THE CITY OF WORCESTER MUST BUILD A MEMORIAL TO THE LITTLE GIRL, to a WPS student who died on an out of control Worcester street. We need a statue, reminding all Worcester drivers that SCHOOL CHILDREN AND THEIR PARENTS CROSS STAFFORD STREET when the school day is done. And to drive with THEIR kids in mind …

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The other side of the plaza: Stafford Street.

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Stafford Street is often the Webster Square area race track, speed demons galore. About 26 years ago, Rose worked with a woman whose son was hit by a car as he was crossing Stafford Street. He didn’t die but was severely injured. His mom, a CNA, was so grateful he survived that she took all his injuries in stride, never feeling bitter or angry.

Gerardi’s Auto Service Center at Tatnuck Square (Pleasant Street), Worcester: They’re Cheats!

By Rosalie Tirella

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Owner Gerardi, pictured, and helper “Laughing Mike,” right: despicable. pics: R.T.

Gerardi’s Auto Service Center at Tatnuck Square (Pleasant Street), Worcester: What cheats! What scammers! What RIP-OFF ARTISTS. NO RESPECT FOR WOMEN! … My car got a rejection sticker from them a month or so back. I made the fixes on my car: got and installed a new tie rod and the tire was replaced. My car drives like a charm now – a CECELIA customer/mechanic did the job. Wonderful work! I didn’t give the job to Girardi’s but to a friend/CECELIA customer who’s supported my feisty lil’ rag and website for almost two decades.

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A WEST SIDE staple?

So today baldy fathead father owner Girardi and Laughing Mike (Mike can’t stop laughing at me) give me another rejection sticker. They say: New tire isn’t perfect. Not good enough! Oh and there’s other stuff…I SAID: Hold your horses, a*sholes! IT’S ILLEGAL TO GIVE A CAR A REJECTION STICKER FOR TWO THINGS AND THEN, after its owner goes to another garage for the repairs, you guys come up with more stuff to fix! As punishment!

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Another report for Mass Attorney General’s Office

Who are these Girardi garbage guys? Why do they work on Tatnuck Square? Can’t believe the ladies of WORCESTER’S WEST SIDE let them get away with the cheating and double dipping!

… As I was getting into my car to drive out of their dump – they kept my car in their bay extra long just to be jerks – on my way to write this mini-column, baldy owner Gerardi yells to Laughing Mike – “She’ll have to pay us for the next sticker!”

Like hell I will.

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Mike wouldn’t give me my car out of their work bay. Just kept laughing!

Yes! to COMMUNITY PRESERVATION and TRANSITIONING KIDS!

By Rosalie Tirella

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The new Worcester? pics:R.T.

Yesterday morning: pictures of the Mercantile and Ruth’s – and a totally reconfigured part of Downtown Worcester, where the old Worcester Galleria shopping mall used to be. Now we have trendy restaurants and faceless coffee shops, a fancy hotel, parking … a mini-dog park, all for the rich newcomers. The kiddos and some empty nesters (also dog owners) all live in this new downtown, they live in those ghastly apartment complexes across the street that haven’t a single regular Worcester peep or family living in them! You know the buildings: the huge ugly ones that Ed Augustus built all over this part of downtown to bring people into the neighborhood, to create a new neighborhood, a neighborhood not meant for Worcesterites but for the Bostonians who are coming to our city for the more affordable … everything, driving up prices for the rest of us. The Augustus apartment complexes resemble all those huge ugly hotels you find all over Metro West: cheaply made, character-less … glorified dormitories.

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The Mercantile.

Why did former Worcester City Manager Ed Agustus abandon the neighborhood after he created it? Why did Ed leave downtown City Hall, just a 10 minute walk away from the trendy Mercantile, for a job in some small Worcester County town, working in some small college? The old Worcester vibes … Ed’s contract wasn’t up for a few years. He was the top money maker in Worcester municipal government. Could it be that Ed Augustus couldn’t relate to the new faceless, moneyed downtown he created just across the street from the Worcester Common/his City Hall where he worked? Was Ed’s new neighborhood “too much” for Ed? … totally unrelatable to Ed Augustus, born and raised in blue-collar Webster Square?

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1939 Worcester…unions on the rise, people working together…very much a blue-collar city. photo courtesy of Worcester Historical Museum.

Where is the egalitarian shopping experience that defined the old downtown Worcester, the old downtown Worcester of Ed Agustus? That Downtown Worcester had something for everyone: rich, poor, working class, middle class …We came together as a community to shop and knosh!

A TALE OF TWO WORCESTER’S – the rich newcomers and us poorer locals!

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The rich newcomers have expected ameneties – and the City has delivered special for them!

Gone is the upward mobility of the old Worcester – via our factories and shops with their reliable paychecks and good benefits. Gone are our once AFFORDABLE three deckers, priced just right for first generation Worcester FAMILIES. Now it’s $2,200 monthly rent for a Woo three decker apartment – 3 bedrooms, 3 roommates coming together to pay for it all. Not a family building anymore. Now an investment. A high mortgage that requires high rents. When a local social worker tells me he’s got a line of 12 people outside his door – all waiting for his help, most struggling with housing, you know SMOC AND CMHA can’t do it all. This social worker told me he’s seeing Worcester working families who pay more than 50% of their income towards their rent!

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Jett💙 and Lilac❤️

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Table Talk Pies factory being knocked down, for the most part … more upscale, overpriced apartments for the Boston crowd to be built. Bet the pie factory guy is a rich owner! His factory rebuilt in Main South. Hope he pays his workers a living wage!

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Ugly

Shame on Tim Murray and his chamber of commerce for refusing to get behind the Community Preservation Act – a way to help fund affordable housing in Massachusetts cities and towns – including Worcester. … Murray knows how to feather his own nest! He got his chamber cronies to almost double his executive director salary during the first year he was hired by the chamber (after disgracing himself politically). His salary went from around $90,000 to around $180,000 – in just several months!

Worcester needs to join this state program to tap into millions$$$ to build more affordable housing here. People are living on our streets, in our parks, in our woods. VOTE YES☑️ this fall FOR COMMUNITY PRESERVATION! It’s on the ballot!🗳️

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JESSE …

Almost 18 years ago InCity Times ran Worcester’s first cover story on a transgendered youth: we talked with Jesse, a case manager/social worker at AIDS PROJECT WORCESTER and published his story. We were mocked for writing and publishing the lengthy interview in which Jesse, a WPI graduate, talked of his prior life as a young woman, always feeling he was a boy in the wrong body, coming out to his parents and then the exciting transitioning process – biological, true, what his body was experiencing, how right it all felt now. Jesse was finally happy… Becoming who he was destined to become.

Yes, InCity Times/our website were chastised – but we were 20 years ahead of the times (just like we were with veganism … banning elephants and all exotic animals from circuses … banning greyhound racing … ) We are saddened to learn about the hatred and hysteria that’s threatening the very lived of the great doctors and health staff at a Boston hospital because they helping young people find themselves … begin to make the transition to their true selves … These dangerous people need to be educated: No one pushes these kids into anything. A friend whose wife worked as a principal at a local elementary school told me there was a kindergartner whose parents and teachers felt was showing signs of being mislabeled. THEY LET THE CHILD GROW IN THE DIRECTION THE CHILD NEEDED TO GROW IN AND WANTED TO GROW IN. It wasn’t a joke or a whim or a directive from anyone!

PLEASE! LET’S ALL BE EDUCATED AND LEARN THE FACTS!

END OF SUMMER FESTS❤️

By Rosalie Tirella

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Pointy tent-tops. photos: R.T.

I drove by Our Lady of Loretto Church just now and saw the last, gargantuan, big top tent … empty, covering nothing, but still erected on the church parking lot. With its “points” glistening in the sun and seemingly poking into the clouds, it looked a lot like those pointy “material girl” bras Madonna wore in the 1990s during her concerts and in her MTV music videos. But today I was thinking of a different Madonna – the patron saint of the little Italian-American church on the city’s East Side. It had just capped off its full-to-capacity, four-day Italian Festival.

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Our Lady of Loretto Church

I drove by the fest each day, and it was really hopping the final two days and nights, with people coming in cars, baby carriages, wheel chairs and on foot, from all over Worcester. The old, the middle-aged and the young converged on this joyful gathering. Everyone got along, people were smiling and laughing – all together again! A community event that was on hiatus for two years due to the global pandemic roared back to life this past weekend as we humans expressed the most social sides of ourselves. TOGETHERNESS! Heaven!

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Memories made under the big top

So, sitting here, as I listen to the tent’s thick ropes and cords banging up against the tent’s poles (there’s a summer breeze), I am grateful for the old Worcester. The old Catholic traditions – the church fests, the fall novenas, the pre-autumn visit to local shrines to pray to obscure saints, then … to socialize and knosh – on everything from doughnuts to calzone, courtesy of the good church folks – or vendors! The cousins get to run wild on the church lawn, playing hide and seek among the outdoor Stations of the Cross again – as we did decades ago every August at the St. Ann’s shrine in Leicester. My mom and aunt always took my two kid sisters and me to the church’s end-of-summer outdoor Novena, held in their beautiful chapel (made of stones, cupped by a little forest of trees) where we always met up with our Uncle Mark, Aunt Ann and their kids, our favorite cousins. At the end of Mass the nuns would let each of us attendees walk up to the altar and take a long pink or white or yellow gladiola from the big vases they had set up before the altar. You’d kneel on the kneel rest and say a brief prayer before grabbing your glady – but that was part of the fun, my favorite part of the evening, after the doughnuts that were set out by the boy orphans that lived in the dormitory behind the church. They also had a school on the grounds. The boys seemed kind of serious and some of them looked too big for their shirts, but I was 10 years old and focused on flowers and candy …

Kids need religion and religious traditions like the Our Lady of Loretto festival even if, like me, they grow up and leave the physical church to ponder, for decades: WHAT IS GOD? The festivities, church processions, catechism classes, First Holy Communions, outdoor masses and novenas give children a foundation: through Catholicism, they learn to be kind to animals, love the poor, respect your parents, don’t steal … sing!!

So this past weekend it was, I believe, not so much the great Italian-American eats that drew the huge crowd to the Our Lady of Loretto Church Italian Festival. It was a hunger for traditions, especially after COVID times. We all missed community … shared music, shared crafts, shared food … and happiness.

CRACKER JACK!

By Rosalie Tirella

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2022 Cracker Jack … pics: R.T.

I picked up a 3-pack of CRACKER JACK at the dollar store the other day. I was curious: had this snack classic, at the height of its wow-ness during World War II, changed since we Green Island kids scarfed it down on Lafayette Street, always a bit stale, having sat on the shelf of Eddy’s Penny Candy Store for a couple of months, but still pretty terrific. From popsicles, to Nutty Buddy ice cream cones, to cream-sickles (my mom’s favorite treat) to huge ropes of purple bubble gum that turned our lips a lurid indigo, Eddie had all the goodies – plus a few loaves of bread and bottles of Moxie, if you needed a meal. Moxie was/is a dark brown soda pop with zing to it that I liked a lot as a kid. Rose had MOXIE! My mother did, too, as she loved the soda pop and always had a bottle of it in our old refrigerator.

“Eddy’s” was located across the Lafayette Street three decker in which we lived and was the penny candy mecca of our neighborhood. Eddy had one side of his store dedicated to just penny candy. Hundreds of sour balls, malted balls, gum balls, candy canes, licorice twists, lollipops, little wax figurines filled with colored sugar water … all individually wrapped sitting in their own cubby waiting for you to say to Eddy: I’ll take that one, Eddy, and that kind, Eddy, and that one, Eddy! You never touched. You just pointed at the candy you wanted. The cubbies were built onto a huge brown table/stand, so as a little kid you looked over this sea of candy, each kind, in its own nook, and Eddy stood over you holding a little brown paper bag and picked out the candy you pointed to and dropped it into your wee paper bag. He did this not out of sanitary or health concerns but because he didn’t want us kids – most poor, many bold (boys and girls both) – to steal even one gum drop from him. I tried once – when I thought Eddy wasn’t looking. I thought I very smoothly placed my chubby little paw over a wrapped butter scotch … PUT THAT BACK! Eddy screamed at me, in front of all the other kids waiting their turn for candy. I looked up at his red twisted face and felt ashamed. Chastened. A sinner. THOU SHALT NOT STEAL was the Seventh Commandment! Would Eddy tell my mother I tried to STEAL the next time he saw her? I skulked out of Eddy’s and never tried to pilfer his penny candy again.

Eddy – an epileptic who often had his seizures in the back room of his store, which signaled to us kids: come back later to buy penny candy – wasn’t a kid person or even a candy and snack person. His little store at the bottom level of his mother’s three decker (he lived with his mother above the store) was a way to bring in some money – and set off store fire crackers in the middle of Lafayette Street, creating little pyrotechnics shows for himself and us kids. Eddy loved the pop sizzle pop of the fire crackers, and he always drew a crowd of us because we kids liked the smoke and noise and unpredictability of firecrackers and secretly hoped Eddy would have one of his “fits” in front of us while setting off his fireworks. Now that would be a terrific show!!

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Rose and kid sisters at Rocky Point – Rocky Point clam fritters better than Eddy’s stale Cracker Jacks!

Sometimes I’d go to Eddy’s and buy not firecrackers but a roll of “caps” and just bang out the red strip of caps with a stone, right in front of our house. With the dots of black fire cracker powder in the middle of the strip I knew exactly where to slam my stone and loved the smell of the cap powder once released. I had a cap gun that my mom bought for me at the Mart…a real Western John Wayne cowboy lookalike gun that you could feed a roll of caps into. You felt like a real cow girl shooting at the TV set or your kid sister! My cousin Ann had cowgirl boots, a cowgirl vest, a cowgirl hat and two cap guns to stick in her brown plastic holster that she wore around her fat waist. Ann was my Uncle Mark’s daughter and was spoiled. She wasn’t poor like me and my kid sisters – she was the daughter of a school principal and always got any toy she wanted. Uncle Mark called her his “Polish Princess” and never disappointed her …

My mother, a baseball fanatic, didn’t have the money to buy me cow girl outfits or even two cap guns, but she did teach me how to sing TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME, an old baseball tune that immortalized CRACKER JACK with its lyrics: “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack/I don’t care if I never get back!/It’s just root toot toot for the whole team … It’s a shame if they lose but It’s one! two! Three strikes you’re out!! at the old ball game!” This is the song my mom would whistle around our tenement when she was washing clothes over the big concrete basins in our kitchen – holdovers from the 1920s when the wife washed the laundry by hand in one bath tub and rinsed it in the adjacent one. Both concrete and ugly. When not in use there was a slab of concrete that went over it. I think my mom covered it with yellow daisy contact paper she bought at White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street to make this industrial hunk look pretty. During birthday parties Ma would set out her buffet on this concrete slab with a pretty paper table cloth draped over the dark stone. I remember watching in trepidation as Ma fed pieces of wet laundry – tee shirt, apron, dress – in between the two big black hard rubber rollers that rolled and rolled …this squeezed out all the water in the articles of clothing, leaving Ma with flat-as-pancakes clothes for her to hang on our third floor clothes line, square and hanging from a metal pole from our back porch. I always worried she’d get her careworn fingers stuck between the big rollers and they’d get caught between the rollers and they’d be a horrible accident. But my mother was always sharp and ready for anything – except my father, who strode into our kitchen when he was in town to call my sweet mother, doing our laundry, “a dumb jackass” for working so hard. Didn’t she know they had invented the washer and dryer?! Didn’t she read the Sears and Roebuck catalog?!!

Didn’t Daddy know we were poor?

And so Ma whistled the CRACKER JACK song when she washed our clothes, tuning our peripatetic father out of the picture. A cozy, domestic picture my mother lovingly created for her three girls and Polish immigrant mother, Bapy.

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Rose, 10, standing before our washing basins in our Lafayette Street kitchen. The basins are covered up and ready for a CECELIA birthday party!

I always liked the free prize in my box of stale CRACKER JACK that I had bought at Eddy’s. Eddy couldn’t ruin the prize no matter how long the box stood on his rickety store shelf. Every box of Cracker Jack came with its own secret prize, usually at the bottom of your box of Cracker Jack. It was often a terrific glow-in-the-dark plastic ring, or a red whistle that really sang, or a little plastic magnifying glass that worked!, or a strip baseball tattoos – bat, mitt, ball – that I used to rub onto my forearm and wash off with warm, soapy water before I went to bed …There could also be a maze, with little silver balls that you tried to roll into an enclosed picture. The balls were the eyes of a cat, or a baseball in mid-flight over the pale green outfield of your little picture. Lots of kids bought their box of Cracker Jack just for the toy inside! And the box was colorful, festive, fun. You felt great carrying a box of Cracker Jack. You sparkled.

So here I am 60 years old, with my boxes of Cracker Jack. Ma is dead, so is White’s Five and Ten…the dollar store has stuff made in China, including their bags of penny candy. I open my dollar store Cracker Jack box tentatively. What a bust – for me – for any kid! The box is small and cheap looking. The CRACKER JACK history is touted for all to read …

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– but it’s not respected by its current manufacturer.

The Cracker Jack is BIOENGINEERED …

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Ick!

I taste it… tastes Ok. Not enough peanuts. The free toy is a small flat square piece of paper, no bigger than a postage stamp. Really nothing I want to explore. Same piece of crap free toy in all three CRACKER JACK boxes! No variety, no zip, courtesy of Frito Lay, a multi-billion dollar $$$ global corporation that could definitely afford to sell big beautiful boxes of yummy Cracker Jack, with glow-in-the-dark rings that boys and girls love to wear to bed, or red whistles that you can string on some red yarn and blow into them and pretend you’re a police officer busting in to catch the criminals: Frito Lay. Global capitalism.

Hey, Domino!!!

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

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Who’s the king?!

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❤️

At the park. The guys are playing dominoes now. Not for money, they tell me, but TO BE KING! They all claim to be #1, and there is much slapping down of the plastic dominoes in a kind of sweet bravado! I am bugging them, I know, but keep asking them: Who’s the king? Who’s the king? The guy with the table, I think! One of the men points to his ample chest to tell me he’s the winner and then drops his cig on the grass to pat Lilac. Lilac frees herself from her collar and goes over to the cig. The man stamps his cigarette out on the grass and is distracted by who’s under their table. Then he says to me, Take off your glasses! I ignore him and ask, Where’s this game played? … ALL OVER THE WORLD! they shout! ALL OVER THE WORLD! Cuba! Puerto Rico! CUBA!

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🙂

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♥️

Worcester, Massachusetts!

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All hands on deck!

These friends play every afternoon.
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❤️

Away now sitting on a patch of dry grass with my dogs under a tree, I can still hear their yips and shouts and the dominoes coming down hard on the plastic table or being mixed in the middle. I’m annoyed at this drought. The grass is brown and rough and scratches my calves. Jett rolls around on his back – a good scratching for his old back.

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Jett!!!

… It’s so refreshing to see something slow and social, a kind of jazzy board game, with folks talking across a table, ribbing each other, making eye contact, listening to their music, being happy together.

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🎶🎵❤️🎵

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🙂

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🙂

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🙂

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🙂

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🙂

Beating the city heat in their local park.

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Lilac!!

Worcester ❤️!

Worcester’s “Main Middle” is asleep …

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

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Denholm’s = dead-zone. Empty commercial buildings in Worcester’s Main Middle are the norm.

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Clean but barren …

This week: All dressed up, driving through WORCESTER’S MAIN MIDDLE to find businesses to sell CECELIA ads to. But it’s as dead as a door nail here! A handful of small biz folks and a million plants, benches, banners, murals, flower beds … Downtown Enhancements that beautify yet don’t seem to attract businesses to our Main Middle.

WORCESTER’S MAIN MIDDLE, the stretch of downtown Worcester’s Main Street that we ol’ Worcesterites used to flock to in our childhood and early teen years. The “happening” and fun part of the city where we all came together to shop, snack, worship God, window shop, people watch and so much more.

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Where are all the shoppers???

All gone. The stores and shoppes that drew thousands in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s – Marcus, Shack’s, Sylvia’s Dress Shop, the Mart, Lerner’s, American Supply, Denholm’s, Rovezzis, Ephraim’s Bookstore, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, the Paris Cinema, lawyers’, dentist’ offices …music shops! Gone and not replaced. … I remember: My mom rented a pretty little violin for me from a music store on the second floor of, I think, the Commerce Building. A tone-deaf old lady with a gold front tooth gave piano lessons. Her husband rented and sold their musical instruments. Small accordions, tubas, violins, trumpets and clarinets were all displayed on high shelves. There were a few music rooms with upright pianos in them for people taking piano lessons from the gold-toothed old lady. … My mother was enthralled! Enthralled when we entered together and she made her tiny weekly rental payment on my pretty little violin. Her daughter Rosalie, a second grader at Lamartine Street School, played the violin she rented from these folks! Got weekly free lessons at Lamartine St. School from a very talented WPS music teacher! She was asked to be in the WPSchools orchestra by her teacher! I remember being bored with my violin and fascinated by the shop’s little red accordion with its rhinestone-studded C button – and also drawn to the store’s framed black and white photo of a big white rabbit wearing a bowler and fake-playing a piano … I think he was smoking a cigar …

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Downtown Worcester deceives the uninitiated, but then you see this store front – one of many – and you know the score.

What do little kids have to experience today as they traipse through Worcester’s Main Middle with their parents?! Where are their memories?! Where can they buy a cute Cinderella wrist watch or fidget impatiently as mom buys herself a tube of Elizabeth Arden classic red lipstick?

Main Middle is asleep – and this time we can’t blame City leaders for its refusal to wake up!

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Worcester City Hall, left, is located in the middle of a dead downtown Main Street.

Nice📚🥪📖

By Rosalie Tirella

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The site of the Golub brothers’ Green Street Market, now a parking lot. photos: R.T.

A few hours ago I got a phone call from a Richard something – I glanced at my cell phone quickly and picked up immediately, not noticing the last name on the menu bar … I was quick with a HELLO? because I thought it was a Worcester landlord about to offer me an apartment! I was wrong. Instead it was Richard Golub, famous New York City lawyer and famous crime thriller novelist calling me from NYC. To thank me for my column on his late dad Charlie Golub and Uncle Izzy! I wrote the piece a few months ago after driving by the little Green Street parking lot where once stood their little Green Street Market. I wrote about the always sweet, always quietly intelligent Golub brothers, proprietors of a Green Island landmark that deserved its own special historical marker, just like so many other spots in the now chi chi Canal District. Richard said his cousin sent him my story and he read it and liked it. “It was so warm, it brought me back … so nostalgic …”

He asked me how I was doing. I told him I slept in my car last night. “I’m basically homeless,” I said. I could tell he felt bad. Always a bit competitive, if not proud, I felt: Here is a successful writer and a loser writer. Someone whose novels made him millions $$ versus someone whose little community rag – filled with her stories and columns – made her homeless after 21 years. Richard sounded emotional when I told him of my fate, but then we both got excited about each other’s writing. We started talking shop, Richard in his fabulous New York City, maybe his penthouse. Me in my 2010 Ford Focus with the R rejection sticker plastered on the windshield. Richard told me he just finished writing a Worcester book.

Really? I said. Is it about Green Street, Green Island, the old neighborhood?!

A little bit. But mostly it’s about a girl I loved … she worked at Table Talk Pies.

Wow, I said, thinking: first love, good Jewish boy primed for college falling in love with a blue collar Green Island pie factory girl … What a yarn!

I’d love to read it! I said.

It’s coming out in six months. It hasn’t been published yet. I’ll send you the first chapter. What’s your email address, Rosalie?

I told him. Then Richard said he was mailing me something, too. What was my address? I told him I had no address at this point in time, but he could send me whatever he was sending me (one of his previously published crime thrillers, I supposed) to my p.o. box. We really struggled with this…me giving him my p.o. box, Richard telling me to slow down, me telling him I was driving and had a heart murmur, Richard telling me he had heart problems, too, as did local author Nicholas Gage. YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN, Rosalie, Richard said firmly.

I know, I said.

Still, I was getting excited: I know I’m nowhere near your level, I said … I’m old, 60 –

I’m 79! Richard piped in, his voice booming.

Well, I’m 60, I continued, and before it’s too late, I want to publish a book about my mother … about growing up in Green Island. Can you help?

Richard said he knew no publishers.

I thought: bull sh*t.

But we talked…we talked about the old neighborhood … Where was St. John’s Church? he wanted to know.

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Ash Street School is located behind the old Green Street Market site. Allen Fletcher bought the school 23+ years ago and now lives there with his tenants.

I miss your dad and uncle I said. They were saints, Richard said. Just like my mom, I said. She died 10 years ago. … and on and on we reminisced … about Kelley Square, Millbury Street and our good parents overflowing with sweetness and integrity.

Things took a turn for the worse when Richard said, I’m friends with Allen Fletcher.

Fletcher, I hissed. He’s the one who destroyed the old neighborhood! Then I told Richard, who said he never understood why Allen chose to buy and live in the old Ash Street School, I told Richard that if Allen hadn’t butted in and moved into our neighborhood with all the gentrifiers, then our neighborhood would have evolved into a cool Vietnamese neighborhood. It would have become, it was becoming before Fletcher “interloped,” Worcester’s Vietnam-town, with Vietnamese food, celebrations, homes, three deckers. Fletcher and co came to the ‘hood and the Vietnamese couldn’t compete $$$.

And so we chatted. Writer to writer. Green Islander to Green Islander. It was delicious.

Richard said he was mailing me my little something.

I said: DO YOU HAVE A WORCESTER APARTMENT YOU CAN RENT ME?

He said, No. That everyone he grew up with on Green Street and Worcester no longer lives here.

Then he said he’d give me a buzz next time he was in town, but he doesn’t come back to Worcester very often.

Then I said, email me your chapter! Then we said goodbye.

Nice.