A few weeks ago, I drove by her and smiled – happy at our chance encounter. I had almost forgotten her! My Aurora! Remorseful, I tried to snap a picture of her while driving by in my jalopy, but my cell phone camera wobbled in my left hand (I’m right-handed) so I missed the shot, especially with all the Main Street traffic speeding between us.
Downtown Worcester: I would have just driven by Aurora, over my left shoulder. pic: Rose T.
Aurora! The Main South enchantress of my Worcester childhood! The star of – the star ON! – the Aurora Hotel on Main Street – that 4-story-high red brick building almost on the corner of Main and Chandler streets! The beautiful, long-haired, swan-necked, life-sized Greek Goddess drawn onto the front entrance of the old downtown Aurora Hotel. Her figure cut into one of the Hotel’s entryway stone columns – a permanent “drawing” for all to admire: the smooth lines of the folds of her robe, the straight, noble nose, the dainty bare feet – sandal-less, naked, even in January! Aurora of the Aurora Hotel! Still young and flawless, face smooth and unwrinkled, just as you were when I stood before you to admire you 50 years ago! Eyes staring away in calm wonder. I bowed before you, Aurora! You were unmoved! Yet you continue to grace all the poor pedestrians hurrying by you to shops, to cafes, to city hall, to bus stops.
Drawn into stone, yet walking amongst us: the Hispanic grocery shoppers, men in recovery, drug sellers with their tiny white square packets … desperate women, addicted to heroin or crack, and willing to do anything for their fix. In their youth, some as beautiful as you, Aurora!
Goddess Aurora of the Aurora Hotel dreamily floating in stone, down Main Street, still with us – after all these many many years! Artsy signage for the old flophouse of my Worcester childhood. Before that, maybe a nice place to live for aging actors, or work space for a city photographer (Mr. Cocaine!). Later, for a decade or so, Aurora actually adorned the entrance way to the NEW main art gallery for Arts Worcester located on the ground floor of the Aurora Hotel! Wow. West Side matrons, patrons and art lovers inside the Aurora during art show openings, tumblers of white wine in their soft hands. Worcester cops outside the Aurora Hotel – now a non-profit residential building with studio apartments and rooms for rent to recovering women alcoholics/drug addicts – the cops with their guns in holsters, standing erect in their blue uniforms in the crosswalk in front of the old hotel … making sure all the beautiful people felt safe inside and the neighborhood people felt unwelcome outside the Aurora. What a picture that made!
But I will always remember the old Aurora Hotel of my childhood – its lobby a portal for the old Aurora clientele: bums going in and out with their flies open.
Shopping Goddess Aurora! As a little girl walking by you you made me happy because 1. You were so beautiful and 2. Ma, my two sisters and I were walking to my favorite store in the whole wide world, THE MART, just three or four doors down! (now a neighborhood supermarket) … Flawless, your dress never dirty or wrinkled, your eyes wide open, never droop-lidded like my tired and weary Ma’s – you said to me: Ask Ma to buy you a pretty MART dress, Rosalie! Run downstairs to the pet section and nag your mother into buying you a pretty little grey and white mouse – the one with bulging red eyes!
There she was. Still is! Aurora! On the hotel wall! Waiting for me. For you? For everybody! A new Downtown Worcester emerges – all the new murals and street art diminish Aurora. But only slightly. She is still beautiful and still calmly wafts above all the City of Worcester craziness. She’s been around for maybe almost 100 years. She will be here when we are gone – have stopped all our yammering about taxes and racism and potholes!
Aurora! The Roman Goddess of Dawn! Tiny waisted, every day you dreamily usher in the new day, announce the sun to all Worcesterites! City manager, mayor, college kids, junkies, house wives, doctors, babies, cabbies … you greet us with grace! And then you slide back onto your column by the revolving doors of the Aurora Hotel.♥️
Elliott Smith and this Elliott Smith song were the inspirations for this column.
I suppose I would have to ring out the Old Year and ring in the New Year with this disturbing image … Driving in Worcester’s Canal District, my old Kelley Square, two days ago in my new jalopy …
… I saw this sight: my beloved childhood pit-stop, Widoff’s Bakery, the bakery my extended family pounced on before our day trips to Hampton Beach for our two dozen Bulkie rolls for sandwiches, now transformed into a trendy, expensive, hipster gym! Our old reliable Bulkie roll factory (plain or covered with poppy seeds) that for decades filled the hole in my kid sisters and my stomach as we popped in after school to say HI! to the nice counter girl and buy 3 bulkies – 1 bulkie for each of us – so we could eat a very inexpensive after-school snack – gone, forever. The big, pillowy bulkie rolls so tasty they didn’t need a smidgen of butter or jam! After school, my two kids sisters and I walked down Water Street, crossed Kelley Square, then trotted down Millbury and hooked a right onto our street, Lafayette, eating our warm bulkies, so good, and talking about the nuns at my sisters’ school or the upcoming science fair at my school, Lamartine Street School. Widoffs and one of my kid sisters especially were the two loves of my young girlhood. Now, both gone. I taste the bread of life … it is the bread of my life!
Widoffs, the sweet baker’s shop where my sweet mother, tired from her 60-hour-work week at the sweat-shop dry cleaners down the road would come in to buy her favorite donut – the whipped cream and raspberry filled, powder-sugar-dusted, long, phallic, gigantic Bavarian. GONE. DEAD. Both of them. Forever!
Widoff’s. Always so famous in our city it was known to all Worcesterites as just “Widoffs,” the way everyone knew “Spaggs” as just Spaggs. An immigrant city with immigrant nicknames for the places it loved most. Both gone now.
For a half century, Widoffs was the destination of every Sunday morning church goer in Worcester who drove, walked, ran, or skeedaddled! to Widoffs (and Ledermans Bakery, right across the street), after attending Sunday Mass to buy a dozen of bulkies. For Sunday dinner. For sandwiches for the work week. They were always just-out-of-the-oven hot and maddeningly fragrant! And they were nestled in a crisp, medium-sized brown paper bag that you stuck your face into to get a good, deep, whiff of those fragrant beauties – like the glue sniffers who maybe hung out a few streets down in the old tenements. Always the brown bags. A Widoffs tradition as sacred as the Communion wafers we had just reverently swallowed at St. Mary’s or St. John’s churches.
Rose’s auntie loved her Widoff’s bulkies!
Sometimes we stuck our grubby hands into that hot paper bag, inhaling the warm, doughy aroma, to grab a bulkie to GOBBLE UP RIGHT THERE, IN THE MIDDLE OF WATER STREET, on your way home. You didn’t care! You were intoxicated – drunk with love for your bulkies!
Yeah, we St. Mary’s church or St. John’s church parishoners may have picked up a few brownies or even a birthday cake at Widoffs, but all of us, like brain washed cult members – Hare Krishners but heavier cuz we ate bulkies! – were really at Widoffst for bulkies.
Rose and her kid sisters, just after Mass – bulkie time!!
Sometimes, if the lines were too long at Widoffs (they were so busy you had to go to a ticket machine by the front door and pull a little lever to get a ticket with your service number on it), my mother crossed the street to buy our dozen bulkies at Lederman’s Bakery. Not as yummy, to me. There were known to be many passionate disputes between family members and friends: WHO MADE THE BEST BULKIES? WIDOFFS OR LEDERMANS? The one – or the other?! I was a Widoffs girl!
Now Widoffs has been transformed into A TRENDY GYM! FOR HIPSTERS! COMPLETELY UNRECOGNIZABLE! BOARDED UP with planks of light brown, shiny, fake-wood product! And painted an ugly, drab industrial gray! The topper? An on-trend, stupid, glass garage door – now Widoffs “signature” facade. THE GLASS GARAGE DOOR WILL LET US ALL GAWK AT THE JOCKS who, in turn, can stare at us pedestrians walking down Water Street. (Give ’em The Finger! Watch me!)
This turn of the Green Island gentrification screw hurts most of all – it is like seeing your favorite older cousin – the beautiful one – walking down the church aisle to seal her fate: marry some dolt because he’s got a great job and promises her the usual trappings: house, nice suburb, Virgin Island vacations, blah, blah, blah. I call it Prostitution. In this case, Ed Murphy, the kid-owner of the Widoff’s building, is the pimp, pimping her out to the highest bidder.
Rose today, with her kitty Cece! She is on a perpetual quest for that perfect bulkie!
I really do not like this guy.
Membership to this Banal District gym is almost $160/month! “CRAZY! YOU CRAZY!” as my Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, would say!
Here once lived – LIVED! – my old neighborhood’s shopping district! Open all day … fun, friendly, cheap, delicious, ethnic (Jewish, Polish, Lithuanian), accessible to all! REAL! A haven for outsiders, refugees, laborers and the exploited … the dusty and the damsal in distress. The pious and the predatory. We, our parents or grandparents fled Eastern Europe, the bottom of the barrel for us, and made Worcester our new home. Water Street was our culinary heaven, and it became our adopted city’s cool hangout. The Broadway restaurant, the drugstore that served homemade icecream sundaes, bakeries … Cooks of all ilk – and tourists – welcome!
When my late mother was a little girl, she’d go to the open air markets on Water Street with my grandfather, a Polish immigrant who loved Green Island too. They’d go shopping: buy the family’s bulkies, then vegetables and meat. She once told me of the small, trained monkey owned by one of the market’s vendors – a kind of cruel entertainment for customers, he was chained at the ankle and very nervous as he danced for their pennies. He kept turning around and around, patting his bony little butt for all the customers to see: KISS MY ARSE! he was saying to them! Kiss my arse! He wore a little red velvet vest and matching cap.
Where is that little monkey when you need him most?
If you are a Roman Catholic, even a “lapsed” one, Christmas gets stretched out to a weeks-long Season. Advent: waiting for Jesus’s birth, including the big day when an angel from Heaven flies down to earth to tell Mary: you’re preggo! With THE SON OF GOD! She can’t believe it! … Then Jesus’s birth, Christmas Day. Rejoice! The World is Saved (and it CAN BE SAVED) … Afterwards reality sets in: Mary, Joseph and their infant son Jesus head out and have a normal life. Sort of. Joseph is a carpenter, so he teaches his son Jesus his trade. Some Biblical texts say Jesus had a brother, also a carpenter. But Jesus, even at 12 years old, shows he is special – reveals his spiritual gifts to the community by discussing life and death so powerfully with the local priests that they are blown away! Everyone at the neighborhood temple – and beyond! – is impressed!
The birth of THE SON OF GOD, BORN TO A REGULAR PERSON, MARY, is a MIRACLE, if you are a “believer.” God the INFINITELY CREATIVE is made flesh: a human baby. Something, sadly, I can’t get back … long lost for me. I used to believe … wake up Christmas Day, as a child on Lafayette Street, and with my Catholic mother, old Polish granny and kid sisters go: YAY! GOD – JESUS – plus the HOLY SPIRIT IS BORN today!!! Magic! The MIRACLE MAN who I pray to for all my straight A’s at Lamartine Street School IS BORN! The little plaster of Paris Jesus statue on my bureau that I pray to every morning, before I walk down my street, up Grosvenor Street, to my teacher Mr. Monfredo’s 5th grade class at Lamartine is GOD! I “Bless” myself before the crappy little 25 cents statue my mother gave me one Saturday morning as she was cleaning out her bureau drawer: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” I say shaking with utter conviction … God is alive and watching over me and helping me live my life. Comforting. Reassuring. I am NEVER alone. God is always watching over me. This fact freaks me out a little, too, but it also makes me, the 10-year-old Rose who is a bookworm and near-sighted feel invincible! So every night, I “bless” myself before my plaster of Paris Jesus statue, and I write tiny notes to my Jesus statue (Jesus depicted not as a babe but as the sage, philosophical 12 year old – holding a book), and I stuff them into its hollow base, all crumply: DEAR JESUS GIVE ME AN A IN MY MATH QUIZ. – Rosalie … DEAR JESUS HELP ME GET AN A ON My BOOK REPORT. – Rosalie … DEAR JESUS I NEED AN A IN MY GRAMMAR TEST. – Rosalie Naturally, Jesus came through for me – I always got all A’s.
Then I went to college and met my boyfriend and his cool philosophy-major best friend – and I lost Jesus. Just like that. All the 17 years of Sunday masses with Ma, weekly trips to that big creepy box confessional booth at St. Mary’s, my prayer books, my nun pals, church folk group in high school! … 14 years of Monday evening catechism class at St. Mary’s … all down the toilet.
I never went to church again. Rose, left, – her First Holy Communion. Standing outside the front entrance with her two kid sisters of St. Mary’s church at Kelley Square. pic: C.T.
So, while I am not sure about the He-is-God-Almighty part these days, I do celebrate – in my own way – Christmas. I focus on the Christmas Eve Story – something I can relate to and believe in: being poor, being an outcast. An outsider looking in. No money? Then live in a barn – or a shithole tenement! The song remains the same – for eons and eons! But through the ages people have always transcended their mangers of hay! Rejoice!
I love the Christmas story! It was meant for this Green Island Grrrl growing up in a tenement with her poor beautiful sweet mother, Polish immigrant Bapy, fraile kid sisters. So poor, yet so loved! The precious gift. And yet so weary, like the weary, hungry, homeless Mary and Joseph looking for a room at any inn on that special night. No money? Then no roomie!! Into a barn (a crumby tenement) you’re shoved – with the sheep and cows.
The animals’ body heat and warm gusts of breath keep Jesus and his parents from freezing to death. Like a gas log in an old kitchen stove in any of Worcester’s poorer neighborhoods. So the Son of God – THE KING – is born in low, bad circumstances – literally a stack of hay!
I showed you my late Bapy’s baby Jesus:
Here is my sister’s. She upgraded – or so she thought – my Mom’s creche when she got her first real job:
It came with shepherds, angels with wings, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Kings, even a cow and a few sheep. I just have Jesus. We don’t talk much these days, but her Baby Jesus in the Christmas manger speaks to me through decades – brings so many Green Island Christmas days to me. Memories of her. … All the church going, the kneeling on our kitchen floor, or beside our beds, praying to plaster of Paris Jesuses … HOPE. LOVE. Always LOVE.
Instagram and Snapchat: social media platforms that are all about taking photographs. Millions of photos, now, fast, full color, full on via your cellphone (usually) and then “sharing” them with the world – really, whomever you like (a few close friends or Obama-millions). Pictures that can disappear in seconds (Snapchat) or often highlight bottles of beer, slices of pizza or exotic locales (Instagram). The first
category: junior high stuff; the second: show-off-y stuff you “share” with your co-workers or peers, people who don’t spend much time with you, or much like you.
No, today I sing the praises of the pictures taken when I and my mom were young. Photographs taken in big, maroon-velvet-drape-ensconced photo booths at Woolworths or with your $10 Kodak “Instamatic” camera – the little rectangular box camera that every American kid owned in the 1970s. It came with “flash cubes” that looked exactly like ice cubes! and made everyone’s eyes red in the color pictures you took.
Those photographs of my youth and my mother’s young adulthood feel worth more, maybe because film for your camera cost money and you had to put 50 cents in the front slot of the Woolworths photo booth before you could pictures. Years later, they look GREAT! Intimate! Real! Candid! True feelings revealed – blatant, out there. Or really really suppressed – inadvertantly out there!, exposed, just like the film.
These old photos seem more genuine than today’s billions of Instagram public relations pap, pictures that feel staged, are disposable, forgetable. Photos of my old Green Island neighborhood after the flash flood, my sister’s First Holy Communion photo – in front of the red dump truck … my father with his big Italian-bread belly hugging his old white Fruit of the Loom tee shirt. My mom, her hair in bobby pins so it would get curly, looking right at me, annoyed as hell because I am TAKING HER PICTURE! Today is her day off! Me pouncing on my cousin’s big sun-yellow Tonka Truck on Christmas morning! I want his toy! I never get great toys from Santa on Christmas morning!
Loves. Really. The moments in that photo booth with your boyfriend. Being hugged, kissed, smooched even! Or you were alone in that photo booth at Woolworths making a statement in your nice top or suit jacket – making/taking those two or three rows of tiny black and white photos of yourself for your true love, maybe fiance. This was about commitment. You were creating something – a keepsake of you for your love. A tiny black and white photo your honey would put in the photo section of their wallet – a little wallet picture. A little wallet picture of you that they would always have, that they carried with them pretty much everywhere they went. You would be with them. At all times. With a flip of their wallet’s plastic photo gallery they could see you – or show you off to friends or family. Or if it were really serious about you, your little photo would be slipped into that plastic frame next to the spot where you displayed your drivers license. No flipping – there you were, next to his license, for him and the world to see – at all times.
Somehow, I don’t know why, but I have the little wallet pictures my mother and father made of themselves: just three, teeny and fragile. One is of my father, Daddy, when he was 12. He looks so adorable – big smile, and his curly hair, cut in a bowl-shape by his dad, my grandfather Sabino from Italy, frames his face. I think I spy a few freckles! The second photo: of my mother when she was about 14 – a student at the old Worcester Girls Trade School. She is also smiling – her big pretty smile – all her teeth perfectly aligned and white, no orthodontist needed. God’s gift to her! Or curse?: Daddy used to say he married Ma for her smile, her perfect teeth – and I believe him. He was a shallow person who scorned my mother’s natural goodness/sweetness – and he had lousy teeth! They were all pulled out by the time I was a teen – just gums a flappin’ but he was still handsome and charming (when not abusive).
Up until a few years ago, I used to put these two little wallet pictures of my parents – so mismatched in marriage, so wrong for each other in real life – TOGETHER!! Like they were happy together! Really and truly happy! On my refrigerator, that is. Overlapping each other, a refrigerator magnet keeping them together! Stuck together. STAY! STAY!
So opposite of Daddy, a womanizing free spirit, who disappeared from our Lafayette Street tenement for weeks – or months and months! – at a time. As a little kid, I needed to look at pictures of my father just to remember what he looked like. And that I had a father. Somewhere out there, past Green Island. But now he was MISSING! Like the little kids in the pictures on the half gallon milk carton on our kitchen table! Would I get Daddy’s photograph put on milk cartons, too?!
Then there is the third one – and a fourth, if you count another little wallet picture – but not taken in a photo booth. It’s a bit larger than the little wallet pictures taken in drug stores or coffee shops. These two little wallet photos are of my parents taken 15 or so years later, after the first set, when they are in adulthood, in the middle of parenthood, jobs, homelife. They are serious pictures now. Ma fake smiling and Daddy unsmiling. Both are looking straight at the canera’s lens … . Even though married to each other, they look lonely.
These little wallet pictures make me sad, send me searching for reasons, feelings … My father is in a suit, a heavy tweedy one guys used to wear in late autumn, with dark, clip-on necktie. He looks handsome with his Roman nose and his thick curly hair styled high up in a pompador, but he also looks menacing. Bitter. Alone. And he is only what? 29? 30? 32 years old? Married to my sweet mother! My sisters were just born. Twins! I am only 1 1/2 years old – at my cutest. I still remember my mother sitting me up on her and Daddy’s big bed, up on the nubby pink bedspread. Daddy is whistling a tune and smiling and patting my chubby leg! Ma took a picture earlier – I looked so cute, like a little doll. She had even entered me in a baby photo contest. And I had won first prize!!
That’s when Daddy took off for about three years! Good! No more Daddy slapping my mother’s pretty cheek! Hooray! No more Daddy calling my pretty mother “Mule”! or “Fuck nut”! Yipee! Stop all the clocks! Freeze time – PEACE ON EARTH. Or at least in our third floor Lafayette Street tenement … Ma holding me on her lap as we sit on the sofa watching the Red Skelton Show on TV together … or Ma taking out her special speckled box and letting me play with her fancy jewelry – her big pink stone necklace, a gold snake bracelet, with slit snake eyes and gold rattle tail! I have put the snake around my little neck and am parading around the kitchen, in front of Bapy, my old Polish granny, who is sitting inher delapidated old easy chair at the head of our kitchen table. She is wearing layers of flannel nightgowns to stay warm and doesn’t take baths like the rest of us. She smells … fecund♥️! Bapy old and arthritic stays nestled in her nest and tries to tap my lil’ bum as I run in front of her giggling, wearing Ma’s snake jewelry! Bapy is laughing and singing an old Polish folk song for me – her fave grandchild – to dance to. I oblige!
Then Daddy will return, years later, and after a brief honeymoon period with Ma, will be just as shitty! Scream just as loudly! Disparage us all, red-faced, lunging at the front door, banging it! Bapy throws her hardboiled egg sandwich at him and calls Daddy: “RED DEVIL!” I am scared! My little sisters are in their bedroom, holding each other and crying!
WHY DIDN’T DADDY LEAVE FOR GOOD? Hook up with one of his whores, for good?
Who knows … little wallet picture #4. Of Ma, at her big sister’s house off Webster Square. It is Christmas day. She is standing in front of my aunt’s big Christmas tree. She is smiling, but it is a stiff forced smile. Perfect but more brave than happy. Her hands are folded at her waist. She is dressed for the holiday: wearing her jewelry, a nice skirt and blouse. Still, to me, she looks sad beneath the perfect smile. Like something serious is happening somewhere: which it is – her husband is now Nowhere Man, gone, a loss, an adult man in the male-dominated early ’60s who does not have a job and therefore does not provide for her and their three little girls. Ma lives with her mother in an old flat on Lafayette Street – not in the cottage of her dreams, with the husband of her dreams. Daddy has, in actions and words, jilted her. Us kids, too. She is now and forever a single working mom, RESPONSIBLE FOR IT ALL – working at the drycleaners down the street, 60 hours a week, for crappy minimum wage. No car. Pulling groceries home, with her three little girls running and giggling behind her, in a rickety shopping wagon. Even in the pouring rain, her plastic five and ten rain bonnet tied tight under her chin, even in the pelting snow, her snow boots soaked, making squishing noises in the slush. Her life. Her hard little diamond of a life, and her three little precious girls the rose gold band it is set in! The little wallet picture, sealed in plastic, now frayed at its edges, meant to be carried in her husband’s wallet, in the space right next to his driver’s license! But for years it stayed on her dresser, propped up against a little statue of Jesus. Little wallet picture #4. pics: Rose T.
Ma, AD – After Daddy
P.S. This song was the inspiration for above column.
Some things never change in Worcester – like all the illegal dumping. Despite the City’s revamped recycling/trash plan!
Here’s Blackstone River Road, where I live, yesterday afternoon. Right outside my house – huge trash bag thrown onto the middle of the sidewalk! Our neighborhood’s trash-pick up day is Friday! If no one removes it, it will be on the sidewalk all week!!!: 😢😢 pic: Rose T.
But some things DO change: like we’re on FACEBOOK! 20 years after the rest of the world!! Oh well …
Sign in to FB and explore, share, comment on and like our 3 pages!
♥️Our FACEBOOK pages are:
CECELIA the newspaper
🍁P.S.🍁Next issue of CECELIA hits Worcester stands this Friday/weekend!🍁
🇺🇸Story ideas? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jett and Lilac, yesterday afternoon, during our Greenwood Street walk!
Here at 29 Elm St., Spencer, my landlord Brydi Riccard’s girlfriend (they live here), across the way …
… is banging on my front door as I write this …
… bullying … trying to intimidate me because this morning I took photos of Elm Street for this New Year’s Day post.
Spencer’s poorer digs: Elm Street
What is wrong with this woman?
What ails a 40-something woman who has no job, perpetual housing and does nothing to contribute to society … just smokes and spies on this “outsider” as I live my life?
I haven’t a clue what ails her!
A few guesses: Living in a place like Spencer, so cut off from the direction America is heading, makes many people here afraid of anyone/anything new, I think. Also: Refusing to work, earn your keeps, contribute to society makes you … unwell, mentally and physically. Also: many here are stuck in a kind of cultural 1950s racist, rigid small town America. Many here embrace the worst of America: its racism, xenophobia, fear of knowledge, hatred of new ideas, new people. Instead, they have embraced: vaping, smoking weed/siting pot shops, smoking tons of cigs, running tattoo and chop shops …
The DEAD AMERICA that Trump trumpets!! Exploits! So he can stay President! Spencer/rural folks are the unknowing victims, pulled under the moving train!
As a New York real estate developer, Trump was a Democrat, espoused Democratic ideas, embraced gay people, even hung out with Hillary Clinton!! But he went low when he figured he might be elected prez if he played into rural America’s worst fears and prejudices! He figured right! So it has been two years of Trump blatently and not so explicitly excoriating immigrants, brown people, black people, refugees, transgendered folks, the poor … And the CRUEL JOKE IS ON ALL OF US!
We have a dumbing down – in Worcester, Spencer – AMERICA – that Trump exploits – and perpetuates. No good jobs here in rural America and in our older cities. No free college for our low-income young people so they can compete in the new, tech-driven economy and get middle-class jobs. No hope in the inner-city like Green Island or in small towns like Spencer because they have experienced years of atrophy. Of course, you’re gonna get crime, opioids, mass murders, as well as the more mundane shit: vaping, tons of mary jane, all the tattoo and chop shops.
Where are our books, America?!
Where are our civics classes, grades K – 12?!
Where is our CIVIC EDUCATION – like I was force-fed in the Worcester Public Schools as a kid? Just like the OIF got in the Lynn Public Schools when he was a kid! And he got a very good honors public school education IN LYNN!!! We both got the Sousa marches, our own personal little mini-booklets of the U.S. Constitution to keep!
I remember: In 4th grade St. Mary’s catechism class in Kelley Square we had to march around the periphery of our classroom, MARCH! – as Sister Justine, a human trapezoid, severe and pimply, but on that day ecstatic, as she played on her little portable record player: ANCHORS AWAY! The U.S. Navy rah rah song! While we 30 little kids marched around her classroom singing and, yes!, having fun, as we sang along with the record. Sister Justine rewrote the lyrics of the marching tune to teach us about Jesus. So we sang, while marching: THIS PROVES OUR LOVE FOR GOD/ IN ALL WE SAY/ AND ALL WE THINK AND DO!!!!
Let’s have our public school kids listen to John Philip Sousa again!
At assemblies! Where our American flag, big and beautiful, is carried by a WPS student down the middle of the auditorium aisle – with other students, black, brown, white leading the procession, too!
It is our American collective consciousness that we are losing and need to tap into again!!
So we can be more whole!
“E pluribus unum”! “Out of many, one”! It’s our motto, for Christ’s sakes! It’s what we are all about! WHAT REALLY MAKES AMERICA GREAT!
In Spencer, my heart breaks for the children here! Most little Spencer kids, according to state tests, are not ready for kindergarten. I assume this holds true for much of poor rural America.
The high school down the road is only half full! Because Spencer is a dying town! It is a town comprised of white old folks who have lived here forever. Trump territory! Tragic! Visit a local eatery and most customers at the diners and restaurants here are 70 years+ old! These places look haunted! Ancient. Ghostly.
BROWN, BLACK, WHITE FAMILIES AND YOUTH = VIBRANCY, LIFE … ART! Immigration, welcoming the world’s disenfranchised, is how America regenerates herself! Spencer – all of rural America! – NEEDS to get this!
But, hey, that is just the beginning. Spencer, like most of a big chunk of rural America that relied on mills and small/big factories for its wealth decades ago, needs to change! And EMBRACE EDUCATION, NUTRITION, HEALTH AND HEALTH CARE!
No health center.
No mental health services.
No WIC, SNAP hub for poor families – to feed their kids, many of whom are rail thin.
No food hub. LET US EMULATE GREENFIELD AND GET A REAL FOOD HUB FOR WORKING FOLKS HERE IN SPENCER. The poo bas of Worcester killed that food distribution dream cuz they were afraid of competition for their chi chi farmers market – a TOTALLY DIFFERENT ANIMAL WITH A TOTALLY DIFFERENT CUSTOMER BASE.
Worcester’s Cambridge Street
In the shadows of Worcester’s Canal District
So 1 in 4 kids in Worcester is hungry/food insecure.
(For America, it is 1 in 5) Go, Woo Sox! Let us have another 1,000,000 stories on the Worcester AAA Red Sox team and baseball stadium and two about Worcester’s hungry kids!
Go, Woo City Manager Ed Augustus!!
Back to Spencer:
No vibrant downtown: Some downtown Spencer buildings need to be fixed up – or condemned! And Town Clerk Laura and the Spencer Selectmen damn well know this!!
A downtown Spencer building
But let us not forget Worcester’s shit buildings! The city drags its feet re: them, a la Spencer! God help us if this Jan/Feb we’ve got homeless folks camping out in this building and they rig up some funky propane stove to start a fire to stay warm. God help our Worcester firemen and women who will bravely enter the fire-fray because of the City Manager’s negligence!
Back to Spencer:
No diversity …No young people to plow new energy and ideas into the town!
No new investment. Because, like Worcester on many levels, the same old connected crowd gets grandfathered in and sweet-hearted-dealed in. And stays enfranchised! HOLDS TIGHT ONTO THE GOODIES/POWER!
In Worcester, former Mayor Joe O’Brien, had the right idea: HE PUSHED TO HAVE DISTRICT REPRESENTATION ON THE WORCESTER SCHOOL COMMITTEE. Like our Worcester City Council with districts 2, 3, 4 and 5 – which enable more inner-city neighborhood folks to jump into politics, run for office and REALLY GIVE VOICE TO THE FOLKS WHO LIVE in the city’s neighborhoods. Of course, the WPSchool Committee members – many of them old farts in their mid-70s and/or politically connected – were RESISTANT! SHOCKED!!! ABSOLUTELY MORTIFIED THAT THEIR COLLECTIVE CRAP-WISDOM WOULD BE QUESTIONED. Of course, they voted Joe’s just and true proposal down!
The WPS bozos cut off a great path for immigrants, minorities to represent and advocate for their kids in the Worcester Public Schools – a MAJORITY MINORITY SCHOOL DISTRICT!! now “ruled by” a bunch of old (we are looking at you WPSchool Superintendent Maureen Binienda) Irish-American Good Old Boys. Even if they are female.
These folks have been ruuning Worcester for almost a century; so Spencer isn’t the only place with its head up its ass. This is why urban spaces like Green Island, Vernon Hill AND Spencer/rural America are in trouble: the white old group, enfranchised, unwilling to relinquish power, won’t let go! They cling to power, even as their people suffer. People of color, new comers, the young … locked out.
I mean, look at the daily’s series on Worcester’s older neighborhoods: for the most part, the stories trotted out the SAME TIRED OLD WHITE retreads. Regurgitated. Again. Not exactly the most accurate picture of our city’s neighborhoods!
I am packing today, next week, …
… moving back to the city for what I HAVE MISSED MOST about it: ethnic, racial and cultural diversity … immigrant energy. New beautiful faces. Youth. The AMERICA OF TODAY!
I like my Spencer neighbors and the town’s first responders. They are usually polite, soft-spoken and carry a quiet, under-stated sense of humor. They exchange niceties with me when I’m out with my dogs, but many are so downtrodden! To see grown men limping, slow motion, down Elm Street, rail thin, clothes dirty and hanging off them … is surreal and heartbreaking. They say hello to me, I say hello back, respectfully.
The promise of America broken in two!
WISHING ONLY THE BEST for city and country in 2019!
They say when John Lennon was gunned down under the Dakota archway by madman Mark David Chapman who fired four shots into his back, two sailing straight through Lennon, that as the artist/musician collapsed to the pavement, as 80% of his blood gushed out of his aorta, veins and arteries, audio cassettes, the small plastic rectangles of recording tape we all listened to or recorded music on in the ’80s, came tumbling out of Lennon’s pockets and crashed to the pavement with him.
The groups he was listening to at the time (he really liked the B 52s!) and the stuff he was recording with life-mate Yoko Ono.
This past weekend, I could not shake the image: the frail 40-year-old Lennon (he was so skinny, eating all that macrobiotic food!) and his fraile, plastic audio cassettes hitting the cement sidewalk outside his grand home, simultaneously.
Minutes later, at Roosevelt hospital – after the cops said TO HELL WITH THE AMBULANCE! and flung Lennon into the back of their police cruiser to drive him immediately to the ER themselves (he told them: I’VE BEEN SHOT, then went into shock), even after the ER doctors pulled Lennon’s heart out of him and held it, worked feverishly on it, to save him, he died.
Chapman, his madman murderer, who has been denied parole year after year after year because he is hated by the whole world, was carrying THE CATCHER IN THE RYE in his pocket the night he killed Lennon, who was coming home with wife Yoko after making music that night at the recording studio. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger. The maroon paperback we ALL read 20 times as high schhool or college kids – the book we all carried in our bluejeans back pocket! A misfit’s guide to fucking up – and proud of it! The psychotic Chapman made the book his his own, his talisman. He thought he was Holden Caufield! Sick! The slim novel was in his pocket as he stood quietly in the background waiting for the cops to take him away.
The night my mother died at that terrible nursing home near the old Higgins Armory, she was wearing a silly beige kiddy wristwatch I had bought her a few weeks before. Rubber and soft, its big “face” in the shape of a racoon – pointy ears and all! It made her smile and was easy to read, even if her Alzheimers made it hard for her to “tell time.” It made me smile, too – so cute! Just like Ma!
But when she died and the OIF and I went to her shared room at the nursing home to get all her personal belongings, the raccoon wrist watch was gone. Stolen? Lost? Her other dimestore jewelry was in the drawer of her bedside table…her raccoon wristwatch gone.
For some reason this devastated me! I wanted to wear her silly watch. Forever! I pictured a nurse or nurses aide pilfering the adorable time piece – for a grandchild? A nephew or niece? Their own kid?
And so Worcester firefighter Chris Roy died a brutal death fighting flames in some shit slum building (look at those popsickle stick porch rails! look at all that shit toxic vinyl siding slapped over the porches!) in Main South, fighting for the lives of ghetto folks half the city despises, even as he was losing his own …
I wonder: WHAT LITTLE THING, THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL!, did Chris have with/on him the day he died?
A metal cross on a sterling silver chain?
A little photo of his kid – or a picture of a woman he loves, once loved?
A ring on his big finger?
Family will want that, anything really, because in death, in leaving for good, people tend to keep/want the stuff that really matters. The precious stuff: things that have nothing to do with dollars – more often cents! It is all memories, unbreakable, unfathomable. I imagine, every day, Yoko rakes John’s music cassettes across her old cheeks…every day I think of that stupid raccoon wristwatch Ma wore at the home … and every day Worcester firefighters, especially the ones who called into the flame-engulfed windows of that inner-city shit hole: CHRIS! CHRIS! MAN! – already knowing that their mate was unconscious (it’s the smoke that kills) – will hold a pin, ring, medal, badge … and hurt.
The “Green Island fire station”: American flag at half mast; white Leicester fire truck, its guys hoping to ease their brothers’ pain/help out in any way they can, parked beneath our flag. photo: R.T.
When I was a little girl growing up in Green Island, I could tell what kind of Thanksgiving Ma, my two kid sisters and I were gonna have as soon as Ma told us which of her sisters, my two favorite aunties, we’d be spending the holiday with. We were gonna have a great Thanksgiving if we were invited to Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s house in Worcester’s suburban Burncoat neighborhood. We were gonna have a gonzo holiday if we spent Thanksgiving with Auntie Gertrude and her family.
Ma, left, and her big sister, Rose’s Auntie Gertrude – an experience!
This Thanksgiving it was to be Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark’s house:
Aunt Mary, married to elementary school principal Uncle Mark, had the perfect Post-World-War II, new suburban, white bread American life that I coveted – even as a five year old. After growing up poor, with Ma and her sisters and brother on Bigelow Street, in The Block, in Green Island, Aunt Mary hit the Jack Pot – wife, stay at home mom, middle-class ‘hood – the American Dream.
Aunt Mary on her wedding day, with her Polish immigrant dad, Rose’s grandpa or “Jaju” (on that day, Father of the Bride).
But Aunt Mary was no princess. Like my mother and their big sister Gertrude, she had been farmed out by her parents, my Bapy and Jaju, during the Great Depression – to Springfield, to the Bishop of Springfield’s rectory, where she was a maid, cook and housekkeeper. She had a job!, made money to send home to Worcester to her parents so they could eat, pay their rent, survive the lean American times. And, just as important, Mary and her sisters were eating the best food and sleeping in a warm bedroom in 1929, ’30, ’31, 32… each sister sleeping in her own twin bed, in a big room in the Bishop’s house, with two great, fearless Dobermann pinschers snoozing at their feet, Bridgette and Rocky – both the brainchild of my Auntie Gert who loved the breed and fast-talked their doting Bishop into buying the pair of guard dogs for them. Rocky, Ma’s fave, would lick between her toes at night and howl while sitting next to the upright piano my Auntie Gert would bang away on, singing the popular tunes of the day.
My mother and aunts were 14, 15 and 19 years old, and they loved to walk and cuddle their babies, Rocky and Bridgette, who proved to be the neighborhood menaces, biting one guy, mowing down a nun and breaking her arm. But you know all about Bridgette and Rocky…
And you know how Ma and her sisters were sent to the Bishop’s to live and work as kids and how they stayed for 10 years, bonding for life.
But in this column it is the 1960s/ 1970s and Aunt Mary had done well for herself: she had married a school teacher, my Uncle Mark; and lived in an adorable, Baby-Boomer, kid friendly Worcester neighborhood; she had a cute ranch with big backyard for the kids, new GE appliances and a huge Electra parked in their garage. It was Gold. Plus, Aunt Mary had four fun, happy kids – my cousins – who were smart, silly, loved to play and joke around and, best of all, had the best, on-trend toys – toys that my two sisters and I could only dream about, toys you saw advertised on TV! – and NOT on the dusty shelves of White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street, like mine and my sisters’ toys – or my (real) violin that Ma rented for me and had pressured me into learning to play at Lamartine Street School …
Rose still has the little “pitch pipe” that her mother bought for her when she took violin lessons, for free, at Lamartine Street School. She was just 6 years old and hated the violin!
Today, this pitch pipe is always in Rose’s purse, always with her, a memento of her mother’s love of music – and her.
… toys like Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots!!, Easy Bake Oven!! and Mystery Date!! board game. On Thanksgiving, my kid sisters and I would get to play with ALL of these incredible toys!
On Thanksgiving day, late morning, Uncle Mark would drive up to our tenement on Lafayette Street in his big golden Electra and pick up Ma and us kids (we never had a car – we walked (mostly), bused and cabbed everywhere) and drive us to his/my auntie’s house in the pretty, safe part of town to eat a ton of tasty food, play all the cool games, boisterously, with our four cousins and, for Ma, a single working Ma who worked 60 hours a week for minimum wage at the dry cleaners down the street and never had a day off, the chance to sink her tired body, already slightly hunch-backed from all physical labor in her 30-something life, into a huge Lazy Boy and be served!! coffee and dessert by Aunt Mary, her work shoes off, her nylon-knee-highed-feet up luxuriantly on a puffy, poufy hassock. Queen for the day!
Uncle Mark was a big, hearty soul with thick, square shoulders that filled our front doorway when he visited us on Lafayette Street. He had thick, jet black hair that he styled with a slick pom. Polish, the son of poor immigrants struggling in Green Island, he seemed All American to me. Not at all from the Old Country. He spoke English like a professor would, he read books and Sports Illustrated; he went to church on Sundays; graduated from COLLEGE!!; played football at his alma mater, Fordham University, and almost -could have – become a pro football player! He loved watching all sports on TV, was so proud to live in America, bragged about going to college in the Bronx – New York City, enjoyed his Jesuit classes at college, playing football, being on a TEAM, and being super strong and athletic. A jock. And still, Uncle Mark was such a gentle giant! So full of warmth – always smooching his wife and hugging his kids, so opposite our father, “Daddy,” who never hugged us kids and never smooched Ma. In fact he made a habit of yelling at her: “DONKEY! FUCK NUT!! Simple as the day is long!” When he left our apartment, disappeared for months at a time, we were grateful. Every day was Thanksgiving!
Uncle Mark was a totally different sort, almost a new kind of man to me – and Ma. He had fallen head over cleats in love with my Aunt Mary and gave up his football dreams to move back to Worcester to marry her, raise a family with her, become a school teacher, and give her and his kids a house, car, safety … a cocker spaniel.
“HI, PEANUTS!” he’d yell to me and my sisters who were swimming in the back seat of that huge, brand new Electra. We were going to his house for Thanksgiving! Ma sat in the front with him, wearing her best polyester pants and cotton turtleneck she had bought at White’s Five and Ten. She also wore her red Elizabeth Arden lipstick – expensive and still a classic! – and turning around to look at her precious three little girls, smiled her perfect, white Pepsodent smile at us. We smiled back at our beautiful, happy-for-today mother!!
“HAPPY THANKSGIVING, UNCLE MARK!!” we’d yell back at our big uncle, giddy, silly at the sound of his booming, warm (and also a little silly) voice – and with anticipation of Aunt Mary’s excellent bread stuffing and gravy, the game of Pickle we’d play in his grassy, fall-leaf-covered front yard with our cousins after the meal, and the lying about, tummies bloated, all us kids sprawled out on the living room’s sky blue shag wall-to-wall carpeting, after all the food and playing outdoors … we kids playing a board game, Monopoly, and eating icecream cones – Hood half-gallon box of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla scooped into supermarket waffle cones – that Aunt Mary had made special for each of us and proudly bestowed on each of us, her chubby round body brushing up against us all as she made her way around her snug living room stuffed with kids, laughing, her breath smelling like Bell’s Seasoning.
How was it that my mother didn’t feel a little “funny” when Uncle Mark called me and my sisters “Peanuts”? Sure, it was a term of endearment. And the Peanuts comic strip was at the height of its popularity, with those classic Peanut holiday TV specials (Christmas, The Great Pumpkin/Halloween) still fresh and new and watched by millions of American families on Sunday night, on network TV.
Snoopy and Woodstock do Thanksgiving right!!!
And, yeah, my sisters and I were cute like the Peanuts characters and we had small Peanut-y voices. But, compared to our middle-class cousins in the suburbs who ate meat and mashed taters to their hearts’ content, drank gallons of milk every week – Uncle Mark’s kids – we were puny, runty – PEANUTS. My sisters, identical twins, had been born prematurely – around 3 pounds each. “You were the size of chickens” you’d buy at Supreme Market, Ma used to like to say to them. They were kept at the old Memorial Hospital on Bell Hill for a few months after they were born, in incubation tents, too fraile to go home. As little kids, they were fussy eaters and therefore skinny, their big knobby knees and stick arms a visual assault to my father and an excuse to abuse Ma. “Fuck nut!” he’s scream at her, red-faced. “Don’t you feed the kids!?”
Ma would reply: “Dr. Lawrence [our pedetrician] says they’re ok! They’re healthy!”
But looking at some old family photos today, writing this column, with my own two dogs at my feet …
… I see my old man’s point: My sisters DO look bony in their cheap matching short outfits Ma had bought for them at The Mart. Being old school, Ma never tried to tailor meals to their tastes – or to mine. If we were hungry, we’d eat what was on our plates. An impoverished childhood had taught her that. Ma cooked basic, healthful Polish peasant food – cabbage soup, with bits of cheap, fatty beef. Turnip with butter. Kielbasa slices and bread with mustard. Boiled potatos and carrots – and cabbage. Tuna sandwiches and Campbell’s Tomato Soup to switch things up on Saturday night. Pigs knuckles for her and Bapy on the weekend, bought at the Polish market on Millbury Street. Latkes for breakfast on Sundays. My sisters pushed their Polish grub-laden plates away and ran into the living room to watch “Leave it to Beaver.” I wasn’t a fussy eater and, especially after Ma handed me a bottle of Hine’s ketchup so I could flavor up my meal, gobbled everything. Like a turkey. Always. Except the pigs knuckles, though I may have tried a nibble.
Today, I believe my sisters, so skinny and sensitive, stayed so skinny because they were so sensitive! They were traumatized by our abusive father screaming, red faced FUCK NUT at our sweet Ma in the middle of our kitchen every day. Sometimes even slapping her pretty cheek with his big rough junkman’s hand! Now I understand! My two sisters were too terrified to eat! Their little tummies were always in knots!
I hated my father and, when older, would have gone after him with a turkey carving knife, if he had laid a hand on Ma. Daddy knew this and, I believe, learned to stifle his worst instincts.
On the other side, my mother, like Uncle Mark, also had her prejudices around food/body image. As the years passed and the Thanksgivings rolled on, Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark grew … rolly polly. Fat. Ma would sometimes make fun of Uncle Mark – and Aunt Mary – back at our Green Island tenement. She would say: “Yes, your aunt sits at the sewing machine sewing up his pants – the seat of his pants! Over and over again! Ha! Stuck at home! With her allowance – a few dollars a week! She can’t work, make her own paycheck!”
Wow. I was only 10 but Ma was telling me, in her Ma code, that 1. being fat was a joke, and 2. being a housewife and stay at home mom was even a bigger joke! You were not free! You were not an independent woman! You were your husband’s servant and cheerleader. Ma would never be stuck at home, away from her beloved customers at the dry cleaners! “I love my job!” she used to say to me – often. “I love working with the public!” she would say to me – often. Almost as often as she told me the story about Aunt Mary sewing and resewing the ample seat of Uncle Mark’s pants!
And, so, like Ma, I never married. Was no man’s seamstress, handmaiden or cheerleader. The moral of Ma’s story always seemed to be about Freedom. Freedom to be the MAIN CHARACTER in your story. Not a bad feeling, unless I was imbuing the love that bloomed between Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark. Like in the fairy tales I’d read as a child. He called her “my Queen.” He called her “Angel.” On Thanksgiving Day, I remember always seeing Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark hugging, laughing together – FLIRTING! Over the kitchen stove. Next to their big color TV. In front of us kids. In front of Ma! Aunt Mary, an “old lady” to us kids, would actually blush, at my Uncle Mark’s deep, sweet coos and compliments. Once I heard her say to Ma: “I hope I die before him. He won’t know how to live without me.” She was right. 60 years later, she died of cancer. Uncle Mark sobbed for two months. That is all he did. We all had never seen him cry. Ever. He was a pillar of strength – the Fordham football hero who filled our Lafayette Street front entry with his bulk and vigor and self-confidence and good cheer. Then he died. Then he died. Skinny now, he had stopped eating.
So Ma got it. At the end. I got it at the end too … But my epiphany began years ago, one Christmas day, at Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark’s. I was 16 and maybe a bit anorexic. All A’s in school. A perfectionist. Now wanting the approval of boys…all so cute and out of reach … poring over my latest issues of Glamour, Seventeen and Mademoiselle to learn that I was different from the models cavorting with the cute boys on the beach on those glossy pages in their butter cup yellow bikinis: my hair was too thin but my body was not thin enough; my breasts were still too small, the gap between my two front teeth still gaping.
So that Christmas I was ashamed of my aunt and uncle. They were fat! And there they were, by their big fake Christmas tree in their living room, KISSING! Two fat people! How gross! They looked nothing like the models in my magazines or my favorite movie stars: Dianne Keaton, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Barbra Steisand, Faye Dunaway … And they were in THEIR FORTIES! kissing!! Hugging each other, slobbering over each other, practically in public!
Then they stopped.
Uncle Mark had an announcement: For Christmas he had bought Aunt Mary a John Denver album! It had THEIR song on it! And he was going to play it for us. We were all going to sit down and listen to the song when he put the lp on their stereo record player inside their big, mahogany console.
Groan… I was 14 1/2 and listening to cool stuff: Layla, the Beatles’s Abby Road and White Album … The black magic marker scrawl on my school’s girl bathroom stall was on point: CLAPTON IS GOD. Period.
My cousin, now 17, and quite the beauty, went to a private girls high school in the city where all the beautiful girls had cute botfriends (some in college!) and listened to/were in love with Jim Croce:
So there we all were: Ma, my sisters, my four cousins, all trapped. With John Denver. Uncle Mark took the new lp out of its pristine sleeve, gingerly put the record on the turntable (which I never saw him use) and found the song. Then he cranked up the volume!
My beautiful cousin was moved (“He’s her Prince Charming!” she whispered to me.), my boy cousins were respectful, Ma and my kid sisters and I were … uncomfortable. Life with our Daddy left no room for romance and sentiment. What was true love, after all??? What did we know any way?
The song played on… Aunt Mary walked over, emotional, red-faced, to Uncle Mark and nestled herself within his big bulk. They held each other tight, swayed back and forth…almost slow dancing…
A few years ago, I bought two John Denver lps – for Annie’s Song and some other John Denver tunes I am no longer ashamed to admit I like. I wanted to connect with my now dead uncle and auntie. I threw Annie’s Song on my turntable and listened intently and cried like a baby. I saw them both, my aunt and uncle, in their little Burncoat living room, next to their huge fake Christmas tree, dumpling shaped, hugging each other close. I saw the love in Uncle Mark’s soft brown eyes, misty with emotion, as he looked down at the top of his small wife’s head. I saw my aunt’s eyes, too: soft and brown also, misty, too. Yes, they were together. Both wearing those ’70s style matching fleece jogging outfits! Both grinning, ear lobe to ear lobe. Surrounded by their beloved family. Ensconced in love. That was all that mattered. “Togetherness!” my Uncle Mark would say loudly, like a declaration, in the middle of his kitchen. Yes! I saw it all! Remembered every note!
I called her Miss Boo – after the character in To Kill a Mockingbird. When I first moved to Spencer, during one of the first summer days I took the dogs out, Miss Boo stood on her porch watching me and gave me the sweetest smile. Looking back, I’d call it beatific. I smiled back and waved to her.
Then I heard a man’s voice, snide, rough, condescending, calling from inside the apartment: “What are you doing out there?”
Miss Boo’s face dropped, her smile all gone. She turned away, wilted, and mechanically walked back into the house, like a dog obeying her master’s stern command. I grew worried for her…
A few nights later, I was getting out of my car, home from work and heard this from Miss Boo, in the Spencer dark, her voice loud and menacing: “YOU WITH THE X-RAY VISION! GO AWAY! LOOKING! LOOKING! LOOKING! … X-RAY VISION!” Her top-of-the-lungs, bizarre rant was wrapped in platitudes, too. And right away I 1. called the Spencer Police and 2. Guessed, because I worked with folks like her one summer in college, that she suffered from schizophrenia and was having a psychotic episode. I wasn’t afraid…based on my experience during that summer in college (I was an activity director), she wouldn’t hurt me and it would all simmer down. A tormented mind. A mental illness… It was her special needs mind saying one thing, and the rational side saying another – truth but wrapped in stray voices, mental incoherence that she probably worked hard to control. And succeeded. Most of the time.
Kudos to the Spencer police officers. They, because there are no social services/health clinics in Spencer, have to be police officers AND NURSES AND SOCIAL WORKERS AND SOUL SOOTHERS. The friend in need – but with a gun. The officer told me over the phone: oh, them. Her. We’re there all the time. She’s harmless. She has her good days and her bad days. Just ignore her.
The Spencer cop was right on the money. I told him I agreed with him 100% and described my college summer job years ago. Still, I said to him: I don’t want to come home to this every night! She’s loud and disturbing and I’m doing nothing wrong!!
A week later I noticed that the farmer’s porch had been stripped bare: it had been practically shrink-wrapped in heavy, yellowed plastic and stuffed to the gills with junk. Then I saw her landlord come by and carefully remove the stray weeds from the side yard. A few days later an old refrigerator, broken down/ its door off its hinges, was being hauled away in a pick up truck. Then I saw the porch all clean and sparkly white (had it been repainted?) with three potted plants, evenly, perfectly, spaced, hanging from the top of the porch! How pretty and clean!
But at night, you could see into the shadeless windows. The apartment was empty…
I was told: “She moved out.”
WHY??? I said.
I had liked Miss Boo. I knew she was suffering through no fault of her own. I was on her side!
But Miss Boo saw my newspapers, no doubt watched me photograph the neighborhood for my blog and … Moved out. In the dead of night. No crime committed. Just suffering from, most likely, a terrible, undiagnosed mental illness in rural America. In Spencer – a town that may not have the resources but nonetheless can’t do the research, make the connections to Fran’s super Family Health Clinic in Worcester or … be creative and come up with the grants/funding$ for nurses or social workers. So Miss Boo suffered … silently, not so silently, always bravely … and changed her whole life. Moved out!
God love the Spencer and Leicester police because, when things come to a boil, they’re the ones who are called. And, ya know, they do a fine job! No fancy degrees. No lecture halls for these guys and gals. Just small-town police officers embedded in a small town. They know the people. They are humane, they listen … very real. And then, because, they are not medical experts, psychiatrists … they don’t really solve the problem. But they do offer perspective, empathy and homespun wisdom. The Leicester Police station on Route 9. Good people here, too!
But you tell the young Spencer cop, based on your weird Spencer landlord and Miss Boo that you now understand why there is an opioid epidemic in rural America! No help here! No clinics! No diagnosis! No nothing! So the people, in their pain, self-medicate. YOU GOT AN OPIOID PROBLEM OUT HERE, you tell the young Spencer cop. YOU NEED HELP – IT SHOULDN’T FALL ON YOU!
And when the young cop looks at you, grateful, and sighs, Yes, as in YOU GET IT, LADY, somebody finally gets it, your heart breaks. For Miss Boo, the community, the cops.
So, next day, YOU ARE ON THE CASE! YOU CALL FRAN A. AT FAMILY HEALTH CENTER AND TELL HER VOICEMAIL: The people in Spencer need help. Depression, psychosis … it is all here and there is no help! Please help!
You go to Spencer Town Hall and demand to speak to the Town Manager about the problem, but his middle-aged personal secretary with the big hair and cold heart blows you off. You say, in the middle of Town Hall: GET A HEALTH CLINIC RUNNING IN DOWNTOWN Spencer. To help. To combat the erroneous, dangerous self-medicating that goes on. Or the anguish that goes untreated! Every town empliyee, even Laura, the very nice Spencer Town Clerk, looks annoyed at me. It is Wednesday – almost their weekend, as Spencer is so $cash-strapped Town Hall closes for the week on Thursday, noon!!
You call Jan Yost at The Health Foundation and leave a desperate message. She calls you right back. She gets it and tells you what to do next, whom to call, and how, maybe, Spencer or Leicester can secure the $$grant money to get a social worker inside the police stations, working hand-in-hand with the police officers.
Wonderful! Hopefully … A win for Spencer! A YES for rural America! Compassion and understanding for Miss Boo!
Landlord Brydee Riccard and her incapacitated mom Charlene Stavros have done ZERO WORK on my apartment at 29 Elm St., Spencer.
Ma and daughter are a known quantity at Spencer Town Hall – decades-long slum lords. Lisa D., the Spencer Board of Health inspector who knows the buildings and is on this case, called the ladies this week, spoke to both of them on separate days and told them to get rolling, but the thuggy Riccard and Ma are digging in.
I’ve moved this issue to the state level and added … potential Elder Abuse of Ma by Brydee??? Her mother is incapacitated; she can’t run her buildings, and her daughter is doing a shitty job of bringing them up to code like the Town of Spencer letter is stipulating. Yet Riccard’s name is on her Ma Charlene’s bank account – she has access to the dough$$. Riccard is lying to authorities about where Ma lives and is apparently feeding her Ma lies about the apartment repairs.
… Well, you make the report with the state and hope Mass. investigates judiciouly.
But there’s more: I have lived here, in the poorer part of Spencer, for a few months now, and this is more than hoodwinking old/or incapacitated mothers or lying landlords. I am convinced: SPENCER has an opioid crisis…NEEDS SOCIAL SERVICES … A HEALTH CLINIC, A MENTAL HEALTH CLINIC, support for its residents…located on Main Street, downtown Spencer, amidst the nice shops and decaying obes – accessible to the poor of Spencer who live a 10-minute walk a way (and who don’t have cars and feel too isolated to leave Spencer for out-of-town clinics).
The opioid epidemic. It is as much a part of rural America as Trump, the loss of good jobs, hard-hit people and the old monied townies who get away with exploiting the hard-hit who are too depressed, obese, undernourished – DOWNTRODDEN! – to put up a fight, question the status quo of Spencer.
So we have a bait and switch by Riccard…
… pretending my dogs and I had access to the backyard and then putting up the KEEP OUT sign after I gave her $2,500 and $250 per dog (Jett and Lilac) to rent this apartment, signed the lease and moved in.
Riccard and her mother have no integrity.
More important, they do nothing for the neighborhood – unlike my neighbors who beautify their porches with plants, trim hedges, put up adorable inflatable Halloween yard ornaments in their front yards and make the best of their neighborhood. The wet leaves whoosh, whoosh in the trees… I see the burnishing, the cleaning by my neighbors … the new sidewalks and streets made possible by the federal funds secured by the sweet Cobgreseman Jim McGovern. People are trying, here. They sense the encroaching changes… A homemade sign taped onto a steet light in the middle of town, right in front of Spencer Town Hall read in big letters: INVEST NOW. So true! Stuff is cheap here and there is such potential!
In 10 years the creepy Riccard and Ma Charlene will be vestigial.
Spencer will have evolved – become more open, proactive.