Category Archives: Rosalie’s Blog

❤️🎶Miss Avedikian 🎶❤️

By Rosalie Tirella

Rose’s mom work vest she wore to work at the drycleaners on Millbury Street. All thru “Prov” junior high Rose remembers “Ma” wearing this polyester vest – with big side pockets for pencils, a scratch pad or two, and rubber bands – to work. Ma also had a navy blue vest and a beige one, same style. Rose mailed the navy blue one to her sister two years ago. photos: R.T.

“Spring Concert.” The two words that captivated the collective imagination of the entire student body of Vernon Hill’s Providence Street Junior High School, circa 1975. Last week I wrote about the drippy music teacher we kids had at my elementary school, Lamartine Street School. This week I’m here to tell you how my class’s musical fortunes did a 180-degree turnaround at the old “Prov” – now the Vernon Hill Elementary School – in 1973. All because of a 4’10”-inch-tall musical miracle and lover of all kids, no matter how good or rotten, no matter how gifted or just middling, no matter how sweet-smelling or smelly – Miss Avedikian, Providence Street Junior High School’s music teacher. I and around 600 other Prov seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders adored Miss Avedikian. No. “Adore” is too weak a word to describe the feelings we had for Miss Avedikian. We were passionate about her, captivated by her, entranced by her. So much so we never missed her music class – and actually sang for her. Loudly! In two-part harmony! Even the boys who liked to hide out in the boys room smoking cigs never cut Miss Avedikian’s music class. Even the girl who at Lamartine was the school bully and a thorn in this Rose’s side, “Frieda,” was stellar for Miss Avedikian. There she was, Frieda, the school yard slugger of Lamartine, standing outside Miss A’s classroom to get her morning hug from the pint-sized Miss Avedikian who had to stand on tippy toes to embrace the big girl who was a foot taller than she. Frieda had been “kept back” twice but was all A’s in Miss Avedikian’s music class, one of the shining stars. Sometimes things would get serious between the two; I imagine Frieda confided to her favorite teacher, who with arms still wrapped around her student’s beefy neck, spoke quietly, seriously to the girl. Often you’d see them literally tete a tete, big forehead to little forehead, the big droopy eyes of Miss Avedikian looking into Frieda’s beady little ones. Miss A quietly counseled her student in the middle of Prov’s bustling third floor corridor, the rest of us kids swimming around them like salmon ’round a boulder in a stream, rushing to get to our homerooms before the first bell rang. Looking back, I think Miss Avedikian took on the role of mom for lots of Prov students – maybe the kids with abusive parents or no parents all, the kids many teachers were usually neutral about – or angry with.

Not Miss Avedikian. She was a huge machine. She didn’t care that Peggy came to school unwashed or that I came to school very poor or so and so’s dad was in jail. All her students in all her classes were BRILLIANT!!! – and she expected us all to behave brilliantly – to sing and learn all the songs for the annual Providence Street Junior High School Spring Concert, to be in the sopranos or altos groups, to memorize all the lyrics to all our songs, to watch her for musical cues as she walked energetically up and down the aisles between our rows of desks making big swooping gestures with her little arms, smiling at us as she sang along, loudly, with gusto. She had a deep, resonant singing voice that, while not conventionally pretty sounding, was note-perfect. None of us students had spectacular voices, many of us were often off key and you’d scrunch up your face as you or your neighbor hit a clunker. But Miss Avedikian was undeterred. She’d correct us and we’d start all over again.


I remember the songs. Very 1970s, very Carpenters stuff. Songs about Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me …or Up up and away in my beautiful balloon…Songs that maybe we kids may not have been enthralled with but songs that our teacher loved, so we loved them, too.

I remember the Miss Avedikian dress code – she always wore these perfect little demure skirt suits. And she looked impeccable in her elegant (I think expensive) suits! Pencil skirt to the knees, colors ranging from a demure sage blue to a vibrant violet … a pretty white, pink or baby blue silk or rayon blouse often tied daintily at the top with a ribbon. Then the smart little matching jacket cropped at the waist to make it a bit formal. Nylons. Always beige. Then the little – size 5? – black, navy blue or beige pumps. Never high heels (and Miss Avedikian could have used their boost!), always the pumps. Some pearl earrings in her rather large wobbly earlobes and a smart wrist watch on her tiny wrist were the final touches. These days, when all of America – including many public school teachers – are living their best lives in yoga pants or outfits that may as well be their pajamas, Miss Avedikian looked like she CARED. Teaching, teaching music, being in front of a classroom of 30 students was serious business to her – and an honor. And you, the student, got the message – you got serious and focused when you entered Miss A’s classroom and saw this paragon of good grooming sitting at her big metal teachers desk smiling her big toothy smile at you, expecting your best, your best effort ever. Her hair was Armenian thick and dark black, but she kept it short, in a cute curly style that kinda bobbed up and down if she really got into a song she was singing with us or played the school piano very passionately.

Miss Avedikian was small but mighty. While she loved all her students, she could turn on a dime and flash that hot temper of hers if someone was smoking in the boys room or fighting in the hallway or sassing her back. An angry Miss A got beet red in the face, her eyes bulged out of their sockets and she yelled. Very loudly. She had the lung capacity for it. … It was traumatic seeing your usually wonderful teacher go berserk on you. So most wayward kids quickly wanted to set things right again and apologized to Miss Avedikian and hung their heads down in remorse. And then it was all over. The storm had gone to sea. Miss Avedikian was quick to “let bygones be bygones” and within seconds she was giving the student a big hug and words of encouragement.

Spring flowers: daffodils.

So, every spring we had our school Spring Concert where all our parents and family friends were invited to our grand, stately school auditorium with its ornate proscenium and heavy velvet stage curtains and framed prints of presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln nailed to the walls on either side of the stage, to listen to us sing a bunch of hopeful spring songs led by Miss Avedikian. She accompanied us on the mini-grand piano at the foot of the stage. Prov had stage lights and, I think, a pretty good sound system. The seats the audience sat in were wooden but it was a gorgeous space, the school built around the Great Depression when America knew how to build schools that inspired our first and second generation Americans (like me) to excel. President Franklin Roosevelt had given federal jobs to artists and muralists. Here, make some money: paint two huge murals in the front entrance way at Providence Street Junior High School in Worcester, Massachusetts. The government will pay you. Where the marble stairs end and the hardwood floors begin, that’s your canvas. The murals – of the Native Americans of the Vernon Hill area – still grace the front entrance of my old junior high.

Rose’s mom’s George Washington calendar print, from 1949, hangs on Rose’s bedroom wall in Spencer these days. Fifty years ago, prints of this portrait hung in every junior and senior high school in America, often next to a print of a famous painting of Abraham Lincoln. This was true at the old “Prov” on Vernon Hill.

Besides a beautiful old school, our parents were treated to concert program booklets specially printed for the occasion, with parts 1 and 2 of the program and an intermission for any mom or dad who needed to use the bathroom or make a phone call in the phone booth outside the principal’s office. Mr. Bohman, our school principal, was a tall bald man who, like Miss Avedikian, also dressed impeccably – he always wore a dark suit and white dress shirt and necktie – he was always serious and polite to us students. He was the one who kicked off our spring concert, standing before a packed auditorium, welcoming the parents with a little speech delivered at the podium. Then Miss Avedikian came out and took the spotlight and led us students up into the stage, then into song, all the familiar we need world peace and harmony now songs we practiced for months. One side of our big stage was home to the altos, the other side covered by the sopranos. Sometimes the boys sang one verse and the girls sang the next. We kids were scrubbed and clean and wearing our best. At the end of the concert one student always gallantly presented Miss Avedikian with a big bouquet of roses – a thank you present for making it all happen. We kids had each pitched in a dollar or two for the bouquet and the designated flower guy or gal’s parents bought the bouquet of roses.

And you should have seen Miss Avedikian’s face at the end of one of our concerts, with her roses, all the parents standing up clapping, giving us a standing ovation and Miss Avedikian, wearing a corsage just like our little prom queen, in tears and taking a bow. Miss Avedikian may not have been conventionally pretty: she had a hang dog face, a few folds of skin under her big brown eyes, a big toothy grin, but to us kids she was beautiful. She never talked about a husband the way some teachers did. She seemed to me to be in her 40s at least, older than some of my teachers. And while her dress impressed us students, it was the hippie ’70s, and some teachers wore mini-skirts or platform shoes or even clogs with colored tites to class. Miss Avedikian wouldn’t be caught dead in a mini-, midi- or maxi skirt! She could have fit into a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER TV episode …

Rose’s father, pictured here holding Rose’s kid sisters, was emotionally abusive, and sometimes physically abusive, to Rose’s mom.

But our neighborhood, our home lives, we’re not Leave It To Beaver. Few of us lived in pretty, single family homes with big front yards and white picket fences. Most of us lived in Green Island or Union Hill or Vernon Hill three deckers, many of which were in great shape at that time, many of which were in shitty shape at that time. Like our three decker flat on Lafayette Street. Ma tried to make it cozy, but the windows were so old… we were always cold during winter time … the floors needed to be ripped out and replaced (never were), and our refrigerator hummed super loud 24 hours a day. We had maggots crawling out of our metal garbage cans in our backyard, and our back yard – at one time grassy with a cute bird bath – now was simply a big patch of dirt. The landlord had pulled out all the landscaping stops for a previous tenant because he was having an affair with her. When she left so did the birdbath and lawn.

So it came as a real surprise to me when I asked Miss Avedikian: Where would you really like to teach? Which school? Prov or Forest Grove, miss Avedikian? I had had the pleasure of accompanying my music teacher to a meeting at the recently built, beautiful, new, modern Forest Grove Junior High School in Worcester’s wealthy West Side. I think Miss Avedikian asked me to accompany her because the schools wanted student feedback on a new music curriculum. Something like that. Miss Avedikian chose me not because of any superior musical ability but because I was a smart, good kid who would be quiet and respectful at Forest Grove – and give my honest assessment of the proposed music curriculum. For me, I was thrilled to be riding in a car!! I mean, what a treat! A new car! With one of my favorite teachers – who was driving it!!! How cool!! My family was too poor to own an automobile, so I seldom got the chance to hop into a nice car and just sit back and let lovely scenery fly by. We – my mom and two kid sisters – walked all over Green Island and Downtown Worcester to shop, eat, go to movies, attend church or school. Worcester was more cohesive back then and mom and pop shops ruled and our downtown was a real downtown. It was fun walking down Millbury Street with Ma to buy shoes at Lisbon’s Shoe Store or a window shade at White’s Five and Ten or to cross Kelley Square to buy a big babka bread and a bag of warm bulkies at Widoffs Bakery on Water Street. It was, however, not at all fun to walk down a half-snow-plowed Lafayette Street in the dark with my mother and sisters after a snowstorm, after Ma finished her day at the dry cleaners. After a nor’easter our Green Island sidewalks were seldom shoveled so we walked in the street, on Lafayette, behind Ma, single file, against traffic. With headlights shining on us, with slush being splattered over us. So, you can see why it was such a big deal for me to ride in an automobile.

Worcester’s East Side used to be home to many blue collar families who lived in these three deckers and hundreds of others like them. The same held true for decades in Worcester’s Vernon Hill, Union Hill and Green Island neighborhoods. Gentrification has changed these great old Woo ‘hoods!

Anyways, Miss Avedikian and I had just finished up our little meeting at Forest Grove and we were heading to her car to drive back to Prov. I had never been to the West Side and was impressed by all the nice houses, their expansive front lawns, and the new modern Forest Grove Junior High School with its connecting, enclosed walkways between parts of the school, big panes of glass that were frosted. As in decorative. Wow. Who wouldn’t want to live here and attend junior high here?

But when I asked my music teacher: Which school do you like better, Miss Avedikian? She said, Prov, Rosalie. She looked at me and smiled and said: I like our kids. Over here they can be – and she stuck her dainty little finger under her rather big nose and lifted it up, pointing it to the sky. Then my music teacher gave me a little hug, we got into her nice car and drove back to our favorite junior high school in all of Worcester.

That day was eye-opening. I lived with a father who hated everything about our Green Island neighborhood, called the people “crippled freaks,” and he hated us, his family, too. He called my mother a “fuck nut” and why were my kid sisters so skinny and couldn’t Ma do anything right?! … To have Miss Avedikian, a real musician and concert violinist in her earlier career, a teacher who wore beautiful clothes and could teach at Forest Grove Junior High School – a beautiful new school in a beautiful rich neighborhood – PREFER to be in Vernon Hill, at Providence Street Junior High School, teaching us blue collar and working poor kids music, impressed me. Made me feel proud and squeeze a little harder when Miss Avedikian and I hugged. She wanted to be with us kids because maybe she knew what it felt like to be the underdog. She was gonna make us the overdog. Because we loved her so.

🌱It’s Easter weekend …

By Rosalie Tirella

Jett relaxing to the music … photos: R.T.

Enjoying THE BAND this Easter weekend. I only have three of their lps but two of them are the great ones. Yesterday I watched The Last Waltz DVD, checked out from the library. Watching the movie I remembered how great these guys ALL were – how American this mostly Canadian band was – what gifted storytellers they were via their wonderfully evocative songs – tales of “Lonesome Susie” and Southern soldiers, downtrodden but defiant … and lights shining West to East/I shall be released (this tune written by Bob Dylan). You enter an earthy, hardscrabble, wistful world whenever you listen to a Band song.

The Band

I saw The Band, without Robbie Robertson, at the old E.M. Loews theater in Downtown Worcester decades ago. Right after Robertson, the band’s main songwriter and “leader,” left the group – I think. I remember seeing Rick Danko on that grungy old Loews stage. He looked a little heavy, the sound wasn’t so terrific, it was drafty in this tired old concert venue that hosted oldie shows like Warren Zevon, whom I saw a few years later at Loews. Once young and beautiful and great, now these guys were simply GREAT. I don’t know if Levon Helm was there. I was around 18 … it was a long time ago. Before heroin took Danko, before Robertson got into Native American music, before I left my mother’s house, remaining close to my mom for the rest of her life but seeing my father only a handful of times after that.

Rose’s mom, left, circa 1945.

I had yet to understand how unlucky I was to be born in Green Island but how lucky I was to be young in the 1970s, a teen in the middle of all this fantastic music coming thru to me and every American kid on FM radio. For free. Sounds and songs and artists extraordinaire getting through to us, as John Lennon once said about the power of rock n roll. The songs expressing our outrage over the Vietnam War/war, our love of nature, our longing for love. And all wrapped up in these beautiful, powerful, intelligent songs. Seeing these great bands in concert – for not a lot of dough – was life changing. To be poor and still be a part of it! How could you not be?! … To be 16 and living in a crumby flat on Lafayette Street, with an asshole of a father yelling at your sweet mom in the background while you’re listening to John Lennon on your record player sing-scream: MOTHER, YOU HAD ME, BUT I NEVER HAD YOU./ I WANTED YOU/YOU DIDN’T WANT ME! That was my world. That was rock n roll back then.

My father lived with us all thru my junior and senior high school years, adding very little money to the household kitty, basically sponging off my mother who killed herself at the drycleaners to keep it all going, to give her kids good food, clean clothes … stability. My father, who had a rickety old truck back then, never once picked her up from the drycleaners. Ma always walked that stretch of Lafayette Street home, alone, in the dark, sometimes pulling a wagon filled with groceries she had bought for the family at Supreme Market on Millbury Street…us kids running down the stairs to help her bring up the groceries, Daddy sitting on their bed reading the classifieds in yesterday’s newspaper. Why is Daddy still living with us? I wondered. Why doesn’t he take his bad feelings and just go away from us – again? We were happier without him! Without a father!

But Daddy didn’t go away.

And yet to be HAPPY whenever I cranked my music! FM radio or my Beatles albums! Spinning them on my cheapie Emerson “stereo” and feeling these seismic shifts in … possibilities. I started writing poetry. My mother bought me a used acoustic guitar. A few times “Daddy” rose to the musical occasion – like the Frank Sinatra records he brought home instead of the loaf of bread my mother had sent him out to buy one evening. Or the way he could sing a Frank Sinatra tune, emotional but still kinda poking fun at it while singing the lyrics. My father came from a musical family. His brother Al (my Uncle Al) had a jazz band in Worcester during the 1930s/40s and his brother George (my Uncle George) was a terrific banjo player. One summer day – I think I was in the 8th grade – Daddy hit a yard sale and walked away with 50 albums and scores of 45s. Good stuff that he lugged up three flights of stairs – a couple of times – to our apartment. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The Supremes. Gladys Knight and the Pips. Donovan. Simon and Garfunkel. I mean, the old man had struck gold! As soon as he laid the used albums all out on the kitchen table, I grabbed them and began playing them all, one after the other, on my cheapie record player in my bedroom – to my father’s delight.

The Last Waltz captures the beauty of ’60s + ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.

The Last Waltz, the Scorsese classic film, brought it all home to me last night: the Green Island flat, the hopes, the tangled feelings, the fear, the disappointments, my angel mother, our canary in her cage, all our cats and dogs and little turtles and newts and gold fish … and Daddy. The perennial fish out of water. The movie also made me cry: for my youth, for the singers’ youth. All gone now. And for the music, so beautiful, so all encompassing in the ’60s and ’70s. These days nothing compares to it. In the film: Joni Mitchell svelte and strong limbed; today in a wheelchair. Neil Young’s wife died of cancer a few years ago, after he left her for a movie actress. Neil Diamond so cool with his sunglasses in The Last Waltz has Parkinson’s Disease today. My old beau, who took me to so many concerts great and small, venues where I saw Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, YES, the Moody Blues and many more, walks haltingly with a cane these days. His back operation was risky … I remember driving to Boston with him years ago to an oldies rock concert – maybe the Monkees? – and glancing over my shoulder to see him driving but turned to me and smiling at me, his long platinum hair blowing in the wind, falling all over his aviator sunglasses, looking so cool and free… I snapped a photo of him with my cellphone camera and it came out looking so ’70s! My hippie guy, his long platinum hair streaming in the wind, the open highway before him, the sun ricocheting off his aviator sunglasses…he used to own a motorcycle. I had wished we were on one then. He looked so full of himself – and handsome! I kept the photo in my phone for years.

We talked on the phone yesterday and wished each other a Happy Easter. His girlfriend is making the traditional Easter Dinner – baked ham with pineapples, mashed potatoes and all the fixings. This old vegetarian hasn’t eaten meat since she was 19, but the old beau wasn’t all in when we were together, despite my nagging. I said: So, you’re going to have ham this Sunday. He said, in his quiet, but sexy deep voice: “No. The poor animal.”

I was stunned by the … emotion, the goodness. He had made my Easter! Then I wanted to be with him all over again. But now, we’re old and he made his choice years ago. He chose her.

My wrist has a wrist plate after the surgery and my fingers are stiff. Just yesterday I dropped a whole jar of tiny Vitamin D caplets on the floor when my fingers couldn’t hold the little bottle right. I got very upset. I felt old. But then I listened to MUSIC FROM THE BIG PINK and THE BAND and talked with the ol’ beau and heard him say “No. The poor animal” and then I saw a pig, clean and pink and rotund, walking before my eyes, very quickly on its piggy legs, happy and free in a rolling country meadow, and I felt … hopeful.

Happy Easter🌱



By Rosalie Tirella

Rose’s new digs. Photos: R.T.

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

Apple tart, hot out of the oven!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quiet Time

By Rosalie Tirella

CCR. photos: R.T.

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

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

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

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

Why was that?

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

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

A hit with whom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Rosalie Tirella

The new Doherty High School, a work in progress. Photo submitted.

A photo of Worcester’s new Doherty High School on Highland Street, one third completed … night time. In the old days, you could call the WPS school brass at Irving Street or the city manager in his office at City Hall on Main Street and get a basic update on a major school (City) project without having to jump through too many hoops. But this is the new Worcester. We’re polished professionals now. So all the “hoops” – attractive, polite, well spoken, not too helpful, unwilling to answer tough questions – are firmly in place. The Worcester Public Schools newish school superintendent, a Latina lady from California, has kept the WPS substitute teachers making poverty wages while she has hired herself a passel of professional assistants to protect herself from the press, from questions, from reality. Unlike the previous WPS superintendent, she has hired herself a press secretary (mid-$90,000 salary??) and a bunch of other support professionals (thousands of dollars per year???) to create her personal buffer zone. Our newish city manager, Eric Batista, also has a media relations person so he doesn’t have to get personal with the press. He issues statements rather than calling back a reporter to answer basic questions that Woo voters and taxpayers may want answered.

So it goes like this: Your reporter Jim wants to ask questions about the new Doherty High School, but the WALL goes up. Your reporter is a nice person, super polite and fancies that he has good relations with the secretary of the WPS superintendent and the newish city manager. You, at this since 1987 and not exactly enamoured with the human race, think: Bull shit…these over paid bureaucrats will never return Jim’s phone calls. To answer the most basic questions!

Twenty three years ago I could call the Worcester city manager’s office and ask for an interview with the city manager and get a sit down with then City Manager Tom Hoover or his second in command, an always sweet Paul LaCava – within a few days. We sat and talked and Hoover and LaCava answered my questions. Tom was blue collar real, Paul was a sweetie. So, of course, then city councilor Tim Murray set out to destroy Hoover, and he worked behind the scenes to replace him with an Irish bro, Mike O’Brien, who became as dictatorial as soon to be Mayor Tim Murray.

But I digress. Jim’s/CECELIA’s question: HOW MUCH IS THE LATEST COST $$$ for building the new Doherty High School?

Months ago it was $240 million. What is the price tag these days? Not really a gotcha question, just one question for a basic news story.

But everyone who’s anyone in Worcester city government clams up. Everyone issues statements through their press flacks. Emails from the Worcester city manager’s media relations poop are sent to Jim who sends them to me. Jim is nice about it all. I want to take these ridiculously self-important “public servants” and turn them on their stupid heads and just shake shake shake them by their spindly, weak ankles until the answers fall out like pennies out of a dime store piggy bank. I think: What are these a-holes hiding? The cost to build Doherty must have gone up up up by millions of dollars, and the city manager and the school superintendent don’t want to tell anybody…the taxpayer, the voter, the Worcesterite whose kid will be attending the new Doherty High School. It’s public record, but the ropes in Worcester city government will turn it into a knife fight. This is America. People have every right to know. Federal tax dollars, state money, city taxpayer dough have all foot the bill …

Please! We’re not against new, state of the art high schools to educate the next generation of Worcester leaders, doctors, nurses, teachers and entrepreneurs. We love our WPS students! As do many of our pols! Head of the Worcester School Committee, Mayor Joe Petty, is making Burncoat Senior High School his next big school renewal project. Burncoat – my alma mater – beautiful memories. It was almost brand new, recently built, when I graduated in 1979. Now it’s tired. We need another new high school for that part of the city.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we – any one in Woo – could punch the appropriate office numbers into our cell phones and get some nice personal time with a City or School Department poo ba who could speak intelligently, passionately about these mega school projects? Instead, they all hide. And collect their almost quarter of a million dollar paychecks, courtesy of the Worcester taxpayer.


By Rosalie Tirella

Stuck! photos: R.T.

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

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

Poor Jett peed!

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

The bags of garbage, Dumpster ready!

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


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


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


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

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

The view this a.m.

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

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

Of course.

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


By Rosalie Tirella

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

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

Are we even a Gateway City these days?

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

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

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

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


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

I’m Old!

By Rosalie Tirella

Today – Rose and Cece.

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

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

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

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


My age.

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

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

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

Selfies ain’t what they used to be!

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

Heroic Shane! photo: R.T.


By Rosalie Tirella

Mr. Gilman’s gift. Photos: R.T.

Posted my SHANE movie review here on our website – with different pics from what’s on my FACEBOOK pages (check them out!). The film, with its sensitive and realistic depiction of the boy character, Little Joey, and the terrific scenes in nature, of the Teton mountains, the deer grazing right outside Joey’s bedroom window … has me rereading my book, THE YEARLING, once again. READING this special copy of the novel, my very own, with its corner chewed a smidgen by Cece and its inside covers illustrated with portraits of the dusty old industrialists of Worcester and its simple, wood-cut style pictures introducing new chapters of the novel.

The book was given to me more than a half century!! ago by my fourth grade teacher at Lamartine Street School, Mr. Gilman. It was the end of the school year, and Mr. Gilman was cleaning house in his always tidy fourth grade classroom on the second floor of old Lamartine – now the headquarters for the City of Worcester Building and Code Department. I was a smart kid and a good kid all school year, and I was one of Mr. Gilman’s accordion players – Mr. Gilman was a terrific accordion player and gave lessons to any Lamartine kid after school, once a week, for free. He had about five serious students – and I was one of them. Mr. Gilman loved any kid who wanted to learn how to play the accordion – his favorite musical instrument in the world. I remember he wrote in my Fourth Grade Autograph Book: “Rosalie, don’t ever stop playing the accordion!” We students had the little used accordions we rented from the music store downtown; Mr. Gilman had a big, beautiful, adult-sized accordion, like new, with a shiny iridescent panel by the instrument’s keyboard and three rhinestone studs on his C buttons. My old accordion, rented and very much used, always wheezed a bit when I played it. Mr. Gilman’s accordion sounded tremendous – like it was right off the Lawrence Welk Show – a polka-making machine! The genial band leader with that perpetual goofy grin of his, Lawrence Welk, was very big in my Polish family when I was growing up in Green Island. The Polish-themed TV musical program of the 1960s and 1970s was my Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy’s, #1 TV show. She made us kids watch it with her every Sunday night. Sometimes she’d sing along with the soloists in her funny, sad voice. Other times she’d just clap her fat old arthritic paws to the beat.

Worcester industrialists …

When Mr. Gilman gave me THE YEARLING, I felt: YIKES. Such a thick book to read! (I was only 9) Mr. Gilman must think I’m very smart to give me this present! … I tried to not let my teacher down. I tried to read the book that summer during school vacation, but it proved too advanced for me. So I just had fun looking at its cool pictures over and over again.


The years rolled by and I never got around to reading THE YEARLING, a novel about a young boy growing up poor in the Florida Everglades, nor did I ever see the classic Gregory Peck film based on the novel. But all that changed 10 years ago, when I found myself a cozy spot in bed, opened the book’s vintage covers and entered the world of young Jody, his family and his colorful neighbors. And, of course, the natural world which was the young boy’s world. I read it fast because I was enthralled. Then I reread it, more carefully.

Beautiful illustrations …

So here I am, almost the age of my Bapy!, thinking about accordions, Green Island, THE YEARLING, baby deer, loving your very own fawn, puppy or kitten. Being young and playful, right along with them! I’m also thinking about Mr. Gilman and the humble gifts Worcester Public School teachers used to give to their favorite students, many of us poor, many of us with less than ideal dads or moms at home. We saw the teacher’s gift for what it was back then: a book, a book-mark, a calendar, a statuette. We grew up treasuring those gifts because of the feelings behind the gift-giving. It was a long time ago, a time when teachers were trusted, often idolized – and a bit freer to give to their students and their families. And, for me at least, the relationships, their small gestures of kindness, were so positive and helped shape my life … for the better.
Jody, the protagonist of the novel.


By Rosalie Tirella

“Ma,” left, and her big sis.

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

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

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

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

Page’s greatest hits

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

Playing Patti in the country, today.

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

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

Says it all.



The song: