Category Archives: Rosalie’s Blog


By Rosalie Tirella

Rose’s favorite Christmas Tree Shoppe find – still with her! photos: R.T.

I suppose it’s no great shakes to say: Lots of my favorite things in my house – in my life! – thru the years, have come from the Christmas Tree Shoppe in Shrewsbury and that I can’t believe this Massachusetts RETAIL ICON is dead. Table cloths, kitchen curtains, a unique end table…still with me, still my fave home furnishings!

So why the sordid, junky demise for a once amazing store – a shopping adventure, really! – with its final customers these days whining about the stores’ final liquidation sales? Over-priced crap! they say. Mark-ups! they cry! The Christmas Tree Shoppe always offered nice stuff – underpriced! – and marked down! The answer? Behemoth Amazon and well priced Behemoth Wayfare and their easy, inexpensive shipping policies. Plus the global Pandemic/COVID. Plus the proliferation of the dollar stores and the dollar generals – all upping their home goods and decor game. And, of course, behemoth Walmart, with Better Homes and Gardens even designing their own brand of furniture and household goods for Walmart (nice stuff). And don’t forget Target – offering coolness and designer chic for the masses … inexpensive but oh so stylish.

The competition was terrific. Most of all Americans got very lazy – and misanthropic? – opting to have little to do with their fellow humans, choosing to sit on their fat duffers at home – probably on a chair with a Christmas Tree cushion or throw on it – scrolling down their computer screen buying, ordering EVERYTHING on line. You can now be agoraphobic and still have a refrigerator full of groceries, a cabinet full of dog food and cat toys…a table laden with amazing, exotic take-out meals and the basic take-out grub. America has gotten very weird, so unlike the America my late mom, my siblings and school classmates and I knew – and loved. ONE BIG CHAOTIC FRACTIOUS AMERICAN FAMILY going out to church, men’s and women’s clubs, the boys club, the girls club, dance halls, bowling alleys, movie theaters, town and city parks and swimming pools. Bowling, eating, swimming, watching movies TOGETHER, cheek by jowl. Sure it was sweaty and you could sometimes smell your neighbor, but admit it: it was ultimately cozy, intimate … human.

In the old days, shopping at the Christmas Tree Shoppe with your mom and aunt or favorite cousin or your kid sister or next door neighbor at the Wonderful Christmas Tree Shoppe on Route 20 in Shrewsbury was the ultimate in gal pal fun. The store was huge, beautifully appointed, super clean, super well organized, and every square foot boasted pretty, sometimes, gorgeous stuff. You grabbed your gal pal for a do it yourself retail adventure – fun, intimate … special. For me, all I needed was $25, $30 tops! And you always came home with a bargain. In fact the Christmas Tree Shoppes’ motto for years and years – sung by those middle-aged ladies on the radio – “DON’T YOU JUST LOVE A BARGAIN?!”

Yes, we did! At our Christmas Tree Shoppe in Shrewsbury! Better than Spag’s, down the road, because the CTS didn’t feel like a stuffed to the gills warehouse with stuff unorganized and still in shipping boxes. They didn’t believe in bags so you brought a cardboard box for your purchases. Once, while looking for nightgowns, I stumbled upon the rifle section. Guns and granny flannel nighties…classic Spag’s. Too radical for me! I wanted tasteful and soothing … Spag’s, even with Anthony Spags in his 10-gallon cowboy hat and his annual tomato plant giveaways didn’t speak to me. The Christmas Tree Shoppe did.

The CTS gave you attractive bags for your purchases and put your stuff in those bags, their aisles were neat and attractive and … flowed … Their furniture wasn’t Rotman’s quality, but you could still pick up very attractive, solid end tables, side tables, coffee tables, small book cases, lamps, rugs, wicker lawn furniture … And their linens? Thick, beautifully patterned or bright and colorful … 100% cotton and they made a room pop. I loved their table cloths, draperies, kitchen curtains, table runners, napkins, place mats – all pretty, many gorgeous, often on sale for like $4 bucks. Didn’t I just love a bargain!

I used to dream in Christmas Tree Shoppe… look forward to their weekly flyers and circle the dishware or seasonal knick knacks I coveted that I saw in those flyers. I’d call my kid sister, still living in Worcester, or just visit her and declare just like that in the middle of the big three decker Green Island kitchen: MARY, LET’S GO TO THE CHRISTMAS TREE SHOPPE!

We were in our thirties back then – alive, especially me, to the life changing possibilities of … home decor! Now I know that’s all nonsense, often a way to camouflage feelings or fill the holes in your life. My immigrant grandparents had nothing when they lived in the Block on Bigelow Street during the early 1920s, but they were so in love with each other, so grateful to their God for being able to come to America from Poland that furniture was just … furniture. A chair to sit on. A bed to sleep in. A kitchen table to eat your dinner on. Purely functional. My Bapy’s prized possession? A peddle-push Singer Sewing Machine with wrought iron “legs” – the machine on which she and later my aunt, her eldest daughter, made all the little kids’ dresses and coats.

Bapy’s sewing machine belongs to Rose these days.

But me? In my 30s I was always looking for that special something for my 10-room!!!, lovely Vernon Hill or Quinsigamond Village flat – always in one of Worcester’s old three decker with a fussy Woo landlord who’d grown up there or his wife had her childhood memories there … always on the third floor, always with the cheapo rent, always making me feel regal with two big three decker windows in each bedroom (3!!!) and three windows in the living room and the kitchen. I always needed curtains and draperies! Bought exclusively at the Christmas Tree Shoppe in Shrewsbury for a song …

So, years back, in the early 1990s, during the heyday of the Christmas Tree Shoppes and “DON’T YOU JUST LOVE A BARGAIN?” mania, my “kid” sister and I – like half the middle-aged women and their sisters or best gal pals in Worcester County – would make an afternoon of it and drive to the Shrewsbury Christmas Tree Shoppe for two or three hours, an afternoon, of ooohhing and ahhing over pretty, quality Thanksgiving serving platters or adorable Christmas tree ornaments or big hot pink beach umbrellas and towels or funky throw pillows and draperies or clean lined cutlery or wonderfully huge prints of the Eiffel Tower or mugs of cocoa waiting on the table for you and your soul mate, the kitchen window open, the backyard drowning in sunlight…or maybe there were big framed art photos… of a cat sitting on a door mat waiting just for you to come home …or a couple drenched to the bone, kissing in the rain! For the college kids with dorm room walls to decorate there were prints of electric guitars and musical notes and … Paris. Middle class parents loved this store when it came to college time for their kids: you could furnish your son or daughter’s dorm room for about $300 bucks. I could do it for $150.

For the lucky ladies with hubbies with good jobs – living in pretty houses in the suburbs of Westboro or Northboro – oftentimes it meant visiting the CTS with their gal pals to pick up not very expensive but always fun and happy decor for their little lake house or the beach “shack” on the Cape. I could always recognize these woman when I saw them: they were preppy, attractive, fine lines on their slack but still beautiful faces, long hair pulled back in pony tails, tanned, very tanned, and athletic looking even beneath their breezy khaki shorts that stopped at the tops of their knees (they were hunting for tableware, not guys!) and plaid button-down blouses.

For me and my sister, we’d hop into my jalopy, get some coffee for the drive and zip up Route 20. We never talked much, were not very chatty…just me telling my sister: Once where there, don’t get lost. Meet me at greeting cards after an hour. Ok? Let’s stick together this time!

Mary’d nod her head and say sure, but, true to form, as always, she wouldn’t be at greeting cards at the requested time. She’d be at the opposite end of the big store…maybe perusing the coffee mugs, choosing a cute one for our mom, with whom she still lived and adored. Or maybe she’d be examining the bottles of bubble bath in the cosmetics/personal care aisle – she loved taking bubble baths … So, for 15 minutes, I’d walk up and down almost every aisle of the Christmas Tree Shoppe whisper-yelling: MARY! WHERE ARE YOU? MARY!!! It was during pre-cell phone days – and kinda fun. I’d always find my sister, oblivious to my calls, her nose in a Marilyn Monroe picture book for sale or maybe scoping out the beach flip flops. Sometimes she’d be secretive with me because she had just bought me a little porcelain pup or maybe two candle stick holders for my new used kitchen table in my apartment. Always the good sister, the thoughtful sister, helping Ma pay the bills now that she had a good job in Boston. Running the household with Ma because Daddy was out having fun. My favorite sister! In my favorite store! Both unassuming yet … treasures!

Mary went to church with my mother every Sunday. She went grocery shopping every Saturday morning – taking a cab to and from the supermarket because they were still unable to buy a car and Mary didn’t have her driver’s license. Mary supported my mother. She loved Green Island and would visit the owners of the mom and pop stores on Millbury Street just to say hi and maybe buy some apples or a curtain rod or an order of fish and chips. She was a counter girl at Commercial Fruit for years – loving the family who owned the Millbury Street biz. Getting such a kick out of the big-bummed owner, Macho, mimicking his accent when she came home after work, laughing at his antics at the fruit store – Macho always freaking out over the little things – but in a comical way.

Everyone loved Mary. I was more show woman – Mary was the real deal. The best of Green Island. Once our downstairs neighbor, I could hear her thru our bathroom floor, said to her husband: “MARY IS GOLD.” She didn’t much care for me, thought I was selfish … definitely not gold.

But that was years ago… Christmas Tree Shoppe days…when, after our shopping spree – me with my new kitchen curtains and table cloth, Mary with her little gift for my mother and James Dean picture book – driving home, feeling content and slightly proud of our bargains … I’d open up the box of plain bagel chips I had bought and offer some to my sister and we’d start munching away…. snacking all the way home, to my mother and sister’s house, the same apartment in the same old three decker in Lafayette Street. We were still poor, we had not bought a lot of things at the Christmas Tree Shoppe. But we were happy, listening to the music on the radio as I drove down route 20, my sister looking out her window, looking for and smiling at the Rainbow Motel – the motel where each of the “rooms” were teeny cottages, every tiny dwelling painted its own special color: pink, blue, mint green, yellow. Mary just loved those cottages!

Christmas Tree Shoppe memories!

Rose, left, and her Christmas Tree Shoppe-loving kid sister! – Amherst, 1986.

Lilac 🐾💕

By Rosalie Tirella

Lilac, left, with Jett at the dog park. photos: R.T.

Lilac. My second dog. Old Jett’s rouser, playmate, herder, explainer, guardian, cheerleader and Best Friend. Lilac. Always looking out for her beloved Jett. Always lying only a few yards away from the sleeping oldster, aware, even in slumber, her soft brown eyes closed to the world but open to Jett and his whereabouts, his feelings… I tell myself Lilac will be the first to sense Jett has died. It will break her heart more than it will break mine!

Lilac. Just a mutt. The mutt I didn’t want, the dog I had no room for in my life but made room for in my life when I saw her circumstances – dumped by her owners outside the kennel, then kennel-bound, then the kennel’s owner using Lilac as a punching bag for the other dogs … running Lilac with the big dogs … sweet Lilac being mowed down by the pit mix to give him even more confidence – and fight. There she was, good-natured Lilac, in the outdoor kennel run, gangly, really just a big pup (8 months old) … taking it all. Running wildly in the hot sun and loping in that outdoor run with this bully breed dog slamming into her soft flank every few feet … Lilac stressed, exhausted, submissive … yet full of love. Always that goofy, open-mouthed doggy grin of hers. My Lilac. The other dog was rough and mounted her, a dominant move to show who was boss. I was afraid he’d hurt Lilac, break a bone even! She was still a pup, her bones not yet fully developed. I knew she was suffering and would continue to suffer here. The owner didn’t even feed her dog kibble for breakfast like the other dogs. Lilac got a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal in milk! She wasn’t deemed worthy of cheapo dog chow!

So, angry at the kennel owner, righteous in my anger, my heart exploding for Lilac, I said: “I’LL TAKE HER! NOW! I’LL BUY HER! NOW!” Then I paid $250 in cash for my shepherd/collie/hound mix, vaccine records a no-show. And I felt great. My new, sweet dog – huggable, loveable, smart, intuitive. I would eventually find out brave, too.

A young Lilac being cozy in Rose’s old Ward Street apartment.

Over the next year, Lilac grew a few more inches, gained a few more pounds but basically stayed the same. She never got super big … or beautiful (like Jett) … or tough or anything very special to most folks. But to me, Lilac was – is – lovely. Lovely like a meadow covered in purple clover. Or the hand-sewn quilt my cousin made when she was just 16. Or like the two big lilac bushes – almost trees – in our front yard on Lafayette Street – Lilac’s namesake. The lilac bushes in old Green Island, the ones my late mom loved and made a part of my childhood: the ritual I felt more deeply than anything I had experienced at St. Mary’s church – Holy Communion, First Confession, the singing of hymns, the prayers, the incense. Nothing compared to my mother’s lilacs, fragrant, deep purple in color, as tall as the first floor apartment window of our three decker.

A little Rose, a pal, and Rose’s mom, CECELIA, at Crompton Park.

Every spring Ma would take out her roll of Reynolds Wrap and head downstairs with me to “her” lilac bushes. Then she’d take out her big pair of scissors from the right hand side pocket of her duster and grab a few limbs and branches of one of the lilac trees and pull them forcefully to her breasts. The fragrant branches, the clusters of small simple flowers pushed up against my mother’s neck and chin, my mother cutting those long branches off the bush – two or three full ones – sometimes twisting them off – and wrapping them tightly in the shiny aluminum foil. I was to give this bouquet to my third grade teacher at Lamartine Street School. She was young and pretty like the lilacs my mother had just gathered for her.

That’s why I named my new dog Lilac. For my late mom, for Lafayette Street, for Green Island – my first loves. Always complicated.

IMG_20180106_092011 (1)
Lilac and Cece.

When we were leaving the kennel – me, Jett and Lilac – the kennel owner handed me my new dog’s crate, just before we headed to my car. It was a tiny black cage, two sizes too small for Lilac, made for toy breeds. I imagined the gangly Lilac jammed into that thing at night, maybe even during the day. As if to obliterate the image, I said: “LET’S GO, JETT AND LILAC! LET’S GO HOME!” Then we drove home. Lilac proved to be eminently teachable – my first super smart dog – always good natured, a natural born swimmer, and a terrific little watch dog – never aggressive but always aware. Sometimes the collie part of her kicks in and she tries to herd me and Jett to go in the direction she wants, the apartment door to head to the dog park. She’ll even nip at Jett’s hocks if she’s feeling especially impatient. … And, of course, she became Jett’s best bud.

I remember when I first got Lilac and visited Chef Joey to show him my new dog, and he said: “Jett looks happier.”

I thought: How can you tell? Jett seems the same.

But Chef Joey was right. And after almost a decade of sleeping bum to bum, eating breakfast and supper together every day…after the thousands of joint walks, romps at the dog parks all over Southern New England I see Chef Joey’s point every day … Lately, I see how “lost” Jett is when Lilac decides to take a detour thru the little woods before running into the dog park. She leaves her ol’ pal Jett behind in the dog park, behind the big wire fence. Jett will not play. Refuses – cannot – have any fun. He’ll stand there on that big sweep of lawn, staring in the direction he last saw his Lilac. Jett is upset. Jett will be anxious and be a statue fixated on the spot he last saw Lilac. He will stand there for as long as it takes. Waiting for her return. To him.

Old friends …

And when Lilac comes galloping through those weeds and into the dog park, Jett runs up to her for a gentle hello, then after the smelling he goes about his usual routine, walking the perimeter of the park with Lilac, looking to pounce on a still lethargic mouse or mole or snake half dozing by the fence. And killing it. Both my dogs go to the dog park to hunt woodland creatures, not to play fetch or frisbee with me or even to hang out with the other dogs. Last year at a dog park Jett caught a snake and ran up to me jauntily while shaking the snake wildly in his clenched jaw. So proud! AURGH!!!!! I screamed at the wiggling snake and bolted up from my blanket and ran away.

I swear Lilac was amused.

A young Lilac!

An 8-year-old Lilac, today, by Rose’s side.


By Rosalie Tirella

The blue “turtle” blanket, washed and on the living room chair in Rose’s apartment. photo: R.T.

I have to call the old beau: I have to tell him I saved the life of a turtle today. “Fred” – a rescuer of turtles for decades, since his boyhood in Lynn, not exactly the turtle mecca of New England – will want to hear all the details: How big was the turtle? Was it a snapper? Which road was it trying to cross? Were people helpful – or brutal?

I will tell him that my turtle was small, about five or six inches long, but beautiful with its young head a moist emerald green, the color of an evergreen against the snow in winter. His shell was smooth like ice on a pond, and the young turtle held his elegant head high, way out of its shell, turning it slightly to the left them to right, as if to smell the air, sense the vibrations around him (trucks, cars, wind) and feel the direction he was going in – toward water I’m guessing. Turtles usually cross a highway or roadway to get to some pond or lake. They’re all instinct. The 18-wheelers rumbling by didn’t deter this little prince: he slowly, majestically, LUCKILY, continued his journey. Truck wheels inches away from that sleek shell. Cars just missing him. And because this concrete road in Spencer was very hot (it was around 1 p.m.), the young turtle lifted its still young, I imagine soft, delicate clawed feet up high, right after they took another step forward. He didn’t want to linger on that scorching pavement any longer than necessary, yet he looked so beautiful and proud in his pain.

I said to myself: With all these cars whizzing by it’s only a matter of seconds before someone runs him over. He’ll suffer and die!! So I slammed on my car brakes, put my hazard lights on and began yelling TURTLE! TURTLE!! TURTLE!! into the summer haze and pointed to the little turtle in the middle of the big road. A little turtle following ancient whispers of nature in the cruel, modern world.

My dramatic intervention seemed to do the trick. All the cars in east and west lanes came to a halt. The lady driving the car behind me tried to pass me on my right, but I beeped my horn and yelled TURTLE! TURTLE! at her and pointed to the turtle slowly crossing route 9. And this being a country lady, older, no-nonsense with her long hair pulled up into a ponytail and her glasses sliding down her nose, she said: “I didn’t even see him.” Then the woman, along with me, held up traffic as the young turtle – stoic and steady, his aim was true, he was true to his reptilian heritage, walked inch by inch by inch by inch by inch across the road, his head held up high, tasting the air almost, feeling the sun and the wind and the vibrations around him. When he reached the cusp of the grassy front lawn of the house on the other side and disappeared into the grass I breathed a sigh of relief. I looked guiltily at the woman in the car next to me and said, “We’re all God’s creatures.”

This being Spencer, she nodded solemnly and said, “Yes, we are.”

The 20 or so other vehicles in front of and behind us revved back up and resumed their journeys, sailing down route 9. I was still a little anxious for my turtle; some jerk behind me could have just rolled up onto the first foot of that lawn to annihilate him. Totally wipe him out. But I chose to be optimistic and thought: Nah.

About 20 years ago I saved a HUGE snapping turtle who was in the middle of crossing crazy busy Mill Street in Worcester. The turtle was about a foot high, a little tank – about as big as Jett when he’s asleep on his mat. Its feet and claws were like machine tools. They looked heavy and gnarly and thick and brownish and clawed. Its shell was hard and a dark brown, mud-like, the helmet he wore to protect himself, to be impervious to whatever crossed his path. But in a pond or lake – he wasn’t meant to be a warrior on Mill Street.

It was a snapping turtle, as I could see the large, sharp hook at the end of his pointy face, like a beak. I could see that huge hook yards away, sitting in my car. This being my first turtle, I was oblivious to its ramifications and giddily approached the snapper. I had screeched to a halt and stopped all the traffic on my side of Mill Street. I thought I could just shoo this behemoth over to the other side of the road, maybe tap his bum a bit to get him going a wee bit more quickly. Boy, was I wrong. This very large, stressed snapping turtle was having none of it. He turned his long ancient head way around toward me and opened its huge maw and showed me the inside of his mouth: it was white and fleshy. He hissed loudly. I could ses his razor sharp beak up close now as he was pointing it at me. I took several steps back, terrified.

Cue the two 10-year-old boys from the house next door, out playing and looking for some summer adventure – and just like that coming upon the frazzled middle-aged lady stupidly trying to assist a HUGE PISSED OFF SNAPPING TURTLE. To them we spelled FUN. And, just like that, they were running up to the turtle, chatting with me, laughing, picking up sticks…two Tom Sawyer’s finding their cave with treasure chest in tact.

Boys! I said. Don’t try to push him along – he’ll bite you!!

I don’t remember if it was me or the two kids who thought to use a recycling bin… But it was recycling day in Worcester and the city’s big plastic recycling bins were now emptied out and scattered all over the front yards of Mill Street. The boys grabbed a blue plastic recycling bin, placed it over the snapping turtle, still making its way across Mill Street, and walking side by side, right along with him, they steered the turtle to the other side of the street, right on the path to water. The blue recycling bin was a snug fit for the snapper but the plastic was thick and the boys were determined and efficient and got the job done in minutes. Plus, they were having a ball. I was too, stopping all traffic, the drivers and passengers watching from their vehicles smiling and … charmed.

Last year, I was driving to the Millbury dog park when I saw a young Hispanic couple, in their twenties, out for a morning jog, in a panic. They were waving their hands trying to get some assistance and running around a big snapping turtle that was in the middle of the road trying to reach the pond across the street. The young guy was trying to lift the turtle up with his bare hands – the snapping turtle had froze. It was big but it was scared. It was no where near as huge and menacing looking as my Mill Street snapper, but it could still do some damage to the young guy who was desperately trying to help him. Experienced in the ways of turtles, I stopped my car and yelled to the couple: “No! He’ll bite you! He’s stressed! Here! Here’s a blanket! Gently lift him up with this and bring him to the water!”

I reached over to the passenger seat in my car, and grabbed my blue blanket I use to sit on at the dog park and handed it to the guy. It was smallish and soft – perfect for picking up a poor frightened turtle. The Hispanic guy who struggled with English understood and covered the turtle with the blanket and clasping the edges of his thick shell gently lifted the reptile and awkwardly carried it across the street and set it on the grass.

I said to him and his girlfriend: Don’t worry. The water is down there. He knows what to do!

The guy and gal were so happy and pleased with themselves, me and the turtle! They were heroes in this a.m. adventure! The guy gave me back my blue blanket and we all continued our day – happy to have helped that big turtle.

It always pains me to see wild animals and reptiles, beautiful, instinct-driven, pristine attempting to live their natural lives but thwarted at every turn by the modern world. Climate change, extreme weather, 18-wheelers, highways, sewer pipes, glass skyscrapers and two-ton cars careening down the road, oblivious to them.

When I first moved to Spencer I saw a coyote that had been run over, dead, on the edge of route 9 in Leicester. It had happened recently, so the coyote still looked alive even though it was stiff. But the coat and the head and body seemed still filled with rough and wild looking life. The fur bottle bristle cleaner tough – not at all soft like my dogs’ fur. Its tail thick and coarse, made specially to cover his snout during winter time, to warm the cold air before he inhaled it. Now all that mystery gone. I thought to myself: the driver couldn’t have not seen him. Why couldn’t he have just slowed down?

Then a few weeks later there was a young turtle trying to cross route 9 and its head and feet were tucked in its pretty shell – someone must have just hit it. But from my car I could see his shell was still whole. So I stopped the traffic and ran out to check on the turtle waving my white sweater in the air. When I looked down at the turtle a thin, red-wine colored blood trickled onto route 9 from its shut mouth. I saw it had suffered and this upset me. I didn’t remember seeing the blood as I passed him the first time, but when I turned my car around to help…there was the blood. I wrapped the turtle in my white sweater and crossed the road with him and gently placed him in the grassy field, hoping if he was still alive he would heal itself. A guy in a pick up truck that had stopped gave me a “thumbs up.”

Today, was a good day. A young turtle lived! The old beau will be happy to hear the news.

If it can happen to Julia …

By Rosalie Tirella

A not-so-hot movie. photos: R.T.

Last night I watched TICKET TO PARADISE starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts. The movie’s billed as a romantic comedy – a “romcom” – and there was quite the celebration when it hit the silver screen a few years ago. Romcoms have kinda disappeared from American cinema as American movies (and Americans?) have become more plastic, more superhero franchise, more pornographic and dumbed-down. The great romcoms, with their movie star leads, crackling dialogue, terrific soundtracks and fun – sometimes hilarious – plotlines seem to hold little attraction for moviegoers these days. But years ago they gave us Baby Boomers many a happy date night! Think MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING … SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE … WHEN HARRY MET SALLY … SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE and IT’S COMPLICATED. Great movies with beloved American actors that we Americans flocked to see at packed local movie houses. Oftentimes you had to buy your tickets in advance for the NEXT screening.

The years fly: Netflix and the streaming services plus the global pandemic have killed the movie-going experience. COVID closed down hundreds of movie houses in America – for good. Worcester, after the demise of that huge cineplex on Brooks Street, has ZERO movie theaters! The second largest city in New England! I guess after COVID people were still wary of watching a movie with a ton of strangers in a poorly ventilated space. Even with COVID vaccines, masks and jugs of hand sanitizer provided by the movie houses. Also, I think, folks had become really lazy – almost antisocial – during the pandemic – so in love with their slippers and flannel jammies! Many continued to skip the cinema all together and worshipped their HUGE flat screen TVs during FAMILY movie time – in their FAMILY rooms with FAMILY. Cocooning was back!

When TICKET TO PARADISE was released, it was feted as one of the films that would get Americans off their couches and into the movie theaters again. Together again, like real Americans! The pandemic was receding … Clooney and Roberts, America’s sweethearts in the ’90s – now older but still gorgeous and sparkly – were teaming up again! In a romcom! We Baby Boomers would laugh once more! At the cinema!

Didn’t quite happen. I blame America’s shifting mores – but I also blame the movie itself. It’s not so hot. First, it is depressing for the terrific Clooney and Roberts – who are real life friends and who have real screen chemistry – to have to share half the film with a bunch of actor “kids” who are boring and have no screen sparkle. The plot almost makes Roberts and Clooney peripheral to THEIR film! Plus, the dialogue sucks, is hackneyed. I will recap: Georgia and David’s (Roberts and Clooney’s) daughter Lily has gone to Bali with her best friend for a vacation after graduation from law school and meets the love of her life there, a handsome seaweed farmer whom she wants to marry. Mom and dad – who have been divorced for 19 years and supposedly hate each other’s guts – HAVE TO BREAK UP THEIR DAUGHTER’S IMPENDING MARRIAGE AND BRING HER HOME. So they converge on Bali – two uptight, big-city, over-achieving oldsters – to pluck their Lily from everything beautiful and pristine – bickering and fighting every step of the way. Until … they fall in love again. Maybe they never stopped being ga ga over each other!

Clooney and Roberts – two charismatic screen stars – are capable of witty repartee – if the screenwriters had only given it to them. And these two performers have real actor chops and are capable of making you feel, become involved in their fate – if only the director had given them a great story. A story in which you could see them slowly find each other again. Really fall in love. The backdrop would be fun, not intrusive.

I don’t care what happens to Lily and her kid boyfriend, and I’m not even too obsessed with Bali and the beautiful people and their cool customs. Their fate is of little concern to this Clooney and Roberts fan. I’m older, and this older woman wanted to see Clooney and Roberts – roughly her age – interact on screen for about two hours. To be dazzled by their charm, their intelligence, their beauty … their ebullience. Yes, you can be older and still dazzle! Have ebullience! Be beautiful! But in a different way than when you’re in your 30s and 20s. A kind of mellow beauty emanates from an older face, that lined face, that post menopausal face … Those knit brows say: I KNOW THINGS … the wan look telegraphs: I’VE LIVED. To see a tentative Roberts leaning in for maybe a kiss?? from ex-hubby Clooney is heartbreaking, but wonderful. It was one of my favorite scenes in the movie! Up close you see the wrinkles on Roberts’ face, the slightly saggy chin, the pinched, anxious expression you see on the faces of most older folks. The bloom is definitely off the rose. Yet she is beautiful… luminous. I wish there had been more moments like that in the film. For example, the one where Clooney – still in love with Roberts – can guess where she’s going with an idea just by reading her face. The ex hubby smiles shyly and impishly when he looks into her eyes, gets it … and follows through … Because he KNOWS his lady love, has feelings for her that go way deep, beyond the few layers of epidermis wrapped around her skull. He sees beyond her pretty face. Hollywood/America doesn’t trust it – an older woman and man’s beauty, the stories on their faces, the histories you, the movie viewer, wants, needs, to see …If, like me, you’ve made it a point to go to their movies over the decades, you remember their plump, young, even ruddy complexions. You were like that, too, in your own average-looking way. But now you’re 61 and you don’t want to fade away. If it can happen to Julia Roberts in her own movie …

Rosalie, this week…


By Rosalie Tirella

Rose returning a Frances Perkins library DVD at the Spencer public library – the Richard Sugden Library. photos: R.T.

You know how I love movies, how I share my feelings about some of my favorite films with you on my FB pages and on our website. You know Luis Sanchez, another cinephile, a South High grad (class of ’22 – so young!), is my excellent CECELIA/ICT website film critic. You know I’m emotionally invested in our celluloid heroes and antiheroes! Movies make us soar! Emotionally, intellectually, spiritually! They can leave us – or at least me – happy, heartbroken … bewildered, bedazzled … inspired, incredulous … jazzed! Where would we be without movies? Where would I be without movies?!!

This morning I was determined to find out: I returned a DVD – Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA – I had borrowed from the Greendale branch library (Frances Perkins) in Worcester to Spencer’s town library – the Richard Sugden Library – after I had been warned by the Spencer town librarian, Cheryl Donahue – not to return them to the Sugden Library, not to drop public library DVDs into a public library return box outside the Spencer PUBLIC library, part of the Central Massachusetts+ library system – CMARS. And something I have been doing for nearly a year, since I moved to Spencer last autumn. I believe librarian Cheryl Donahue was basically telling me, a CMARS patron with active CMARS library card, to stay away from a CMARS library – the Richard Sugden Library in Spencer. To keep away from the Richard Sugden Library – a free public library in Massachusetts where the idea of American public libraries was practically born. To not return the PUBLIC’S DVDs to a PUBLIC library, a pillar of American Democracy. A public library from which I live roughly three yards away – as in next door, as in my apartment building shares a driveway with the Richard Sugden Library!

The Richard Sugden Library return box, outside the library.

In her note to me, reprinted here, fired off last night, way after business hours when Spencer librarian Cheryl Donahue should have been reading a book, having sex, eating ice cream OR WATCHING A MOVIE – not being a poo-head and undermining American democracy – Cheryl gives me the financial reasons for wanting to refuse the DVDs I watched and now wanted to return: It’s labor intensive (removing them from the library return box right outside the library?) … expensive – Cheryl estimates it costs $5 to get them back to the Greendale branch library … But, let’s face it, the subtext of her note was: Rosalie, WE DO NOT WANT YOU TO BE A PART OF OUR TOWN. OUR TOWN LIBRARY. DO YOUR LIBRARY BUSINESS IN WORCESTER, AT THE WORCESTER LIBRARIES.

Naturally, I forwarded Spencer librarian Cheryl Donahue’s email to anyone who was anybody – including a lawyer pal. I mean, what the he*l does Cheryl Donahue know about my life? What is it her business if I choose to take out DVDs at the Frances Perkins Branch and, after watching them, walk 20 steps over to the Richard Sugden Library to return them to the library? Often tied in pretty red yarn so as to keep the fragile DVDs extra safe (some of the DVD holders don’t close correctly or are damaged). Why whine to me about someone having to go to the return box to unlock the return box to retrieve my DVDs? I see plenty of folks driving up, walking up, to drop borrowed material into the library return box. It’s not just me using the return box!

I thought back 15 years to my sojourn in Holden, another Central Massachusetts small town where people can get hideously self-important, back to the day their town librarian (a husky middle-aged lady with a bob) said: Rosalie, do you want to pick up these library materials you requested at the Worcester library? Not here in Holden, at this library? … Meaning: the Holden public library – a five-minute drive from my then Holden apartment, where I and my dog Bailey and my two cats lived – was off limits to me, a very poor person living in a very rich town. An outsider if ever there was one.

Livid, I went straight to the top – to the Holden public library’s executive director – and told her exactly what the librarian at the desk downstairs, this PUBLIC LIBRARIAN AT THIS PUBLIC LIBRARY TO WHICH I, A MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC, HAVE EVERY AMERICAN RIGHT TO VISIT AND ENJOY, said to me. The head librarian at the Holden public library was appalled. She was so nice to me! She apologized and said she would reprimand the husky librarian immediately and this incident would go on her work record permanently. The Holden head librarian knew what American public libraries stood for.

And, if you want to be a philistine about it: The Richard Sugden Library in Spencer receives federal and state funds$$$$ – from which Ms. Cheryl Donahue is paid her librarian’s salary. The Spencer public library receives public moneys to provide all kinds of cool, intellectual, fun and inspiring material to the public. AND TO ACCEPT THAT PUBLIC MATERIAL AFTER THE LIBRARY PATRON IS FINISHED watching, reading or listening to the PUBLIC’S stuff.

The Richard Sugden Library is part of the CMARS PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM. RECEIVER OF STATE AND FEDERAL FUNDING $$$. If Spencer librarian Cheryl Donahue wants the Spencer town library to be an exclusive club, accepting some folks, rejecting others, then Cheryl Donahue should convince the Spencer library to go private – at which time they will lose all their public funding.

And be out of business in about two weeks.

It’s Rose’s right! It’s any CMARS library patron’s American Right!


Cheryl’s letter to Rose:


“I’ve noticed you’ve been regularly borrowing movies from Worcester Library and returning them to Spencer. I’m pleased you are using the services of an outstanding library like Worcester, but I encourage you to bring DVDS in person to Worcester as often as possible. Each item returned here belonging to another library must be processed at the interlibrary loan center with costs including both manpower and fuel. It’s estimated each item costs @$5 to return to another location. Most libraries no longer charge late fees (and items usually automatically renew) so it will be fine if you wait to return your movies to Worcester when you visit their library to select your new titles.

“Thank you for your kind cooperation.


“Cheryl Donahue
Richard Sugden Library
8 Pleasant St
Spencer, MA …”


By Rosalie Tirella

Bapy and little Rose in their Green Island tenement.

When I was a baby, my Polish immigrant grandmother and grandfather lived with us on Lafayette Street, guiding my single mom, helping her navigate her tiny, impoverished world – now with baby Rosalie in tow. Jaju (Polish for “granddad”) paid part of the rent and gas bill; Bapy (Polish for “granny”) jumped in to babysit. “Ma” was too proud to go on welfare, even though her husband, my “Daddy,” had abandoned the family. So we were very poor, my childhood often Dickensian. Adding injury to insult, Daddy, when he decided to visit us, abused my mother. He popped over to scream all his failures and frustrations at her pretty face, even slapping her cheek so hard he left the imprint of his fingers on face. I’ll never forget those slaps. It happened on two occasions. As a toddler I watched my father, mute and afraid of him. I remember his dirty white leather cap pulled over his eyes. It was greasy from working on his truck and cars. I still see his red face pulsating with rage and his big cigar hanging from his lips. He looked ugly and menacing as he chomped on it.

Bapy, old, dumpling-shaped, 4′ 10″ tall, her arthritic feet clad in knit booties my aunt used to make for her would jump in to defend her daughter, my mother. Mad as hell, blind to the fact that my father could’ve punched her out, Bapy was a Polish bantam weight in her pink flannel nightie! In her pigeon English – she only knew about 15 words in English – Bapy yelled: GET THE HELL OUT YOU RED DEVIL! (my father had red hair when he was young; his roots were Northern Italy). GO TO HELL YOU RED DEVIL! she’d scream. Then Bapy’d stamp her thick little feet peeking out from her pink flannel nightie, and out came more swears – this time in Polish: DOG’S BLOOD! DOG’S BLOOD!!! This sounds innocuous in English, but translated into Polish, with Bapy as enraged as my father was, it’s a scene from The Exorcist.

My father had gotten my mother pregnant with me out of wedlock, in the cab of his truck. My sweet mother who had once dreamed of becoming a nun threw that dream away when she met my goodlooking, smart and charming father. Too innocent to realize he was a lowlife, she was infatuated and turned on. Going with a wild Italian boy, staying out late …walking around their tenement on Bigelow Street PREGNANT AND UNMARRIED…this was all too much for my Bapy who hated my father … for the damage he had done. My poor conservative Catholic Bapy who, in her prime, walked to Our Lady of Czestochowa Church on Ward Street every morning to attend mass in Polish, and to take Holy Communion, was apoplectic. Was consumed with hatred for this man who ruined her daughter’s life. To see Cecelia, her favorite daughter, pregnant… without a husband…and then to finally meet the man, to have her daughter marry him at City Hall … it all made Bapy crazy. When I was a little girl and Daddy was living with us, very sporadically, he would walk past Bapy sitting in her lumpy easy chair at the head of our kitchen table and she’d just “get triggered” and fling her egg sandwich at my father. Luckily, Daddy found this hilarious.

“Bapy” had a plan, a remedy, an answer for all life’s problems, especially infant/toddler conundrums. Most of her solutions were straight from the Old Country, from her family’s farm in Poland where she not only took care of all the farm animals but raised her five younger siblings as a girl herself. Her mother had died and her father remarried – to a younger woman who had no interest in her stepchildren, even beating Bapy. So when Bapy was 18 she left a bad situation to come to America to build a new, better life. She was pretty, hardworking, and a good woman who loved God and her religion above all. I still remember one of Bapy’s big religious pictures framed, from turn of the 20th century Poland, in our Lafayette Street tenement. It was 3 feet by 4 feet and it hung over Bapy’s black metal bed. It was dark and a beautifully painted print depicting Jesus sitting on a huge puffy white cloud and below him, half engulfed in flames, several people naked, begging for mercy, stretching their arms out to Jesus, pleading with harrowing looks on their faces as if to say, JESUS! PLEASE! GET ME OUT OF HELL! I’M SUFFERING! HAVE MERCY ON ME!

I believe this print encapsulated Bapy’s feelings towards my father and her later life in Green Island. Especially after her beloved husband, my dear Jaju, died. Jaju was quiet and good and let Bapy boss him around for 50 years. The polar opposite of my father. My mom once told me that after Jaju died, she had to roll Bapy out of bed every morning – for months. That’s how sad Bapy was!

Bapy was always very warm and fecund smelling, the good earth from the Old Country never quite leaving her feet, her hands, her fingernails … Bapy was very hands-on! Jumping right in to bathe me in my basinet, taking her gnarly, arthritic fingers and poking them right into my mashed potatoes to make them softer for my little toothless mouth. Ten years later she would be poking her gnarly arthritic fingers into my pet hamster Joy’s cage to shove a piece of my birthday cake under Joy’s whiskered, twitchy pink nose! After I had told her not to feed Joy, that birthday cake isn’t good for hamsters! Bapy ignored my pleas and fed all my pets – chunks of her egg sandwich, milk, golden cake. And all my pets thrived, all of them becoming Bapy’s pets and forsaking me. My first dog Belle slept by Bapy’s feet on the kitchen floor, not by my bedside. My cat always sat on the arm of Bapy’s crappy easy chair – his shoulder pressed right up against Bapy’s! Like they were allies. Even Joy the hamster came running to my grandmother’s clicking and cooing noises and my birthday cake. It didn’t make any sense!

I was too young to realize that my Bapy was Earth Mother. Bapy was Bread Giver. Bapy had nurtured so much life it just came naturally to her to help all living things along. I have a photograph of Bapy holding me when I was just months old. My grandmother is practically smashing me up against her old pancake-flat breasts, her still chubby arms tightly wrapped around me. I am raising my wee head as if to say: AIR! AIR! PLEASE, Bapy! My old granny looks into the camera lens, protective of me, besotted with me, her granddaughter Rosalie. Her daughter’s daughter.

I was named after my grandmother, and my relatives used to say I looked like Bapy with my round Polish face and little chin. My personality was a lot like Bapy’s, too: I could be feisty and stubborn, even as a toddler. Bapy felt there was a connection. She’d say in her pigeon English: YOU ROSIE AND ME ROSIE!

I never felt all that connected to Bapy, mostly, as a kid, I felt annoyed at her. For instance, Bapy insisted that my mother bundle me up in layers of clothing when taking me out to play during winter time. Three tee shirts, long johns, two pairs of socks, two sweaters, layers and layers of clothing. Me, barely zipped into my pink snowsuit after all that. Barely able to walk! I looked like a little Michelin Man baby. One January morning I slipped on our porch and ROLLED down the 13 wooden stairs leading to the second floor porch. I rolled down all the way, like a little pink log. Then I got up and ran into our backyard to build a snowman. No bruises. No bumps. No pain. I had all that padding on to protect me.

Bapy had my mother, when it was cold in our tenement on Lafayette Street, reconfigure our sleeping arrangements. Bapy would come into Ma’s bedroom and I would be with my mother, the baby in the middle. Bapy would sleep in the other side of me, so I’d be snuggling between my sleeping mom and my snoring Bapy. Their body heat kept me super warm, the momma bears keeping baby bears cozy, alive, in their dens when it was freezing. I still remember the feeling, not a warmth as from my blankets, but a human kind of cabbagey odor and waves of body heat radiating out of Ma and Bapy. Our tenement was bare bones – we only had the small gas log in our kitchen stove to keep us warm during those cold winter nights in Green Island. Plus our windows were ancient and rattled in the wind – sometimes snowflakes came in to the tenement. As a teenager I used to sleep under my Bapy’s old fur coat with a crew knit hat on my head…thinking of my old granny on those cold winter nights.

Bapy taught my mother how to make the peasant food she grew up eating in Poland: lots of soups with cheap beef chunks and carrots and potatoes and plenty of cabbage. I wasn’t a fan of the entrees, but Ma used to plop some ketchup on my food which made it taste better. My aunts were cooking pierogi and galumpki for their kids. Somehow those delicious Polish dishes never came my way. My mother wasn’t a great cook and uninterested in learning culinary skills. I think she was probably overwhelmed with her now three little kids, working full time at the dry cleaners, keeping house, caring for Bapy, dealing with my still messed up father…

Sometimes, like all babies, I was gassy… couldn’t poop …my tummy was bloated and I whimpered from the discomfort. Bapy to the rescue! She’d hobble over to our old round-edged refrigerator and she’d grab the box of lard. It was white and greasy and cold, but it wasn’t Crisco – it came in a box and was wrapped in wax paper. Bapy called it “Schmaltz”… but it wasn’t chicken fat either. Just lard. Which she, my Bapy, smeared all over my naked little baby body as if I was a chicken getting prepped for the roasting pan. Delightful! I was in my bed naked and Bapy was scooping out a handful of schmaltz and massaging it all over my stomach and chest and …then rolling me over and taking another scoop of lard and rubbing it all over my back and bum. My mother had wanted to use a baby suppository, but Bapy was against it – this way was natural and worked good. It was schmaltz, better than medicine! Well, the smell of the melting lard on my body, the soft, expert touch of my grandmother, the basically full-body massage relaxing me, making me sleepy and content. I was in heaven! Bapy’s little chicken getting all buttered up … And low and behold I fell fast asleep and I pooped.

None of Bapy’s baby remedies ever called for medicine from Vernon Drug on Millbury Street. The healing was all in her hands, her food, her memory … her heart. My mother trusted her mother with her first born – me – even when things seemed a little weird. … Sure, we went to our pediatrician – a sweet, older gent who smoked and had his big yellow lab always sleeping under his desk – to get all our vaccines. My mother kept a booklet of all our shots. But she put her faith in dumpling Bapy for the day to day, the small old woman who kept all the plants and flowers in our apartment and on our back porch growing, the little lady who kept my mother positive, who kept us kids happy, who kept our wild father at bay, who fed my dog chicken thigh meat that my mother had placed on her – Bapy’s – dinner plate for supper!

Was there ever so much love?!

Bird Girl

By Rosalie Tirella

Yeah, yeah, yeah! photo: R.T.

When I was a girl growing up in Green Island I learned what it meant to be the object of a boy’s affection. Worshipped from afar – and up close. Talked to with a kind of tentativeness, even deference. I never initiated anything, but the boy strangely glommed onto me, following me around after class, saying HELLO, ROSALIE! every morning in the school yard before we kids were allowed to enter the school building. He admired me … admired me, Rosalie. It felt weird, being hoisted on a pedestal. Sure, it was a poor girl’s Green Island pedestal, but to be shyly adored … for my … smarts. Interesting. Not for my looks. Not for my Catholic girl morals. Not for my sense of humor. Not for my quiet ways. But for being brainy. For being “THE SMARTEST GIRL IN CLASS,” as my not-so-secret admirer would tell his friends with pride. “Rosalie is the smartest girl in Lamartine!” he’d say, as if dedicating a monument to a dead me in the middle of Kelley Square!

I was just a kid – 10, a fifth grader at Lamartine Street School – so I wore my medal of honor pretty lightly. I was used to getting all A’s and having my mom be so proud of me whenever I was first in my classes. My father, who was hardly around when I was in grammar school, even acknowledged the fact, calling me “smart” whenever he visited. But Daddy always praised me in a smart aleck-y way, with a smirk plastered on his handsome face. My father knew we were poor and I think he believed that I wouldn’t – couldn’t! – get far in life, even if I was smart. He was very smart – but felt like a “loser”… He was very cynical and took his frustrations out on my mother. Daddy called me “smart” the way some people call other people “stupid.”

I’ll call my admirer “John.” John was big, round-shouldered and lumbered down the our school’s hallways, even though he was a very gentle soul and always spoke in a soft monotone. John was kept back twice at Lamartine, so he was about a foot taller than most of the boys in our class. But unlike the other three or four other boys who were also kept back at Lamartine and were now in fifth grade, again, John wasn’t a wise guy, he wasn’t a bully, and he never stopped trying to learn … to read … to add numbers. I remember he really wanted to read! He wanted to understand what an author was trying to tell him, the reader. What was the secret code, the message in the bottle that drifted out to sea? He never got the words right. He wanted to … he loved books! Made a gallant effort to read from our Lamartine text books – history, literature…books from the library. Whenever we as a class got to read a story aloud together, each student taking a paragraph or two, John was the one who held us up for a torturous five minutes, trying to sound the word out, often guessing its meaning as best he could based on the story. The teachers called it “context.”

John always wore clean, button-down shirts, often plaid, tucked into khaki pants, belted. His white tee shirt always peeked out around the first two button holes of his shirt and his shoes were always black tie ups, the kind my Uncle Mark wore. An older man’s shoes. John wore his blondish hair in a crew cut, always, and had a way of rolling his eyes and looking up at the ceiling whenever we had a class photo taken. He lived with his big brother above the old Steeple Bumpsted’s barroom on Millbury Street, the barroom named after the comic strip – you know, the weird little guy who always wore a plaid cap and sat at the bar sipping beer from a huge beer stein. When I was a kid Steeples was the place to go for a beer or two or three for many a Green Islanders. Millbury Street, not gentrified then, was lined with bars – 20, maybe 30! Plus a few flop-houses and of course the PNI. A disgruntled or forsaken person could start drinking at one end of Millbury Street, up by Crompton Park, and drink himself into a drunken stupor by the end of Millbury, right at the flophouse at Kelley Square. Where he could pass out and spend the night …The flop-house/bar is now owned by notorious gentrifier Bob Largesse, who hosts poetry readings!!! Of course the rooms at this flophouse are unaffordable to the local drunks. Steeple Bumpsted’s owner even sold Steeple Bumpsted tee-shirts! With the image of the comic strip guy sipping his beer at the bar, his back to you, his arse glued to his barstool. The tee shirts came in all colors. When I was 19 I went out with a guy kind of from the neighborhood who wore his Steeples tee shirt with great pride, telling me his father, as a rite of passage, took him out to Steeples for his first beer ever at a bar. It was his birthday. He was of age now, so his dad put his arm around his shoulder, and together they walked down Vernon Hill to seedy Millbury Street to drink together, father and son, at Steeples. His dad didn’t take their car; instead they walked down to Steeples and boozily threaded their way back up Seymour Street to their three decker when the night was through.

But I digress! Back to John! … My family was poor, but the kids who lived on Millbury Street, in apartments above Steeples and the barrooms and all the Millbury Street mom and pop stores, seemed even poorer than we were! My family had a huge tenement with lots of windows because we rented on Lafayette Street, a three decker there. But the Millbury Street kids didn’t live in three deckers. They had no backyards – the expressway (I 290) was their backyard. Their windows were few and far between and their apartments were small. It was noisier, too, what with all the traffic and fights outside the barrooms.

Like I said, John lived above Steeple Bumpsted’s with his big brother. I don’t remember ever seeing his parents. I think his brother raised him all by himself. John was a smaller version of his almost adult brother who dressed exactly like John. Or vice versa.

Sometimes John would start a conversation with me … but it went no where. Then, one day, in the school yard, during recess, he walked up to me, very respectfully, and said: Rosalie, did you find the bird in the bird cage I left in your backyard for you last week?

I said, my interest suddenly piqued: No, John! I didn’t see any bird in a bird cage in our backyard!

I wish you had, Rosalie, John said. It was so pretty…blue with black eyes …

Me, a good kid … a very gullible, good kid … heartbroken! I said: I wish you told me the bird was waiting for me, John!

John said: Don’t worry, Rosalie. I’ll leave another one for you this Sunday. It’ll be even prettier!

I was thrilled! I already had two little turtles, Tommy and Speedy; two newts whom I never christened, a white hamster I called Joy and a yellow canary my mom named Butterball. But there was room for more pets in my bedroom! I loved all animals and so wanted John’s exotic birds for my menagerie – something wild and free, not from the Woolworths’ pet department on Front Street!

So Sunday morning, before Sunday morning mass at St. Mary’s with my family, I ran into our backyard and looked all around for my green bird in its pretty cage. I looked by the stockade fence with the dandelions all around, I looked by the wire fence where the Big Yard began, I even looked by the garbage cans in the shed, with the white maggots crawling outside the beat up garbage can lids … but NO BIRD! AGAIN!

That Monday in school I told John that I never did find the green bird he left for me, and he told me the bird’s story. How he, John, caught it on his porch on Millbury Street, how it had flown from someone else’s kitchen window across the way because the little girl there had left the birdcage door open. How the bird was so fragile and tame, how it would sit on your finger and let you gently stroke its head.

I cried! John! I said, let’s try again.

So John said: Next Saturday at 2. That’s when he would have another bird in a gilded, beautiful little cage waiting just for me, even prettier than the green bird I didn’t find.

And so I ran home and in a girly ecstacy took out my Beatles record and played it on my portable red record player and fell asleep dreaming of Paul McCartney’s dimples. I was in fifth grade, almost a sixth grader now, and many of us older kids loved the Beatles. Abby Road was brought to class for show and tell by one classmate. Another classmate played the acoustic guitar and played Yesterday so beautifully , a mini-concert before class began.

So Saturday came. And went, without my bird. I looked around our dirt yard and began to feel hopeless. Not duped by John. Never angry with John – he was a good kid. I was just disappointed in my life. Our backyard used to have grass and a birdbath and even a sandbox, but the landlord did all that for a tenant he was sleeping with (my mom told me years later). When she moved out, our backyard looked like crap again. The sky above was always pretty, except during thunderstorms, but the earth was always disappointing. I sat on the wooden stairs that led to our backyard and thought: It’ll never get better. All the good things I wish for: the pretty birds in their beautiful cages. The presents from friends. The old bird bath. The old sandbox. The green grass … I trudged up the two flights of stairs to our apartment feeling low. Not at all special.

Then one day, right around that time, right when I was falling in love with the Beatles and wishing for my very own Beatle … I found myself wanting something wonderful, something from … the Beatles. To me, Rosalie. An autograph in my autograph book from White’s Five and Ten. A turquoise pin. A telephone call from Paul, the cutest Beatle, from his house in Liverpool … I felt about the Beatles the way I felt about the beautiful birds John had left me outside my house … the birds that had flown away, the beautiful tokens of his admiration, caged but “all your life, you were waiting for this moment to be free.” I could read. I was free. John could not. He was in a cage, so he told me stories of birds to be free. And then one day I was skulking around our Lafayette Street backyard, looked down and there it was in the dirt: a Beatles baseball card! Autographed by Paul McCartney, my favorite Beatle!!! I gasped! I reached down to pick up my treasure! I wanted to scream to the heavens but I didn’t want anyone to come over and say: This is my Beatles card! Give it back, thief! As if in my own little miracle, I looked at my card up close, then closed my eyes and smiled.

One of their old trading cards that came with a flat pink stick of gum, like the baseball cards with photos of Carl Yastrzemski or other ball players on them … But Beatles trading cards that my much older cousin bought in the early ’60s, no longer made in the 1970s. You just didn’t see them around anymore. Except in my backyard in Green Island! Just floating around for the taking! And so, for years, I’ve toted my Beatles baseball card along with me, pulling it out of my wallet whenever I want to smile, feel good, to think of John at Lamartine Street School and our poverty transcended with elegant little birds in their beaded cages … and stories…and dreams that often times don’t come true, but sometimes do.

Day Trip

By Rosalie Tirella

Rose, this spring.

So, I was 19, back home from college for summer time and, for some strange reason, I wanted a father. My father. To finally get to know the hard, distant man who, for my whole young life, shrewdly skirted around our poor little family – avoiding my mother, my two sisters and me like the plague. All those years! “Daddy” absent without a note from home. AWOL in the war on poverty – our minimum-wage poverty in Green Island. Missing the fun, too. And the responsibilities. The great stuff and the mundane crap. Everything intimate and real that was happening in our Lafayette Street tenement. Everything that mattered, everything that was shaping my life and my sisters’ lives, our world views. … Like Daddy never bought my mom, his wife, a birthday present or a Christmas gift or took her out to dinner at a restaurant on a Saturday night – not once in all the years I knew him! My mother shouldered the burden – worked 60 hours a week at the dry cleaners to support us and pretty much raised me and my kid sisters singlehandedly. She would have loved to feel special – loved the night out! But Daddy never gave Ma a date night, never showed his appreciation for being tremendous in the face of adversity. He treated my mother, sweet, hardworking, smart, GOOD “Ma” like trash. My sisters and I ran under his radar – lucky for us because Daddy could be an emotionally abusive a-hole. His meanness was saved all for my mother.

So why, at 19, did I want to get to know the asshole? A man I actually called “asshole” to his face once or twice? … There are scientific studies that tell of the psychological need – the absolute longing of young women 19, 20, 21 – to bond with their fathers – no matter what kind of father the guy happens to be. It is true for all girls – even the ones who never liked their fathers. Daughters like me.

“Daddy” never took out the garbage, bought furniture for our Green Island flat, taught us girls – his three daughters – how to drive a car or care for dogs (he was expert at both) … and yet here I was, 19, and colt-like in my skinniness and sensitiveness and intuitiveness, wanting to do something cool with my mean ol’ Daddy. He never even sat down and read my college essays – the ones I got A’s for – the ones in which he was the main topic! Yet here I was standing in the middle of our huge three decker kitchen, fascinated by his handsome face, mesmerized by his gnarly junkman hands, taken with his Italian nose … and his truck. Here I was, back from UMass Amherst for the summer, begging my mom: Can I do something with Daddy, Ma? MAKE HIM DO SOMETHING WITH ME, Ma!

My mother, like most people who became parents in the 1950s and early 1960s, didn’t share her feelings with her kids. She was an old-school mom: strict, with high expectations for her offspring, loving but not a big kisser or hugger. We kids were not showered with compliments or given choices …we weren’t part of her adult world, a world which was serious and maybe even dangerous. Our mother had to be thinking all the time: paying the rent, electricity bill, gas bill, working at the dry cleaners, surviving a tough neighborhood, grocery shopping with that rickety wagon in winter time, walking home in the snow, in the dark with just the street lights to light her and her daughters’ way home. … We girls had to be focused, too: do our chores, homework, attend weekly catechism class at St. Mary’s school on Richland Street, go to confession and weekly mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa church on Ward with Ma. Plus Girls Club all week during summertime, sometimes the school year. Violin and accordion lessons for me. We had schedules. Big-time . That was our closeness. Ma’s close talk was reserved for her two sisters, one of whom she’d call up every night to confide about … everything. She’d never tell me, even when I was an older teen: I’m afraid, Rosalie. I’m worried, Rose. I’m tired. … Or, now: “Why do you want to get to know your father, Rosalie?”… “This is weird.”

Instead, one day, my mother said: Daddy will spend the day with you, Rose. What do you want to do with him?


So, that next week, my father, in his blue factory shirt and pants, and me, in my tight blue jeans and big man’s dress shirt – pretty much my college uniform for 4 years – walked to Kelley Square and up Madison Street to the then Greyhound Bus Station and took the bus to Boston. Daddy sat in the window seat and looked out the window and didn’t say much. I stared at him, fascinated! …We got off in Boston at the bus station there and, because I had friends at Northeastern whom I visited during the school year, I knew my way around the city a bit and walked us straight to the chi chi Newbury Street. Back then Newbury Street was tony and for rich people but also student friendly: there was a movie house, cool clothing boutiques, hair salons …and that famous toy store…with the fiberglass toy bear, a story high, that sat outside the building around Christmas time. Something told me my father would like all the cool mechanical toys inside, just like me.

Wow. So many rich kids and their rich parents in that toy store. (What was it called now? AO Schwarz, I think?) … Wow. So many stylish students and young people in the Schwarz toy building! I was right! My father made a bee line to all the beautiful, some very large, puppets with painted faces and intricate costumes and myriad strings and the tin soldiers in brightly painted uniforms who marched stiffly when you cranked them up. My father tilted his head, his pompodor still fabulous after all the years but now auburn colored, no longer bright red like when he was a young man. He saw the slim, Chinese-American sales clerk, a young guy, and smiled a goofy smile at me and said, nodding at the guy: “Rosalie, that Chink looks like a doll!” … My father meant that as a compliment. That the young guy was so perfectly coiffed and dressed and had such fine, chiseled features that he could be a doll in this beautiful gigantic toy store. That the sales clerk was as perfect as the puppets we were playing with.

I don’t think the sales clerk heard my father. But we looked so poor and rough compared to the other customers! He began following us as we made our way through the iconic toy store. Daddy and I walked to the stuffed animals, and there was the sales clerk staring at us, furtively, from behind the board game display. Daddy and I walked over to the plastic dinosaurs, and there was the same store clerk, peeking out at us from behind a life-sized polar bear. I got the hint: we weren’t good enough, we were potential thieves. I said to my father who was unaware we were being treated like criminals: Let’s go home, Daddy. And my father obediently followed me out the front door of this fancy Newbury Street shop where we were not wanted.

For the first time in my life I felt sorry for Daddy. Saw him as weak and puny in a world of money and educated folks. Maybe that’s why he was always pissed off. And maybe that’s why he said, proudly, whenever he saw me: She’s the smart one. She gets it from me!

So there I was on Newbury Street, right there with Daddy. My father’s daughter. Not having any fun. We hopped on the next bus and, during the ride back to Worcester, I said: “Now let’s do something you want to do, Daddy.”

And two hours later, we were back in Worcester County at my father’s friend’s farm. We were at the pig pen, and my father was cooing softly to a big ol’ black and white hog sleeping in the nice cool mud. With the tip of his workboots my father gave the pig a little nudge thru the fence’s white slats. The pig grunted drowsily but didn’t get up to greet us. My father smiled his toothless smile and went to chat with his pal, and then we took another bus home, to Lafayette Street, where I told my smiling mother all about our big adventure! The beautiful toys on Newbury Street! The beautiful black and white pig in West Boylston! She kept smiling as she listened …

Daddy had walked into the bedroom and, reclining on their old bed, called out to my mother for a tuna fish sandwich and two plums. He was in his 50s now and lately had been acting more subdued, spending these past few years living with us on Lafayette Street. Being with his family. I never saw my father eat a cupcake or slice of cake or even a bit of pie for dessert at the end of his meals during those years – just a few pieces of fruit, like a real Italian. My mother offered to heat up a can of Del Monte spinach for him – she said she’d mix in some olive oil and a few shakes of garlic salt.

My father said: Sure, hon.

🌺On Seeing My Father

Reposting this 15+-year-old Green Island Grrrl column for Father’s Day:

By Rosalie Tirella

Rose’s dad as a kid – always with a dog!

Ever since my father died (about two months ago), I’ve been seeing him every where. When he was alive, he made about 1,000 entrances in my family’s life. Married with kids but not wanting to be married with kids, my father lived with my mother, two sisters and me some months and was Missing in Action (MIA) during others. He was as tentative as the junk yard dogs he loved so much (and owned).

Some of his entrances were comical – like the time he waltzed into our Lafayette Street apartment with some Frank Sinatra LPs and sang “I Did it My Way” to me. My mother had sent him out for a loaf of bread!

But most of his entrances were cruel, small, mean. He made my sisters, my mother and me cry and succeeded at that so well that we eventually learned to … simply dismiss him — cut him out of our world the way you cut the bruise out of an apple. We went on with our lives, worked around our peripatetic “Daddy.” My mother held down a 60-hr-week job to pay the bills, we kids went to school, held after-school jobs, applied to colleges. My father popped in – for weeks or months.

Very confusing.

Then, after all these years, my father died in the nursing home two months ago. And Bingo! He’s now larger than life for me – omnipresent, so to speak.

As I drive around Worcester selling ads for my newspaper, InCity Times, with the radio blaring and paperwork to the side of me, I see him. I’m eight years old; my sisters are six. It’s Easter afternoon and my father strides into our Green Island flat, chomping on a big cigar. My mom has my two sisters and me sitting in our three little kiddie rocking chairs waiting for her to get dressed. We’re going to Easter Mass! We wear new pastel dresses with butterflies embroidered on them. My mother “set” our hair the night before, and now our fine brown hair bounces happily around our faces in “baloney curls.” In my father strides, enraged. We had not seen him for almost … forever. We did not know from which land he strode – not the sweet and holy world that my mother and grandmother had created in our apartment, a world filled with prayers to the saints, rosary beads, homework papers, rules and pet hamsters! Was my father going to hurt anybody this time?

No! He was going to have his picture taken with the Easter Bunny! God love my wonderful, hopeful, dreamy mother – she had my father sit in the grownup rocking chair in the kitchen. She would put the big, vinyl Easter Bunny she had bought at the five and ten and blown up (to our merriment) near the rocking chair where he sat. Then she told us little kids to “sit on Daddy’s lap.” We would all say “cheese” on the count of three! It would be a great Easter picture!

I was only eight but thought my mother mad. No, I would not get on Daddy’s lap! No, I would not be in the Easter Bunny picture. My sisters – twins and safe in their look-a-likeness – happily clambered atop my father. Then my mother lifted her little Brownie camera, peered through the little viewer and said, “One two! Say Cheese!” and snapped the picture.

Today I look at the square little photo from the ’60s and see two little gangly girls in pretty dresses in baloney curls looking exactly alike and smiling widely. Each one straddles one of my father’s legs. The bottoms of their dresses fan out over my father’s lap. And there’s my 30-something father; he’s wearing a striped muscle shirt. His hands are on my sisters’ knobby knees and he stares into the camera, looking … trapped. His rugged handsomeness blows me away! When I was a little girl he seemed the ugliest person in the world!

When I’m on the road, I look out of my car window and think I catch my father’s eyes. But it’s just some old man.

“He’s dead!” I tell myself angrily and shake my head as if to shake out the images of him. Then four or so hours later I see my father walking down Shrewsbury Street (his favorite street) and I have to remind myself all over again.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer, he was not living with my mother and us. Mom had stopped giving him second and third chances a decade ago. My sisters and I had moved out of the apartment in pursuit of higher education/careers. So it was a shock to see him walking past the fish and chips joint on Grafton Street, red-faced, his nylon jacket unzipped, billowing out behind him. He wore no shirt that raw, autumn day and he looked dazed. Then there was his neck: as big as a basketball. The lymphoma had set in.

And yet my father went walking around Worcester – his hometown that he seldom traveled outside of –as if nothing unusual had happened. It was one of my aunt’s – his sister – who had found him in his mother’s old house, lying in the darkness, and said: “Bill, you’ve got to go the hospital.” And then he did – quietly and with some grace – because he knew he was dying.

Sometimes I look out my car window and see my father after the cancer ravaged him. I see a helpless old man – my father after the chemo-therapy, the radiation, the blood transfusions. The chemo treatment took all his curly thick hair away and left him with silver, wispy locks my aunt would cut in a bowl shape. Gone was all his wild, curly red hair that rode high above his already high forehead in some grand pompadour, the wild “do” that lead my feisty old Grandma (she was my mother’s mom and lived with us and loathed my father) to nickname him: “The Red Devil.”

Run, Devil, run! There you are standing outside the Commerce Building on Main Street, waiting for the bus. There you are walking out of the Millbury Street fruit store, eating a juicy plum and throwing the pit into the gutter. There you are eating the same juicy plum over our Lafayette Street kitchen sink, my sweet mother looking absolutely smitten by you. You have no time for dishes, meals served on plates. Family sit-down meals are not part of your universe. “Gotta get outta here!” you used to say. “Here” being: our Green Island flat, poverty, a wife, three kids, responsibility.

You want to leave – I can tell. But I just can’t let you go, Daddy!

⛪Spencer’s Church Fire …the Tee Shirt👕🌈

By Rosalie Tirella

First responders worked all afternoon and evening. photos: R.T.

I took Jett and Lilac out after supper yesterday and saw Spencer’s first responders unhooking the thick fire hoses that ran about a quarter of a mile from the town library, up Main Street and to the old Spencer church, now in ruins. It was a long afternoon for the guys I saw. The First Congregational Church on Main – built in the 1860s – one of the architectural jewels of our downtown – was engulfed in flames during this afternoon’s wild thunderstorm. The charred steeple crashed to the ground, the church organ’s tall pipes melted in the heat, the food in the food pantry was lost. The church’s demise is temporary – a resurrection is certain.

At the top of the hill – a historic church engulfed in flames.

It was a grand old church! At the end of my day, driving home from running CECELIA in Worcester, it always caught my eye. I looked out my car window and stared – upwards. The big, white church – even whiter when the sun shone on it – claimed the highest parcel of Spencer land – it was elevated! Because it was the house of God, built in the days when the house of God was the most important house in town. This was true for all America – from New York City to Spencer. The church was built to always be “taller” than the bank building. Taller than town hall or city hall.

The First Congregational Church – the tallest edifice in Spencer – built on the crest of Main Street. Built on the top of the hill in the center of town because cross and cupola were once more important than cash and campaign slogans.

Ending their shift …

The Spencer firefighters, police officers and other town workers were calling it a day now. Everyone looked tired and a little disoriented. The air was still heavy with smoke, and when we got back home my clothes stank of smoke.

Water flowed to the fire before hoses were unhooked.

The smoke hung heavily over the center of town.


June 3

The tee …

During our a.m. walk today I noticed that someone left/displayed this Gay Pride tee on a pallet by a store in our “plaza.” For the taking…or just a reminder? So Spencer!🌈 …I wonder how the Town of Spencer is marking the month, June, Gay Pride Month. I wonder how State Senator Gobi – now Governor Healey’s Rural Expert and a Spencer resident – WILL HELP/SUPPORT GAY FOLKS IN RURAL MASSACHUSETTS.

June is Gay Pride Month

Our walking path …