By Rosalie Tirella
I just made some apple crumble and cooked up a yam/?sweet potato. (Are they the same root veggie?)
The sweet potato is so orange and yummy. So tasty I don’t even sprinkle sugar/cinnamon on it. Fresh from the good earth.
These simple pleasures remind me of a few of the small Green Island winter wonders of my childhood: Hoodsies!! – which we kids used to get at Lamartine Street School, the day before Christmas, as we watched a fun winter Disney movie in the yellow-walled auditorium of Lamartine Street School. Mr. Chickarian, Mr. Gilman and grade 5 teachers coordinated it all – the teachers leaning against the side wall, chatting and joking with each other. We kids – all poor from the Green Island neighborhood – thrilled to be at “the movies”! A Christmas treat just for us! The movie was the same as last year’s, an old Disney movie; the metal folding chairs uncomfortable, but the otters sliding down the snowy slopes in the Disney movie made us kids – grades 4, 5 and 6 – laugh like crazy. Best of all there was no penmanship or phonics class. And we could eat – with that classic small flat little wooden spoon – our HOODSIES: teeny cups of Hoods vanilla and chocolate icecream – split right down the middle. Half the Hoodsie was chocolate, the other half vanilla! Delicious but so small, Mr. Chickarian (a great teacher whose daughter was my classmate at Burncoat High years later) gave the older boys in his sixth grade class two Hoodsies! No matter! We younger kids savored our treats: some at the chocolate side of their Hoodsie first, some dipped into chocolate and then vanilla (like me). At the end, you had a soupy chocolate shake at brought your Hoodsie to your lips to drink off the last bit of your ice cream treat.
We were so grateful! We – or many of us – came from broken homes, with an abusive (usually) dad or boyfriend. Ben’s Cafe was down the street, but even the snow on its sign and roof couldn’t cover up all the alcoholics or pi*sy smalls that emanated from it … Across from Lamartine the WPD still gad its minny jail – every year we Lamartine kids were taken to the jailhouse only yards away from school to tour a cell. To show us that this is where we’d land if we screwed up, broke the laws … I wonder if the students at Flagg Street School got such tours … The small upright sink, the toilet, the thick metal bars, the darkness…so anti-Christmas to little kids who long for Christmas every day!
I know I did! I SAW ALL THE MAGICAL GREEN ISLAND things, like all kids, even in the depths of February. For instance, Jimmy, the boy I had a crush on at Lamartine, lived on Winter Street. Off Green Street – now part of the chi chi Canal District. Back then it was lined with rundown three deckers, but I did not know that. I lived a ways on Lafayette Street. Jimmy was sooo cute – looked like the cartoon race-car driver in SPEED RACER! He had that jet black hair over his blue eyes – the Irish can have that beautiful look – and was so smart in class. A great reader, a fave with the teachers: yet tough as diamonds – walked to school, across Kelley Square, every day in all weather, with his big brother Pat. Jimmy rolled up his sleeves high up around his biceps. He had biceps! I never saw his parents – I think his big brother Pat – godlike in Jimmy’s eyes – brought him up. So, Jimmy was Winter Street as in magical, cute, precious street – Christmas. When my mother and my two kid sisters and I walked up Green Street to get to Downtown Woo, we’d walk by Winter Street and I’d feel toasty and warm – Jimmy’s street – and it would be Christmas. I imagined big snowflakes with 100 points, no one like the other: like my Lamartine Street School kids. The girl in grade 5…the very poor girl with red hair and freckles who showed us her big knife in the school yard. She had a pet guinea pig she brought to school once – and a boyfriend! Wow! Coolio! Special like Christmas, we kids thought!!
Or the big big Santa next door to the drycleaners where my mother worked: Kiddie Castle (for rich kids) had the best Christmas display window – a 7-foot tall Santa waving to all passersby. Beneath him, girls and boys hats, scarves and mittens and wrapped gifts. By his side an animated Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with a real red light bulb nose. The light bulb was small – Rudy’s nose!!! Visiting our mother at the cleaners, we’d stop before the great big plate glass window and watch Santa, wearing a red luxurious red velvet and white fur trimmed suit, wave to us kids. And Rudolph was so cute – the size of a large dog (my wish for many a Christmases until Ma caved in and got us a puppy years later when we no longer believed in Chris Kringle).
Or the canned latke Ma would buy at Buelher Brothers Market up Millbury Street. More for Hanukkah, but Water and Green streets were still ethnic Jewish, many Poles like my mother and even some of the younger moms and dads crossed over and experimented with different Eastern European foods. The latke were easy to make: Ma just opened the can and slid out the white pasty latke roo and cut it into 1/4 inch slices and fried them in butter in her frying pan. Ma loved her latke, so did I. My kid sisters were neutral, often passing on this Cecelia Christmas treat. Sometimes Ma bought a jar of pigs knuckles – and ate them out of the jar, a delicacy. I’d eat one, too, paying no mind that they looked like little pigs feet…Pre-WOKE/PETA days!
Sometimes I’d just be walking home from school in winter, books in my knapsack, and feel Christmas-y. I was 9 and just starting to write little essays for the Telegram and Gazette’s HAPPY TIMES page. On Sunday, next to the “funnies,” you could read Worcester city kids’ best essays – and win new books for points (I think). Writing made me happy! What gifts would be under this little writer’s tree? Ma read all my essays – first out of kindness, then because she liked the stories I was telling her. Stories about my pet mouse Gigi, about my Polish grandmother Bapy, about books and trees and wolves howling outside my secret Prince, Jimmy’s, house on Winter Street. About the stamp collection Ma kept when she was 12 1/2 years old and went to work in Springfield with her sisters during the Great Depression. For a Bishop! They had cats and kittens and two beautiful Doberman pinschers – Rocky and Bridgette. And when my auntie played Christmas carols at the piano, Bridgette would sit by the piano and howl. It was Christmas!