By Rosalie Tirella
I suppose I would have to ring out the Old Year and ring in the New Year with this disturbing image … Driving in Worcester’s Canal District, my old Kelley Square, two days ago in my new jalopy …
… I saw this sight: my beloved childhood pit-stop, Widoff’s Bakery, the bakery my extended family pounced on before our day trips to Hampton Beach for our two dozen Bulkie rolls for sandwiches, now transformed into a trendy, expensive, hipster gym! Our old reliable Bulkie roll factory (plain or covered with poppy seeds) that for decades filled the hole in my kid sisters and my stomach as we popped in after school to say HI! to the nice counter girl and buy 3 bulkies – 1 bulkie for each of us – so we could eat a very inexpensive after-school snack – gone, forever. The big, pillowy bulkie rolls so tasty they didn’t need a smidgen of butter or jam! After school, my two kids sisters and I walked down Water Street, crossed Kelley Square, then trotted down Millbury and hooked a right onto our street, Lafayette, eating our warm bulkies, so good, and talking about the nuns at my sisters’ school or the upcoming science fair at my school, Lamartine Street School. Widoffs and one of my kid sisters especially were the two loves of my young girlhood. Now, both gone. I taste the bread of life … it is the bread of my life!
Widoffs, the sweet baker’s shop where my sweet mother, tired from her 60-hour-work week at the sweat-shop dry cleaners down the road would come in to buy her favorite donut – the whipped cream and raspberry filled, powder-sugar-dusted, long, phallic, gigantic Bavarian. GONE. DEAD. Both of them. Forever!
Widoff’s. Always so famous in our city it was known to all Worcesterites as just “Widoffs,” the way everyone knew “Spaggs” as just Spaggs. An immigrant city with immigrant nicknames for the places it loved most. Both gone now.
For a half century, Widoffs was the destination of every Sunday morning church goer in Worcester who drove, walked, ran, or skeedaddled! to Widoffs (and Ledermans Bakery, right across the street), after attending Sunday Mass to buy a dozen of bulkies. For Sunday dinner. For sandwiches for the work week. They were always just-out-of-the-oven hot and maddeningly fragrant! And they were nestled in a crisp, medium-sized brown paper bag that you stuck your face into to get a good, deep, whiff of those fragrant beauties – like the glue sniffers who maybe hung out a few streets down in the old tenements. Always the brown bags. A Widoffs tradition as sacred as the Communion wafers we had just reverently swallowed at St. Mary’s or St. John’s churches.
Sometimes we stuck our grubby hands into that hot paper bag, inhaling the warm, doughy aroma, to grab a bulkie to GOBBLE UP RIGHT THERE, IN THE MIDDLE OF WATER STREET, on your way home. You didn’t care! You were intoxicated – drunk with love for your bulkies!
Yeah, we St. Mary’s church or St. John’s church parishoners may have picked up a few brownies or even a birthday cake at Widoffs, but all of us, like brain washed cult members – Hare Krishners but heavier cuz we ate bulkies! – were really at Widoffst for bulkies.
Sometimes, if the lines were too long at Widoffs (they were so busy you had to go to a ticket machine by the front door and pull a little lever to get a ticket with your service number on it), my mother crossed the street to buy our dozen bulkies at Lederman’s Bakery. Not as yummy, to me. There were known to be many passionate disputes between family members and friends: WHO MADE THE BEST BULKIES? WIDOFFS OR LEDERMANS? The one – or the other?! I was a Widoffs girl!
Now Widoffs has been transformed into A TRENDY GYM! FOR HIPSTERS! COMPLETELY UNRECOGNIZABLE! BOARDED UP with planks of light brown, shiny, fake-wood product! And painted an ugly, drab industrial gray! The topper? An on-trend, stupid, glass garage door – now Widoffs “signature” facade. THE GLASS GARAGE DOOR WILL LET US ALL GAWK AT THE JOCKS who, in turn, can stare at us pedestrians walking down Water Street. (Give ’em The Finger! Watch me!)
This turn of the Green Island gentrification screw hurts most of all – it is like seeing your favorite older cousin – the beautiful one – walking down the church aisle to seal her fate: marry some dolt because he’s got a great job and promises her the usual trappings: house, nice suburb, Virgin Island vacations, blah, blah, blah. I call it Prostitution. In this case, Ed Murphy, the kid-owner of the Widoff’s building, is the pimp, pimping her out to the highest bidder.
I really do not like this guy.
Membership to this Banal District gym is almost $160/month! “CRAZY! YOU CRAZY!” as my Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, would say!
Here once lived – LIVED! – my old neighborhood’s shopping district! Open all day … fun, friendly, cheap, delicious, ethnic (Jewish, Polish, Lithuanian), accessible to all! REAL! A haven for outsiders, refugees, laborers and the exploited … the dusty and the damsal in distress. The pious and the predatory. We, our parents or grandparents fled Eastern Europe, the bottom of the barrel for us, and made Worcester our new home. Water Street was our culinary heaven, and it became our adopted city’s cool hangout. The Broadway restaurant, the drugstore that served homemade icecream sundaes, bakeries … Cooks of all ilk – and tourists – welcome!
When my late mother was a little girl, she’d go to the open air markets on Water Street with my grandfather, a Polish immigrant who loved Green Island too. They’d go shopping: buy the family’s bulkies, then vegetables and meat. She once told me of the small, trained monkey owned by one of the market’s vendors – a kind of cruel entertainment for customers, he was chained at the ankle and very nervous as he danced for their pennies. He kept turning around and around, patting his bony little butt for all the customers to see: KISS MY ARSE! he was saying to them! Kiss my arse! He wore a little red velvet vest and matching cap.
Where is that little monkey when you need him most?