By Rosalie Tirella
So there I was at Worcester’s Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, with the boyfriend and trusty dog, Bailey, when it hit me: this is the real Worcester, the Worcester I love. Worcester, the place where I was born; Worcester the place where I will most likely die. Home, sweet home! Home to me and the people I’ve met and known throughout the years. People who will pass before my mind’s eye when I am 85 years old and sweetly reminiscing in my Lazy Boy, somewhere in one of the Webster Square “tower” apartments: my neighbors, my friends’ children, former colleagues at old jobs, community volunteers, even a nemesis or two. They are all part of my life – part of me! To honor, love, respect (and sometimes diss). To have and to hold (sometimes a tad too tightly). ‘Till death do us part!
My life felt perfect on that brittle sunny day, the day we Worcesterites choose to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day (always a week before the real date, in deference to Worcester politicians who want to schmooze in/be a part of the Boston celebration). There was a melding of my heart and aluminumsided three-deckers. Because on parade were a city’s – my city’s! – aspirations and history. All decked out in Kelley green boas, bow ties, beads and baubles!
Look! Here comes Gordon Hargrove, the executive director of the Friendly House. He is walking – with a little limp because he has grown older – aside of the fantastic Friendly House float! On that float are 20 or so black and brown kids singing and dancing. Behind it are tons of (mostly poor inner-city) kids, waving to beat the band. Friendly House is just another name for Gordon Hargrove, who has been the heart and soul of Worcester’s premier social service agency for decades. Every year he marches with his kids, talking with them, shaking hands with people in the crowd. We have seen him age – just as we have seen ourselves grow older. It is comforting that he is still here – that we have made this journey together. Homeless families, senior citizens, kids – Gordon’s agency feeds, clothes, houses and best of all loves them all. Poor kids go to summer camp, thanks to the Friendly’s House’s great youth programs. Old people get hot meals. Families get groceries. Thousands of people are helped by Gordon and the Friendly House staff every year. For this, we love him and them.
Look! There’s the gang from thee Mercy Center School – the school that serves/teaches special needs kids. The one that was almost closed down a few years ago! But its parents and community supporters rallied to its defense, and it is still (thanks to their generous contributions) alive and well, still serving these special kids who were bundled up for this cold March day. The kids didn’t wave much, they looked at all the people looking at them. I, however, waved to beat the band when I saw those sweet kids! I poked the boyfriend and he smiled at them, too shy to wave.
Oh, here come the pols! There’s Worcester City Councilor Gary Rosen, who will campaign for public office FOREVER, even if he’s not on the ballot! This guy loves to spread the Gary around as evidenced by the RED Vote for Gary Rosen tee-shirt Gary wore over his sweater on this St. Patrick’s Day. And then, right in front of us, it was “so delicious” as I noted to the boyfriend – “I’ve got to put this in my column!” I told him – Gary Rosen dropped a few things out of a cardboard box he was carrying. I look down and what do I see? I see several infamous Vote for Gary Rosen! hair combs! He was giving his combs out/campaigning during the entire parade!!!
Then there was Mayor Konnie Lukes – female, smart, experienced and tough. Our Albanian Hillary Clinton! In fact, the shot of Hillary Clinton answering the phone in her now infamous Clinton for Prez TV ad, looks a lot like our Konnie – glasses, tailored suit jacket and all. Konnie is the first woman elected by Worcester voters (popularly elected) to be this city’s mayor! Very historic! Very cool!
Then, there – over by the cross walk – there’s my art director’s daughter marching with her school! “Hi, Sarah!” I shout out to her and wave. It’s fun to do this – spy people I know and yell, “Hi! You look great!”
Many of the marchers and the onlookers of this Worcester St. Patrick’s Day parade were not Irish. Very few lasses with freckles and wild red hair could be seen in this parade! No, on March 9, 2008, on our lovely Park Ave, plenty of brown faces and black faces filled the ranks – smiling and telling the enthusiastic crowd: We are Worcester! We are Worcester County! We are America! We are proud to be part of the community!
The folks singing “My Wild Irish Rose” in our 2008 St. Patrick’s Day parade were Vietnamese, Latino, African- American … and, yes, white. The Mayor of our St. Patrick’s Day Parade was African American. And if I may say so, Mr.Plante looked right at home as he waved to the crowd from his vehicle. One of the highlights for this spectator was the Vietnamese- American veterans from the Vietnam War and maybe even the Korean War, a small contingent of elderly guys who marched stiffly (like all old men do) but proudly as they carried the big American flag. Dressed in their camofatigues, they shouted marching drills to keep time. Their faces were round, their eyes dark. So American! A Vietnamese man in the crowd, who stood with his daughter, ebulliently yelled to them, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” He was elated! The City of Worcester’s high school military and marching bands were anchored by teens of color. They did this city proud: strong, disciplined, working together.Hats off to the adults who take the time out to guide our youth and show them how to be great citizens!
And finally, last but not least, we must – because this is InCity Times – give a “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” to all the animals who were part of the parade. The horses, the dogs, even the little rabbit and piglet on the 4-H float. When the little boy on the 4 H float picked up a pinkish white little piglet and showed it to the crowd, I cheered! Precious piglet, I pray that all humans some day see the light and stop butchering and abusing you and yours! And how lovely to see the service dogs walking faithfully, stoically, by their masters – dogs who give people in wheelchairs their independence. Dogs who fetch things for the handicapped or remind the woman with cancer that it’s time for her meds. There they were: the gallant German Shepherd, walking side by side with the little black pug who wore the pink boa-feathered collar and seemingly pranced her way down Park Ave. Next to them the always intelligent Australian cattle dog – heeling like there was no tomorrow. All these dogs were rescued from animal shelters; now they work hard – every day – for humans. They deserved the crowd’s admiration!
And last but not least, a hug to my dog, Bailey, who is a beauty queen in his own right and garnered a bushelfull of compliments from parade participants and onlookers! With his Golden Retriever good looks he was the apple of many an eye. “Great dog!” someone yelled as she marched by! “I had to stop and say hello,” said a marching carpenter, as he gave Bailey a kiss on the muzzle! This tickled my boyfriend to no end! I think he was proud of Bailey, who was even visited and complimented by a parade official who told us Bailey was beautiful and “so good” and asked, “What do you feed him?” (Purina One and Purina Benefal – Purina dog food was the only dog food that wasn’t contaminated with that poisonous wheat gluten stuff that killed so many cats and dogs a few years back.) She also gave Bailey a big hug. It was the stuff of a Frank Capra movie! All the hugs! All the good cheer! And the little kids – kids who were only a few inches higher than Bailey’s head – running up to Bailey and first gingerly patting him on the shoulder, but then realizing he is gentle enough to kiss on the forehead .. and then planting one on his furry forehead! One little boy took Bailey’s head in his hands and stared into his eyes; they were nose to snout, so to speak! One little girl spent most of her time at the parade cooing to Bailey and burying her face in his big furry shoulders.
A man actually took a picture of his wife – with Bailey! “Is he an Irish setter?” the woman asked. (He was on that day!)
One older guy yelled from a big truck/float, “That’s a good-looking dog!” Then he looked at the boyfriend, bundled in down jacket, grey hat pulled over his hair, cool sunglasses protecting his sharp eyes and yelled: “He looks good, too!”
I love a parade!