By Rosalie Tirella
Blue is my favorite color! Sky color! Robbin’s egg-shell-wrapped-’round-sleeping-chick blue. The unborn birds floating in their (blue?) amniotic fluid. Rainbow mirage stripe! The color of some wild flowers, too! True Blue like my late mother, Cecelia! Husky eye blue – like one of my Jett’s eyes …
Everything I LOVE!
… I seldom wear the color. It’s just not my hue.
Yet I sometimes dream blue candy canes and front door entrances a la Wizzard of Oz magic blue!
Maybe my blue passion flows from way back … to my childhood in Green Island … to when our MIA (for almost a year!) Daddy, came home to Ma, his wife, and to my two kid sisters and me – his scraggly, poor, little tribe living in a big old tenement on the old, brutal Lafayette Street – in a new blue sports car. His wife and daughters who longed for him, lusted for him (Mom), we’re ecstatic – but Daddy pushed us away at every turn, disowned us for months at a time. His least favorite mistake!
But now on this JULY DAY – RIGHT AFTER THE FOURTH OF JULY ! – our Daddy HAS RETURNED! To home and hearth. Driving a car! The most new, beautiful, sparkly blue car I have ever seen! Daddy screeches up to the Lafayette Street sidewalk curb in front of our three decker … handsome, jobless, wearing his muscle shirt. The car was most likely a shady deal/loan…Daddy owned some woods in the country and always used his square of nature as collateral for his toys, his cars, that he’d always lose for non-payment. Like this new blue car. But Ma and my sisters didn’t know that back then.
MA! I yell to my mother from our living room window where I could see Daddy’s new blue car from behind our thin plastic drapes from White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street!
MA! I scream. DADDY’S HOME!!!
Ma and my two sisters run to the window. IT’S DADDY! AND HE’S DRIVING THE MOST BEAUTIFUL NEW BLUE CAR!
A shiny blue!
A glittering blue car!
A car that glints in the July sun.
A bright blue car that not only shines in the afternoon sun but talks to it! And, really, it was magic back then, to us. Cuz in the wild and free 1960s and early ’70s, when Kesey, in his psychedelic painted bus travelled America, the blue paint (all the rainbow colors) that were sprayed on ALL American automobiles were BRIGHT, HAPPY, GLITTERY. The vehicles were covered in paint that contained a metallic, silver dust…miniscule steel particles, no bigger than grains of sand, that when mixed with bright colored paint gave it a KAPOO! WOW! SHINY, LIGHT REFLECTING COLOR kick to the groin! An acid trip without the LSD! In Daddy’s car’s case: a MAGICAL WIZZARD OF OZ BLUE!!
“CAN WE GO FOR A RIDE DADDY?” I screamed. “IT’S BLUE!!!!!”
“Take us for a ride, Daddy!” my adorable twin sister chimed in, my personal copy kittens💙, running in tiny circles (they’re 6 years old, I’m 9) on our big, threadbare carpet (a hand me down from my Aunt Mary and Mark). “Take us for a ride, Daddy!” they squealed, clapping their little hands.
We seldom go for car rides, as we have no car. It’s walking all over Green Island and Green and Water streets for Ma, my sisters and me. So this is potentially a real treat!
Our father, red-faced, his arms baked too – he was very fair skinned and always sunburned before his neck, forearms and hands turned a bown-red – frowned. Daddy was in the kitchen now. We all had run out to meet our Prodigal Father in the kitchen, where he stood after letting himself in the back door. (It would be decades before Ma took away his house keys.) His red-hot temper seemed to percolate through his reddish brown skin … He looked at our mother, his pretty wife, whose pretty face he had slapped hard last time he was home, before his mysterious leave taking, and said: I got a car. Where did he disappear to for a whole month? We never knew.
Daddy looked at his three little girls in their cheap but cute Mart play wear (no boys! the Italian in him had always wanted sons!), sniff, like a dog would, the hot acrid air in our Green Island flat (just one fan, no air conditioner) and said quietly to our Mother: “Honey, broil me that T-bone.”
My parents must have talked over the phone before Daddy’s dramatic drive up return. My mother, who worked 60 hours a week for minimum wage at the dry cleaners on Millbury Street to feed us and put a roof over our heads, was in love with the handsome Daddy and always forgave him his sins… dutifully walked down Lafayette and Millbury streets to Supreme Market to get Daddy his special welcome-home meal ingredients, no matter how tired she was. A big T bone steak (the best cut), salad fixings, canned Jolly Green Giant spinach (Daddy loved spinach), some sliced salami, and Wesson oil, garlic salt and white vinegar for the salad dressing.
We kids never got steak. Daddy always ate his meals in Ma’s bedroom. He didn’t eat at the kitchen table where he could be henpecked in Polish by our 4′ 11″-high Polish immigrant grandmother Bapy (who hated his guts for good reason) or bugged by us kids (who loved our mystery man) and would pepper him with questions, such as today’s big Q:
CAN YOU TAKE US FOR A RIDE, DADDY??!
PLEASE! PLEASE! Take us for a ride, Daddy!
Our father, quietly cutting his medium rare steak in the bedroom with his special steak knife, said between bites of food: “Not today. Someday. Someday.”
The awful word. The one he used all the time with his daughters.
Our father’s bullshit answer that he pulled out of his crooked hat to appease my sisters and me when we requested something of him. To promise into next month … the future … so as not to upset us, make us cry … to wiggle out of being a Dad, spending time, doing anything with or for the little girls in his life. Now running excitedly in circles, clapping their hands.
As the years rolled by, my sisters and I learned the score … and grew to hate our father.
But on this glorious July day, with
the sky so blue, and Daddy’s new car so blue, glittering right in front of us, outside our living room window, we girls wouldn’t give our Daddy any peace.
DADDY, CAN WE GO FOR A RIDE?! WE SCREAMED AT THE EDGE OF our parents’ bedroom.
“Someday,” Daddy said, still eating his big steak – that my mother paid for.
After he ate his meal that Ma so expertly prepared for him, Daddy walked downstairs … and drove off in the sparkliest, shiniest, most beautiful, most promising BLUE car we had ever seen! Ma ate the fatty tail of his steak off his dinner plate, scraps that he had left on his the TV tray.
But we kids were persistent – and Ma did nothing to dampen our dreams. Ever! It was a sporty Ford (everybody bought American back then), a sporty 2-door, a cool hardtop – a convertible whose black top stayed up! Lots of people drove “hard tops” in the late 1960s/early ’70s – even if they drove big shiny gold Electras, like my Uncle Mark. But Daddy’s car SPARKLED SHINY BLUE like the little pots of blue glitter Ma bought for us at White’s, for our Lamartine Street School art projects!
So when our father returned to our flat that early evening we kids chanted, screamed: RIDE! RIDE! RIDE!
We did this every hour, every day, for the week that Daddy’s flat feet crossed our kitchen threshold. Bapy was in a toxic mood – she, unlike Ma, was not blind to Daddy’s cruelty. Cursing in Polish about dog’s blood Bapy had thown half her hard boiled egg sandwich at Daddy in a fit of pique!
Finally, Ma said to Daddy: let’s go for a ride in the country this Sunday.
A so it passed. As only our father could make it happen … an 80-degree sunny summer day. Ma in a pretty summer frock…we kids in play clothes. Daddy driving up to the curb where we all waited holding hands.
Daddy red-faced. Pissed off that he has to do something with his family. He never does! This jaunt crimps his freedom, his Independence this Independence Day month! Away from his whores and fortune tellers dressed in red…they grab his hand and rub it against their crotches. … That’s what the new blue car was really for – zipping to fucking fun, to assignations all over Worcester!
GET IN, FUCK NUT! he hisses at my mother, sitting behind the steering wheel, his striped muscle shirt tight around his muscular biceps. She pulls forward the passenger front seat and smiling shyly, says: Get in, my girls!
We kids are so excited! We clamber onto the new black vinyl back seat – it is hot from the summer sun – and sit side by side, giggling, the sides of our thighs touching each others. Mom gets into the front seat.
We drive down Lafayette Street. We are heading to West Boylston, Ma tells us. Daddy is quiet.
The windows in back, where we kids are seated, are up. Daddy’s too! Ma has rolled hers down.
Jack….it’s hot, she says
I don’t want the kids to catch cold, he says.
In a weird way, Daddy could be overly protective of us kids. For instance, he was always telling Ma: WATCH THEIR HEADS! WATCH THEIR HEADS!
Whenever we go out to play or to the state swimming pool on Vernon Hills to swim, it’s: Watch their heads!
Come to find out years later Daddy’s father beat him when Daddy was just a little kid, always slugging Daddy’s head. Not beating his nine other kids! My father had to climb trees to escape his father Sabino’s hard fists!
“Jack, it’s July! Let’s roll down the car’s windows!” Ma pleads.
I am starting to get a headache…my sister is holding her stomach.
“Can we open our windows, Daddy?” I say.
THAT DOES IT FOR DADDY.
FUCK NUT!!!! he screams at my mother. Do you want them to catch cold! FUCK NUT, WE’RE GONNA BE ON THE HIGHWAY!!
We kids freeze up … We’re scared now. My sister, the youngest and most sensitive, throws up. All over herself and Daddy’s new back seat. Daddy’s new car smells like throw up.
Daddy is yelling at our sweet mother, calling her the most obscene names. The vomit’s sour smell fills the car. Daddy I now cursing in Italian. He left English a long time ago. My other sister is crying. I am holding onto the side door handle for dear life as Daddy turns around in the middle of a one way street, new tires screeching and speeds down the street. He puts pedal to the metal alright, in his new blue car. We’re going fast. My skinny kid sister covered in her vomit, is red eyed, tears flowing down her cute face. This panics her twin, my other sister, who hugs her and begins to wail. The vomit is stinking up the new blue car. Both my sisters are crying a blue streak! Ma and I are stoic. As usual.
We land back at Lafayette Street, with a faint smell of burning rubber mixing with the vomit smell.
GET OUT!!! Daddy roars at us. And to my mother: YOU DON’T DESERVE THE BEST! YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO TAKE CARE OF THE KIDS!
Ma exits his new blue car, her pretty face red, too. Looking upset – but not crying, never crying – Ma pulls forward her front passenger seat and says: let’s go, girls. We kids tumble out, gasping for the fresh air. We walk upstairs to our third floor flat, Ma leading our sorry, smelly parade.
Daddy, still bad mouthing Ma in Italian, zooms off, his new blue car stinking of his kids, his “family” … responsibility. And that’s it for car rides with our Daddy. For our entire childhood.
After this day, Daddy won’t come back for a month. This time his new blue car’s backseat is covered with old newspapers, cigar wrappers, white bread bags from the Italian bakery – the entire backseat filled with shit. Passenger front seat, too. Daddy was a hoarder …
His new blue car doesn’t look so shiny anymore. We kids don’t look out our living room window anymore to catch a glimpse of it … It doesn’t even sparkle to us. It’s dusty, like Daddy.
Our father will lose this blue car, too, like he lost our love, eventually. But it will take so much more – especially for Ma! – than a Sunday drive gone askew … in a new blue car.
Readers, this song was the inspiration for my column💙🎶:
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!🇺🇸