Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella
Snack time with Cece …
Such a fun, affectionate lil’ girl! She’s healthy now; no more limping and collapsing from sporadic feedings at the old place, paws splayed out, Chaplinesque, funny but heartbreaking.
Adopted/saved by Rose!
These days the meals tumble down from feline heaven: Friskies; canned, stinky 9 Lives tuna and turkey with giblets.
When I pulled Cece from the old place she was covered in dust! Just 5 or 6 weeks old, not yet weaned… so today she’s runty; they call her a “patio cat.” But cute and mischievous, nonetheless!
She hops onto my shoulders from the kitchen floor for kisses and a little kitty massage. Then using my right shoulder as a launching pad, she makes a virgin leap (so strong and graceful now!) onto the old washing machine that makes that damn loud banging noise during the spin cycle.
I pull my young and curious cat out of the cabinet she’s leapt into and scold her with smooches💜. I think of all the cats who’ve come before this one: city strays, all of them. Ghetto girls and boys I’ve rescued in my private storyville …
… Grabbed from the maws of pitbulls in Hartford (Chester)…
Pulled from the brink of starvation from the Harding Street feral cat colony I maintained for a decade (Teddy). A DECADE.
That was a long, strange trip, my Green Island feral cat colony! Feeding and watering, every day, all the wild Green Island cats, doomed, of course. Fearing the human touch, they were fated to be homeless! Suffering so in the depths of winter and summer, despite the pretty snowfalls in December or the sensuous heavy “perfume” wafting from the lilac bushes across Harding Street in May. A weird sight! All those pretty little violet flower clusters blooming on the edge of all that pain! Sometimes I’d stumble on a homeless guy squatting under the abandoned rusted RV parked in the lot and chat with him. Sometimes I’d chat with the amiable guy who owned the lot and parked his extra car there.
There is always some hope for the babies, so I’d live trap the little kittens. They could be tamed down by a volunteer and adopted out. But the adult cats were another story. If “lucky,” they’d survive the extreme weather (I put in cardboard boxes lined with hay for their warmth in January) only to be run over by some jalopy barrelling down the street – for kicks! – once the snow melted or the heatwave passed. Their vomit or diarrhea (that’s what roadkill does) greeting me the next day. Me searching for the wounded (or dead) cat in the beautiful wild lilac bushes…traumatized.
I’ve been a cat lover since toddlerhood! I remember all the inner-city felines who’ve wrapped their silky (or puss-encrusted!) tails around my heart. Not so different from the people in this neighborhood! They too skirt around the mundaneness of Worcester life and move me. They are jobless men, in their prime…welfare cheats too used to cheating to feel anything but entitled to cheat some more!…depressed young girls and boys. Obese women. Scrawny women. Kids hiding in their apartments cuz the neighborhood is so rough; they sit on sofas and watch TV behind pulled blinds. When they come out to play, their laughs sound puny. Often fed junk food – drinking that damn red “punch” in gallon jugs bought at the Dollar Store! – they’re as runty as CeCe. Human feral cats. They’ll bite you, if you handle them the wrong way!
I’m listening to John Mellencamp this morning. An under-rated artist overshadowed by the brilliant Springsteen, his contemporary.
I’ve listened to both guys for years – and loved both their visions!
I’m bracing for the worst this work week, expecting the City of Worcester to turn its back on the embattled Notre Dame church and allow Hanover to knock her down, faring no better than our feral cats! Or our poor kids! I’ll drive by each day and see Notre Dame’s knocked out windows and collapsed walls. I’ll see the wrecking ball fly, the dust rising …
Remember when she was grand? A part of our lives?
I do! I have, but cannot locate, the photos of my cousin standing next to the Notre Dame (Our Lady) statue seen in the above photo of Notre Dame. The statue was located outside the church the way many old immigrant parishes planted their patron saint in front of their house of worship. St. Stephen’s got a St. Stephen statue. St. Joseph’s, a St. Joe 😉. As a little girl growing up in Green Island, I believed this big statue of Notre Dame – taller than me – was made of PURE GOLD! My mother said maybe it was just dipped in gold, or covered in gold leaf …
Was the photo of my cousin taken after a First Holy Communion ceremony? A Confirmation ceremony? I can’t recall. I do remember my cousin was wearing a suit – one size too big!
Say GOOD BYE TO STORYVILLE, Rose! Good-bye to a childhood landmark. For me, as a little girl, we didn’t attend Notre Dame. St. Mary’s was our church. But walking to downtown with “Ma” and my two kid sisters (we never owned a car), Notre Dame was the official beginning of Downtown Worcester for us. Its unofficial WELCOME SIGN, telling me: You’re here Rosalie! Downtown! Fun time!
After the half hour walk, it was a well deserved reward. You had walked up your streets, saw Green Island up close and personal: down Lafayette Street where we lived… we trekked past Eddy’s Penny Candy Store, Helen’s Corner store, all the three deckers stuffed with kids, our buddies and classmates at Lamartine, plus all their free roaming, pre leash law!, dogs and cats…Then we walked down commercial Millbury Street, jam-packed, lined! one after the other, skinny alleys separating them, with mom and pop stores, most with apartments on top – again these abodes stuffed to the gills with people and their pets! What a sweet, sad symphony of life! Lisbon’s Shoe Store, Supreme Market, White’s Five and Ten, Sedick’s Hardware Store, Messiers Diner, Charles Restaurant, Vernon Drug Store, Millbury Furniture, Oscar’s Dry Cleaners, the fruit store, Bueleher Brothers sausage shop, a fish market… You could live and die on Lafayette and Millbury streets, and 90 percent of your needs could be met without venturing outside the two streets and their tributaries…It was a world unto itself! People called it a ghetto. I guess it was. I long for it every day! 💜💜💜
Ma, me and my sisters walked Downtown almost every Saturday where there were even more stores and people! There was Woolworths to look at the pet hamsters and mice! American Supply where Ma had an easy chair on layaway and would make another payment on it! Denholm’s for the rich folks. Barnards for fancy secretary work blouses and skirts and bridal wear. The Mart for new underwear for us kids and Ma. White, cotton and no nonsense. Six to a package!
But first the walk up our terrific Green Street, past Jack and Jill children’s clothing store, Molly’s Beauty Parlor, Coral Seafood restaurant, Prifti’s Candy Shop, the Atlas Fabric shop, the restaurant supply building, the PNI club…more people walking to stores, in and out of opening and closing doors! Ma knew lots of people. Often, we’d stop to talk with the person Ma had almost literally bumped into. “Yes! Rosalie got all A’s again!” Ma chirped. A counter girl at a dry cleaners pinning her dreams on her smarty pants first-born!
But we had our hearts set on Downtown Worcester! And I knew we were there when coming out from under the bridge on Green Street, looking to our right, we saw the magnificent Note Dame church! The exclamation point to: HERE WE ARE! The beautiful reward for our half-hour walk, which was reward itself in the sunny days of spring, summer or fall, even winter when we put on our layers of sweaters and flimsy cheap coats! We we poor. We had nothing! We had everything! Notre Dame! The red sticky cherry atop the hot fudge sundae of our journey! After our downtown errands and shopping, we’d head to Woolworths where Ma would treat me and my sisters to hot fudge sundaes with real red cherries on top, before our walk home. The day an adventure to talk about for the rest of the week!
Now, today, what do the Lafayette Street kids have to see? Dirty, filthy cars and trucks illegally parked by the mechanic there – shamelessly clogging up Harding/Lafayette streets; homeless youth under the Green Street bridge, strung out on heroin; gentrification all along Green Street, now half-abandoned because the soft, spoiled millennials lost their free, next-door parking lot and are too fucking lazy to walk the length of two buildings to get to an eatery! Pathetic. Store owners have had to make little videos, as if for little children, to show able-bodied 20- and 30-somethings just how easy it is to walk to their businesses from parked cars! Such a different world from the truly diverse, bustling, tough and beautiful working-class Green Island in which I grew up! Now its the white, gentrified Canal District. If the old timers could come back from the dead and see what was going on in the old neighborhood, they’d never stop throwing up.
So, Goodbye Notre Dame! I don’t think the City of Worcester will adopt you for FREE, a gift from developer Hanover, then pay the few hundred thousand$$ to permanently make you a hollow beauty surrounded by urban garden,trees, benches, picnic tables. A place to celebrate life’s milestones…a place nurtured by our Worcester Public Schools students, like Randy Feldman and other local urban visionaries envision … a kind of new, sacred city space for today’s Worcester kids and grownups.
No, it’ll be smashed to smithereens, flattened and covered with cement and turned into another big box apartment complex, or it’ll be covered over with blacktop and made into a parking lot. It’ll all be so ugly …
The urban beat goes on.