Tag Archives: Bapy

Have Jesus – will travel!

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 L-O-V-E! 

By Rosalie Tirella

This fairly large statue (now home in my kitchen) belonged to my Polish Bapy and was handed down to me when she died years ago. Its history is especially heart-warming on this snowy day: When my Bapy and my grandfather lived in Green Island, on Bigelow Street, in the 1930s, there used to be a travelling icon salesman. Worcester’s old ethnic neighborhoods, filled with religious immigrants who missed their “Old Country” and how their lives there revolved around God and their church, had these Jesus, Mary and Joseph peddlers who went door to door selling all kinds of icons. You’d order your statue from these guys, usually cast in plaster of Paris, then pay 5 cents down on it each week to the travelling icon salesman when he stopped by your house to collect your pennies and to try to sell more icons to you or your neighbors! After you paid up your 50 cents, $1, $2, etc, the statues of Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony, Saint Theresa were yours.

It was the heart of the Great Depression, and Polish immigrants like my grandparents didn’t have a lot of dough.  But my Bapy fell in love with this Jesus and Mary statue, complete with holy water bowl and wooden (now replaced) cross on top. And my grandfather, who was deeply in love with my pretty granny for the 50+ years (!) they were married and who worked in the textile mills in Dudley, wanted to get her this fairly big statue – almost like what you’d find in their church! – as a special gift. (They were married on Valentine’s Day! So they could be very romantic with each other!)

My Bapy never kept her holy water, blessed by the Bishop, in the holy water bowl of this icon, which now sits by my back door and says “goodbye” to me, “blesses” me through my grandmother’s love, EVERY DAY as I head out my kitchen to run InCity Times. My dumpling-shaped, feisty, little granny (she was only 4′ 10″ tall!) kept her holy water in a special plastic holy water bottle, also blessed by the Bishop, literally by her side, tucked under one of the pillows, of the dumpy, lumpy easy chair she used to sit on – at the head of the kitchen table. My grandfather planted it there for her so she could be in the middle of all the familial action, and when he died and she moved in with my mom and us kids, my mom planted that same dumpy chair at the head of OUR kitchen table so she could lord it all over us!

Bapy kept one of her many rosaries in the holy water bowl of the statue. I don’t know where that rosary is at the moment. But today I have my late mom’s religious medals in the bowl, along with a wooden cross. At the foot of the statue, to the right, you see the oval, metal Jesus plaque my mother used to have nailed into the kitchen door of our Lafayette Street apartment – a blessing for all who entered or left our flat. Jesus, keep us all safe as we go to work, school and church and make our way through our Green Island!, the plaque seemed to say to all.

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To the left, at the bottom of the statue, is a little World War II photo of my late Uncle Stan on his battle ship. He was in the US Navy and can be seen here, with his ship’s mascot, a little lab/terrier dog, the kind of feisty boy you’d need in a fierce battle! I put the photo there a year ago to remember my uncle.

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In my old apartment, I used to keep this huge icon in my bedroom, on a bureau, and light candles all around it at night. The Church of Rose, Perpetual Bleeding Heart. Very soothing … and romantic … .

But these days I like it in my kitchen where I can enjoy it while doing the most mundane stuff: drinking my coffee or tea, taking Jett out to pee or shit – just running my day in the simplest, best way I know how. It makes me feel good … about my beloved Bapy, my quiet, good natured Polish granddad who only spoke a handful of English words til the day he died, my late sweet sweet mom, my Green Island upbringing, Catholicism, being a second-generation American, and my writing life today.

(Below: ICT Editor Rosalie as a little kid with her beloved Bapy in their Green Island kitchen.)

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Green Island Grrrl column: Fourth of July ba da boom!

By Rosalie Tirella

I’ve celebrated the Fourth on a blanket in Boston listening to the Pops and guest vocalist Johnny Cash. I’ve celebrated the Fourth at East Park here in Woo. Always a lovely time.

Last night I was thinking about my Green Island Fourth of July’s – the years when I was a kid and lived with my mother, father, sisters and grandmother in “the Island”:

I am a little kid – about 9 – and I am standing on our three decker’s back porch. Third floor. It is the afternoon and the sun is shining sweetly. I am looking at “Val,” the buxom middle-aged lady who lives across the way from our rickety three decker in her rickety six-unit building, on her third-floor porch.  A big, weed-choked, empty lot lies between our buildings but that is all. The vegetation hasn’t kept Val from inserting herself into ours – everyone’s – lives.

She is wearing a negligee today – for the Fourth of July. I can see it from my back porch. She is on her back porch talking loudly. I swear I can see her bright red lips from my third floor porch! In 10 years I will have learned the word “slatternly,” and it will remind me of Val … but today I am a little kid so Val is just … Val.

Val is very drunk on this special national holiday – in a very happy, friendly way. She is talking with anyone who passes by her building, her ta ta’s damn near falling out of her negligee as she leans over her porch railing to chat up passersby who always chat back. I am standing on my porch, quiet as a mouse, not even smiling because I know Val can be scary sometimes. On a few occasions she has battled with my granny, called my granny, also feisty, a DP – Dumb Polack – during one of their shouting matches held across their back porches. DP, my mom tells me, really stands for Displaced Persons, what they sometimes called immigrants. Val is being mean when she yells DP at my granny, who doesn’t miss a beat and yells back: KISS MY ASSY! and turns her plump little dumpling shaped butt to Val – while standing on our back porch – and tap, taps her butt which is covered in those sweet all flannel nighties with little pink rose buds  on them. Bapy – Polish for Granny – wore those flannel nighties year ’round – even in the summer.

Granny is not battling Val today. Granny is inside, sitting in her easy chair we have set up for her in the kitchen, at the head of the kitchen table, a place from which she candrink her cup of coffee, eat her egg sandwich and  see and comment on all the household happenings. She has been sitting there my whole life! I love her with all my heart!

But I digress. Val is out on her porch today in her negligee because it is the Fourth of July, a special day – for her and America. Val has turned and gone inside her apartment, a flat that is also home to her wimpy boyfriend, gorgeous blond 18 year old daughter from another guy, and two huge attack dogs: a German Shepherd and Doberman. Both fierce. Both having chased me up a fence more than a few times. Val doesn’t believe in walking her dogs to do poop. She just lets them out, they rush down the three flights of stairs like noisy moose and shit and pee in the little front yard and rush back upstairs. Val has them trained to a tee.

Val has come out of her flat  – this time she is carrying her portable record player. I am watching all this from my back porch – not saying a word, not even smiling. Just waiting … . Val puts her record player down, hooks it up to a bunch of extension cords and I see her going back in, cord in hand. Then she comes out with a record album – a big one. I am guessing it is the same one she played last year,  has the songs which we – the entire Bigelow Street neighborhood  – heard last Fourth of July:  patriotic tunes. The kind you can – like Val – march around on your Green Island porch to. Later I would learn these songs were written by John Philip Sousa.

Val puts on her lp. Cranks it up! Da da da da da da de da da! La da da da de da  da! Boy, this music is good! Very up beat! I am tapping my feet! I look across the way and see Val crack open another beer and take a sloppy swig and lie on her reclining beach chair on her porch. I can see her relaxing through the slats on her porch through the slats on my porch!

The music is great! Val is getting drunker. …

It is a few hours later and Val is singing – to the entire neighborhood! The folks in our hood are getting ramped up! People are coming out and throwing chairs and sofas and old tires into a big pile in the empty lot a few lots down from Val’s place, diagonally across the way from our three decker flat. I go in doors and crow to my mom: THEY ARE GETTING READY FOR THE BIG BONFIRE, MA! To myself: HOORAY!

My mom, careworn,  grimaces. She doesn’t say a word, never voices her disapproval of Val. But I know she is not thrilled with the situation. Sometimes she is the one who will call the Worcester Fire department when the flames of the big bonfire grow too huge and lap up the July night air and orange sparks fill our Green Island night. The fire has never spread cuz the neighborhood  kids and adults have kept it in check with big poles that they use to poke at it. But the flames still worried my mom …

But the eve has just begun! I so want to be a part of the celebration and throw some of Bapy’s rags onto the bonfire! She has so many that she wraps her arms in for her arthritis. Old country ways/cures die hard in Green Island. … Bapy never really changes her clothes. Just gives herself sporadic sponge baths and peels off old rags and puts on new ones. She always smells  fecund. I love her odor! I still miss her Bapy smell!! If only we could re-smell all the people we have loved through the years. The men I have been with, my late mom who held me to her heavy Heaven Scented perfumed breasts as a child and a teen, my Bapy’s immigrant odor, my long-gone dog Bailey’s gamey scent … .

Anyways, the bonfire was being readied for the big night, but my mom would never let me join in the mayhem. It was all a little too wild for us. We were the good kids. My mom the perfect mom who worked so hard at the dry cleaners and went to church with her three girls every Sunday. My mom knew everyone in the hood and was always polite and talked with folks, etc – she was not a snob. But, she liked to tell her girls, she would never sit and have a cigarette with the ladies, like half the women in our hood did – visiting each other in each other’s tenements, gossiping about folks, bitching about cheating husbands and boyfriends. My mother was busy raising her girls as perfectly as she could, making sure they went to school every day and did all their homework and got all As and went to bed early and ate well. She had no time to wallow in her poverty – or her husband’s wild ways.  She – we – transcended the shit.

So, there I was, stuck on our third-floor porch. An observer. My sisters would be home from Crompton Park soon. They would love this spectacle, too! Not as much as I did. But they would hang out on the porch, eating Freeze Pops, their lips ice blue from the sugared ice treat – and watch.

My father would disappear for the day. Celebrate in his own fashion, I guess. He was as crooked as some of the guys in the hood, but he played out his crookedness in other parts of Worcester. I suspect the East Side of town. What my mom and us kids didn’t know wouldn’t hurt us.

… It was dark out now and Val was singing up a storm and marching around her porch. La di da di da!!! Bang bang! Someone had lit the bonfire and everyone was gathered around it! Except for me and my kid sisters. We were on our back porch eating Freeze Pops, mesmerized by the flames – they must have been two stories high! The folks in the hood out did themselves this year! It was like something you would see in an old Western movie – the Indians roasting an elk on a spit they had set up over the flames. People’s faces orange from the glow of the flames. Very primitive and real.

“Come out here, Ma!” I yelled to my mother. “Ya should see how big the bonfire is this year!!”

My mother was indoors getting our clothes ready for the Fourth of July cook out we would be having at our Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s the next day. They lived in a a cute pink ranch house in the Burncoat area – a nicer part of town. My mom liked this part of the Fourth best of all. A day off she could celebrate with her favorite sister in her sister’s big back yard, my Uncle Mark grilling hamburgers and hot dogs on the big three legged grill he had stoked with those black brickettes he always doused with lighter fluid. Yum, yum, yum ! We were all pre-vegetarian in those days – ate meat, Nissaan white rolls and buns, potato chips, soda, Cheez-Its … the typical American BBQ 1960s fare. Heaven!

Ma would have none of it. She was busy making sandwiches for the cook out at Uncle Mark’s. She wanted us in bed early for tomorrow. We kids would have none of  it. The flames were roaring! So was Val! Some jerk threw too many old tires on the bon fire, so now the air smelled awful! It was thick with gray smoke. We kids started coughing. Ma came out and took a look. Her mouth fell open. She looked at her three silly girls and frowned. I knew … She was calling 911.

In a matter of minutes the Worcester Fire Department had come and the fireman were hosing down the bon fire with their big hoses. The flames were doused out! Smoke was everywhere.

BOO! BOO! BOO! shouted all the kids and adults at the firemen. You could hear their laughs, too.

“Boo, Boo! Boo!!!” my sisters and I yelled from our back porch, laughing. “BOO! BOO!”

It had been, as usual, a fab Fourth of July!

 

 

 

Mom x 2!

By Rosalie Tirella

A few weeks ago, I walked by the kitchen calendar – a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) calendar – to see if Mother’s Day did indeed fall the next Sunday, May 13. I smiled when I saw the photo of the rescued animal of the month right next to the “Sunday, May 13 – Mother’s Day” date: it was a color photo of a Golden hamster that some sweet PETA staffer had saved from a most horrible death! There sat the little cutie pie – on doll house furniture! In this case a hot pink plastic wing back chair. Adorable!

The little brown hamster reminded my of my “mothers” – my Bapy and my mom.

There I was 10 years old and a fifth grader at Lamartine Street School! There I was: a chubby kid who would soon have a little hamster walking and circling about in the palm of her chubby hand! A little girl who was setting up house … for an adorable little teddy bear!

Who bought the cage for me back then for my little hamster girl “Joy” and then my little hamster boy “Ben,” even though she was saw them as little rats without the long tail? Who bought the little test tube water bottle to hang on the hamster cage? Who bought the lime-green wood shavings for the bottom of the cage? And the box of Hartz hamster food? Who paid for all the silliness on a minimum wage pay check that should have gone for more important items.

Mom of course! Mrs. Tirella! A woman bowled over by poverty, a peripatetic, volatile husband and three little kids, who were growing up in a gritty neighborhood, fatherless, poor … . Still we managed to have fun, have adventures. I remember the day we got Joy. Mom, on Sunday, her only day off from the cleaners, took her three girls to Woolworth’s in downtown Worcester to buy what she considered to be …. a RODENT.

“Don’t lose him, Rosalie!” she had warned me, afraid that my new would escape his cage and “get into the woodwork” of our aparmtent and breed with the wild mice and wreak havoc on her tidy flat with the vinyl red sofa in the living room and the old Victrola in my sisters’ bedroom.

Still, despite here reservations, Mom bought my hamster for me. I can still picture my mother, standing off to the side in the Pet department of Woolworths, watching with a serious look on her face – my mother usually wore a very serious look in her face – as her favorite daughter (she could deny me nothing!) picked out a white little powder puff of a creature and then she shelled out a good chunk of her spending money so I could by my hamster and all the accoutrements – lime green woood shavings, test tube water bottle, metal exercise wheel – even a plastic play log to hide/sleep in. Then we – my mom my two sisters and I – walked home.

Once home, Mommy #2, my Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, would shove herself right into the mix, smack dab in the middle of my adventure, hovering over me in her flannel nightgown overwhich she had thrown another flannel night gown (she never wore dresses or even dusters) – just layers of flannel night gowns – even in summer. Bapy always smelled kinda ripe because she came from Poland and didn’t believe in baths or showers (you could catch a cold). She took sponge baths, during which she never really took over the night gowns she was wearing, just kinda washed under around them. I once watched in amazement. I was little and fascinated – she cussed in Polish, telling me to mind my own business. Thank God for diversions like hamsters!

My mother, by this time, had gone back to her routine; cooking Sunday dinner for her three girls, paying the bills at the kitchen table and boiling eggs for Bapy’s snack. We lived with Bapy and father who was Missing in Action – MIA – at the moment. She hated my dad and liked being the boss of the household. AND … she liked her boiled eggs. Seventeen years of life with Bapy – a dumpling shaped cutie who at 76 pretty much continued the Old Country ways she had brought to American in the 1920s. I never saw Bapy eat anything BUT hard boiled eggs and hard boiled egg sandwiches. She ate hard boiled eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She ate them with her Sanka coffee that my mother made for her and that Bapy wasked us to warm up for her during the day, usually in a small pan of boiling hot water.

“Rosalie, make me my Sanka!” “Theresa make me my Sanka!” “Stephanie, make my Sanka!” And we kids would drop everything and run to her egg stained coffee mug and place it in the pan of water on the stove, turn up the gas flame and walk away … (me grumbling).

Bapy was a total survivor, a woman who ate hundreds of egg yolks but didn’t keel over from high cholesterol; a woman who hobbled about on arthritic knees but dulled the pain with a few aspirin a day; a woman who had two of her chidlren die at birth but went on to live to see four grown kids and a bevy of grandkids. Pushy. Very pushy. My mom conferred with Bapy on important matters and even when she didn’t ask Bapy, Bapy opined (aloud) for hours. The apartment was never ever quiet, until we went to bed – and even then Bapy wouldn’t go to bed. Instead she would doze on her easy chair at the head of the kitchen table. Waking up to go to the bathroom … or secretly feed my pet hamsters bits of bread from her egg sandwich. I would wake up to see mu VERY FAT hammies surrounded by bread chunks or birthday cake.

“Bapy!” I’d yell at her.

“Rosalie smart girl, but Missy Bossy!” she would declare in the middle of the apartment.

There she was on her throne – at the head of the kitichen table, where my mom had parked her lumpy old easy chair. No back room – or even bedroom – for this grandma. Oh, Bapy!

“Eat, Theresa!” she would say to my fussy kid sister, who was alway skinny/knobby kneed. But when my father threw in his two cents about his daughter’s weight: “Don’t you feed these kids?!” he would yell at my mother – Bapy’s face would get all red and twisted and she yell: “Shut up, you red devil! My father had red hair and later auburn colored hair, even though her was 100% Italian; his people were from Northern Italy, a place my grandmother urged him to return to And if he laughed at Bapy’s – this little whirlwind’s – feistiness, she would ratchet thiings up by maybe tearing her egg sandwich in half and throwing a good chunk of it at my father’s puss.

Very messy.

So many times I think of all the mothering I had as a kid. A world filled with opinionated, bossy, determined, sad, funny women. If it wasn’t my mom running the house (in a nice but firm way – she put us kids out to work at 14 and 1/s), it was my Bapy lecturing in Polish and pigeon English about my father, colds, ponies, ham, my aunts, our weight, our prettiness, our shoes, money matters, doctors …. and my hamsters.

My father used to say to my mother: “That’s right listen to Bapy! She’s a lawyer, judge and Indian chief!”

My Bapy would get up out of her chair as if to slug him but she was 4 feet, 11 inches high. My father just laughed. Which enrage Bapy and usually sent some egg sandwich my dad’s way.

On Sunday’s, mom would turn on the radio to the Polka show. It was the high light of my grandmother’s week. She would sing along to the old Polish songs and try to teach them to us! Sometimes she would get up and try to Poka but she was too crippled. So she would urge my mother to take over for her, and my mom would grab one of us kids and try to teach us the Polka’s steps. She was excellent! When we were really little, 3 and 4, it would be bath night on Polish radio night and my mother wouldn’t teach us to dance but let us run around the kitchen naked to the Polkas. My grandma, sitting chubby and happy in her lumpy chair, would tap her feet to the music and try to tap our buck naked little fannnies as we ran by her … squealing in dleight!

I pity kids today. Most grandmothers live in assisted living or nursing homes. Parents don’t want their parents budding in with their child rearing; they want to focus on their kids and not aging parents who also are people with needs. And today’s parents most likely wouldn’t want the perepetual chattering/bickering that filled our Green Island apartment, courtesy of all the people living there. It is much easier to enjoy grannies from the edge of a hospital bed in a home or a fancy meal spread out at Tatnuck Arms – a chandelier in the dining room, my friend once gushed to me, after she and her sisters placed their 85 year old dad there.

He was dead in less than a year.

But it was a convenient thing for them to do. It was certainly less messy, unlike my childhood and … Bapy’s hardboiled egg sandwiches.