Tag Archives: mother

Six things I miss about my mother

By Rosalie Tirella

My mom passed away last summer. Here’s a list of things I miss most about her:

1. The way she stroked my little girl’s hair when she talked on the telephone with my Aunt Mary.

My mom was a single working mom who never stopped working! We were raised very Old World in our Green Island flat. In my childhood, adults worked like mad at jobs that were physically demanding and low-paying (factory work, day laborer, dry cleaners clerk), but they earned the money that paid the rent, utility bills, bought the food. So they got to make the rules. They fed you, clothed you, took care of you – and you were grateful … and stayed out of their way – tried not to get underfoot, out of respect and a little bit of fear.

My mom would not – could not – spoil us the way most kids are indulged today. Even when it came to affection (and we knew she loved us), my two sisters and I had to catch it on the fly – like when she was talking on the telephone with my Aunt Mary. It was then, when my mom comfortably seated on our red vinyl sofa, unwinding at the end of her work day, chatting and gossiping with her favorite sister on our big old green Bell telephone, that I, seven or eight years old, would sneak into the living room and lie down on the sofa, softly placing my head on her lap. As she gossiped in Polish and laughed her very husky, sexy laugh (my mom didn’t smoke or drink but she didn’t have a sweet, girly voice – it was sexy and deep), she absentmindedly stroked my fine brown hair. Stroked and twirled and played with it, as she joked and talked with my Aunt Mary. Our third floor Green Island flat was high up in the sky so I could hear the birds chirping in the trees so clearly as my mother stroked my hair. I watched the old five and ten draperies that my mom bought at White’s Store on Millbury street, billow into the living room. They looked dreamy …

2. The way my mom whistled.

My mom was the best whistler in the world! She could whistle entire songs: verse, chorus, verse and fill our tenement with her own bird songs – usually old jazz standards. She was a child of The Great Depression and World War II. I think they did a lot of whistling back then, to stave off very real fears of: Hitler, poverty, Hiroshima, Polio, death. Watch a Frank Capra movie or check out a Clark Gable or Jimmy Stewart film. They are whistling!

3. Her Sunday chicken dinners.

Always the same – for the 18 years I lived at home: Baked chicken, baked potatoes with butter, spinach from the can but super tasty, and milk. It was all part of the incredibly stable life she built for her three girls despite working 60 hours a week at a shit minimum wage job, putting up with my father who came in and out of our lives whenever he felt like it – sometimes disappearing for a few years only to return looking tougher and meaner than when he left.

My mom? She was the ROCK, THE FOUNDATION. Her sit down, fancy Sunday dinner never changed. It was as constant as the Northern Star; preparations had a rhythm all their own, like funky waves beatin’ down on some inner-city beach. Cans would clunk, butter would sizzle in a little pan, the chicken’s legs would get all crusty brown.

Sometimes, as a little kid, I would watch my mom make the meal and try to help. When I was older, a teen hoping to be thee first in my family to go to college, I would sit at the kitchen table doing my homework – and enjoy the familiar, soothing sounds and smells of Ma making Sunday chicken dinner.

4. My mom’s love of old movies.

All the classics from the 1930s and 1940s. Her love of the era’s movie stars – she never called them actors – only STARS for her universe. As a young woman my mom, like most Americans back in the day, went to the movies AT LEAST once a week. There was no TV. People were fascinated by the BIG, moving pictures projected onto the huge screens of their local movie theaters, and they read all the star magazines, many of which weren’t even printed in color. And the movies didn’t have to be first rate! The second rate ones were called “B Movies,” as in second rate and my mom and her sisters and their peers still went to see them – and loved them. There were even B picture movie stars!

When I was a little girl, I loved watching old movies with my mom because she would give you a brief bio of each movie star as you watched the and then say things like “he was only in B movies” or “she was in the best.” My mom called Bette Davis “Bette” Davis, never adding the “eee’” sound to the end of Bette. It was like she was best friends with Bette Davis, calling her “Bette.”

Sometimes a movie star just bugged my mother. She couldn’t connect with them no matter how beautiful or handsome or talented they were. She was not fond of Robert Young, Loretta Young (no relation to Robert), Fred Mac Murray or Myrna Loy – one of my faves. She adored Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyk, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Judy Garland.

5. Saving the grasshopper.

There I was on the back porch, full of my nine year old self! I had just put the grasshopper I had caught in the field next door on his leash, a long piece of white thread I had snitched from my mom’s sewing kit, and had expertly tied around the middle of the grasshopper’s thin, brown body.

I was a neighborhood girl. Ran around the my hood with neighborhood kids (many of them tough, a few of them who smoked – get this – at age 6!!). I played in the streets and I played in the fields. I made up my own little games with their own sometimes cruel worlds, when I played in the field alone – a field filled with Queen Anne’s lace, dandelions, clover, brambles, earth worms, beetles … . An inner-city paradise, that old vacant weed-choked lot. My mom and grandma nicknamed it “The Big Yard” as in “Ma, I’m going out to play in The Big Yard.” That meant I was gonna go out and catch grasshoppers and dig up earth worms and stick them into glass jars into whose covers my mom had punched holes with her trusty can opener.

But this time, my mom was not happy with my grasshopper adventures, the one I had tied a thread around, the one that was struggling against me, fluttering so hard that his back was oozing a brown juice.

My mother, who never lectured or nagged us, came out on the back porch and saw what I was doing. She looked mad. My mom could look scary when she was mad. Her lips would get tight, her face beet red. She put her hand in her housecoat pocket and pulled out her manicure scissors, the new, perfect little scissors that she used to cut her fingernails every Sunday night. A weekly ritual – she got ready for the new work week on Sunday with her special scissors and gave herself a mini manicure. She was the “counter girl” at a dry cleaners and was fastidious about her hygiene because, as she liked to brag to us, she “worked with the public.” These were her special scissors.

But there was Ma, on the porch, using her beautiful, silver scissors to cut the thread that I had looped around the grasshopper’s body, actually touching an insect, which were not part of her world. Like an expert surgeon she held the grasshopper between the fingers of one hand and cut the thread with the other hand. The grasshopper flew into the air and over our third floor porch railing, back to nature. My mom said nothing. Still looking angry, she turned around and went back into the apartment. The screen door closed shut with a slap.

6. Her Elizabeth Arden red lipstick and Orange Skin Cream.

I loved the way my mother wore her fire engine red lipstick! My mom, who had dark brown hair, many folks called it black, looked smashing in red lipstick!!! Her makeup staple. She wore red lipstick her entire life – from 18 to her early 80s.

Always the same color red – bold, eye catching, none of the tamed down reds. And she always bought the same brand of lipstick: Elizabeth Arden. Found only in department stores, she liked to tell her girls. And boy did Mom sparkle! Just like a 1940s movie STAR.

My mom, all the way up to her 40s, had a killer smile! Perfect white teeth that she brushed and flossed and took to an old dentist downtown for cleanings and fillings and obsessed over. She had a flawless set of teeth, perfectly shaped, pearly white. This was God’s gift to my mother, her lovely smile, despite the grinding poverty, the abusive husband, a Green Island flat. Here was her bit of old Hollywood. She wore no braces in her youth, had nothing capped or realigned or bleached. Nope. Her beautiful smile was all her own. It was so great that my father used to tell her: “I married you for your smile,” as if he had been seduced by her great set of … molars! My mom loved when Daddy threw that compliment her way. Usually he hurled insults at her – laughed at her niceness and decency, the kind of home she had built for her girls. By the time we were in our teens, my sisters and I would have jumped the old man if had laid a hand on our mother. I would get bold and ask my father: Will you leave now? He never did.

Through all her stressful days with Daddy, in good times and bad, happy and tragic, to work, to church, to school parent nights, to downtown, to wakes even!!, my mom put on her red lipstick and made her way through her world with a little extra something. Pizzazz.

Later, I began to see her Elizabeth Arden tube of red lipstick as a kind of armor she wore before she went out to conquer – or at least deal with her difficult world. Car-less in Green Island, walking to work every day in all kinds of weather, her little brown paper bagged lunch in one arm, her brown pocket book in the other; sitting at the kitchen table, the monthly bills spread out before her, the money orders she had made out waiting to be signed. Red lipstick made it more bearable!

As a child, even as a teenager, I used to love to go into the bathroom and find my mom’s lipstick and jar of Elizabeth Arden Orange Skin Cream on the vanity. I would secretly open the jar of Orange Skin Cream and stick my nose two inches over the big jar of orangey, whipped goop and INHALE. It smelled divine!! So luxurious. Just like a grove of perfume-y oranges. My mom told us her special cream was expensive. So she would apply it to her face only on Sunday, getting ready for the work week to come. She would wear her special moisturizing cream around the house all day! She looked shiny-faced and cute! She even wore her special cream to bed – to wring out every last beauty benefit.

My mother had the softest, prettiest cheeks …

My mother and music

By Rosalie Tirella

My mother passed away this summer. She would have celebrated her birthday last week. Missed her so much on her special day!!!

Mum loved all kinds of music: polkas, waltzes, pop, early rock ‘n’ roll, tin pan alley,  early jazz, Hollywood musicals and, of course, Sinatra, Bennett, Holiday … the artists who defined her youth. Still, I can remember as a little kid in the 1960s watching her watch The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show – or old Elvis movies on channels 38 or 56. Mesmerized. She was a fan! Had Beatles sneakers she wore around the apartment! Got us up Saturday morning to watch The Beatles cartoon show. And when Elvis came on TV – look out!!! My two sisters and I had to shush up and watch the music with her, no interruptions, please. “He gives me goose bumps!” my young mom would squeal, which is the good Catholic girl way of saying: WOW! HE MAKES ME WET! My mother’s pretty smile lit up our living room that, in spite of our poverty, always looked pretty in pink, with its plastic red sofa and chair and pink-pansy paper draperies she had bought at White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street.

We had a huge, mahogany stand-up radio record player back then – the one that the Bishop of Springfield had given her. The record player was broken. It used to play 78s. No problem! My mom also had a very old, cool Victrola, an antique, which also worked! Also from the good bishop!  The kind you wind up to make the records go round and round. Green felt base. Old arm with thick stylus (if you could call it that). It sported the logo of the  white pit bull sitting next to the record player’s megaphone. You can see my mom’s Victrola in the old Cary Crant/Irene Dunne movie, “Penny Serenade,” one of my mom’s  favorite movies. Irene Dunne is leaving Cary Grant because their daughter has just died … . But before she goes, she cranks up the old Victrola and plays the records that mark different times in hers and Cary’s love affair. Melodramatic but effective.

My mom sometimes did the same thing. Her favorite listen was Al Jolson  She had a bunch of 78s and let us little kids play them all! Doris Day, the Dorsey brothers. She kept them in big albums like the one you see in Penny Serenade. This to my peripatetic father’s chagrin. He’d charge into the living room as I was cranking up the antique Victrola, about to put on “April Showers” by Al Jolson (my favorite song) and he’d shout at my mother: FUCK NUT! FUCK NUT! LETTING THE KIDS PLAY WITH THAT! IT’S WORTH SOMETHING! FUCK NUT! He’d get all red in the face and look ready to strike … .

But my mom just ignored him and I went right on playing my Al Jolson record. We had all grown accustomed to his pointlessness. What he said meant nothing. No one paid him any mind. He was noisy wall paper. Sometimes when I got mad at my father for flipping out, I would flip the Al Jolson record over!  And play the B side of the 78: HALLELUJAH,  I’M A BUM AGAIN!

Perfect song for  my father! He was a bum! He loved the freedom! Why didn’t he just go away for good?!

Then when my dad eventually stormed out of the flat for a walk and a cigar (to calm himself down), I would turn my Al Jolson record over and listen to APRIL SHOWERS again and start singing with Al Jolson. … “It isn’t raining rain, you know./It’s raining violets!” My mom was doing housework but she would accompany me – with her whistles. She was not a great singer – off key a lot. But she was the best whistler I ever knew/heard. She could do complex melodies and, every day, would serenade the birds in the hood as she threw old bread pieces over our third floor railing to them. She sounded just like the pretty little sparrows I loved so much! The little birds the big old pigeons used to bully away/peck at as they rushed for the pieces of white Wonder Bread.

I remember the entire Jolson song: “And when you see clouds upon the hills/You soon will see clouds of daffodils!

“So keep on looking for that blue bird/and listening to that song/

“Whenever April showers come along….”

Happy Birthday, Ma! You always made it rain violets for us kids!

(to listen to Al, click on link below his pics)





The “nursing” home

By Rosalie Tirella

“I think she was sick before she got here,” the nurse at the rehab/nursing home (Holy Trinity on Barber Ave.) told me.

I had just left my mom’s room and walked to the nurse’s station at the end of the corridor to voice my concerns to the gaggle of nurses in charge of the care of a couple of dozen “patients” stricken with mild to moderate demetia – including my mom who is also there for “rehab” after a fall in her studio apartment. I am alarmed because I have never seen my mom so ill, so stuck in illness, a tube carrying oxygen to her lungs stuck up her nose, her arm bruised from the poking of IV needles. There she is, in her half of her “new” room (nice roommate) sitting alone in her wheelchair, her head bent forward, snoozing quietly.

When I visit my mom (almost every day), she seems awefully sleepy. Today, when I first entered her room, she was asleep again – totally alone, her head hanging forward again – how uncomfortable! How I missed her old pale pink wingback chair that she parked her little butt in for years as she watched cable news, catholic mass and the Red Sox. You are always in a wheel chair! I told her last time I visited. She said: It’s so comfortable, it doesn’t even feel like I am in a wheel chair.

I did some inspecting and, yes, there was lots of foam, a pillow behind her back, etc. “She’s languishing!” I screamed inside my head. I told myself: This is what people told me would happen if I stuck my mom in a nursing home.

There would be no recovery – only the slow (or speedy) descent into … death.

Where is her comfy wing back chair?!

“Ma,” do you want me to buy you a cute little easy chair for the window?” I ask her one time.

“No, no. I like this.”

“She’s always bounced back,” I tell the nursing home nurse, trying not to show my alarm. I should know! I was her primary care giver for more than four years. Every time she fell in her studio apartment, I sprang into action and rescued her! Saved my mom from the jaws of death. I was always PRESENT, following the ambulance that took her to Memorial Hospital, confering with the doctors/interns (kids) there, being nice to a passel of nurses and social workers, being nasty, threatening with a column when people seemed unresponsive – whatever it took to make my mother well again! I was the miracle lady! And my mom – 85 – always returned home! To her cat, her rosaries, her prayers, her little kitchen and coffee maker.

I don’t want to piss these nurses off, get off to a bad start with them, I tell myself. This could be a permanent thing. They take care of my mother. Her life is in their hands. I want to make them love her one one hundredth as much as I do!

Maybe then, my mom can get well! Well, enough to enjoy a few fruitful, comfortable years at this nursing home, where friends and family can visit and she can be safe. She gets three hot, square meals a day. She has all kinds of nice people taking her blood pressure, taking her temperature, combing her hair, putting her to bed. A time to be nurtured, even spoiled .. like a little baby. My old mother has come full circle.

I am now resigned to the fact that she can never return home. I have the heartbreaking task of closing up her apartment.

I smile at the nurse sitting at the nurse’s station, a lady in her sixties who does seem kind and does seem to like and care about my mom. I tell “Mary” that my mom has had pneumonia before and that several days of intravenous antibiotics usually knoocks out the infection in her lung.

“But we had to give her [oral anibiotics]… so that they would work on the infection on her leg,” Mary explained to me, looking a tad annoyed that me – a mere lay person – has the temerity to stick her nose where it doesn’t belong – in the MEDICAL PROFESSION.

Quiet please! MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS AT WORK! Mary told me she also gave her 50 milligrams of tresedone at night, to calm her down. And mymom gets some during the day. “She gets too busy,” Mary tells me. I am a little worried. My mom has never been sedated like this, and it seems nurse Mary has called the shots. The doctor of this nursing home hasn’t examined my mom. It looks like he rubberstamps what nurse Mary prescribes.

At one nursing home I worked at as an activities assistant decades ago, some nurses there were incredible – most were pretty average. There was even a dud or two – take the head nurse of the dementia unit there. She was always so solicitous of patients when their families were visiting, and then when they left, she would make fun of the patients … or sometimes take her shoes off and paint her toenails!

I can’t help it. My mom, old people have gotten under my skin. Even though I didn’t live with my mom, I took care of her – got her on the Meals on Wheels/lunch bag program, got her home health aides, personal care attendants. I was there every few days checking on her, making shopping lists, bringing in cleaning supplies or toiletries, keeping tabs on everything – the entire freakin’ operation. That’s what it became at the end – a freakin’, time-sucking operation. Exhausting!! – loving my mom! But she had loved me all these years, I told myself, and now foggy-brained and incapable of keeping up her own place, she needed her eldest daughter to swoop in an SAVE THE DAY. She has always expected it – and I have never disappointed her.

I won’t fail ya now, Ma! I tell myself as I watch her … letting go.

So, I want to tell Mary the nurse, I know a little bit about keeping my mom happy and healthy. For you to tell me “she came in sick” is BULL SHIT. Utter buck-passing. I am no fool. I tell her I want a doctor to check my mom and that i will make a special appointment with a gerontologist – a doc who specializes in old people! – to make sure she is on the right meds. Mary frowns. She says he may not even be allowed on the premises, since he is not the doctor in charge at the nursing home – Holy Trinity. I am taken aback. I tell her: I want my mom seen by this excellent gerontologist. “Mary” says he has to be cleared – to make sure he has the right credentials. I want to say: You mean like you, bitch? A nurse PLAYING doctor for my mom and all the other demential patients here? (most of whom look drugged out, as they have their chairs parked around “Mary’s” nurses station – quiet, drugged up little babies. No problem at all caring for such quiet, subdued seniors.

I want to rush into my mom’s room, grab my mom in her wheel chair and roll her out of this place – forever!

But my hands are tied. What can I do? I cannot unhook my little mother from her metal, ugly oxygen tank. I cannot drive her to the hospital and demand the docs “make things happen.” Been there – done that – four times! And Ma can’t go home because THE STATE of MASSACHUSETTS HAS CUT HER SERVICES/MEALS thanks to Elder Services of Worcester, whose nurses/social workers tell me she will be much better cared for at a nursing home. … this nursing home, Holy Trinity, where I can see her looking bloated, drugged up, attached to tubes, arms black and blue …. .

And yet Mom is quietly happy. She tells me the people at the home are so nice, everyone is so gentle with her, they take such good care of her, the food is excellent, they always bring her her coffee. She likes her roommate, too. And she he seems … happy. It’s as if the attention and all the nursing staff and activities staff coming and going is llike a tonic to her. A people person her whole life, my mother now, through her anxiety and tiredness, stresses she doesn’t want to go back to Illyrian Gardens, a place now filled with tight ass staff, a senior citizens complex now run by people who don’t even like senior citizens. I always knew this. My mom did, too, but she repressed her true feeling because she so loved living in her little studio apartment.

Now she calls a spade a spade. She says: “I wasn’t happy there [Illyrian Gardens] – the people … ” and she makes a face. “They [director and staff] were snobs!”

She used the word “snob,” but what my mom meant was that: the staff at Illyrian Garden never cared about her, never stopped by her apartment to say hello or wish her well. No smiles, no pats on the shoulders. Definitely no hugs.

Here at this new place, a nurse told me: “You mother is so nice – we all love her.”

She seemed sincere. I chose to believe her.

Still, the medical care seems substandard.

I have to leave now. I walk back to my mom’s room. “Ma,” I say to her, “I have to go.” I grab her hand off the utility table where she has a plastic cup filled with coffee waiting for her (I will bring her her super duper official huge Red Sox mug tomorrow!). My mom’s little bed side table is covered with the prayer books and photos and perfume bottle I brought for her from her apartment. I notice how warm her hand is. A fever perhaps from the infection in her lung (pneumonia) and in her leg (the bruise from her fall is not healing fast enough). I cannot believe her hand has gotten so gray, so veiny, so bony. Still, I love the warmth I am getting from her. I am loosely holding my mother’s hand in mine. I want to hold it forever.

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.

Pink Easter gloves

By Rosalie Tirella

My mom had a stroke a few years ago and since then she has a kind of dementia. Not the Alzheimer’s Disease kind that sends you (eventually) into a nursing home/Alzheimers’ unit – just the kind where you’re dottie enough to drive everyone around you crazy. You see, the stroke left my mother with very little short-term memory. Conversations about today are pointless. You tell her stuff a thousand times … and still she forgets.

Shame on me. I have stopped visiting her. I mean have stopped visiting WITH her. I am there at her cozy little studio apartment on the West Side every few days, but it’s pretty much to re-heat her Meals on Wheels, make her bed, check to see if she’s OK and that her homemaker and personal care attendant are on the ball. It feels more like a part-time job than a visit with Mom. Sometimes we end up in a kind of screaming match. “Please!” I say to my mother, “Don’t say a word! ‘Cause I’ll go crazy!! I’ve already told you this 20 times!”

Then I make her her precious HUGE cup of coffee and run out the door.

Gone is my best bud. In her place, a weak, disorganized 85-year-old lady.

I feel more guilty than proud. Proud of myself that, as her primary care giver, I have made it possible for my mom to continue living in her studio apartment with her cat and her big TV always turned on to a Red Sox game. If I were living away, in Boston, like my two sisters, she would not be able to continue to live in her apartment. I have promised myself (and my mom though she doesn’t know it) that my mother will not languish in a nursing home – the kind of institution that this dumpling shaped but strong-willed little woman would not – could not – thrive in. The Old Country (Poland) is where my mother’s mother, my grandmother “Bapy,” hailed from. No one put anyone away in the Old Country. Your old, dottie parents were supposed to live with you, turn your hair gray (and make you dottie!) until it was their time to meet their Maker. “God’s will be done,” folks said as they buried their ancient parents who ended up their children at the end. This phrase was always code, in our Polish/Italian household for: “Hooray! Finally! This albatross (insert problem/crisis) has been cut from our necks!”

My Bapy lived with us until she died. She was a holy terror – a 4-foot-5-inch tall woman who could go mano to mano with my hot tempered Italian father. Once she went into the pantry and came out with a huge carving knife to prove her point! So when she (finally) died, my mom cried and said: “God’s will be done.” Which meant Thank you, God, for taking this cantankerous old woman out of my little children’s lives. For the first time in my 14 years on earth, the Tirella household of Green Island was wonderfully quiet. For a few hours at a stretch even!

Easter is when I best remember my grandmother and my mother in their prime, two women who had brutal lives, and yet never missed attedning mass on Good Friday, Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday in their EASTER BONNETS! My mom even wore gloves! All the women did in the 1950s and early 1960s. I can still picture my mother’s Easter gloves: they were cotton and went to the middle of your wrist. Their color: the softest powder pink.

I used to wonder: Why doesn’t Daddy love Mummy when she wears the prettiest gloves? When she tries so hard to make everybody happy? When she walks with us to jack and Jill’s children’s store on Green Street to buy me and my two sisters the prettiest Easter dresses?

My father never went to church and would never dress up for Easter mass. He thought it – religion – was a stupid excuse concocted by my mother. In his ignorance, he had had a Marxist epiphany: Religion is the Opiate of the masses. My father got it. “You’re as simple as the day is long!” he used to scream at my mother, his face as red as a tomato, the veins in his forehead raised and pulsating. “Keep praying!” he yelled. Which meant: You can never know what a shitty life you and your little girls have: your minimum wage job at the dry cleaners, the 60-hour work week you put in, the lack of financial support from me, no car, no vacations … nothing! – because you are too busy dressing up for Jesus, singing for God, enjoying Catholicism!

As an atheist, my father could wallow in his pointless life and perspective.

Still, I can’t – will never – forget my mom’s pink Easter gloves! When I was a little girl, they used to make me so happy! My mom used to let me try them on. Someday, they’ll be yours she told me.

And the hats! My mom and grandmother were chruch going women in the 1940s and 1950s when everyone wore hats -just like they did in all those great Katherine Hepburn and Irene Dunne movies. American ladies – proper ladies – in their proper hats. Lace, feathers, geometric shapes that we so dramatic! Just watch Irene Dunne (with Cary Grant) in the 1940s classic film “The Awful Truth.” You’ll see what I mean!

I remember my grandmother’s Easter hat – a purple affair, with a few purplish berries and some maroonish netting to cover the eyes/top of your face. No matter how bad things got during the Great Depression or World War II my grandmother went to mass every day – walking down Lafayette Street, up Millbury Street to Richland Street, home of her parish, the little polish church, Our lady of Czetchova. In the spring and summer, and especially Easter week, she wore that hat. Maybe a decade ago my sister got a hold of Bapy’s Easter bonnet, composting with age. She took it and I hope has it tucked away safely in some box. Someday I plan to take anothe rlook at that Easter Bonnet!

When we were little kids attending Lamartine Street School, Miss Loftus our first grade teacher had all us girls make Easter bonnets out of construction paper. The flowers that adorned our hats? Pink and yellow and blue tissue paper works of art that we folded and cut and placed on green-pipe cleaners, their stems. And then old Miss Loftus – a spinster whose life was teaching – would take out a record and play “In Your Easter Bonnet” for us and then she made us learn the song. Then we got to march around the classroom in our pretty Easter bonnets. The highlight for us kids? Parading all over the hallways of Lamartine Street School, marching down to the main office where the secretaries oohed and ahhed and smiled at all the poor little Green Island kids wearing their cute/funny creations.

I always felt loved by the adults at Lamartince Street Schoold – from the teachers, to the office secretaries, to our janitor (Mr. Grey, I think he was called). Easter at Lamartine Street School – always fun.

And now. Well, now, I have become (probably) as godless as my father, who died several years ago. I did not try to lose my faith or my God. I just did. My sisters are still great, church-going Catholic girls. Somehow, with my father, poverty, a stint at Clark University where I fell deeply in love with my first boyfriend a Catholic boy who renounced God after her took a class on Neitesche and existentialism, somehow all this caused God to fade from my life. Not the teachings of God – just HIS protection – someone to look to in times of trouble. If there is no God, who the hell has my back?!

How, I ask myself these days, when I really do need a God to lean on, when I am swimming in the deep end of mid-life and could use a life guard, how did I lose my religion? The Old Country Catholicism that made me feel so safe as a child and young girl?

Where is my Easter bonnet?

Valentine’s Day at Four Corners

By Ronald L. O’Clair

Growing up around the old “Four Corners,” neighborhood (the intersection of Cambridge and Southbridge Streets), there was only one place to go to buy a Valentine’s Day card, and that would have been the College Square Pharmacy, located right there on one of the Four Corners.
Mr. Morris Hurowitz, the proprietor of the establishment, sold many different things, and greeting cards were among them. He had a soda fountain behind the counter that had not been in use for some time before I ever walked through the door for the first time sometime in late 1969.

I may have been there before that, as my brother and I stayed briefly on Caro Street earlier that year and used to walk down to the old A & P Supermarket located diagonally across from the harmacy, I know this because one of those times we walked down to the A & P, made our purchases, walked back under the I-290 overpass under construction, and were just about to turn onto Caro Street, when the overpass fell onto several cars and an Oil Tanker, resulting in one heck of an explosion and fire.

We were very fortunate not to have been under it at the time it collapsed.

We were living there on Caro Street, just the two of us, with either a social worker, or I believe now it must have been a foster parent, for a short time while my parents were getting divorced, and my mother was hospitalized at the time. I’d be interested to know the exact date of the tragic overpass collapse, as it would help me to put a chronological order to the memories I have of my childhood during that most eventful time.

I know that my brother Donald and I were shuffled around quite a bit, we stayed on a farm somewhere for a time that butchered a bull that I had come to know. We were served him for dinner one night. I found it difficult to eat the meat from the bull I considered my friend.

We stayed together in our separation from the rest of the family, even spent most of the school year up in Maine with my Aunt Edna, where I watched spellbound as man walked on the moon on the 20th of July, 1969.

After the divorce, we were returned to the custody of our mother, Evelyn, who had an apartment at 28 Princeton Street, just a short distance from the Four Corners. The neighborhood of the Four Corners was a vibrant place, with all sorts of businesses grouped around the intersection on both sides of Southbridge Street. We attended Cambridge Street Elementary School. When they decided to widen Southbridge Street, they tore the heart out of the neighborhood in the name of progress. They demolished all the businesses on the other side of the street from the pharmacy.

I may even have gone there with one or both of my parents when they were still married and had owned a house at 30 Lewis Street some years before we had moved to Oak Pond Avenue in Millbury, the last address that our family shared as a complete unit.

But I do remember going in the pharmacy to browse through the greeting cards looking for that special card for my Valentine. There were many different ones, and I agonized over the choices for quite some time, as I wanted it to be the most perfect Valentine ever for my Valentine.

Having been separated from our mother for quite some time, living with foster families, and our Aunt Edna, when we finally came back to our fractured home, I felt awkward at first, hardly recognizing my own mother. But her love for me broke through all the barriers, and I once again felt the intensity of her love for her children, which I gladly reciprocated in kind.

That year, my Valentine was my mother, and I was happy to have her back in my life.

Valentines Day story #1

By Rosalie Tirella

It was the mid-1970s, and I believed in love the way I would never believe in love again. There was the music on the radio – songs by James Taylor and Carole King. There were the movies that were hits – movies like The Way We Were starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. There was my cousin “Tina” who was classic 1970s beautiful with her thick, chestnut hair that swung down to her butt and her pretty face and figure that literally (I witnessed this twice) stopped traffic as she walked down the street. I believed in TRUE LOVE, the PG version, even though my mom, Italian dad, my two sisters and my grandmother from Poland were pretty much living the “not-yet-rated” Martin Scorsesse version in Green Island.

The fantasy that I would meet and marry a tall and handsome boy who looked like Paul McCartney and played accoustic guitar – to and for me – took hold when I was 14 or so. I went around our Green Island apartment fantasizing about my Paul McCartney look-a-like and his lovely sad eyes and started writing poems – poems that I hoped would some day be lyrics to the melodies my true love composed for me.

This actually happened for my cousin Tina. My aunt and uncle were middle-class and could give their kids stuff my mom could never buy for us kids: stuff like an upright piano for Tina and private paino lessons. At 19 Tina was attending Anna Maria college and met a young guy from WPI college who played the accoustic guitar. He wrote songs for her and she wrote the lyrics and because she loved him so dearly composed very long and dramatic melodies on her piano. For him. For love.

I believed that when I was a bit older – in college like Tina – this would happen to me, too. I also believed that when I and my true love looked at each other it would be like when Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford looked at each other in The Way We Were – long, wistful glances – deep into the eyes. I would brush the wispy bangs out of my true love’s eyes, just the way Streisand had done to Redford when she and Redford (“Hummel” in the movie), said their final good-byes to each other on the streets of New York City. Cue the sad, lovely music: Streisand is singing “The Way We Were,” the theme song of the movie, written by Marvin Hamlish.

These days I am brushing the wispy – gray – hair out of my mother’s eyes – not some guy’s. My mother has changed during these past few years. She is 84. Two years ago, she could have run my business with one hand tied behind her back. Today I look deep into her eyes as she watches her beloved Red Sox on TV and see the old confidence, the old purposefulness, even severity gone. Her strongest personality traits and the ones I sometimes found the most vexing – poof. Gone forever.

Now she lives in a world that’s out of focus, a world where sentences need to be repeated, Meals on Wheels need to be delivered to her door every day, PCAs must shower her and homemakers must cook meals. And I, her only daughter living in town, must visit every day – to “check on” her and make sure everything is going smoothly. (a more complicated job – and it does become a job – than you would think)

A few years ago Mum knew all the Red Sox players and how well they were doing during the season. Batting averages, home runs, fouls – she could have been one of the TV commentators. And when a game became a nail biter, Mum would get up out of her easy chair and walk right up to the televsion – stand two or three inches away from the TV screen – and shout: “Come one! Come on! Go! Go!” And if the Red Sox prevailed, up went Mum’s crinkly little arms and out came “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” Cheers for her heroes! Manny and Ortiz and all the Sox players – they were her boys.

These days, the TV is on and she is watching her Red Sox, but she is seated at her little table without the Sox game schedule at her elbow, without the coffee cup rising to her lips after a good pitch or catch, without the frequent trips to the TV screen to cheer on her beloved Ortiz. The informed game talk is gone, replaced with occassional glances down at the big ugly black orthopedic shoes she wears now.

She says, “Do I have to wear these? They’re so heavy.”

Just like my heart is now.

Instead, I say: “Mum, you’ve fallen twice – you can’t wear your slippers anymore. These shoes give you support” (not really knowing what “support” means). I say: “Please, Ma, listen to the doctor so you don’t end up in a nursing home!”

Then PANIC! I panic because I know I am losing my best friend, my #1 booster, my closest confidente, my smartest, strongest, bravest ally! Mum panics because she doesn’t want to leave her cozy little studio apartment – the one that she has happily lived in and happily grown old in for more than 16 years. Her cat, her sofa, her little twin bed, her pals at the end of the corridor on her floor … gone forever to be replaced by johnnies and nurses aides dressing you a bit too hastily. And no Rosalie, her best buddy, hanging out with her, jabbering away about her problems.

Ma grows serious – too serious – to enjoy the Red Sox. I grow serious, too.

Taking her blue plastic comb out of the little box I have placed on the little folding table that sits to the left of her, I begin to comb her short hair. I look at all the little dime-store prayer books she used to read during the day, prayer books that she had memorized from years and years of reading and rereading them. Not any more: They sit untouched, unread – even coffee-stained. I had to throw out a couple of especially messy ones (when she wasn’t looking).

On Ma’s low table also sit little statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Saint Theresa, Saint Martin and a ceramic angel holding my mum’s birthstone. I bought the little angel for her a few months ago and she loves it – has it positioned right where she can always see it. I comb Mum’s brittle gray hair to the side, and remind myself to make an appointment for her with a hairdresser that makes apartment calls. Mum has lost the little paper with her old hairdresser’s name and number on it and no longer remembers the person who used to come down and do her hair. Truth be told, I’ve forgotten the woman’s name, too.

I will have to find a new hairdresser for my mother – one who gives great “perms.” One who loves old people.

With my fingers I brush the wispy bangs out of my mom’s eyes, and the sad love music begins … .