Tag Archives: Rosalie Tirella

⛪Spencer’s Church Fire …the Tee Shirt👕🌈

By Rosalie Tirella

First responders worked all afternoon and evening. photos: R.T.

I took Jett and Lilac out after supper yesterday and saw Spencer’s first responders unhooking the thick fire hoses that ran about a quarter of a mile from the town library, up Main Street and to the old Spencer church, now in ruins. It was a long afternoon for the guys I saw. The First Congregational Church on Main – built in the 1860s – one of the architectural jewels of our downtown – was engulfed in flames during this afternoon’s wild thunderstorm. The charred steeple crashed to the ground, the church organ’s tall pipes melted in the heat, the food in the food pantry was lost. The church’s demise is temporary – a resurrection is certain.

At the top of the hill – a historic church engulfed in flames.

It was a grand old church! At the end of my day, driving home from running CECELIA in Worcester, it always caught my eye. I looked out my car window and stared – upwards. The big, white church – even whiter when the sun shone on it – claimed the highest parcel of Spencer land – it was elevated! Because it was the house of God, built in the days when the house of God was the most important house in town. This was true for all America – from New York City to Spencer. The church was built to always be “taller” than the bank building. Taller than town hall or city hall.

The First Congregational Church – the tallest edifice in Spencer – built on the crest of Main Street. Built on the top of the hill in the center of town because cross and cupola were once more important than cash and campaign slogans.

Ending their shift …

The Spencer firefighters, police officers and other town workers were calling it a day now. Everyone looked tired and a little disoriented. The air was still heavy with smoke, and when we got back home my clothes stank of smoke.

Water flowed to the fire before hoses were unhooked.

The smoke hung heavily over the center of town.


June 3

The tee …

During our a.m. walk today I noticed that someone left/displayed this Gay Pride tee on a pallet by a store in our “plaza.” For the taking…or just a reminder? So Spencer!🌈 …I wonder how the Town of Spencer is marking the month, June, Gay Pride Month. I wonder how State Senator Gobi – now Governor Healey’s Rural Expert and a Spencer resident – WILL HELP/SUPPORT GAY FOLKS IN RURAL MASSACHUSETTS.

June is Gay Pride Month

Our walking path …


By Rosalie Tirella

Downtown Spencer this morning: Lilac at the parade. photos: R.T.

You know me and Spencer parades. So there I was, today, at 9 a.m, with Jett and Lilac, on our little stretch of Main Street, outside our apartment building, waiting for the Spencer Memorial Day parade to roll by. I stood with about 75 other folks – kids, seniors, couples, young families with a baby or two and single men and women waiting for that Annual Spencer Memorial Day Parade to crest the hill by Town Hall and to make its way past us and our tiny clutch of businesses and WHITCO WHITCO and more WHITCO.

Waiting for the parade.

I stood outside our building feeling the sun on my face, watching my dogs nose their way into the families seated by us – on their shameless quest for doggy biscuit handouts – and thought: It’s all here, the homemade pageantry of rural America. Town life before cell phones, Facebook and Instagram and even the Internet. A workaday Main Street with townsfolk in sweatshirts and light jackets making their own fun – not paying for “entertainment,” most of which is borderline pornographic these days.

Part of the parade route.

There we were, Jett, Lilac and I on our Main Street, Rose chatting with folks as we watched the decked-out Jeeps and cars drive by with big American flags attached to front and back, crisp American flags whipping in the wind. …

Beep beep!

There were the young girls passing out small, cloth American flags to everyone as they walked the miles to the town cemetery with that spring in their step that only the young know. …

Handing out American flags.

There were the really little kids grabbing their flags and immediately waving them at everything. The older vets rode in cars down the parade route …

He served his country.

… the Boys Scouts troop and Cub Scouts were in uniform as they held their banners and flags, the Spencer firetrucks sparkled and the Spencer firemen wore their dress uniforms as they marched ahead of their just hosed-down trucks. …

Proud first responders – Spencer firefighters.

Waving to the crowd.

There was the usual gaggle of local pols …

… the representatives of all our US military branches – Navy really stood out – and, of course, the excellent David Prouty High School Marching Band playing the theme music of the US Navy, US Marines, US Army … rousing, soul-stirring music that we don’t hear often enough. Maybe hearing the music would bring us all back together again …

The David Prouty High School Marching Band

Budding musicians!

I think I drove by David Prouty High when the school had an outdoor fundraiser for new uniforms for their marching band. They must have raised the money because these marching band uniforms that the kids wore today were beautiful – school colors vibrant and those toppers with the orange plumes (or were they pom poms?) curling in the breeze! I wish they had stopped before our crowd to play a song for a bit longer, but they matched on, as all marching bands must!

Making the town proud🥁

There sat the older woman and her husband with their red sports car in the Price Chopper Plaza parking lot – she in one of those foldable canvas chairs you see at all the outdoor concerts and he in their cherry red sports car, reclining in his driver’s seat (leather, I’m guessing) and enjoying “the good life.” …

… They were among the first people to claim a spot this morning. “My son’s a fireman,” the woman said proudly. He was going to be in the parade.

The young couple with two babies pointed to me, taking pictures. They were stationed across the street and had taped an American flag to a pole. Another young couple with a two-year-old boy in a baseball cap talked dogs with me, and their little boy ran to the still cute Jett to pat his face. Jett gets all the attention because he’s still really good looking, but these days he’s … tentative. So he backed away from the little boy. I explained to the mother that Jett was 17 years old and maybe struggling a bit. I offered up the loveable Lilac who immediately shoved her bum under the mother’s hand for a butt massage. “It’s hard to let go,” the young mother said, watching my geriatric Jett. I agreed and immediately felt sad: Would this be Jett’s last parade????

Then there was the older couple who talked newspapering with me, the three of us growing nostalgic for the true small-town, local paper. The wife had worked for circulation at the Telegram and Gazette decades ago, when it had a real circulation, and you could tell she and her husband missed the local touch. …
I thought to myself: Forty years ago Spencer and every one of these towns in Central Mass would have had their own town newspaper, and you just bet the editor would have assigned a reporter to cover the town’s annual Memorial Day Parade. Now, in 2023, a poll shows about half the country doesn’t even know what Memorial Day commemorates. Today, it was just me, doing it like I did in the old days when I was a cub reporter starting out at the Spencer New Leader, circa 1986. “Covering” the Memorial Day Parade, taking pictures of a town event important to its people, a community tradition, an avenue for its young people to learn some history and to come to understand what it means to be a part of a community. I got to hear some music with some real flair this morning, too! Hopefully, some of the young musicians at David Prouty will go on to be in jazz bands or teach music or play funky porch concerts in years to come. For today, they’ll experience how a town comes together to remember, to honor, its fallen soldiers – many of whom died horrific deaths when they were just a few years older than the musicians in the Prouty marching band. They died for America before they got to make their own life music.
The scouts

The little guys held their banner up ok!

Go, Spencer youth!🇺🇸👏

💕 Common Sense🐾🐾

By Rosalie Tirella

Rose and her Jett in Spencer

Could it be possible, at 61, to fall in love with … a town common? To feel about the space the way you do about a new romance? Excited to see your love each and every day … alive with anticipation! And can you fall in love with your town common even though it’s not, strictly speaking, a real town common?… Not at all a grassy space with manicured flower gardens, benches, a pond with ducks and swans … maybe even a gazebo where brass bands play on summer nights. Possibly the site of political protests now and then. In other words: Picturesque. Even elegant. Sometimes radical.

No, here in Spencer, you’ve got no real town common. It’s wild and rural, but it’s also rough bluecollar, as the town’s roots are French sheetrock workers … factories. Every where you see the pretty girls who look the same: fair skinned with long dark hair, often pulled back into a no-nonsense pony tail. Their faces look the same, too: pretty and delicate and French. You see the new diversity, too, but the townie girls, distantly related from generations past, all look like princesses from my old childhood fairy tale books. You see a few ancient factories standing … you see the famous SADD name chiseled into an abandoned factory and wonder if it’s at all related to the Mr. Sadd, a town selectman, you “covered” as a cub reporter when working for the Spencer New Leader almost four decades ago. He was a town leader written up in The New Leader often. I think his son also served on the Spencer Board of Selectmen.

So there is no picturesque town common here in Spencer, a green space in the center of town to traipse around in like there is in West Brookfield or even Millbury. It’s a bit too working class for that. So we’ve had to create opportunity, especially after my wrist surgery, unable to drive my car. A town common is really just a place where the common folk meet and greet each other! So we’ve got the Spencer Price Chopper Plaza on Main Street, across the street from the Spencer Town Hall and a few yards away from the town library. And you’ve got the opportunity to meet EVERYBODY. The PRICE CHOPPER plaza – a huge parking lot with all the basics – seemed like a stretch at first but it’s a genuine town common, a central hub. Past the dumpster, along the concrete, across the parking lot itself Jett and Lilac and I walk every day. The Plaza is the shopping mecca for everyone in town, and everyone, even the poorest of the poor, or folks in motorized wheelchairs, seem to be in good spirits. You’ve got everything you need to live a pretty good life in Spencer at the Price Chopper Plaza: the supermarket, a CVS, a package store, a Rob Roy hair salon and a laundromat. Across Main Street you’ve got Whitco’s and a few other shops. When you think about it, outside of nature and Whitco’s, everything else can be considered superfluous.

Jett and Lilac with Rose.

But my Price Chopper Plaza on Main Street – my “town common” – sets my heart aflutter every day! It’s Jett and Lilac’s happy place. The site of our daily jaunts, the place we walk around and around in, waving to this person, chatting with that lady, smiling at this old guy, graciously accepting compliments about Jett from the woman in a wheelchair or talking with the kid who just took our photos or the young guy who works at Rob Roy and says my haircut – given by his coworker, a Bay Path High graduate and very creative gal – is “fun.” Or the CVS staffer who says to me, “We love seeing you!” Or the woman in the motorized wheelchair who used to have wolf hybrids at her house as pets but is now too old to keep dogs. “YOU’RE SO LUCKY TO HAVE THEM!” she says of my Jett and Lilac, as her scrawny hand gives Lilac’s bum a good scratching. No wonder Lilac is ecstatic to take our morning strolls – our jaunt consists of nothing but kind words about her and Jett and lots of rub downs. She even seems to have her favorites – rushes up to familiar faces for some lovin’. I have real conversations with the people here about dogs loved and lost, chickens who come when you call their names, golden retriever pups heading for the family boat. The old people tug at my heart. The Spencer kids are open and high spirited. You soak up the sun – or the rain drops – as you walk the plaza sidewalk and connect with half of Spencer. Folks buying their groceries, doing their laundry, picking up their prescriptions, but never too busy to stop and … see you. Everything seems so personal, slowed down … relaxed.

Which is why I decided to now label myself “semi-retired.” So I can stick around Spencer – the Price Chopper Plaza and the town Library and my apartment – which I love. Why subject myself to hassles at my age? Why not just bake a veggie lasagna and another apple tart and read a short story? I am rounding that final bend. Why make it a demolition derby? Why race at all? l could drive into Worcester five days a week to run CECELIA, but I’ll be coming in three days a week and working out of my home the other two. I can still write my columns, shepherd my story-seeking scribes and sell ads. I’ll be 62 in October. I want to see more nature … and write different stories.

👩‍🔧Got a Gadget?!👨‍🔧

By Rosalie Tirella

A few weeks ago: Rosalie, in her terrific Spencer apartment. pics: R.T.

This morning while driving in Downtown Spencer, I noticed the humble GADGET REPAIR shop diagonally across from our building.

“GADGET REPAIR” read the main sign of this business located on the corner of Main and Wall streets. I smiled. There were about 15 signs and flags stuck all over this tired building, as downtown Spencer business owners believe more is more and love to plaster their shop windows with signs – and I thought to myself: What’s a gadget? Does anyone even use the word “gadget” anymore? How would the word fit into a conversation taking place in 2023?

Jett is neutral about the Gadget Repair store in Downtown Spencer.

Maybe I could define the word – even correctly identify a gadget – in 1970. Today I think I’d be hard-pressed to do so, let alone find a gadget in my apartment, despite my poverty-induced, low-tech lifestyle.

Gadget. The word conjures up images of Al Jolson records spinning on the Victrola, kettles on the stove … granddad taking out his accordion after supper and playing a few tunes on the front porch for the family, cousins visiting from Kentucky.

But what exactly is a gadget? Are we talking old transistor radios? Ham radios? 1950 hair dryers? Hand-operated meat grinders, like my Bapy used to grind meat for her pierogi? Or is a gadget a blender you crank by hand, like the one I had hanging on my wall in my Blackstone River Road apartment – another one of Bapy’s kitchen “gadgets.”

I’m guessing – I’m not running to the Google dictionary to find out – the definition of gadget encompasses more than the culinary arts. Maybe old hand tools could count as gadgets. The old beau has a level, wrenches and more tools from Sears circa 196O. The level was a gift from his grandfather, but the wrenches and other hand tools he bought at a Sears on the North Shore (he grew up in Lynn). He once proudly told me that Sears was the best place to buy hand tools if you were a carpenter or handyman because any Sears Craftsman hand tool you bought at Sears was guaranteed. For life. So if a wrench got funky on you after lots of use you could walk into any Sears in any town in America and exchange it for a brand new one. For free. The old beau loved this concept. First, it meant Sears hand tools were top-notch. They were not garbage – made to crumple after a few turns and whacks. They were built in America and meant to last – or else Sears wouldn’t offer to replace them for free. Second, Sears was showing respect for the average American – their core customer – who didn’t have tons of dough. Maybe first generation Americans. The working man in Ohio, the average guy or gal in Indiana who had his or her own shop or small business. Or the dad in Jersey tinkering around the family’s cute cape in the suburbs during the weekends, maybe building his daughter a backyard tree house.

Would the gadget shop owner know a “gadget,” if he or she saw one?

When I think “gadget” I think the actor James Stewart in some terrific 1940s movie like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Gadget is the perfect Jimmy Stewart word – his aw-shucks accent makes the word Midwestern, comical, corny even, but it also gives it dignity. Something that needs tinkering needs a person with a brain, a person who “tinkers” – another word you don’t hear too often these days. I can just picture George Bailey, Stewart’s character, in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE saying, “Clarence, you get me back to my family – now! … Hey! What’s that gadget?!” And Clarence, George’s guardian angel, sent down from heaven to earth to save George’s perspective, would give George his 1789 pocket watch.

You wind gadgets, but you wind wrist watches – and they’re jewelry, not gadgets. Gadgets have springs, and I lost the “spring” in my step at 40! I’m as antique as a gadget! I shuffle along Main Street, in the center of Spencer, when I walk my two dogs. Jett, my husky mix, limps some because he’s 17 – geriatric for a medium-sized dog. A few friends have suggested that I buy him a doggy cart – a handmade wooden cart with harness and wheels you attach to a dog’s hind quarters to help him stay mobile when he gets really decrepit. I say: NO to this ridiculous GADGET!

Or is the doggy cart too BIG to qualify as a gadget?

I think most gadgets are hand-held. Like an electric pencil sharpener? I’m not sure.

I could simply call this Spencer small business and ask the owner: “When you write “gadget” on your sign, what do you mean exactly? What kind of gadgets have you repaired lately?” But that would be too … labor intensive. And looking closely at my photo of the gadget repair shop, I see colored illustrations on it … illustrations of lap tops and cell phones right there on the sign. Is this what the owner calls gadgets?! I never considered a lap top computer to be a gadget … certainly not today’s smart phones … maybe the early mobile phones that resembled walkie talkies.

Is a walkie talkie a gadget??????


By Rosalie Tirella

Green Island Grrrl: Rose, her Mom, her two kid sisters, “Daddy,” Bapy, Jaju and a plethora of dogs, cats, gold fish, turtles, hamsters plus a guinea pig and little grey and white mouse lived in this Lafayette Street third floor tenement 50 years ago.🙏 Photos: R.T.

I just made BEYOND BEEF vegan meatballs for lunch, over tomato sauce and pasta. The pasta was boxed, the tomato sauce was plain and out of a can. I seasoned the tomato sauce ok but focused on making the BEYOND BEEF meatballs as tasty as I could while trying to remember my late mother’s meatball recipe this Mother’s Day weekend … trying to remember “Ma” thru food and the way she cooked it.

BEYOND BEEF meatballs by Rose.

First, BEYOND BEEF is not as tasty as IMPOSSIBLE BURGER, another popular plant-based fake meat which I’ve cooked before – spaghetti and meatballs at my old Blackstone River Road apartment (came out primo!). Second, my mother’s relationship with cooking and baking was … fraught. Cooking for Ma was no fun. It was not a creative or relaxing endeavor for her. There were no beautiful, flowery aprons tied around her waist. No Perry Como albums playing softly in the background as she folded the cake batter. There was a small, tired, old half apron – more like a rag – tied around her lumpy waist. The apron that she wore year after year after year. It was sewed special for her by my kid sister at the Girls Club. “Jane” picked out the cute pattern – white bicycles and tricycles printed on orange fabric – at Woolworths on Front Street and sewed the apron for our mother in the Girls Club’s beginner’s sewing class, Jane’s first and last sewing project at the Clubhouse on Vernon Hill because, like me, she had no talent for sewing.

But I digress! Ma’s cooking! No food sampling allowed while Ma was in the middle of following her General Foods Kitchen Cookbook recipe, referring to her special cookbook’s page over and over again to ensure she was getting it all straight. If it was one of her sisters’ recipes, something she’d written down on a piece of notebook paper while talking on the phone with one of her sisters – my Aunt Mary or Aunt Ruth – Ma would run to the phone and call a sister in the middle of preheating the oven to ask: “Mary – 350 degrees or 375?” …”Ruth – 50 minutes in the oven or an hour?” We kids had to stay out of Ma’s way, give her a wide berth, as she walked to the pantry and to our old gas stove and then back to our ugly green kitchen table where all her cooking was done. We girls stayed away, too – our mother looked genuinely pissed off! It was like Ma was a serious scientist creating the neutron bomb and she was counting her atoms … One false move and planet earth could explode!

This was always true for my sweet, overwhelmed mother – SHE HAD TO DO EVERYTHING PERFECTLY. SHE COULD NOT – WOULD NOT – MAKE ONE MISTAKE! NOT ONE! Like getting all A’s at St. Mary’s Catholic School when she was a little girl – perfect. Seeing to it that I got all A’s at Lamartine Street School when I was a little girl – more perfection. Always working so hard cleaning house and washing dishes on Elliot Street for the Bishop of Springfield … at the rectory where she and her two sisters lived and worked during the Great Depression – sending the money they earned home to their parents in Green Island.

Elliot Street, Springfield: Ma as a young woman, with one of her pups. She and her sisters were housekeepers/cooks for the “Bishop” during the Great Depression.

Years later, Ma was wearing her three polyester vests – wine colored, navy blue, beige – to work at the dry cleaners on Millbury Street, a different colored vest for a different work day, because these vests, purchased at White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street, made her a more efficient counter girl. Each one had two big pockets on either side – perfect for holding her little scratch pad, pens, stray receipts and thick rubber bands for organizing customers dry cleaning. As a teen, visiting my mom at the cleaners after school, those rubber bands, sometimes 10 or so of them on her veiny wrists like ugly bracelets, made me feel sad. Ma worked a tall, old fashioned cash register at the cleaners but liked to brag that she could do all the addition and subtraction in her head, which she could. Ma was very smart and loved math!

Not so much cooking! If the recipe called for finely chopped onions, my mother was hovering over that kitchen table with a vengeance, hunched over her big cutting board (her Polish mother’s, my Bapy’s, who lived with us) maniacally chopping and re-chopping those poor onion slices. By the end they almost looked pulverized. If a recipe called for a 1/2 teaspoon salt, out came Ma’s White’s Five and Ten plastic measuring spoons and a butter knife: Morton’s salt was poured carefully into that 1/2 teaspoon, and then Ma swept the flat edge of that butter knife ever so slowly over that tiny mound of salt to make certain that it was a perfectly level, a flawless 1/2 teaspoon of salt, tiny white excess crystals falling to the kitchen table. Watching Ma cook you saw no “Joy of Cooking,” you saw joyless cooking. You witnessed no panache the way you see cooks turn it on on TV or YouTube channels. You only saw a youngish, exhausted, poor, single working mom, with bills and an abusive husband perpetually hanging over her head. A young woman just trying to get through her day. Making that birthday cake for her little girls – me and my two kid sisters – because her three little girls loved her Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme cake. And she loved her three little girls. Making her spaghetti and meatballs because her daughters loved her spaghetti and meatballs and she loved her daughters. And those English muffin pizzas – hot out of the oven! Always so tasty! Beads of sweat glistened on Ma’s forehead while she sprinkled that shredded mozzarella cheese over our mini-pizzas, but she always made them, every Wednesday night, on those old baking sheets – just for us. Sprinkled with oregano flakes, big and fragrant.

Ma’s special cookbook – now in Rose’s kitchen.

Ma’s husband – our “Daddy,” our father – was a different story. He was a screamer, a shouter and emotional bully who took out his life disappointments on our mother. Ma could be feisty, but she was no match for our father who’d show her the back of his rough, red hand in a heartbeat. Still, Ma cooked for him – pulled out all the stops for abusive Daddy!

Being as solitary as an oyster, our father never ate supper with us kids, but in the bedroom, his plate set out on a metal TV tray next to their bed where Daddy could stretch out and relax and read the classifieds in the newspaper. Like he was a customer at a restaurant. Away from the fuss and hassles in the kitchen. When Ma finished making supper for us kids, we all sat around the kitchen table and ate together, like a family. When Daddy ate his supper it was a morose, gloomy affair, with his hot Italian temper waiting in the wings. He was still considered to be a handsome guy and often dragged the phone into the bedroom where he’d call his sister and talk to her in Italian about his girlfriends, I later learned. Ma cleaned up in the kitchen; never ate supper with Daddy. She cooked it and served it to him like a dutiful waitress who knew her tip would be paltry.

Dinner for Daddy: a glass of water and salad with Ma’s homemade salad dressing – vegetable oil, a pinch of salt, a shake or two of garlic powder. Twenty minutes later a big T bone steak, with a slice of Italian bread and some cooked spinach with oil and garlic salt. Dessert would be a plum or peach or some other fruit. But that steak… the steak that Ma had basted and broiled for him in our stove. Simple but deadly prep for the steak, the best “cut,” bought special, exclusively, for Daddy at Supreme Market on Millbury Street. Ma basted it with oil and sprinkled it with salt. She had this little paint brush – special for basting Daddy’s crumby steaks – and she used it skillfully, covering the entire slab of raw meat, even pulling out the steak when it was in the broiler to baste it some more. As my mother bent down to put the oiled and seasoned steak on the stove broiler for my father to enjoy all by himself all alone in his bedroom … I resented Daddy. A few years later, as a seventh grader, I would write an essay for him: “My Father’s Last Will and Testament.” It wasn’t a real English class assignment, but I had typed it up, and one afternoon I presented it to my father to read as he sat on our living room sofa staring into the distance. “Sign at the bottom!” I said. “SIGN! SIGN IT!” He looked up at me, his eldest daughter, standing over him, not so subtly wishing him death, and he laughed and laughed, red faced, but looking a little … scared. I was “the smart one” as Daddy used to say, and I had caught on to his game. From that day on I never feared my father, and he knew if he were ever to put a finger on my mother from that forward I would have to kill him. From then on Daddy lived with us as a joke. The adult who didn’t matter, the person whose opinions were quickly dismissed, the ghost whose presence was ignored …

My mother had fallen in love with my father while engaged to a sweet Italian guy who was a furniture mover at Millbury Furniture on Millbury Street. “Dino” was cute and absolutely smitten with Ma. He gave her an engagement ring, went to college to become a teacher and went into the army during World War II. Ma used to love to tell the story where they were walking in the rain together and there was a big puddle of rainwater and Dino took off his coat and placed it on the puddle so she could walk over it. Of course, she cheated on the noble, romantic Dino while he was in the army – with my father, a handsome bs artist who wore his thick wavy red hair in a pompodor and had biceps that bulged beneath the sleeves of his muscle shirts. Ma was swept her off her feet by the bad boy. Daddy eventually got Ma pregnant with me when they were doing it in his red truck one spring night. Years of Catholic school and Sunday mass and a decade working for a bishop and always reading all those prayer cards to St. Ann and all the saints … poof! Out the window! The perfect Catholic girl – practically an undercover nun! – gone to hell. The perfect girl who had bought herself the new GENERAL FOODS KITCHEN COOKBOOK in 1960 so she could learn to be the perfect wife, mother and hostess was now unmarried and prego living with her parents in the slums of Worcester. Bapy hated Daddy with a passion, almost to the end of her life, even after he had married Ma. She knew he had ruined her favorite daughter’s life. I remember how Ma would make Bapy her hard boiled egg sandwich in the afternoon and how Daddy would walk by Bapy as she sat in her lumpy big chair at the head of the kitchen table eating her sandwich and how she’d just get ENRAGED at the sight of Daddy and tear off a piece of her egg sandwich and whip it at Daddy’s face. “Dog’s blood!” she’d scream at him in Polish – a very bad curse phrase in Poland. “You red devil!” she’d scream at him.

Daddy holding Rose’s two kid sisters on Easter Day.

Yet Daddy’s T-bone steak would always smell so wonderful cooking under our gas stove’s long, horse-shoe-shaped flame … and we kids would get nothing, not a bit of it. My mother would get the tail end of the steak – two inches of seared fat.

A page from Ma’s cookbook – a culinary fairy tale …

I often leaf through my mother’s General Foods Kitchen Cookbook. She gave it to me when I was in my 20s, hoping I could find the culinary knowledge I needed to be a good cook. The chapters are filled with outmoded ideas, a Leave it to Beaver cookbook that always made Dad the strong, breadwinner of the family and the Wife the dutiful stay at home mom whose job was to create the perfect domestic life for her husband who paid all the bills and took care of the family. In a few years their two kids would some day go on to college. The illustrations in the cookbook are small and monochrome, the photos of the meals are lurid. Some of the references are racist. Yet those tiny houses. Those small picket fences. Those miniscule station wagons with the wood paneling on their sides … filled with a happy Dad (always at the wheel), contented Mom and carefree kiddos exert their pull. I sometimes read the chapters not so much for their recipes but for their fairytale quality. The seductive lies they so artfully tell, the beautiful lies that were written by ad men to sell General Foods products to women like my mom, created to hawk frozen peas and push canned corn and glorify sugar-laden Duncan Hines cake mixes … written to make corporate America rich but omitting the real stories of real American women like my mom. Women who forged ahead and worked crappy jobs and paid rent on slummy apartments in rough neighborhoods and lived with neglectful or even violent husbands and yet managed to believe in the dream. The dream of their children, their true masterpieces – not some bowl of Jello Chocolate Pudding.

Did I tell you that my mother made the best chocolate pudding?

Happy Mother’s Day 🌹💕

Bapy💕 and we kiddos. Bapy helped raise us.

A baby Rose and her Mom.

😢😢It’s a Shame about Girls Inc – my old Girls Club (on Vernon Hill)

By Rosalie Tirella

Rose and her kid sisters with their Bapy – during the Girls Club years!

The Girls Club, now called Girls Inc, located on Vernon Hill – it was my summer sanctuary when I was a little girl growing up in Green Island. Last week it was temporarily closed. Shut down right before summer vacation because of … adult incompetence. The executive director was always detached from the kids – didn’t run the old clubhouse with any heart or intelligence – even though she had a passel of degrees and certificates and often got herself into the newspaper for this or that funding/grant. She made herself seem indispensable to the future of Worcester girls. But that was a lie. There were never many girls at Girls Inc. I used to drive by my old clubhouse and see 20 or so kids leaving the building in the afternoons. Even during summer vacation when there should have been scores of programs running for girls.

As a Girls Club-Winthrop House alumna, I remember the Girls Inc of my childhood. The very same building but pre-renovations. We’d have 100, 150 girls running around in that big two-story brick building every day during school summer vacation. It was a real clubhouse – not an Inc. A Girls CLUB for so many of us girls living on Vernon Hill, Union Hill, in Green Island, even South Worcester. And not just for the hoi polloi: middle-class parents from the Burncoat neighborhood would drive their girls across the city to the Winthrop House, for the day, for the excellent sewing or crocheting classes or the lifeguard certification program.

What was happening inside Girls Inc, my old Girls Club clubhouse, all these years? When was the lousy director finally recognized for her ineptitude and put on leave? Why have the directors temporarily closed Girls Inc, a once grand Worcester tradition? How and why did the dream all go to pot?

I’ll venture a guess or two: it began when the Girls Club became an Inc, as in no longer a Club, a fun clubhouse for girls. It became a business for molding them into future scientists, engineers, doctors blah, blah, blah. STEM. STEAM. Pick your trendy title – as if smart girls weren’t applying to pre-med colleges or engineering schools until Girls Inc showed up. (The majority of medical students in America are female.) The Boys Club of America begins to take in girls as members in the 1990s and, nationally, rebrand the organization as the Boys and Girls Club of America. The Girls Club, nationally, sues over the name change – it sounded like the Girls Club of America had merged with the Boys Club of America. But the girls lost. So they rebranded, too. The name was changed from Girls Club to boring Girls Inc.

Like developing girls minds and bodies was a hum drum business! Like girls were plastic chips in some grey desktop computer. No wonder membership declined in Worcester! No wonder the Winthrop House became uninspiring!

When Mrs. Miller ran the Girls Club Winthrop House years ago, during my girlhood, she achieved excellent results through COMMON SENSE AND FUN ACTIVITIES. We had home economics, athletics, music, games, cookouts, fashion shows, relay races and a ton of other activities. ALL FOR GIRLS. No boys allowed. A CLUBHOUSE RUN BY AND FOR FEMALES, ages 18 to 50-something. WE MEMBERS WERE EXPECTED TO LEARN, ACHIEVE AND BE STRONG – while having fun, using our imaginations. We were unencumbered by today’s trendy educational jargon that is now such a big part Girls Inc. Our executive director never ran a boring clubhouse! For only about 30 kids in the afternoons!

I was a Girls Club member – at the same Winthrop House building – during the 196Os and 1970s. (There was another Girls Club clubhouse on Lincoln Street, now the Nativity School for boys.) Being a member of the Girls Club was a high point in my Green Island girlhood. Especially the summers, Monday thru Friday, 9 a to 3 p, during school vacation. For two whole months. Before she walked to work at the dry cleaners, our mother walked us kids up steep Vernon Street to the Girls Club every morning and at 3 p came down in a taxi cab to pick us up and take us home. I don’t know how she did it, what with 60 hours a week at the dry cleaners, caring for her elderly mother, raising us three girls alone, a working-poor single mom exhausted at the end of her day … but she did. We kids never missed a day at the clubhouse. We were always ready to have a good time there, couldn’t wait for our day to start. Looking back, I think executive director Mrs. Miller liked and respected my mother – knew what “Ma” was up against and tried to help us. She was always so nice to Ma; our mother paid next to nothing for our club membership and summer dues. Mrs. Miller was silently cheering on CECELIA Tirella. And on days when my girl cousin went to the girls club – often for sewing and knitting class – our Uncle Mark drove us home to Lafayette Street before he and my cousin drove back to my Aunt Mary and their family’s cute Burncoat cottage. Uncle Mark was a school principal and a bit snobbish and very protective of his only daughter – his “Polish Princess.” He didn’t want his beautiful girl running around with a bunch of Vernon Hill girls whose parents worked in factories or whose dads were security guards. Girls with moms who may have been “on welfare.” His daughter “Louise” took her special home economics classes on certain days and was whisked home by Daddy at the end of the day.

Back then the Girls Club, nationally and locally, was just for girls. No boys allowed. Empowering!! And there was No STEM stuff, even though a lot of my clubhouse friends, including my cousin, were all A’s in math and science. Many of the girls at the Girls Club went on to become nurses, one a nurse at Mass General – in ER – the highest paid nursing position for the best and brightest nurses. Our Girls Club was not grammar school or junior high, part 2. It was meant to be a totally different experience from school – freeing, musical, aquatic, entertaining, physical, even girly.
Not school – a place where we kids all worked hard and our teachers were serious – but a CLUBHOUSE.

Our Mrs. Miller was the opposite of what they’ve got in there now. She was publicity averse and not great looking. She was tall and wore black-rimmed eye glasses. Her work attire? Simple cotton dresses past her knees and Keds sneakers. She dedicated her life to the clubhouse and girls. She was in the middle of it all – all the time – walking the clubhouse hallways, smiling, watching, making sure none of us girls were “lolligagging”! We girls were not supposed to be dawdling one bit – hanging around in the hallways or stairwells doing nothing. Mrs. Miller always brought us to the big bulletin board downstairs where construction paper balloons in all colors were pinned to the days of the week. In the balloons, printed in black magic marker: a fun activity and the time it took place and its room #. Like making a change purse out of vinyl, sewing it by hand all by yourself – one of the many activities that the clubhouse offered in arts and crafts class. We had a major swimming pool with diving board and lifeguards, a game room, kitchen for cooking classes, knitting classes, crocheting classes, sewing classes – beginning and advanced. We had drama class, gym time, beauty parlor, even a terrific library! What A BEAUTIFUL GIRLS CLUBHOUSE! JUST FOR US GIRLS!

We had fun baking peanut butter cookies with a young staffer in our club kitchen…a few cookies for us kids and a few to take home to our parents. I was sewing skirts and floppy beach hats in my beginners sewing class run by an amazing teacher who knew everything about rayon linings, working with silk, cutting patterns, matching seams…a sweet old lady who ran the most impressive sewing room. The sewing machines always clean and beautiful and modern….all lined up in a row. The teacher always dressed so adorably. Supplies neatly arranged in big closets. You could eat off that sewing room floor – that’s how immaculate our teacher kept her sewing room. My cousin was a talented seamstress. I sucked at sewing. But our teacher never got mad at me for my zig-zaggy seams or my loose bobbins – for me not being my talented and beautiful older cousin. She’d say to all her less than stellar students when we messed up: “Oh, you bad cookie!” and give us her beautiful smile and a hug. She had white hair that fell in soft curls around her neck.

We had a music room with three or four upright pianos, each in its own practice room. My cousin played the piano, and together we’d go into a practice room, sit on the long piano bench and Louise would play a ’70s radio hit like RAIN DROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD. Together we’d sing – high and dramatically – and think we were Judy Collins. There was a beauty parlor room down the long hallway where you could paint your nails and a friend could roll your hair in plastic curlers. Then you could sit under the big hair dryers that weren’t plugged in/didn’t work but were the real thing – just like at the beauty parlor your mom went to. Our library was staffed by a retired librarian, an older lady who reminded me of my Bapy. It was a hushed place where you could read one of the many books or color pictures that the librarian gave you, along with a box of colored pencils. So relaxing! Or you could ask the librarian, grey haired and buxom, for a Kodak View Master and a round disk with pictures in it. Click, click, click …you sat by the big picture window in the library, looking into the sky, looking thru your View Master as if it were a small pair of binoculars – to see real color photographs of animals or cities or the Milky Way galaxy. You pulled the little tab down at the right and Click! you saw another slide, another photograph of a lion or tiger or a planet or the Lincoln Memorial or the colosseum in Rome. Educational but in a very quiet way.

We had a gym on the first floor, adjacent to the pool, where girls could play basketball, dodge ball, even a game of jacks – and roller skate to music because we had a kick-ass p.a. system. Ahh, the Rolling Stones. My kid sister loved to roller skate in the gym, on its periphery, with the other girls, to I CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION! blaring thru the speakers.

Arts and Crafts in the game room led by the diminutive and fun Mrs. Bousquet if you were searching for something to do. She was always sweet and fun and loved making things out of toilet paper rolls. Once a week you brought in a raw hamburger patty to Mrs. B and she’d refrigerate it along with the others, and then come lunch time she’d put the hamburgers in a dome-shaped grill with those black briquettes doused with lighter fluid, and we girls would have a real cookout in the back of the Girls Club, in the parking lot. Haven’t seen a clubhouse cookout there in decades – now cars and vans are parked in that once magical space where a bunch of us girls sat on the hard cement eating our hamburgers and talking with Mrs. B. as she worked the grill, expertly flipping our hamburgers for us and cooking up a tasty burger for herself even, which she ate sitting along side us kids on the cement stair.

A Gingerbread House program in a big classroom was upstairs for girls 5 and 6, mostly kindergartners. My kid sisters and I started out at the clubhouse in the Gingerbread House – five days a week, all summer. It was warm in that room and you felt a little confined and you were so small! But you learned the club house rules and couldn’t wait to come back next summer when you could run around with the other girls and have the entire Girls Club to explore and call your own.

My kid sisters and I went to the Winthrop House Girls Club every day in the summer, during school vacation, sometimes Saturdays, from kindergarten to the 7th grade. A million activities. Every program and class staffed by wonderful women. The high point of our month? The show. On stage. In our clubhouse auditorium. A bunch of girls were practicing for days and would put on a musical in our auditorium, wearing costumes they made, dancing to songs we loved, the choreography all their own. High-spirited, pretty girls singing and dancing to a truncated SOUTH PACIFIC. “I’m gonna wash that man right outa my hair!” they’d sing, gyrating in their crepe-paper hula skirts, worn over their shorts or kulats. Sometimes there was a raffle at the end of the show, and one year my favorite teacher, a beautiful nursing student at St Vincent School of Nursing, right across the street on Providence Street, won a gorgeous pair of white bell bottom jeans with the red Coca-Cola logo printed all over them. She went nuts when her ticket number was called, and I can still see her running to the stage, her long chestnut hair shining so bright, screaming and being all girly dramatic. We other girls joined right in and clapped and got so emotional! To this day I still want to win, at some raffle, an identical cool pair of white bell bottom jeans with that terrific red Coca-Cola logo printed all over the legs, waist and bum. But first I need to lose about 35 lbs.

That’s what the Girls Club on Winthrop Street was like when I was kid – before it became Girls Inc. The same staff every year and the same girls. We were a family, growing up together.

All of that is gone. Today the fancy people with their fancy PhDs and lady power suits and their deep understanding of female psychology and love of female doctors and computer programmers run the Winthrop House Girls Inc. And they’ve turned it into a real dump.

Outsiders Now

By Rosalie Tirella

Everyone’s favorite Green Island deli. file photos: R.T.

Some file photos and old Green Island pics, including the Water Street of my childhood and youth. Back then you could be a kid and do all right at the eateries and shops of Water Street, Millbury Street and Green, walking alone or with your kid sister or brother, feeling like a queen or a king in the neighborhood you called home. You rode your bike down Millbury, you held your sister’s hand tightly as together you crossed Kelley Square. You waved to the lady who owned the bakery. You chased stray puppies up alleys to take home and call your own. You were about 10, flying solo without your mother or another grownup, yet you felt safe and confident and were up for an adventure! There was stuff to see, stuff to eat, stuff to buy – plenty of 50¢- and $1-treasures. You never felt deprived even though most of us were poor.

We had murals on Water Street decades before they became de rigueur for up and coming Woo places!

We didn’t feel poor because our neighborhood was geared to us, as well as adults. You could feel terrific as a tween walking home from Water Street with your kid sister, a few bulkies bouncing around in a big brown paper bag, baked fresh in the morning at Widoffs or Ledermans. The counter girls at Widoffs and Ledermans were always nice to you – didn’t dismiss you because you were a poor kid from the neighborhood. You, too, were a customer. So you bought your two bulkies. They cost you pennies and dimes, and you and your kid sister ate them both, pillowy and fragrant, before you got to your three decker.

Rose’s Bapy and Jaju got it all started in Green Island when they came to America in the early part of the 20th century. The American Dream worked back then for lots of poor immigrants who had no opportunity in “the old country” and took a big chance on their new country, America. Here, Rose’s Polish grandparents sit in their Green Island tenement in “The Block,” on Bigelow Street, circa 1940.

Or, as a kid out for a Saturday morning stroll, you could walk to White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street from Lafayette and be wowed by the tall, elegantly dressed Mrs. White, always made a foot taller by her hair style – a bouffant, dyed a jet black and as big as a wedding cake. Mrs. White, wearing her pencil navy blue or periwinkle skirt, white blouse and matching jacket, and smart navy blue or black pumps, sashaying over to you in her bouffant and her cherry red lipstick … mesmerized you. She was out of the old technicolor movies you watched with your Bapy on your TV at Lafayette Street. You were in Oz and Mrs. White was the talking tree – but beautiful. She towered over you and your little sister, and she had to bend at the waist to talk to you both, the munchkins. You loved Mrs White, but your little sister “Sue,” when she was six, was actually afraid of her. Years later, when Sue was in high school and worked at Commercial Fruit, a few stores down from White’s, she’d visit Mrs. White after work and they’d chat – for like a half hour or more! That’s the way it was back then: adults talking with kids, teaching them, joking around with them – enjoying their company. Today Mrs. White would probably be arrested for being close to my kid sister. Nowadays adults can’t really talk with and be friends with kids unless they’re family. I suppose you weed out the pedophiles when you’re overly cautious, but you also cut off great fun, learning … meeting and experiencing new people and their world views. Learning their stories.

Anyways, you stared at Mrs. White whenever you visited her store, and you took your quarter out of your pants pocket and paid for your coloring book – White’s had quite the selection – and ran home with it, eager to get out those Crayola Crayons – the big box with hundreds of shades of colors – and start your masterpiece. If I was with my mother, I pleaded for a sticker game – they were called Colorforms – my favorite “toy.” The longish, almost flat, box came with a colored, shiny scene from your favorite comic book or Saturday morning cartoon – Popeye’s ship or Mickey Mouse’s jalopy on the road or Bugs Bunny’s rabbit hole. You’d pull apart the vinyl stickers on top of the scene. Cartoon characters along with “props” like chairs and lamps and flowers in flower pots, and you’d “stick” them onto the scenery board to create your own story. I had about 15 of these Colorforms sticker boxes. I used to set them all out in a big circle around me on our big kitchen floor on Lafayette Street, and I’d lie in the middle of my circle and carefully choose a box and begin my story. Yogi Bear and Boo Boo were having a picnic at the picnic table in the woods …or, opening another Colorforms box, Fred and Wilma Flintstone were leaving Betty and Barney Rubble behind as they set off for vacation in their stone car … Where was Dino? Everything was slower, hands-on and person-to-person when I was a kid.

Rose’s kid sister on their Lafayette Street back porch.

And you always saw kids walking down Millbury Street or Green Street or Water Street, at the stores where our parents shopped or worked. Many of my classmates at Lamartine Street School lived above the mom and pop stores in Millbury Street – I remember three or four friends whose families lived above a bakery or a bar. It made me grateful for our ugly but big and airy Lafayette Street apartment with all its windows and front and back porches.

My kid sister, the jock, loved walking from our Lafayette Street tenement to Charlie’s Surplus for basketball socks when she was in high school (she played girls basketball, varsity, at St. Mary’s). “Mary” bought all her sports clothing there – sweatshirts, running shorts, gym socks. The store sold slight irregulars for cheap. It was dingy and disorganized inside. Charlie sat in a corner and chatted with his customers, old and young jocks eager to talk sports.

My cousin, the super-sewer, bought all her fabric at the Atlas Fabric store on Green Street. Thousands of big bolts of amazing fabric stacked one on top of the other to the ceiling. Some called the store a firetrap; my cousin called it heaven. Lots of the material was inexpensive, too – perfect for girls just starting to take sewing lessons at the Girls Club on Winthrop Street, girls like me.

I especially loved walking to The Broadway restaurant for a hamburger, French fries and a Coke with the same sister who loved Charlie’s. Sam owned the Broadway back then and he was there every day to keep an eye on everything. Sundays, after Mass, half of Worcester was lined outside the Broadway waiting for a booth or to sit at the counter. Sam, always wearing a dapper sports coat, stood at the front door of his establishment politely greeting all his customers as they came in one by one. He’d shake hands with the men and give a little nod to the ladies…always a smile to our mom and “Hello, girls!” to me and my two sisters as our mother let the waitress lead us to our booth – we always waited for a booth because we loved those big pink cozy clouds you could sink into and relax in. Half the menu was on the walls, handwritten in black magic marker, a thick cursive, onto white poster board: Home-made hot fudge sundae, Cheeseburger with onion rings and a Coke, Fish and Chips, Roast beef sandwich, Hot turkey sandwich… You really didn’t need a menu, all you needed to do was turn your head right to left. That was the way it was at Woolworths and the Mart – white poster board and black magic marker …the homemade signs hanging all over the store, telling you everything you needed to know. In English. If you were with your Nona from Italy or your Jaju from Poland you translated for your relative who, until their dying day, was still trying to learn English, still trying to be an American.

Fast forward to 2023 when everyone is in their silo and we can’t agree on the idea of America. These days do you see gaggles of kids walking around in the old neighborhood, now the new Canal District, feeling like the neighborhood is theirs? Do you see their smiles, their clunky bikes, their hard working parents? Of course not. Gentrification is all about wiping out snotty-nosed street kids and their families from the scenery. It is all about disinfecting an urban environment, homogenizing it, safeguarding the new, rich denizens – and marginalizing the poor.

The old White’s Five and Ten store on Millbury Street is a club these days. The beige building across the street used to be home to Maurice The Pants Man!

💈💈Piedmont Barber💈💈

By Rosalie Tirella

A gentle soul. file photos by Rose T.

Found these old InCity Times file photos. I took these pictures of my favorite barber, the manager at G’s Cuttin’ Up, in Piedmont, years ago. I wrote a story about the barber, older, soft-spoken, thoughtful, gentle with the boys who came off some of the meanest streets in Worcester. The boys came in for a haircut, the newest being called the “fade,” but they left G’s feeling respected, listened to, nurtured.

Where can Black boys feel this way in America today besides church and home? And sometimes not even at home. Look how quickly the 16-year-old honor student in Kansas City was shot – in the head – for just knocking on the wrong door, hoping to pick up his sister. He was deemed “criminal” because he was Black.

Black boys respected, even nurtured, at G’s.

And now the tears roll down the boy’s cheeks because he is in such pain, physical and emotional. His head throbs with the terrifying question: Why would anyone want to kill me?

Braggadocio was left at G’s Cuttin’ Up’s front door, and an almost religious experience followed in this funky barbershop designed to look like the inside of a space ship with its silver walls and metallic arches. Quiet, meditative, the boys relaxed and listened as the old barber asked them about school or family. They responded in hushed tones and smiled a lot. The old barber was never rough or fast; he asked them what they wanted and his electric razor smoothly trimmed away…the zzzzzzzzz sound soothing, the cute, always clean, barber’s cape catching the soft fuzz.

The master barber at work!

Boys left G’s Cuttin’ Up with a terrific fade, but they walked back into Piedmont with much more than that: they re-entered a tough, unloving America with a sense of self. I used to think – because I visited G’s pretty often to deliver InCity Times – a boy could come in to that spaceship barbershop on Pleasant Street month after month for his trims and learn to be a real man just by talking to and watching this barber. He was one of the best in Worcester, drawing customers from all over the city. More important, he was a wonderful person. I forgot his name, it was so long ago. But I’ll never forget him, my Piedmont barber.


Spencer’s David Prouty High School Art Show at the town library🎨💕. Meet the artists!

The David Prouty students and their sweet, young art teacher, Anna Lisa, were at the Richard Sugden Library this eve to show off students’ art and chat with proud parents and friends. The artist meet-and-greet showcased so many terrific works created by Spencer and East Brookfield young people. Nibbles and refreshments provided🍾🍪!
– pics+text: Rosalie T.

Junior Eva LaPorte with her gorgeous fish light. She made it out of popsicle sticks, crepe paper and painted it over with Modge Podge.

Jordan Lyon, a junior at David Prouty High School, shows off her pottery. She’d like to minor in art in college.

For all you cat lovers. By Isabella DeMarco!

The students’ art teacher: Anna Lisa Battles. So young and so enthusiastic! Only her third year at David Prouty. She says she loves her students’ creativity.

An appreciative crowd.

Senior Keira Laverty and her baby, Luna, next to Keira’s painting. Keira wants to be an English teacher.

By Grace Haftarczuk

Looking at all the self-expression!

By Heather Bartolomei

Check out all the David Prouty High School art at the library, on Pleasant Street in Spencer.

Fish! By David Prouty student Jack Lampron

Go, David Prouty High students, go!!

What a drag, North Brookfield!

By Rosalie Tirella

Former Worcester School Committee member John Monfredo, his wife Annemarie, educator and professor Dottie Hargrove, former Worcester City Councilor Gary Rosen … in costume, ready to perform, to read their favorite stories to WPS students at the ol’ Webster House restaurant! Photo submitted

This being Spencer, we’d have thrown a parade, bookended by East Brookfield and Spencer firetrucks, their lights flashing, horns honking. That being North Brookfield, they (the Town Selectmen) have thrown a wet blanket. Over the DISNEY CHARACTER Drag Show slated to be part of the Rural Gay Pride event scheduled for North Brookfield in June. North Brookfield, the town down the road from us here in Spencer. Smaller … and even more rural than Spencer, if that’s possible. So after voting YES, the NB selectman rescinded their vote – and revoted: Yes, to the gay pride event, NO to the Disney drag show which some townsfolk believe will corrupt the little kids of North Brookfield. You can never tell what will happen if a group of children get a story read to them by a man in a Cinderella costume!! Some townsfolk call it “vulgar” … and What would Florida Governor Ron DeSantis do? (Why not ask: What would Jesus do??) They (stupidly) fear that gayness or drag queen-ness is contagious, like catching COVID. They think if you’re exposed to this “virus” you’ll become a drag queen, too! Worse yet, you may turn gay all of a sudden! Want to have sex with a person of your sex!!!

How ridiculous! You watch an ice skater perform at the DCU Center (many of the male performers are gay): does that make you want to don a pair of sparkly leotards and start figure skating at your local pond? You watch MAD MEN on TV: does that make every husband want to go out and cheat on his wife, deceive his Betty?

What North Brookfield is doing is blatantly anti-gay, pro-discrimination. Un-American. Pro-hatred. Anti-God. Anti-love. So, rightly, the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU has jumped into the fray. If no one is hurting anyone then anyone has his or her First Amendment right to express their views on the public square. Look at all the KKK marches in America thru the years. Look at Charlottesville just several years ago, with Donald Trump calling the “Jews will not replace us” chanters “fine people”! Look at the Trump/MAGA rallies! The putridness is outrageous! More offensive than any rhinestone tiara some guy may be sparkling in at the North Brookfield drag queen Disney show!

The people spewing hatred can’t be arrested unless they’re destroying property or clobbering someone or killing someone – like what happened at our Capitol in D.C. when Trump lost the election. Just marching and yelling gross, racist, antisemitic shit is protected free speech in America. This is why we’re not China or Russia or any other country on earth whose people aren’t FREE.

The North Brookfield drag queen show stars are Americans. They will be singing All-American Disney classics like “When You Wish Upon A Star … your dreams come true!” – not “Jews will not replace us!” The North Brookfield gay pride event organizers say, rightly, they’ll cancel the celebration before dumping their brothers and sisters in their fabulous Snow White and Cinderella gowns. Drag shows have always been a part of gay culture, they point out…gay men having fun getting all glammed up and singing and dancing. As in Liza Minnelli. Or Judy Garland. Another side to themselves. Really fun and kinda cool, if you’ve seen a drag queen show. Why would North Brookfield be afraid of some guy in a pretty dress hitting the high notes of “New York, New York”? Why not just grab a lawn chair, plant it on the town common and enjoy the show? It’s FREE!

The more serious, flip side to the town’s NO is that every closeted or just-coming-out gay/bi/trans/nonbinary adult or kid in North Brookfield gets to feel a bit more … alone … afraid … ashamed … confused… shunned … rejected … despairing. It’s tough to be different, to be gay, in rural America where viewpoints can be a bit narrower…where there’s less diversity so anything different can feel threatening.

When I was a little girl growing up in Green Island we had a young woman who looked and dressed like a young man. I often wondered WHO was “Ann,” but my mother treated her no differently from anyone else in the neighborhood. Ma was always polite to Ann when we were walking down Bigelow or Sigel and saw Ann walking home or to Crompton Park. “Hi, Ann!!” my kid sisters and I would chirp to her as Ma smiled. Ann gave us a polite little nod, never a smile, and went her way, blue jeans, black belt, men’s type oxford shirt tucked into her jeans. She always wore this kind of outfit, always said hello in this serious way. Yet she was a part of our neighborhood, like Ma working at the dry cleaners or the old Russian lady who owned the three decker next door and kept our kick balls if we accidentally kicked them over the fence into her garden. Or there was the family who owned Ringo, the neighborhood dog I loved best. Or the girl with the long fine yellow hair who lived on Grosvenor Street and played the flute. Ann was a part of our neighborhood. Or so I thought. One day Ma told me Ann had killed herself. Hanged herself. I was shocked. Ann seemed so quiet and unobtrusive. I had never seen Ann happy or joking, but I had never seen her angry or fighting or heard her swearing a la some of our neighborhood toughs.

That was 1968/69 in ol’ Green Island, where to be gay was to be … alone, unsupported – a freak. Back then in America being gay meant being a “fag.” Breaking the law in some states, being denied equal rights in marriage, jobs, parenthood … everything. Ann was all alone in our neighborhood, in our country. Our home wasn’t her home.

Fast forward to 1990s Green Island where the sweetest, cutest little boy is growing up. My mother thinks he – a neighbor – is the best little boy. So sensitive! He adores his mother, too – cries for her when she’s late coming home, makes her little art projects at school. He’s called “clingy” by some adults who observe him. Still, he is a great kid – not a thug like some of the boys in Green Island. He goes to school every day, does his homework, respects his teachers, has career goals…is very artistic. At 15 he “comes out” to his mother and step dad. His mother throws out her perfect son … out of the family home! The boy moves in with his grandmother who loves him dearly and gives him his own bedroom and buys him his first car. The mother never visits her son or gets him birthday presents or celebrates Christmas or Easter with him. The relationship is dead. He is no longer in her family.

A few years ago, my friend’s mom was telling me her son – gay – was not gay. “He’s half Greek!” she screamed at me. “He’s AC-DC!!” This from an 80-year-old woman who was intelligent, well read, wealthy, self-made, traveled the world … one of Worcester’s first female building contractors. But “Lois” hated her son’s gayness. She hated her son’s long-time, live-in boyfriend. She rued the day when her son divorced his wife, a beautiful woman with a great professional job. She saw his life unraveling after his divorce. He saw his life as just beginning. Personal happiness was now a distinct possibility.

Because, in the end, that’s what it all comes down to: Happiness. And in America, in North Brookfield, in 2023, don’t we ALL deserve to be accepted for who we are, especially in our hometowns – the places where we long most to be happy?