SPENCER during this Election Season: I’m thinking of the sweet people I used to live next to in the poor part of this town: Elm, Mechanic, Main streets. Old row houses built for the factory workers – Spencer was once a French town known for its sheet metal workers, blue collar thru and thru. Then the SAAD factories, the mills down the road in Dudley and Douglas closed, like all our factories and mills here in Worcester, then 1, 2, 3! Spencer became poor. Spencer in many places looks like my part of Blackstone River Road …
But except for one creepy neighbor – like the creeps here who CREEP me out! – I liked the people of Spencer. The poorer folks in this big, sprawling Central Massachusetts town – my Elm and Maple street neighbors, tenants living in the long row houses, were unfailingly polite, modest … a quiet friendliness suffused their “hello”‘s, “have a nice day”‘s. And everyone was a builder/crafter: they fixed their porches, weaved beautiful fake flower wreaths for their front doors, added bits and pieces of wood to their little garden fences …
I saw their poverty and, unlike the hustlers here in my buildings, they did lots of improvisation when it came to surviving poverty: the old guys carved their own crooked walking canes, the ladies had shopping carts just like my late Mom did when we lived in Green Island, and they pulled their shopping wagons up the hill to the supermarket to grocery shop – and pulled it home. In all kinds of weather. Sometimes I’d offer an old woman a ride – proud and quietly determined, she always declined. I was nice but I wasn’t a Spencer girl. New in town.
Often I’d go to Spencer Town Hall, pictured here, to talk with Laura the Town Clerk and try to make an appointment with the Town Manager (ha!). Laura was polite but, my advocacy for the poor people fell on deaf ears. Laura, I’d say, WHY NOT HAVE A TOWN COMMUNITY GARDEN IN THAT BIG TOWN LOT NEAR MY HOUSE? The people need free fresh veggies and … What about a FOOD HUB like they have in Northern Worcester County?
My suggestions were met with a Laura smile, condescending, stubborn as a mule …
So WHEN I SAW ALL THESE POOR SPENCER FOLKS WALKING IN THE SLUSH, A WET SNOW FALLING ON A DARK NOVEMBER NIGHT TO TOWN HALL – ELECTION NIGHT IN SPENCER – I WAS APPALLED. Some folks were in their motorized wheelchairs driving along with traffic! Most were drenched, a few weren’t wearing boots …
The old Republican middle classers of Spencer had their big old Caddies and Buicks parked in the town hall parking lot and voted with ease. They came out in droves to re-validate old ways, the same old same old pols …
I voted – and asked a poll worker: IS THIS THE ONLY PLACE TO VOTE? TOWN HALL? WHY NOT A POLLING SITE AT THE PUBLIC HOUSING, IN THE COMMUNITY ROOM, OVER WHERE I LIVE? Why have the poor from my area walk in snowstorms and the cold?
The old woman poll worker replied: WE DON’T EVEN HAVE ONE IN OUR SENIOR HOUSING! WE NEED ONE THERE!
Laura and all the Spencer movers and shakers were practicing their own version of voter suppression. With their small town smiles… So many people/voters living on Elm, Mechanic, Maple, Main streets and more probably looked out their windows on that election night and …left their canes by their doors…and stayed home that Election Night.
Next day I drove down to Congressman McGovern’s office off of Shrewsbury Street – Spencer is part of his Congressional District. He is supposed to represent the people of Spencer. Upset I told Chief of Staff Gladys Rodriguez Parker and other McGovern staffers what I witnessed the night before. WE NEED MORE POLLING SITES! IT’S NOT FAIR!!!
Comfy cats. Entitled cats. They gave me the same look that the Spencer movers and shakers had given me!! …and did nothing.
❤Love to all my Spencer neighbors who vote despite the voter disenfranchisement in Spencer, courtesy of Congressman Jim McGovern, oblivious Town Clerk Laura, the Boneheaded Spencer selectmen and pointless Spencer town administrator.
Yesterday I saw our WPD – our day to day beat cops – at their BEST. Guns were fired on Hope Ave. and WHOOSH!!!! I was driving in South Worcster running my biz – but SoWoo quickly became A MOVIE! It was like the ENTIRE Worcester Police FORCE WAS RUSHING TO THE GUNFIRE. Scores of guys from all directions. To Save people. To get the bad guys! To put themselves in harm’s way for … the citizenry. In a matter of minutes!
On Cambridge Street I saw WPD police cruisers converged on a three decker.
Cambridge Street. pics: R.T.
Up a ways on Canterbury I saw one of their cool undercover vice squad guys zooming to the action. So young! So fearless. Now the lights were flashing and the the siren was on in his crumby hoodmobile. The cop looked just like a punk. I mean. WOW.
Then a ton more police cruisers on Webster Street where several kids were stopped, on the sidewalk, outside their vehicle looking … concerned. One cop was GINGERLY leading one of the kids into the paddy wagon. Handled with care. No police brutality to my eyes. And, of course, Hope Ave. was yellow taped and our boys and gals in blue were down there on top of things. Pics were taken of this long black box in the driveway of the Webster Sq Firehouse by a cool lady cop.
Webster Square Fire Station
Hard at work. Serious stuff.
Traffic was stopped and slowed down. All the cops were working together, no yelling, no strutting their stuff. … I couldn’t even hear them talk! And believe me, I was doing some serious rubber necking! Our police officers were total professionals. The WPD at its finest.
Now, a letter from one of our readers:
I am emailing you to let you know of the problem of fireworks going off and the WPD response to our complaints. I live at 44 Elm St. and a man comes to the parking lot of the Ghanaian Presbyterian Church almost every night (except when it rains) and shoots off fireworks. He has set a nearby bush on fire (photo attached) and terrified two Yemeni children rescued from the fighting living next door.
I am terrified he will set the trees under my unit on fire or disrupt the gas meters on the outside of the building. When I have called the WPD …there is no action taken when the fireworks are being shot off at that moment. Last night (7/8/2020) the police claimed they never heard of the Ghanaian Presbyterian Church (the former Chestnut Street Congregational Church)!!!
Today, myself and a friend went down,in person, to WPD headquarters to speak to an officer and were sent home with a promise of beat officers coming to speak with us. We came home and waited…no one called or came.
My friend called the WPD again…said no information or contact info was left…we left contact info. This is so frustrating.
Could you cover this problem? I am sure we aren’t the only people who have experienced this recently.
Editor’s response: Althea, we’ve been on this CITY-WIDE ISSUE since the end of June!! THESE NEW FIREWORKS ARE MAJOR. LIKE EAST PARK FIREWORKS. LOUD. PROPULSIVE. LIKE BEING IN A WAR ZONE. They can start fires in buildings, if fired too closely – which they usually are, right in the middle of our densely populated city neighborhoods. We call, too. And we stay on top of the guys that shoot the works! You have to! The cops are overwhelmed with major stuff(see my above post). … We called you – and left a voicemail. Call us!
– Rose T.
I am an American!! I can say that, not because I was born here (I was not), but because I have my citizenship papers to prove that I am legally an American citizen. For those who are born here and are granted that great privilege, this may not mean much; many take for granted what citizenship in America means. But for those few of us remaining who, like me, escaped Germany before World War II, having that recognition means a great deal!
One of the horrors visited upon those of us whose families fled Germany during or before Hitler took over was that he took away our citizenship, making us legally “non-persons” – unable to get visas and under the protection of no other government. We lived for decades in that state, and it was only by the greatest luck that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established a special immigration group (called “political refugees”) that we were able to get out of Europe and come to America. Many of us are eternally grateful not only for our lives here, but also for all the opportunities we have enjoyed in America. And we always remember the debt we owe!
I write this in a time of upheaval in our country, of change, and of uncertainly for many. But on this Fourth of July I am more mindful than ever for what we have here and ought to treasure as Americans. We have so many freedoms! We can move about freely, think and believe pretty much what we please, live in all sorts of places and ways and styles … and we worship our gods or nature in a thousand different ways. In America, there are few limits on how we dress, how we talk, what we do with the 24-hours a day we all have.
We take a lot of these “inalienable rights” for granted because we exercise them daily.
But for those of us who were not born with all this, there is always the constant awareness of how easily it can be lost.
So my own greatest duty as an American is to daily exercise all the responsibilities that go with being an American: I treasure and take care of my home, appreciate my neighbors, read my local newspaper, keep an eye on our elected officials, and vote in every election. I try to be a positive addition to America – this land that has sustained me for over 75 years!
We Americans have a lot of freedoms and rights, but there seems to be too little attention to our responsibilities. Many of us who came here brought our special knowledge and culture with us and shared what was worth saving and adopted new ways as we learned. Being an American means constantly improving, being open to new ideas, while also holding on to those concepts that work.
The majority of us, young and old, still hold to the values that characterize the best of America. But we are going through what I believe is a bad spell, a wrong turn of the ship of state, which seems to be showing signs of slowly righting itself. As a retired school teacher, I look to our young people, many of whom are seeking a better way to steer the ship of state, more in line with the values expressed in our “Declaration of Independence” – but which need to be redefined and revived.
In an imperfect world, full of imperfect humans, we still have all kinds of opportunities to turn from the crass materialism, egotism, abuse of our planet and unfairness of our economic and social systems! We can create “a more perfect union,” with liberty and equality for all!
To me, that is what it means to call myself an American.
OUR GREAT AMERICAN CHALLENGE
BY BILL COLEMAN
In his younger days, Bill painted American flags in public spaces all over Worcester! Here he is with a finished 🇺🇸
Our Declaration of Independence starts with a clear message to King George of Great Britain:
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds that separated them from another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of Nature’s God entitled them a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
When the framers of our Declaration of Independence wrote these words, they were sending a clear message that the people of the fledgling America were no longer going to take injustices any more, from King George on down, and that self-determination would be the law of our their new land.
Today the George Floyd-inspired protests and protest movements are saying the same thing, with new generations of Americans tired, exhausted and frustrated with the lack of progress to eliminate the injustices of systemic racism – in our communities, schools, work places and federal, state and local governments.
We have had it!
Racial injustice from Police Brutality will no longer be an acceptable norm.
Young people have no tolerance for it or the patience to sit back and wait for their turn.
In August of 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, in his “I have a Dream” speech called on the American government to make things right for a previously enslaved people who were being denied voting rights, as well as accommodations in stores, restaurants, public transportation … access to good jobs, housing and quality education.
These issues are still here with us!
King George and his unfair orders and laws for the new Americans may have been the focal point for our American Revolution. Today it is racist attitudes and laws and images that make you feel that no progress has been made.
Black Lives Matter now more than ever! We can no longer and will no more accept the suggestions that “Things will change.” CHANGE MUST HAPPEN NOW.
Our prison system and the pipeline that feeds young lives to its institutions are broken and must be fixed. The waste of human brain power must be promoted and encouraged. For God’s sake, stop killing Black people in their homes for no reason!!
Worcester has had its George Floyd problems. Long standing prominent Black Worcester families can tell you their stories. Our Constitution gives us the right to assemble, protest, petition government and demand that we as a people change for the better. I believe: “Our greatest challenge is to open our hearts and our minds and stop the ugly growth of bigotry and hypocricy that continues to stop any progressive enhancements of our society.”
People of all races and ages: Keep on protesting! Keep on petitioning government at all levels … change laws, add new ones! A new and greater America, with all of its diverse people showing the way, can and will lead the world!
Worcester’s Birthday Cake 168 Years as a City. A city booster, Bill has helped coordinate lots of Worcester celebrations!
On Trump’s July Fourth Mount Rushmore Speech😓😓
By Rosalie Tirella
The real Trump
I just watched President Donald Trump bloviating at the iconic Mount Rushmore. Gave his Big Fourth of July speech that was totally removed from the America we are living in NOW: the global COVID 19 epicenter where nurses go into the emergency room wearing garbage bags and there is no testing or contact tracing or science; the George Floyd “lynching,” Americans of all colors demanding the restructuring of our militaristic police departments. … WE ARE IN PAIN. TRUMP IS OBLIVIOUS TO OUR PAIN. A chimp out of time. … And where does such a small man get such an inflated ego?! To put himself on the same stage as TR, Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson. No! Make that: to make them his backdrop!! … Teddy Roosevelt was a voracious reader and wrote book after book. Lincoln is one of our greatest writers and visionaries. He’d be the first to admit: Trump is a moron. A dangerous demagogue.
It was a kooky, hateful speech. The usual Trump verbal sh*t show. Trump crowed: per his new executive order, anyone who throws a can of paint at a Confederate general statue (built not to honor the generals but to shore up the KKK, Jim Crow segregation …) gets 10 years in prison! And the Trumpster added: NO ONE WILL EVER TEAR DOWN MOUNT RUSHMORE!!! Thanks for reassuring us, Donald! …To which one of the hundreds of non-mask-wearing audience members replied: BUILD THE WALL! BUILD THE WALL!! And the one voice ballooned into a racist threat chanted by all. Scary.
Our moron in chief struggled to spit out “totalitarian,” “Ulysses” and pronounced mayhem “may-HAM.” Well, the ham in the White House ended his twisted American hoohah history lesson with Neil Young’s ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD. Not knowing that Young stands against everything Trump and his base are for. After all, Young wrote “Southern Man,” and the song Trump blared was meant to be a kick in the teeth to President Bush 1 with his “thousand points of light” platitudes in an America of homeless guys near garbage cans, unwed, drug-addicted mothers with babies in their arms who will never get to go to school, grow up cool: Trump’s dystopian America of carnage and wasted human potential.
Ever since my father died (about two months ago), I’ve been seeing him every where. When he was alive, he made about 1,000 entrances in my family’s life. Married with kids but not wanting to be married with kids, my father lived with my mother, two sisters and me some months and was Missing in Action (MIA) during others. He was as tentative as the junk yard dogs he loved so much (and owned).
Pieces of my father, photos of him all over the house
Some of his entrances were comical – like the time he waltzed into our Lafayette Street apartment with some Frank Sinatra LPs and sang “I Did it My Way” to me. My mother had sent him out for a loaf of bread!
But most of his entrances were cruel, small, mean. He made my sisters, my mother and me cry and succeeded at that so well that we eventually learned to … simply dismiss him — cut him out of our world the way you cut the bruise out of an apple. We went on with our lives, worked around our peripatetic “Daddy.” My mother held down a 60-hr-week job to pay the bills, we kids went to school, held after-school jobs, applied to colleges. My father popped in – for weeks or months.
Then, after all these years, my father died in the nursing home two months ago. And Bingo! He’s now larger than life for me – omnipresent, so to speak.
As I drive around Worcester selling ads for my newspaper, InCity Times, with the radio blaring and paperwork to the side of me, I see him. I’m eight years old; my sisters are six. It’s Easter afternoon and my father strides into our Green Island flat, chomping on a big cigar. My mom has my two sisters and me sitting in our three little kiddie rocking chairs waiting for her to get dressed. We’re going to Easter Mass! We wear new pastel dresses with butterflies embroidered on them. My mother “set” our hair the night before, and now our straight brown hair bounces happily around our faces in “baloney curls.” In my father strides, enraged. We had not seen him for almost … forever. We did not know from which land he strode – not the sweet and holy world that my mother and grandmother had created in our apartment, a world filled with prayers to the saints, rosary beads, homework papers, rules and pet hamsters! Was my father going to hurt anybody this time, I asked myself?
No! He was going to have his picture taken with the Easter Bunny! God love my wonderful, hopeful, dreamy mother, she had my father sit in the grownup rocking chair in the kitchen. She would put the big, vinyl Easter Bunny she had bought at the five and ten and blown up (to our merriment) near the rocking chair where he sat. Then she told us little kids to “sit on Daddy’s lap.” We would all say “cheese” on the count of three! It would be a great Easter picture!
Daddy and my two kid sisters, years ago.
I was only eight but thought my mother mad. No, I would not get on Daddy’s lap! No, I would not be in the Easter Bunny picture. My sisters – twins and safe in their look-a-likeness – happily clambered atop my father. Then my mother lifted her little Brownie camera, peered through the little viewer and said, “One two! Say Cheese!” and snapped the picture.
Today I look at the square little photo from the ’60s and see two little gangly girls in pretty dresses in baloney curls looking exactly alike and smiling widely. Each one straddles one of my father’s legs. The bottoms of their dresses fan out over my father’s lap. And there’s my 30-something father; he’s wearing a striped muscle shirt. His hands are on my sisters’ knobby knees and he stares into the camera, looking … trapped. His rugged handsomeness blows me away! When I was a little girl he seemed the ugliest person in the world!
When I’m on the road, I look out of my car window and think I catch my father’s eyes. But it’s just some old man.
“He’s dead!” I tell myself angrily and shake my head as if to shake out the images of him. Then four or so hours later I see my father walking down Shrewsbury Street (his favorite street) and I have to remind myself all over again.
When my father was diagnosed with cancer, he was not living with my mother and us. Mom had stopped giving him second and third chances a decade ago. My sisters and I had moved out of the apartment in pursuit of higher education/careers. So it was a shock to see him walking past the fish and chips joint on Grafton Street, red-faced, his nylon jacket unzipped, billowing out behind him. He wore no shirt that raw, autumn day and he looked dazed. Then there was his neck: as big as a basketball. The lymphoma had set in.
And yet my father went walking around Worcester – his hometown that he seldom traveled outside of –as if nothing unusual had happened. It was one of my aunt’s – his sister – who had found him in his mother’s old house, lying in the darkness, and said: “Bill, you’ve got to go the hospital.” And then he did – quietly and with some grace – because he knew he was dying.
Sometimes I look out my car window and see my father after the cancer ravaged him. I see a helpless old man – my father after the chemo-therapy, the radiation, the blood transfusions. The chemo treatment took all his curly thick hair away and left him with silver, wispy locks my aunt would cut in a bowl shape. Gone was all his wild, curly red hair that rode high above his already high forehead in some grand pompadour, the wild “do” that lead my feisty old Grandma (she was my mother’s mom and lived with us and loathed my father) to nickname him: “The Red Devil.”
Run, devil, run! There you are standing outside the Commerce Building on Main Street, waiting for the bus. There you are walking out of the Millbury Street fruit store, eating a juicy plum and throwing the pit into the gutter. There you are eating the same juicy plum over our Lafayette Street kitchen sink, my sweet mother looking absolutely smitten by you. You have no time for dishes, meals served on plates. Family sit-down meals are not part of your universe. “Gotta get outta here!” you used to say. “Here” being: our Green Island flat, poverty, a wife, three kids, responsibility.
You want to leave – I can tell. But I just can’t let you go, Daddy.
… to plan the community meeting (read: meet with old Green Island squeaky wheel Lorraine Laurie and what’s left of her nursing home brigade on Endicott Street) before the kids can put their skateboards to concrete … and sail! Create a new dream, a new Worcide … for the Woo kids of TODAY.
Lorraine is gonna dig in. She’s told me as much. But this time, the self-appointed Mayor of Green Island (who’s done a ton of good for the ‘hood over the decades!) needs to back off! Accept a new, changed Green Island neighborhood, with a new population – dads and mom’s with kids who wanna have fun. Get exercise, be outdoors…
This will not happen, re: Lorraine. Old habits die hard. Lorraine (who lives a mile away in her late dad’s three decker at the corner of Providence and Dorchester steeets, for Christ’s sake!) and pal Maureen (who last we heard moved to Chicago!!) STILL WANT TO PUT THE KIBOSH ON THIS MOST EXCELLENT PROJECT FOR OUR GREEN ISLAND YOUTH! A few years back, when Crompton Park had a master plan drawn up by city planners, a skateboard park was part of the blueprint. Lorraine made a lot of noise and, I assume, phone calls – and scuttled the plan. It was brushed under the rug.
Now, with the dismantling of the iconic Worcide skatepark on Washington Street by the City, Lorraine and her 3 old lady gal pals will make a ton of noise. They shall protest too much! They will spout the usual NIMBY bull, EVEN THOUGH THIS PROJECT IS NOT IN THEIR BACK YARDS!! Far from it!
The noise, the noise, they will say to City Manager Ed Augustus and Woo Parks guy Rob Antonelli.
“It’s in a flood plain!” Lorraine yelled at me a month ago.
She had just learned of the resuscitated plan to relocate Worcide to Crompton Park – and was upset.
For her, it spelled:
Today’s Worcester – different from Lorraine Laurie’s vision. pics: R.T.
Brown kids! Brown teens!
A changing neighborhood!
Lorraine needs to join the Woo of 2019 and leave the Crompton Park of 1975. This skateboard park MUST BE BUILT, if anything to show Lorraine and her ancient chorus that they must step aside and accommodate a new city, a new Endicott Street, a new Green Island.
The city of Worcester destroyed the kid-built skateboard nook under a Washington Street bridge. It was special, hand-built, concrete slab
by concrete slab by the state punks themselves and had a national reputation for coolness.
But city officials claimed folks there were shooting heroin, camping out, sleeping in the space, living there – and shitting all over Worcide. Used syringes and shit. Not a good image for the gentrifying Canal District. The homeless kids under the Green Street bridge, nodding out from junk, and the Worcide skate punk kids had somehow become one – and a menace to the chi chi Canal District. Unfortunately, we sorta agree with this assessment. You can’t have skateboard bohemian rhapsody, if you’ve got a shooting gallery, shit-filled skate park. You can’t be free if you’re nodding out on junk.
So onto Crompton Park!
The new Worcide is supposed to run along Quinsigamond Ave and Endicott streets – on the corner, I guess. Out in the open. Accessible. Under the watchful eyes of the neighborhood – and the WPD who patrol the area. The new park may not attract the old skateboarders – many now middle-aged adults who should get jobs, but I bet it will attract a new crowd: young, cool Worcester and Green Island kids – kids of color – who don’t want to shoot up, are not homeless/lost on the fringes. Kids who want to play, skate, listen to music … SOAR!
Here at 29 Elm St., Spencer, my landlord Brydi Riccard’s girlfriend (they live here), across the way …
… is banging on my front door as I write this …
… bullying … trying to intimidate me because this morning I took photos of Elm Street for this New Year’s Day post.
Spencer’s poorer digs: Elm Street
What is wrong with this woman?
What ails a 40-something woman who has no job, perpetual housing and does nothing to contribute to society … just smokes and spies on this “outsider” as I live my life?
I haven’t a clue what ails her!
A few guesses: Living in a place like Spencer, so cut off from the direction America is heading, makes many people here afraid of anyone/anything new, I think. Also: Refusing to work, earn your keeps, contribute to society makes you … unwell, mentally and physically. Also: many here are stuck in a kind of cultural 1950s racist, rigid small town America. Many here embrace the worst of America: its racism, xenophobia, fear of knowledge, hatred of new ideas, new people. Instead, they have embraced: vaping, smoking weed/siting pot shops, smoking tons of cigs, running tattoo and chop shops …
The DEAD AMERICA that Trump trumpets!! Exploits! So he can stay President! Spencer/rural folks are the unknowing victims, pulled under the moving train!
As a New York real estate developer, Trump was a Democrat, espoused Democratic ideas, embraced gay people, even hung out with Hillary Clinton!! But he went low when he figured he might be elected prez if he played into rural America’s worst fears and prejudices! He figured right! So it has been two years of Trump blatently and not so explicitly excoriating immigrants, brown people, black people, refugees, transgendered folks, the poor … And the CRUEL JOKE IS ON ALL OF US!
We have a dumbing down – in Worcester, Spencer – AMERICA – that Trump exploits – and perpetuates. No good jobs here in rural America and in our older cities. No free college for our low-income young people so they can compete in the new, tech-driven economy and get middle-class jobs. No hope in the inner-city like Green Island or in small towns like Spencer because they have experienced years of atrophy. Of course, you’re gonna get crime, opioids, mass murders, as well as the more mundane shit: vaping, tons of mary jane, all the tattoo and chop shops.
Where are our books, America?!
Where are our civics classes, grades K – 12?!
Where is our CIVIC EDUCATION – like I was force-fed in the Worcester Public Schools as a kid? Just like the OIF got in the Lynn Public Schools when he was a kid! And he got a very good honors public school education IN LYNN!!! We both got the Sousa marches, our own personal little mini-booklets of the U.S. Constitution to keep!
I remember: In 4th grade St. Mary’s catechism class in Kelley Square we had to march around the periphery of our classroom, MARCH! – as Sister Justine, a human trapezoid, severe and pimply, but on that day ecstatic, as she played on her little portable record player: ANCHORS AWAY! The U.S. Navy rah rah song! While we 30 little kids marched around her classroom singing and, yes!, having fun, as we sang along with the record. Sister Justine rewrote the lyrics of the marching tune to teach us about Jesus. So we sang, while marching: THIS PROVES OUR LOVE FOR GOD/ IN ALL WE SAY/ AND ALL WE THINK AND DO!!!!
Let’s have our public school kids listen to John Philip Sousa again!
At assemblies! Where our American flag, big and beautiful, is carried by a WPS student down the middle of the auditorium aisle – with other students, black, brown, white leading the procession, too!
It is our American collective consciousness that we are losing and need to tap into again!!
So we can be more whole!
“E pluribus unum”! “Out of many, one”! It’s our motto, for Christ’s sakes! It’s what we are all about! WHAT REALLY MAKES AMERICA GREAT!
In Spencer, my heart breaks for the children here! Most little Spencer kids, according to state tests, are not ready for kindergarten. I assume this holds true for much of poor rural America.
The high school down the road is only half full! Because Spencer is a dying town! It is a town comprised of white old folks who have lived here forever. Trump territory! Tragic! Visit a local eatery and most customers at the diners and restaurants here are 70 years+ old! These places look haunted! Ancient. Ghostly.
BROWN, BLACK, WHITE FAMILIES AND YOUTH = VIBRANCY, LIFE … ART! Immigration, welcoming the world’s disenfranchised, is how America regenerates herself! Spencer – all of rural America! – NEEDS to get this!
But, hey, that is just the beginning. Spencer, like most of a big chunk of rural America that relied on mills and small/big factories for its wealth decades ago, needs to change! And EMBRACE EDUCATION, NUTRITION, HEALTH AND HEALTH CARE!
No health center.
No mental health services.
No WIC, SNAP hub for poor families – to feed their kids, many of whom are rail thin.
No food hub. LET US EMULATE GREENFIELD AND GET A REAL FOOD HUB FOR WORKING FOLKS HERE IN SPENCER. The poo bas of Worcester killed that food distribution dream cuz they were afraid of competition for their chi chi farmers market – a TOTALLY DIFFERENT ANIMAL WITH A TOTALLY DIFFERENT CUSTOMER BASE.
Worcester’s Cambridge Street
In the shadows of Worcester’s Canal District
So 1 in 4 kids in Worcester is hungry/food insecure.
(For America, it is 1 in 5) Go, Woo Sox! Let us have another 1,000,000 stories on the Worcester AAA Red Sox team and baseball stadium and two about Worcester’s hungry kids!
Go, Woo City Manager Ed Augustus!!
Back to Spencer:
No vibrant downtown: Some downtown Spencer buildings need to be fixed up – or condemned! And Town Clerk Laura and the Spencer Selectmen damn well know this!!
A downtown Spencer building
But let us not forget Worcester’s shit buildings! The city drags its feet re: them, a la Spencer! God help us if this Jan/Feb we’ve got homeless folks camping out in this building and they rig up some funky propane stove to start a fire to stay warm. God help our Worcester firemen and women who will bravely enter the fire-fray because of the City Manager’s negligence!
Back to Spencer:
No diversity …No young people to plow new energy and ideas into the town!
No new investment. Because, like Worcester on many levels, the same old connected crowd gets grandfathered in and sweet-hearted-dealed in. And stays enfranchised! HOLDS TIGHT ONTO THE GOODIES/POWER!
In Worcester, former Mayor Joe O’Brien, had the right idea: HE PUSHED TO HAVE DISTRICT REPRESENTATION ON THE WORCESTER SCHOOL COMMITTEE. Like our Worcester City Council with districts 2, 3, 4 and 5 – which enable more inner-city neighborhood folks to jump into politics, run for office and REALLY GIVE VOICE TO THE FOLKS WHO LIVE in the city’s neighborhoods. Of course, the WPSchool Committee members – many of them old farts in their mid-70s and/or politically connected – were RESISTANT! SHOCKED!!! ABSOLUTELY MORTIFIED THAT THEIR COLLECTIVE CRAP-WISDOM WOULD BE QUESTIONED. Of course, they voted Joe’s just and true proposal down!
The WPS bozos cut off a great path for immigrants, minorities to represent and advocate for their kids in the Worcester Public Schools – a MAJORITY MINORITY SCHOOL DISTRICT!! now “ruled by” a bunch of old (we are looking at you WPSchool Superintendent Maureen Binienda) Irish-American Good Old Boys. Even if they are female.
These folks have been ruuning Worcester for almost a century; so Spencer isn’t the only place with its head up its ass. This is why urban spaces like Green Island, Vernon Hill AND Spencer/rural America are in trouble: the white old group, enfranchised, unwilling to relinquish power, won’t let go! They cling to power, even as their people suffer. People of color, new comers, the young … locked out.
I mean, look at the daily’s series on Worcester’s older neighborhoods: for the most part, the stories trotted out the SAME TIRED OLD WHITE retreads. Regurgitated. Again. Not exactly the most accurate picture of our city’s neighborhoods!
I am packing today, next week, …
… moving back to the city for what I HAVE MISSED MOST about it: ethnic, racial and cultural diversity … immigrant energy. New beautiful faces. Youth. The AMERICA OF TODAY!
I like my Spencer neighbors and the town’s first responders. They are usually polite, soft-spoken and carry a quiet, under-stated sense of humor. They exchange niceties with me when I’m out with my dogs, but many are so downtrodden! To see grown men limping, slow motion, down Elm Street, rail thin, clothes dirty and hanging off them … is surreal and heartbreaking. They say hello to me, I say hello back, respectfully.
The promise of America broken in two!
WISHING ONLY THE BEST for city and country in 2019!
They say when John Lennon was gunned down under the Dakota archway by madman Mark David Chapman who fired four shots into his back, two sailing straight through Lennon, that as the artist/musician collapsed to the pavement, as 80% of his blood gushed out of his aorta, veins and arteries, audio cassettes, the small plastic rectangles of recording tape we all listened to or recorded music on in the ’80s, came tumbling out of Lennon’s pockets and crashed to the pavement with him.
The groups he was listening to at the time (he really liked the B 52s!) and the stuff he was recording with life-mate Yoko Ono.
This past weekend, I could not shake the image: the frail 40-year-old Lennon (he was so skinny, eating all that macrobiotic food!) and his fraile, plastic audio cassettes hitting the cement sidewalk outside his grand home, simultaneously.
Minutes later, at Roosevelt hospital – after the cops said TO HELL WITH THE AMBULANCE! and flung Lennon into the back of their police cruiser to drive him immediately to the ER themselves (he told them: I’VE BEEN SHOT, then went into shock), even after the ER doctors pulled Lennon’s heart out of him and held it, worked feverishly on it, to save him, he died.
Chapman, his madman murderer, who has been denied parole year after year after year because he is hated by the whole world, was carrying THE CATCHER IN THE RYE in his pocket the night he killed Lennon, who was coming home with wife Yoko after making music that night at the recording studio. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger. The maroon paperback we ALL read 20 times as high schhool or college kids – the book we all carried in our bluejeans back pocket! A misfit’s guide to fucking up – and proud of it! The psychotic Chapman made the book his his own, his talisman. He thought he was Holden Caufield! Sick! The slim novel was in his pocket as he stood quietly in the background waiting for the cops to take him away.
The night my mother died at that terrible nursing home near the old Higgins Armory, she was wearing a silly beige kiddy wristwatch I had bought her a few weeks before. Rubber and soft, its big “face” in the shape of a racoon – pointy ears and all! It made her smile and was easy to read, even if her Alzheimers made it hard for her to “tell time.” It made me smile, too – so cute! Just like Ma!
But when she died and the OIF and I went to her shared room at the nursing home to get all her personal belongings, the raccoon wrist watch was gone. Stolen? Lost? Her other dimestore jewelry was in the drawer of her bedside table…her raccoon wristwatch gone.
For some reason this devastated me! I wanted to wear her silly watch. Forever! I pictured a nurse or nurses aide pilfering the adorable time piece – for a grandchild? A nephew or niece? Their own kid?
And so Worcester firefighter Chris Roy died a brutal death fighting flames in some shit slum building (look at those popsickle stick porch rails! look at all that shit toxic vinyl siding slapped over the porches!) in Main South, fighting for the lives of ghetto folks half the city despises, even as he was losing his own …
I wonder: WHAT LITTLE THING, THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL!, did Chris have with/on him the day he died?
A metal cross on a sterling silver chain?
A little photo of his kid – or a picture of a woman he loves, once loved?
A ring on his big finger?
Family will want that, anything really, because in death, in leaving for good, people tend to keep/want the stuff that really matters. The precious stuff: things that have nothing to do with dollars – more often cents! It is all memories, unbreakable, unfathomable. I imagine, every day, Yoko rakes John’s music cassettes across her old cheeks…every day I think of that stupid raccoon wristwatch Ma wore at the home … and every day Worcester firefighters, especially the ones who called into the flame-engulfed windows of that inner-city shit hole: CHRIS! CHRIS! MAN! – already knowing that their mate was unconscious (it’s the smoke that kills) – will hold a pin, ring, medal, badge … and hurt.
The “Green Island fire station”: American flag at half mast; white Leicester fire truck, its guys hoping to ease their brothers’ pain/help out in any way they can, parked beneath our flag. photo: R.T.
When I was a little girl growing up in Green Island, I could tell what kind of Thanksgiving Ma, my two kid sisters and I were gonna have as soon as Ma told us which of her sisters, my two favorite aunties, we’d be spending the holiday with. We were gonna have a great Thanksgiving if we were invited to Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s house in Worcester’s suburban Burncoat neighborhood. We were gonna have a gonzo holiday if we spent Thanksgiving with Auntie Gertrude and her family.
Ma, left, and her big sister, Rose’s Auntie Gertrude – an experience!
This Thanksgiving it was to be Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark’s house:
Aunt Mary, married to elementary school principal Uncle Mark, had the perfect Post-World-War II, new suburban, white bread American life that I coveted – even as a five year old. After growing up poor, with Ma and her sisters and brother on Bigelow Street, in The Block, in Green Island, Aunt Mary hit the Jack Pot – wife, stay at home mom, middle-class ‘hood – the American Dream.
Aunt Mary on her wedding day, with her Polish immigrant dad, Rose’s grandpa or “Jaju” (on that day, Father of the Bride).
But Aunt Mary was no princess. Like my mother and their big sister Gertrude, she had been farmed out by her parents, my Bapy and Jaju, during the Great Depression – to Springfield, to the Bishop of Springfield’s rectory, where she was a maid, cook and housekkeeper. She had a job!, made money to send home to Worcester to her parents so they could eat, pay their rent, survive the lean American times. And, just as important, Mary and her sisters were eating the best food and sleeping in a warm bedroom in 1929, ’30, ’31, 32… each sister sleeping in her own twin bed, in a big room in the Bishop’s house, with two great, fearless Dobermann pinschers snoozing at their feet, Bridgette and Rocky – both the brainchild of my Auntie Gert who loved the breed and fast-talked their doting Bishop into buying the pair of guard dogs for them. Rocky, Ma’s fave, would lick between her toes at night and howl while sitting next to the upright piano my Auntie Gert would bang away on, singing the popular tunes of the day.
My mother and aunts were 14, 15 and 19 years old, and they loved to walk and cuddle their babies, Rocky and Bridgette, who proved to be the neighborhood menaces, biting one guy, mowing down a nun and breaking her arm. But you know all about Bridgette and Rocky…
And you know how Ma and her sisters were sent to the Bishop’s to live and work as kids and how they stayed for 10 years, bonding for life.
But in this column it is the 1960s/ 1970s and Aunt Mary had done well for herself: she had married a school teacher, my Uncle Mark; and lived in an adorable, Baby-Boomer, kid friendly Worcester neighborhood; she had a cute ranch with big backyard for the kids, new GE appliances and a huge Electra parked in their garage. It was Gold. Plus, Aunt Mary had four fun, happy kids – my cousins – who were smart, silly, loved to play and joke around and, best of all, had the best, on-trend toys – toys that my two sisters and I could only dream about, toys you saw advertised on TV! – and NOT on the dusty shelves of White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street, like mine and my sisters’ toys – or my (real) violin that Ma rented for me and had pressured me into learning to play at Lamartine Street School …
Rose still has the little “pitch pipe” that her mother bought for her when she took violin lessons, for free, at Lamartine Street School. She was just 6 years old and hated the violin!
Today, this pitch pipe is always in Rose’s purse, always with her, a memento of her mother’s love of music – and her.
… toys like Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots!!, Easy Bake Oven!! and Mystery Date!! board game. On Thanksgiving, my kid sisters and I would get to play with ALL of these incredible toys!
On Thanksgiving day, late morning, Uncle Mark would drive up to our tenement on Lafayette Street in his big golden Electra and pick up Ma and us kids (we never had a car – we walked (mostly), bused and cabbed everywhere) and drive us to his/my auntie’s house in the pretty, safe part of town to eat a ton of tasty food, play all the cool games, boisterously, with our four cousins and, for Ma, a single working Ma who worked 60 hours a week for minimum wage at the dry cleaners down the street and never had a day off, the chance to sink her tired body, already slightly hunch-backed from all physical labor in her 30-something life, into a huge Lazy Boy and be served!! coffee and dessert by Aunt Mary, her work shoes off, her nylon-knee-highed-feet up luxuriantly on a puffy, poufy hassock. Queen for the day!
Uncle Mark was a big, hearty soul with thick, square shoulders that filled our front doorway when he visited us on Lafayette Street. He had thick, jet black hair that he styled with a slick pom. Polish, the son of poor immigrants struggling in Green Island, he seemed All American to me. Not at all from the Old Country. He spoke English like a professor would, he read books and Sports Illustrated; he went to church on Sundays; graduated from COLLEGE!!; played football at his alma mater, Fordham University, and almost -could have – become a pro football player! He loved watching all sports on TV, was so proud to live in America, bragged about going to college in the Bronx – New York City, enjoyed his Jesuit classes at college, playing football, being on a TEAM, and being super strong and athletic. A jock. And still, Uncle Mark was such a gentle giant! So full of warmth – always smooching his wife and hugging his kids, so opposite our father, “Daddy,” who never hugged us kids and never smooched Ma. In fact he made a habit of yelling at her: “DONKEY! FUCK NUT!! Simple as the day is long!” When he left our apartment, disappeared for months at a time, we were grateful. Every day was Thanksgiving!
Uncle Mark was a totally different sort, almost a new kind of man to me – and Ma. He had fallen head over cleats in love with my Aunt Mary and gave up his football dreams to move back to Worcester to marry her, raise a family with her, become a school teacher, and give her and his kids a house, car, safety … a cocker spaniel.
“HI, PEANUTS!” he’d yell to me and my sisters who were swimming in the back seat of that huge, brand new Electra. We were going to his house for Thanksgiving! Ma sat in the front with him, wearing her best polyester pants and cotton turtleneck she had bought at White’s Five and Ten. She also wore her red Elizabeth Arden lipstick – expensive and still a classic! – and turning around to look at her precious three little girls, smiled her perfect, white Pepsodent smile at us. We smiled back at our beautiful, happy-for-today mother!!
“HAPPY THANKSGIVING, UNCLE MARK!!” we’d yell back at our big uncle, giddy, silly at the sound of his booming, warm (and also a little silly) voice – and with anticipation of Aunt Mary’s excellent bread stuffing and gravy, the game of Pickle we’d play in his grassy, fall-leaf-covered front yard with our cousins after the meal, and the lying about, tummies bloated, all us kids sprawled out on the living room’s sky blue shag wall-to-wall carpeting, after all the food and playing outdoors … we kids playing a board game, Monopoly, and eating icecream cones – Hood half-gallon box of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla scooped into supermarket waffle cones – that Aunt Mary had made special for each of us and proudly bestowed on each of us, her chubby round body brushing up against us all as she made her way around her snug living room stuffed with kids, laughing, her breath smelling like Bell’s Seasoning.
How was it that my mother didn’t feel a little “funny” when Uncle Mark called me and my sisters “Peanuts”? Sure, it was a term of endearment. And the Peanuts comic strip was at the height of its popularity, with those classic Peanut holiday TV specials (Christmas, The Great Pumpkin/Halloween) still fresh and new and watched by millions of American families on Sunday night, on network TV.
Snoopy and Woodstock do Thanksgiving right!!!
And, yeah, my sisters and I were cute like the Peanuts characters and we had small Peanut-y voices. But, compared to our middle-class cousins in the suburbs who ate meat and mashed taters to their hearts’ content, drank gallons of milk every week – Uncle Mark’s kids – we were puny, runty – PEANUTS. My sisters, identical twins, had been born prematurely – around 3 pounds each. “You were the size of chickens” you’d buy at Supreme Market, Ma used to like to say to them. They were kept at the old Memorial Hospital on Bell Hill for a few months after they were born, in incubation tents, too fraile to go home. As little kids, they were fussy eaters and therefore skinny, their big knobby knees and stick arms a visual assault to my father and an excuse to abuse Ma. “Fuck nut!” he’s scream at her, red-faced. “Don’t you feed the kids!?”
Ma would reply: “Dr. Lawrence [our pedetrician] says they’re ok! They’re healthy!”
But looking at some old family photos today, writing this column, with my own two dogs at my feet …
… I see my old man’s point: My sisters DO look bony in their cheap matching short outfits Ma had bought for them at The Mart. Being old school, Ma never tried to tailor meals to their tastes – or to mine. If we were hungry, we’d eat what was on our plates. An impoverished childhood had taught her that. Ma cooked basic, healthful Polish peasant food – cabbage soup, with bits of cheap, fatty beef. Turnip with butter. Kielbasa slices and bread with mustard. Boiled potatos and carrots – and cabbage. Tuna sandwiches and Campbell’s Tomato Soup to switch things up on Saturday night. Pigs knuckles for her and Bapy on the weekend, bought at the Polish market on Millbury Street. Latkes for breakfast on Sundays. My sisters pushed their Polish grub-laden plates away and ran into the living room to watch “Leave it to Beaver.” I wasn’t a fussy eater and, especially after Ma handed me a bottle of Hine’s ketchup so I could flavor up my meal, gobbled everything. Like a turkey. Always. Except the pigs knuckles, though I may have tried a nibble.
Today, I believe my sisters, so skinny and sensitive, stayed so skinny because they were so sensitive! They were traumatized by our abusive father screaming, red faced FUCK NUT at our sweet Ma in the middle of our kitchen every day. Sometimes even slapping her pretty cheek with his big rough junkman’s hand! Now I understand! My two sisters were too terrified to eat! Their little tummies were always in knots!
I hated my father and, when older, would have gone after him with a turkey carving knife, if he had laid a hand on Ma. Daddy knew this and, I believe, learned to stifle his worst instincts.
On the other side, my mother, like Uncle Mark, also had her prejudices around food/body image. As the years passed and the Thanksgivings rolled on, Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark grew … rolly polly. Fat. Ma would sometimes make fun of Uncle Mark – and Aunt Mary – back at our Green Island tenement. She would say: “Yes, your aunt sits at the sewing machine sewing up his pants – the seat of his pants! Over and over again! Ha! Stuck at home! With her allowance – a few dollars a week! She can’t work, make her own paycheck!”
Wow. I was only 10 but Ma was telling me, in her Ma code, that 1. being fat was a joke, and 2. being a housewife and stay at home mom was even a bigger joke! You were not free! You were not an independent woman! You were your husband’s servant and cheerleader. Ma would never be stuck at home, away from her beloved customers at the dry cleaners! “I love my job!” she used to say to me – often. “I love working with the public!” she would say to me – often. Almost as often as she told me the story about Aunt Mary sewing and resewing the ample seat of Uncle Mark’s pants!
And, so, like Ma, I never married. Was no man’s seamstress, handmaiden or cheerleader. The moral of Ma’s story always seemed to be about Freedom. Freedom to be the MAIN CHARACTER in your story. Not a bad feeling, unless I was imbuing the love that bloomed between Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark. Like in the fairy tales I’d read as a child. He called her “my Queen.” He called her “Angel.” On Thanksgiving Day, I remember always seeing Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark hugging, laughing together – FLIRTING! Over the kitchen stove. Next to their big color TV. In front of us kids. In front of Ma! Aunt Mary, an “old lady” to us kids, would actually blush, at my Uncle Mark’s deep, sweet coos and compliments. Once I heard her say to Ma: “I hope I die before him. He won’t know how to live without me.” She was right. 60 years later, she died of cancer. Uncle Mark sobbed for two months. That is all he did. We all had never seen him cry. Ever. He was a pillar of strength – the Fordham football hero who filled our Lafayette Street front entry with his bulk and vigor and self-confidence and good cheer. Then he died. Then he died. Skinny now, he had stopped eating.
So Ma got it. At the end. I got it at the end too … But my epiphany began years ago, one Christmas day, at Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark’s. I was 16 and maybe a bit anorexic. All A’s in school. A perfectionist. Now wanting the approval of boys…all so cute and out of reach … poring over my latest issues of Glamour, Seventeen and Mademoiselle to learn that I was different from the models cavorting with the cute boys on the beach on those glossy pages in their butter cup yellow bikinis: my hair was too thin but my body was not thin enough; my breasts were still too small, the gap between my two front teeth still gaping.
So that Christmas I was ashamed of my aunt and uncle. They were fat! And there they were, by their big fake Christmas tree in their living room, KISSING! Two fat people! How gross! They looked nothing like the models in my magazines or my favorite movie stars: Dianne Keaton, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Barbra Steisand, Faye Dunaway … And they were in THEIR FORTIES! kissing!! Hugging each other, slobbering over each other, practically in public!
Then they stopped.
Uncle Mark had an announcement: For Christmas he had bought Aunt Mary a John Denver album! It had THEIR song on it! And he was going to play it for us. We were all going to sit down and listen to the song when he put the lp on their stereo record player inside their big, mahogany console.
Groan… I was 14 1/2 and listening to cool stuff: Layla, the Beatles’s Abby Road and White Album … The black magic marker scrawl on my school’s girl bathroom stall was on point: CLAPTON IS GOD. Period.
My cousin, now 17, and quite the beauty, went to a private girls high school in the city where all the beautiful girls had cute botfriends (some in college!) and listened to/were in love with Jim Croce:
So there we all were: Ma, my sisters, my four cousins, all trapped. With John Denver. Uncle Mark took the new lp out of its pristine sleeve, gingerly put the record on the turntable (which I never saw him use) and found the song. Then he cranked up the volume!
My beautiful cousin was moved (“He’s her Prince Charming!” she whispered to me.), my boy cousins were respectful, Ma and my kid sisters and I were … uncomfortable. Life with our Daddy left no room for romance and sentiment. What was true love, after all??? What did we know any way?
The song played on… Aunt Mary walked over, emotional, red-faced, to Uncle Mark and nestled herself within his big bulk. They held each other tight, swayed back and forth…almost slow dancing…
A few years ago, I bought two John Denver lps – for Annie’s Song and some other John Denver tunes I am no longer ashamed to admit I like. I wanted to connect with my now dead uncle and auntie. I threw Annie’s Song on my turntable and listened intently and cried like a baby. I saw them both, my aunt and uncle, in their little Burncoat living room, next to their huge fake Christmas tree, dumpling shaped, hugging each other close. I saw the love in Uncle Mark’s soft brown eyes, misty with emotion, as he looked down at the top of his small wife’s head. I saw my aunt’s eyes, too: soft and brown also, misty, too. Yes, they were together. Both wearing those ’70s style matching fleece jogging outfits! Both grinning, ear lobe to ear lobe. Surrounded by their beloved family. Ensconced in love. That was all that mattered. “Togetherness!” my Uncle Mark would say loudly, like a declaration, in the middle of his kitchen. Yes! I saw it all! Remembered every note!
I called her Miss Boo – after the character in To Kill a Mockingbird. When I first moved to Spencer, during one of the first summer days I took the dogs out, Miss Boo stood on her porch watching me and gave me the sweetest smile. Looking back, I’d call it beatific. I smiled back and waved to her.
Then I heard a man’s voice, snide, rough, condescending, calling from inside the apartment: “What are you doing out there?”
Miss Boo’s face dropped, her smile all gone. She turned away, wilted, and mechanically walked back into the house, like a dog obeying her master’s stern command. I grew worried for her…
A few nights later, I was getting out of my car, home from work and heard this from Miss Boo, in the Spencer dark, her voice loud and menacing: “YOU WITH THE X-RAY VISION! GO AWAY! LOOKING! LOOKING! LOOKING! … X-RAY VISION!” Her top-of-the-lungs, bizarre rant was wrapped in platitudes, too. And right away I 1. called the Spencer Police and 2. Guessed, because I worked with folks like her one summer in college, that she suffered from schizophrenia and was having a psychotic episode. I wasn’t afraid…based on my experience during that summer in college (I was an activity director), she wouldn’t hurt me and it would all simmer down. A tormented mind. A mental illness… It was her special needs mind saying one thing, and the rational side saying another – truth but wrapped in stray voices, mental incoherence that she probably worked hard to control. And succeeded. Most of the time.
Kudos to the Spencer police officers. They, because there are no social services/health clinics in Spencer, have to be police officers AND NURSES AND SOCIAL WORKERS AND SOUL SOOTHERS. The friend in need – but with a gun. The officer told me over the phone: oh, them. Her. We’re there all the time. She’s harmless. She has her good days and her bad days. Just ignore her.
The Spencer cop was right on the money. I told him I agreed with him 100% and described my college summer job years ago. Still, I said to him: I don’t want to come home to this every night! She’s loud and disturbing and I’m doing nothing wrong!!
A week later I noticed that the farmer’s porch had been stripped bare: it had been practically shrink-wrapped in heavy, yellowed plastic and stuffed to the gills with junk. Then I saw her landlord come by and carefully remove the stray weeds from the side yard. A few days later an old refrigerator, broken down/ its door off its hinges, was being hauled away in a pick up truck. Then I saw the porch all clean and sparkly white (had it been repainted?) with three potted plants, evenly, perfectly, spaced, hanging from the top of the porch! How pretty and clean!
But at night, you could see into the shadeless windows. The apartment was empty…
I was told: “She moved out.”
WHY??? I said.
I had liked Miss Boo. I knew she was suffering through no fault of her own. I was on her side!
But Miss Boo saw my newspapers, no doubt watched me photograph the neighborhood for my blog and … Moved out. In the dead of night. No crime committed. Just suffering from, most likely, a terrible, undiagnosed mental illness in rural America. In Spencer – a town that may not have the resources but nonetheless can’t do the research, make the connections to Fran’s super Family Health Clinic in Worcester or … be creative and come up with the grants/funding$ for nurses or social workers. So Miss Boo suffered … silently, not so silently, always bravely … and changed her whole life. Moved out!
God love the Spencer and Leicester police because, when things come to a boil, they’re the ones who are called. And, ya know, they do a fine job! No fancy degrees. No lecture halls for these guys and gals. Just small-town police officers embedded in a small town. They know the people. They are humane, they listen … very real. And then, because, they are not medical experts, psychiatrists … they don’t really solve the problem. But they do offer perspective, empathy and homespun wisdom. The Leicester Police station on Route 9. Good people here, too!
But you tell the young Spencer cop, based on your weird Spencer landlord and Miss Boo that you now understand why there is an opioid epidemic in rural America! No help here! No clinics! No diagnosis! No nothing! So the people, in their pain, self-medicate. YOU GOT AN OPIOID PROBLEM OUT HERE, you tell the young Spencer cop. YOU NEED HELP – IT SHOULDN’T FALL ON YOU!
And when the young cop looks at you, grateful, and sighs, Yes, as in YOU GET IT, LADY, somebody finally gets it, your heart breaks. For Miss Boo, the community, the cops.
So, next day, YOU ARE ON THE CASE! YOU CALL FRAN A. AT FAMILY HEALTH CENTER AND TELL HER VOICEMAIL: The people in Spencer need help. Depression, psychosis … it is all here and there is no help! Please help!
You go to Spencer Town Hall and demand to speak to the Town Manager about the problem, but his middle-aged personal secretary with the big hair and cold heart blows you off. You say, in the middle of Town Hall: GET A HEALTH CLINIC RUNNING IN DOWNTOWN Spencer. To help. To combat the erroneous, dangerous self-medicating that goes on. Or the anguish that goes untreated! Every town empliyee, even Laura, the very nice Spencer Town Clerk, looks annoyed at me. It is Wednesday – almost their weekend, as Spencer is so $cash-strapped Town Hall closes for the week on Thursday, noon!!
You call Jan Yost at The Health Foundation and leave a desperate message. She calls you right back. She gets it and tells you what to do next, whom to call, and how, maybe, Spencer or Leicester can secure the $$grant money to get a social worker inside the police stations, working hand-in-hand with the police officers.
Wonderful! Hopefully … A win for Spencer! A YES for rural America! Compassion and understanding for Miss Boo!
When I was a little girl growing up in Green Island fall/winter was the time for celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Clack, clack, clack, one right after the other, my favorite holidays fell like little pink dominoes – always celebrated out of the neighborhood, at our Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark’s house on the nice, suburban side of the city. The Burncoat neighborhood. This is where my two kid sisters and I rang in the holidays, every year, pre-K to grade 12, along with our single mom who coordinated everything with Aunt Mary, her sister, over the phone, after we kids had gone to bed.
Burncoat: the Worcester neighborhood where the city’s middle-class Irish-Americans lived out the 1950s American dream in pretty ranches and capes on little tree-lined streets. The moms were stay-at-home and the dads were often teachers or principals and assistant principals in the Worcester Public Schools, a nepotism-ridden school system, where, as one exiting teacher once told me, you had to be “mega-connected” to get a job and, of course, Irish-American.
My Uncle Mark was a school principal in a little town outside of Worcester (he was Polish and un-connected) and seemed to know a lot of the other teachers in the neighborhood. All the men wore the same grey suits, crisply pressed white dress shirts and nondescript ties to work. Their physiques were nondescript – very Spencer Tracy-like, when Tracy was in love with Katherine Hepburn and they made all those great movies together in the 1940s. Still, the guys, like Tracy, were respected: they were the heads of their families, the bread winners, the ones who made the suburbs turn.
Visiting my relatives in Burncoat in autumn was a fun, peaceful, orange-maple-leaves-on-still-green-grass kinda day for us kids and our sweet mother – a vacation from our Lafayette Street tenement and our inner-city street filled with kids, winos, stray dogs, barrooms, stores, junk cars, obstreperous neighbors, sand lot baseball …
Uncle Mark had pulled Aunt Mary out of Green Island, the old neighborhood, when he married her … swept her off her pretty litte feet and set her over the threshold of an adorable little pink house in Burncoat, with the added attractions of a big Buick, a big Zenith color TV, a big automatic washer, dryer and dishwasher. And for their kids: new bikes, a huge backyard and basketball hoop nailed above their garage door. Of course, the kids would all be honors students, go to college and become doctors and teachers. Which my cousins did.
It was crazyland in Green Island. Sure, my cousins didn’t have a penny candy store and cute corner grocery nook like my sisters and I had on Lafayette Street, but our old three decker was planted right across the street from two raucous barrooms where fights broke out regularly – fights that were always taken “outside,” the throw-downs usually between man and wife. My kid sisters and I heard and saw everything! We were 6, 8 and 10, and I remember always running as fast as I could past the sour-smelling barroons after a day at my beloved Lamartine Street Elementary School – to skip all the madness (there was one bar on either side of our street) – and not be grabbed by a drunk. Men, beer-bellied, soiled white tee shirts tight around their protruding stomachs, slapped their women around – and were oblivious to the pain they caused. The women were embarassed, distressed… I remember one woman, dumped by her bar man, who walked Lafayette and Millbury streets in just a shirt/jacket – and her panties. No shorts, slacks, skirts… She did this in fall and the colder weather. Her thick, black long hair was dull and matted; she talked to herself all the time. But you could still see her beauty. She had a beautiful face! And when my mom and we kids passed her on the street, while walking home from the dry cleaners where Ma worked, or after shopping on Millbury Street, Ma pulling our shopping wagon filled with food behind her, Ma always said a warm hello to the woman! The wonderful lessons Ma taught us on Lafayette Street!
But I digress … my cousins and our neighborhoods, just 15 miles apart in Worcester, a 15-minute car drive on I 290, were on separate galaxies. At Uncle Mark’s we were in a happy, safe, kid-focused environment. At home we were in choas-ville. Sometimes I didn’t want to go home after a Sunday afternoon playing Pickle with my cousins in their Burncoat front yard. I’d get visibly upset as my uncle got ready to drive us home (we never had a car). So my Aunt Mary let me sleep over – in the twin bed with my silly, smart, older and very beautiful cousin, Sue. I have told you all about her… Sue, 15, was my intellectual, physical and spiritual superior. She highlighted her long hair with a special lightening spray she bought at the drug store … she took piano lessons, sewed herself pant suits with linings! and wrote her own music on the trim, upright piano in Aunt Mary’s blue-wall-papered living room. She knew everything about boys and had a stack of Beach Boys 45s a foot tall. Sometimes, just after we went to bed, Sue would put on a Beach Boy record in her Close and Play record player and we’d get up out from under the covers and dance on her bed – pretend we were surfing on her Sealy and make waves with our arms … like we were swimming at Hampton Beach…
Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark never shut down our beach party. I think Aunt Mary liked the music and the fact that, for one night, her only girl had a little sister!
Autumn time, my sisters and I did Halloween with our cousin Sue in Burncoat. More sophisticated than I and my two sisters could ever hope to be, Sue would dress up all pretty/sexy in a gypsy’s costume she had sewn for herself, and she’d wear sparkly blue eye shadow and mascara. Her gypsy’s costume came with a sparkly silver bra she had designed and made herself. She
cut the butterfly patterns, sewed them onto her silver bra…all on her Singer sewing machine in her little bedroom in Burncoat. Before trick or treating, she modeled it for us. My aunt and uncle oohed and ahhhed and called her their “Polish Princess” and told Ma and us kids: Yes! Sue is practically a model! She is that beautiful – and the right height! Models had to be a certain height back then – 5’7″ tall, at least! My sisters and I were poor and had no flair for home economics or modeling. So a few days before October 31, after all the good costumes were grabbed up, Ma would take us to Woolworth’s on Front Street and buy me an ugly witch mask and costume and my kid sisters would be saddled with two Snow White’s Dwarves costumes, one always Dopey. Depressing.
The good part: We trick or treated in Burncoat! A special place where there were no barrooms and everyone had pretty homes and their front porch lights stayed on all night so they could hand out the good stuff to us kids: chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate!
One Burncoat Halloween night I especially remember: My mom had bought me a new white, hooded fluffy winter coat with beige trim and “antler” buttons at Lerners. I put that coat on and it was like magic! I was warm – and looked so cute! It was – and still is – one of my favorite winter coats. I put that coat over my ugly Woolworth’s witch costume and still felt cute – and happy. My sisters were in their Dwarf costumes but their new cute brown Lerner coats, bought by Ma on layaway, made them proud and happy, too.
There we were on Hallows Eve, on a perfectly beautiful twinkly Burncoat side street with my cousin Sue, kicking up the crispy, fall leaves in the gutter following our beautiful cousin Gypsy Sue to pretty house after pretty house to have person after person at each door of each pretty house throw chocolate bars into our gaping pillowcases. And Tootsie Roll pops and boxes of Good ‘n’ Plenty and boxes of Dots … and rolls of chewy black licorice and packs of Bazooka Bubble Gum. And handfulls of wrapped gum balls.
We made a killing! We could not have gotten any luckier! Then it was back to Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s to sort all the candy – and trade. Maybe they’d be a game of Monopoly with our cousins and my game piece would be the little silver terrier! My favorite Monopoly game piece!
Hours later, after eating a good bit of our Halloween stash, playing Monopoly with our cousins in Sue’s bedroom, it was time to return home to Green Island. I felt sad and anxious, but I dutifully followed the mother I loved and my cute kid sisters into Uncle Mark’s car. For the ride across town, back to Green Island, away from Burncoat. My candy-coated coach had turned into a crushed beer can.