By Rosalie Tirella
Today, I am thinking about my late mom and the workers at our Capitol. I see my pretty mom during the Great Depression, just 14 years old, a housekeeper/cook/maid at the Bishop of Springfield’s rectory – a huge sprawling building with grounds and many rooms and mahogany furniture and a huge kitchen with swinging doors and real silver silverware and special China for guests. She and her two big sisters kept that special place humming …
My mom was “just” a housekeeper in the rectory, a cleaner of cubbards, a scrubber of pots and pans – and toilets. A server to the Bishop. But Mom considered herself blessed, a lucky person. She was working in a hallowed place – fulfilling God’s words and mission and breathing life into the dreams of thousands of Catholics in Springfield. A vision made real through her polished hardwood floors, shining silverware, sparkling chandeliers, dusted banisters, scrubbed bathrooms – her and her two sisters’ hard work.
Mundane work to many but to them an honor. Their Depression era job was more than just a boon to my Polish immigrant grandparents back in Worcester – money coming in when most Americans were out of work. Good food, warmth, safety for their three girls … My Bapy and Jaju were so proud of their daughters: TRUSTED TO WORK IN THE BISHOP’S HOUSE!
Today I see my mom and I see the Capitol workers: the house keepers, the cleaners, painters, wood workers, pourers of coffee and tea …doing just “regular” work – no college degree required, just a lot of elbow grease. But it’s not regular work to them because they see themselves making a special place SPECIAL. Maintaining SPECIALNESS. The Catholic faith: Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. The Capitol: America’s sacred space – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. … Bending to scrub, paint, polish floors, stairwells and walls – just like my late mother did. To create MAGIC. BEAUTY. Every day, for all to admire. And love, too.
I never see photos of my late mom disheveled or unhappy at the Bishop’s house/rectory. I never see her in dirty rooms, dusty spaces. I see her amid elegant tea pots, heavy ornate desks, pretty paintings on walls – my mom dressed demurely but perfectly. I see the deference – and quiet pride – in her eyes. Just as I see the Capitol’s help seriousness, work ethic, perfectionism – and pride on my TV screen. Cleaning out the blood and dirt. Polishing Nancy Pelosi’s lectern once again. Vacuuming the nightmare up … Like my mom, they are RADICAL!! Radical in proving to the world that the regular peeps, the uneducated, the kids of immigrants can save a sacred space – keep and create a beautiful public dream made brick and mortar: a rectory, our Capitol, Supreme Court, White House.
Even as Donald Trump refused to call the National Guard in last week to help the regular workers at the Capitol who struggled against gun-toting monsters, monsters who trashed their world – their gorgeous work space – the just peeps did not quit their jobs. Within hours these cleaners and worker bees were scrubbing and cleaning and polishing and disinfecting … our Capitol, our symbol of Democracy, young, only since 1776. Even as Trump lied 4 years ago – said the White House was a “dump” – the “help” knew the TRUTH and still served the odious Trump his coffee and meals with respect and deference. They still polished the White House’s silver, still kept its mirrors sparkling. Out of love for their building, their special work space, our American Dream writ LARGE AND LOVELY. A song in stone and wood and metal to American democracy and its people. The White House – built by slaves! Home to museum quality paintings and statues and furniture. Repository of our History. Our aspirations. JFK. FDR. LINCOLN lived and loved here! The regular working guys and gals keep our American story alive!
Last week our Capitol was breached and its stairwells, walls, desks, chairs, floors, windows, carpeting dirtied, nicked, smashed, trashed. My mom – just a kid at 14 but a hard worker and super responsible – would have felt the acute pain of the Capitol’s “Help” – just average working women and men, like her. Many of them Black and brown: the painters, cooks, house keepers of the Capitol keeping it all humming. My mother would have seen all their hard work, their perfectionism disrespected – and she would have been angry – and she would have shed a tear or two. But she would have been eager to see the clean up, the repairs being done by the pros!
I see my mom now – it’s the Great Depression and she’s just 14 years old, farmed out by her parents to be, along with her two older sisters, a housekeeper/cook/maid at the Bishop’s rectory in Springfield. To keep herself warm and fed during hard times and to send money home to her parents, my Polish immigrant grandparents, so they could pay bills and eat during hard times. She took the bus, leaving downtown Worcester, already missing her feisty, dumpling shaped mom, but happy to be working with her big sisters. She was smart but was pulled out of school – Worcester’s Girls Trade School – to show the Bishop, the world what she learned at Fanning/Girls Trade: how to poach an egg and fish, cook white sauce, make a perfect bed, iron a man’s suit and draperies with complex pleats … My aunt – also a Girls Trade student – could make a man’s suit on Bapt’s push pedal Singer! Auntie used to make, sew my mom winter coats!! – complete with pretty linings! Auntie could cook a perfect tender roast beef or souffle. She had my mom serve the Bishop his shrimp cocktail, from his left … quiet as a mouse.
Special rooms filled with special people. Today I remember my mom and all the Capitol’s – White House, Supreme Court, too – maids, housekeepers, janitors and cooks.
Rose’s Auntie visiting Bapy in Green Island during hard times. Auntie could make coats and dresses on her Singer.