By Rosalie Tirella
Palm Sunday. I remember walking under the now garishly lit Green Street tunnel as a little Green Island Grrrl a week or two before Palm Sunday. Decades ago … We were on our way to that icon of Worcester’s consumer-working class, The Mart department store: me, my mom and my two kid sisters. To buy us kids Easter Dresses! Yay!!! The Mart!! Wowza! Our mother often tried to buy us the best Easter dresses at Jack and Jill’s children’s clothing store on Green Street – and their pretty straw Easter bonnets with blue and white ribbon wrapped around their rims were to die for – but if it was a lean year – and it often was on Lafayette Street – we kids were taken to the Mart for our Easter dresses. They were not the beautiful dresses like the little girl mannequins wore in the Jack and Jill’s storefront window, the ones my mom wanted to buy for us, the pale yellow and pink dresses with butterfly decals sewn on them, all sparkly and robbins egg blue … but The Mart had a small pet section – aquariums filled with little mice, hamsters and gerbils and the cages, boxes of food and fun “supplies” for them like metal wheels that your little rodent jumped into to get some exercise. The mice and other small pets were right across the aisle from an excellent toy section filled with Barbie dolls, GI Joe dolls, packets of Sea Monkeys and baseball mitts. We kids longed for pet mice (which I got in grade 5) and baseball bats and balls (which my sister got in grade 3) and Skipper dolls (which my other sister got in grade 2).
The Mart’s dresses always looked a little rough and cheaply made from shiny polyester. Their pants hung from my skinny kid sisters’ bums, and their pants waistband – wide elastic – made the front of my pants pucker around my chubby stomach. I remember one day, as a sixth grader at Lamartine Street School, I wore my Easter pants outfit to school. I didn’t want to, but my mom made me wear this new outfit she liked. By then I knew the Mart fashion book was not on my classmates’ playbook. Sure enough, the kids began to mock me in the school yard, as soon as I entered: You’re wearing welfare clothes! Ha! Welfare! Welfare! My kid sisters had been transferred to St. Mary’s because my mom felt they were being bullied, so they just wore their school uniforms and missed the … pain. Well, I was ashamed of my outfit – it did suck – but I never told my mom. Back then kids never told their parents anything. You had to try to figure things out back home, as you were playing with your little pet mouse (Gigi) or listening to your Partridge Family record. You loved your mouse and your mom who bought you your ugly Easter pants outfit. You felt your friends’ moms weren’t as smart or special as your mom, who was very very busy at the dry cleaners and working hard at home so you you could eat and have a nice bedroom on whose walls you could hang your David Cassidy posters. So you shut your mouth … you averaged things out and felt … grateful. The opposite of the little kids who will now walk under the garishly lit Green Island tunnel to head to the baseball stadium. They jump out of their parents’ SUV and walk the several yards to the game … and all is well, I guess.
But back then, our Green Street tunnel walk was an adventure! Past Jack and Jill’s with their cute kids-wear, the fire trap ATLAS FABRIC shop where Worcester’s pro sewers got all their material for draperies, lined vests, aprons and wedding gowns … past Molly’s, the alcoholic hairdresser who cut your hair poorly and gave Ma her tight brillo pad curly “perms” in between sneaking out back for a few swigs from her pint of Muscatel …THEN THE GLORIOUS NOTRE DAME church…the first thing we saw that signaled we were in for something special in downtown Worcester – where now these Soviet Union-style apartment complexes stand, as you can see in my photo here. Today you see these cement debacles for rich kids instead of the glorious, hand-built-by-immigrants church – a monument, a tribute to Worcester’s French-Canadian working class, to their God, to trying to do right, to hope … to pray, to be charitable.
Notre Dame church was what we kids and our mom always saw at the end of the Green Street tunnel, after our 25-minute trek from our Lafayette Street apartment. It was so beautiful. It felt like Heaven … long, elegant steeples glinting in the sun, the huge gold Virgin Mary statue – Notre Dame, Our Lady – standing before its entrance saying hello to us, the church’s arches, framing its front doors, one arch over another over another reaching up into the sky. … Now that I look back, I think our poor little family purposely walked by Notre Dame church’s high entry way to see those high arches, to be physically close to this beautiful home of God, to brush the cheek of our Blessed Mother with our chafed hands.
Now? A red, blue and green carnival light show for this Worcester Palm Sunday! A pulsating show for the masses designed to shoo away the homeless that used to sleep there at night – Jesus’s people, if you’ve read the Bible.