114 lingo of the time. Being Irish Catholic, sex of any kind was never discussed. It was kept behind closed doors with the shades drawn. How could she tell me what she feared? Life went on, but something had changed forever. A few years ago, I looked through the family bible that I hadn’t opened in decades. In it, my mother had written my birth date as 194l and my sister’s as 1939 when in fact my sister was born in 1938 and I was born in 1940. If my sister was born in 1938, my mother was pregnant when she married my father. I guess I should say my halfsister because my father was not her father. Hers remains unknown. It’s thought he was a man my mother met when she was working as a domestic in Boston. Looking back, I suspect I was the price she paid for her wedding ring, for her respectability. I was their first and only child together. When she looked at me, she saw her mistake because, as difficult as it is to say, I don’t believe she ever loved my father. He must have loved her very much. He died less than a decade after her death in a cold room in a flophouse. I had returned to Alaska when he died. It also explains why we seldom visited my father’s family. When my paternal grandfather died when I was about nine, one of my mother’s sisters told my sister she didn’t have to go to his funeral because he wasn’t her real grandfather. The unkindness of aunts.
CIRQUE I didn’t try to make new friends after we moved to High Street. Our new place was only a few blocks away, but it seemed to be a different world. Most of the kids went to the public school a few blocks away, and most of the Catholics went to the Polish school not to the Immaculate Conception, and all they seemed to do was study so they could go to college. The Polish nuns didn’t want Irish kids hanging around their schoolyard. They certainly didn’t want us around their girls who were going to be nuns or teachers. Today I understand why. Our future wasn’t all that bright. I wanted to be a milkman, to wear a uniform. I did both in time. By the time I was in the fifth grade, I had to fight a boy selected by the older boys at the public school on Pond Street as I hurried by if I wanted to get home for lunch and back to school within forty-five minutes. It happened once or twice a week. The chosen boy usually didn’t want to fight any more than I did, but he didn’t want to be known as a sissy. Perhaps they knew I once wore a dress to please my mother. I lived two blocks past Pond Street. A few other Catholic schoolboys walked home, but I was the one they picked on. If I’d taken a detour, I wouldn’t have gotten home for lunch. Trying to make myself invisible didn’t work so I learned to run fast.
One afternoon while I was pretending that I was driving our old four door Ford that was parked outside the house, the same car I would actually crash into the granite stoop before the Nason’s house when I released the hand brake about a month later, I saw my father coming unsteadily up the hill. Almost home, he staggered but didn’t fall. He had a lilac branch in one hand. When he reached our door, he called, “Harriet, open the door I have something for you to see.” When she opened the door, she wasn’t smiling. “You’re drunk,” she said, but she let him in. The branch stayed on the sidewalk.
Some of those public school boys seemed to begin shaving in the second grade or earlier. They were a tough bunch who lived closer to the mills and the river. Most of the other Catholic schoolboys brought their lunch or took the bus home so they never had to run the gauntlet of twelve year olds who needed to shave. One of the older Pond Street School boys was Buddy Grady whose one goal in life was to be as tough as his older brothers. He was in the seventh grade for the third time. I met Buddy again a few years later when he worked for a company that repossessed furniture. My parents had missed a couple of payments.
I kept on driving into a world of my own creation, a world where we were as close as the day we found the beehive oven. It wouldn’t be long before we moved again. This time to an apartment on High Street which was closer to the Concord River where I could fish for hornpout and kibbies after school until it was dark. My father left for work in the afternoon shortly after I got home from school, and he didn’t return until late at night. I often heard the car rolling to a stop and would get up to see him open the door.
The Pond Street School was near where the Grady’s lived on Concord Street. The older Grady boys had taken over a bar up the street from their house according to their sister Barbara who went to our school. We were all afraid of Barbara. Even the nuns seemed to be. She dressed the way she wanted and never smiled. For some reason I could talk to her. She told me that if her brothers didn’t want someone in their bar, they threw him out, or they let him stay if he bought a round for the house. Few refused their offer.
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim