Friday, February 26, 2016

They're in the Mail!!!

Anyone who purchased a copy of our new book, Lowell Irish, should be receiving their copy very soon in the mail.  The publishers sent copies to me this week and I mailed out to those who reserved copies.  No worries to those who didn't, I still have plenty if you're interested.  Once again, purchasing directly from me will assure more of the profits can be donated to St. Patrick School and St Patrick Church restoration fund.  (If you don't receive your copy within 10 days, please let me know.)

If you can please join us on Thursday, March 10, 6:30 pm at Long Meadow Golf Club.  We'll have live Irish music, step dancing and recognition of our Anam Cara honorees.  Join us for a pint and a bit of craic.

Lastly, I'll be joining Brian O'Donovan on his Celtic Sojourn music program on WGBH (89.7) Saturday, March 3rd at 3:30.  Listen in if you have a chance.  Celtic Sojourn is a weekly must for those who love Irish music.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Goodbye Mr. Keyes

Lowell Cultural Resource Inventory
It is with a heavy heart I announce the passing of the Keyes Block (the old Cosmo building on Market Street).  Probably the oldest building in the Acre, the old boy has passed due to old age.  There were attempts to resuscitate the poor soul, but alas its last days have come. 

Originally called the Bull Block, it was built in 1833-34 by Abner Bull and passed through several hands until Irish immigrant Patrick Keyes bought it in 1866.  Keyes and his family remained as occupants in the upper floors until 1906.  Keyes operated a grocery store on the ground level and became active in Lowell politics.  His children all attended local school and many became teachers in the city’s schools.  His story is representative of so many others who came to Lowell as an immigrant and sought their fortune and new life in America. 

The iconic brick structure built in the Greek revival style had a number of evolutions.  In the 1830s it was witness to the Irish/Yankee riots.  In the 1840s it saw the rise of the Paddy camps.  In the 185os the Know Nothings passed by on the “smelling committee” visits to Notre Dame Academy.  When the Civil War began Lowell’s Irish marched by after attending Mass at St. Pat’s on their way to battle.  After Mr. Keyes sold it in 1906, it was at the center of the Greek community where shops sold feta and black olives.  Finally, many will remember it as the Cosmo and the hangout of some of Lowell’s livelier characters. 

When the bricks begin to fall to the demolition ball, one of Lowell’s earliest buildings will fade into history.  I have this thought.  Maybe we could take the granite lintel and sills that date back to the erection of Bull Block and put them to good use in the Acre.  Maybe use as curbing in an Acre garden or outline where the shanty once stood in St. Patrick’s churchyard as a memorial.  I’ve contacted the owner, Mr. Kazanjian.  Let’s see what happens.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Winter: An Acre Memory

Whether you believe in global warming or not you have to agree that winter is just not what it used to be.   We lived over a mile away from St Patrick School and no matter the temperature we would be bundled under several layers and sent out to make the trek down Broadway and through the North Common to get to school by 8:15, and then make our way home again later in the day. 

There were no Thinsulate gloves or North Face parkas.  No, we had good, sturdy, but bulky, coats from Stuart’s or Zayres.  It was always bought two sizes too large so you “could grow into it.”  My hat was one of those ear flap jobs with the strap that went under your chin.  It would leave a red mark around your face for a couple of hours, but kept that hat on in high velocity winds.  Of course there were the leggings which were usually hand-me-down from my cousin Armand.  He was taller and they usually dragged more snow and ice along with them adding to the weight of winter wear.  I had a bad habit of losing gloves.  It was not uncommon for me to have one glove and one mitten.  I was forced to wear whatever was left over.  One time I had to go to school wearing my sister’s red mittens with pretty, little snowflakes on them since I lost every pair of gloves I owned.  To round off the ensemble were the black boots with clips.  How I hated those monstrosities!  Your shoe always got stuck in the boot, and I could never get the hang of those dang clips.  When Spring arrived you might be given the opportunity to change the black devil boots in for a pair of “rubbers.”  What might get a chuckle out of kids today was an everyday word for us.  How times change.  If you weighed yourself before and after donning all the extra goods there was probably a 25 pound difference.  I can recall with sheer terror the Sister standing over me with a look between anger and pity as I writhed on the floor trying to get the leggings, boots, or oversized jacket off. 

Walking home from school after a snowstorm was tantamount to making your way through a Marine Corps obstacle course.  First were the snow piles.  Few people shoveled the sidewalks and the plows would make mammoth piles on corners.  Most people would walk around them, but not us.  We’d scale each peak as skillfully as Edmund Hillary climbed Everest.  The next task was to dodge the slush puddles as the cars went by, otherwise you got a mouthful of melted snow mixed in with whatever made up those black chunks that the day before was pure snow.  If you survived that, there was the constant danger of being impaled by the giant icicles that hung from the tenement roofs you passed by.  Every now and then you’d see some come crashing down and smashing to the ground.  My mother would always warn us to look up to see if any icicles might be falling.  She swore she had a cousin who had an icicle go right through him like a wooden stake through a vampire.  Of course if we were looking up we might get hit by a car, but that was all part of survival of the fittest.

But winter also had its many joys; sledding down the big hill by State Teacher’s College, or waiting for Bachelder Street to be closed by the city and start sledding at Wilder to see if you can make it all the way to Walker.  We’d build snow forts and stay in them all day. (Today the safety police would tell us we were in danger.)  We’d eat snow right off the ground.  We all knew about the yellow snow.  Better yet we’d break an icicle of a fence and suck on that.

By the time I’d get home my boots would have to be emptied of snow.  My glasses would steam up from being outside.  My Mom would put all my wet clothes near the stove to dry off.  If we were lucky she’d make cocoa, real cocoa with milk and Hershey’s, not out of some packet.  They’d be chicken soup or better yet tomato soup and grilled cheese.  At night I’d lay in bed and look at the ice forming on the window (no central heating in a tenement) and listen to the plows scraping the cobblestones out on Walker Street resting up for the next day’s adventure to begin again.