Monday, June 18, 2018


So much new grief in June

Yesterday, Saturday, I attended a funeral at Oak Hill Cemetery in Woonsocket for the father Peter Vangel of my good friend and  champion of Oak Hill, Elizabeth.  The ceremony was grave side and so I was able to drive in and watch from my car.  I wish that I could have  been  more active. He was a jewel of a man and had a great career as an educator and superintendent of schools. It was a beautiful  occasion with a ceremony led by an Orthodox priest and a  Cantor. The sounds that filled the grave site were  holy and soothing.

 My friend Elizabeth has cared for both her parents for more than ten years. Her devotion is  only surpassed by her refusal to allow the dictates of others to tell her how to conduct her life and prolong the lives of her  parents. She regularly amazed friends and neighbors by spiriting both parents off to Block Island where they rejoiced in the ocean views and invigorating fresh breezes. 
She once told me that after her father's first hip replacement a phrase came to her head. You can either live dying or die living. SHE chose the die while living and that meant to her living life to the full.

I also mourn the death of a friend who did die living.  My dear friend from Cincinnati Jackie Demaline. She was the  Drama Critic for many years at the Cincinnati Enquirer  and we became close friends  when I was the drama specialist at the University of  Cincinnati.
 It is rare to meet anyone in life who shares  your passion for a subject. So meeting Jackie added greatly to my life and my work. She and I would concoct schemes for new  organizations or events to promote drama. 
To name just two-- I began with her help and instigation and with other interested people  the Theater of  the Mind--a play reading series at the Mercantile Library and The Cincinnati Playwrights' Initiative to produce  readings of new plays by local playwrights at the Aronoff Center.
She was a great Provocateur and she was witty, feisty and dynamic. Also loving and kind.   I will miss her and so will the many friends that she made. 
 I made the move to get to know her better when in the 1990's I was invited to one of her legendary Birthday Parties --I missed the last in May. 2018.  There we were in a  small restaurant--Jackie ate most meals out in public. And I was  late. When she saw me, she rose from her chair and came forward to greet me with a hug.

 I don't know what  inspired me but I was moved by the warmth of her gesture to  answer in kind.  And without expecting to and without planning, I recited out loud a little poem that I knew as a child.
(with apologies to Leigh Hunt who wrote "Jenny Kissed Me")
I  proclaimed:


So I send to Jackie in eternity this last kiss. May she continue  to  make us aware of her love and care by prodding us to do more  with our creative  energies. She always did.

Sometimes writing this blog I feel like the spider that 
Walt Whitman describes in his poem--
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
This is how spidery  I sometimes feel as I weave the warp and woof of these blog entries and toss them out  to the wilds of the internet. I guess that being old makes one feel more isolated and for me the   exploration of my own creativity  seems like the only and best option open to me.
That is why I am grateful  to my readers who comment--not because of what they say,  but because now I know they are there and it gives me  proof that some of the gossamer threads I throw out from here in Pawtucket do catch somewhere.

Thursday, June 14, 2018



I could not believe my eyes when I turned on the TV late to learn that Anthony Bourdain had  taken his own life while working in France  on  his show  for CNN.

Strangely, I feel personally bereft. I loved his show and often watched re runs --I felt that I knew him. He was one of those people who seem to have everything to live for. What is the stigma that hovers around suicide?
What is the conversation that we  can have with the people we love about suicide. 
Why do we ask why? When perhaps it was an action of a momentary despair not a reason. Is it because we think that if we know why, we can avoid that condition and not fall to the same fate.

This is as far as I could get each time I tried to write something about Anthony Bourdain.  It felt both too momentous and too presumptuous. 

Then I came across some words written by a  Dominican priest :

It is when we are finally stumped, when we can think of nothing more that we can do. that we can most easily--though even then it is not simply easy-- appreciate that problems are not just things  calling for solutions. A problem is, more essentially, a unique situation calling for expression.  It calls for a poet, a painter, a composer. And sometimes in God's providence we may be that poet, painter, or composer. Each individual  situation in our world is an artistic rather than an administrative challenge.
 Father Simon Tugwell, OP

I thought that there is something profound here. It helps explain to me why I have been so disheartened by the response--they only can give us an administrative response -- in the news: mainly being the flashing of phone numbers to call  for a suicide hotline and earnest instructions about how to talk to  a person who is talking about killing himself.  It is the same sinking sensation that I feel when after each terrible school shooting  they bring out the bromides about the mentally ill or the need for more guns  in schools. It is deeply sickening and discouraging. And administrative-- not creative.
These are deep problems in our society and they reflect a profound social despair.  How can we respond to that creatively and see it as  moment for creative self-expression?

WE will miss Anthony Bourdain and I wish that he had been able to find a creative way to express his despair  rather than the FINAL SOLUTION of  Self--destruction. 
He had brought so many talents to the TABLE OF LIFE  and now he has left it early --there is an empty chair.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

FLAVIUS BOUCHER and his GIft to Saint Joseph Church


NOTE:  a version of this blog entry was published  on this blog on August 1, 2015,  I am reprinting it because  A reader asked if my friend Lucille spoke French at home. She certainly did. In those years many schools in Central Falls had half days in French. I learned my first French  by picking up their phrases --so I only knew the familiar forms.  But I learned so much more  from this family.

 Reading recently of  the theft of a small statue of Saint Joseph that was  adorning a small garden in the  yard of Saint Joseph's Church on the corner of Walcott Street and South Bend in Pawtucket  made me instantly  think of  a person who had once also created a statue for that same Church yard.
I pity the thief who took the  small, mass made object and only hope he did it out of  an overflow of devotion.
I want to recall the fact that once that Church yard held  original  artwork of a pious parishioner.
 I am thinking of  Flavius Boucher, he was  a semi-literate French Canadian  who was the father  of my best friend Lucille Boucher. He was also a self-taught genius of a sculptor in  granite.  Flavius was  an  extraordinary  human being with a  natural talent  for  cutting stone. Professionally he was a mason and stone-cutter. but he  went further.

 In the 1950s when  I was  visiting  his family  home on  Columbus Avenue everyday, he began  a miraculous self transformation to an artist in stone.  I could  not believe the  long hours he spent patiently finding the  forms and faces in the great blocks of granite that he  brought to his workshop  garage. He rigged a  hoist and  would  create statues  especially busts of such historical  figures as Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Pope Pius, and  even  heads of his three  children, Arlene, Lucille and Raymond. He would use a caliper to  measure their  noses and lips-- I was so  envious of  those  lovingly crafted images of his children.

 In my my eyes Flavius was  an ideal father.  He enlisted my  help  in his enterprise in an original and creative way.  Since he could not  read or write beyond the most basic  English, he asked for my help  because I  was known as  someone  who read obsessively and liked to write   poems. He instructed me  to read  aloud to him the  histories he found of the figures he was  drawn to recreate in stone.

Then after he had listened to me read and reread the encyclopedia entry he had found, he would try to create aloud a  brief  history of the  person and also a history of his own interest and of the stone itself to accompany the work he was  creating.  He would talk to me about the person, his interest in the person, and the special characteristics of the stone itself. Then I would  frame sentences  that  reflected what he was telling me.

  Remember--I was in grade school at the time.   I would read them back to him repeatedly until he was satisfied.  When  he liked the  way I had expressed his ideas, he would thank me and ask me to  write in print a copy of what we had  composed together.  Then he would  place that on a  cardboard and stand it next to the  bust he had completed.  I  never heard what  became of all the things he  carved  so  perfectly.  I know that he sold some of them,  I know that he  got orders  from some people  for specific  subjects to be carved,  I also know that many of his finished works languished in the stone dust of his work shop.

But he worked on--- and one of his works, a statue of Saint Joseph, he contributed to Saint Joseph's Church.  That statue is not where it used to be, and I am not  aware of how it was  moved or when, where or why.  I walked around the  church grounds that I had known since childhood. One day  several decades after I left Pawtucket, I drove to  my friend's old three- decker on Columbus  Avenue and walked around the large yard and tried to  see into the garages.  I could find  no trace of  the old stones or  the workshop. I don't even know when Flavius died because all of his children left Pawtucket and went their separate ways.

I do know that he influenced me  because of his originality, his productivity and his fierce  persistence in creating his art in a world that was largely indifferent to him.  He and others that I knew and cherished in Pawtucket also modeled  for me the kind of dedication  to art and to their  creative genius that impressed itself on me as real artistry and real intellectualism.

 Those relationships guaranteed that  I would never make the mistake of thinking that education and intelligence are congruent:  that  just because  a person is educated means that he is intelligent or  just because a person is not educated maybe even illiterate meant that they are not intelligent.  No, intelligence and creativity  are  like  birds that  can alight on' the  branch of any tree.


Or what I learned from  baseball players

Yesterday, Sunday afternoon I took one more drive around MCCOY Stadium looking for any signs of that elusive BLUE POND.  I came down Columbus from York Ave  and turned  right onto Lake Street and I kept following it.  I could see between the houses lined up there to the parking and driveway around the Stadium that they all back up to and look down on. 
 Yes, the Stadium is on lower ground and it  looks like a large  bowl because it once was  a relatively large  pond.  All drained and  gone now--it can only live in memories like mine and maybe yours, dear reader. Could not even sniff out the stinky swampy remains.

 I could  find  no  signs of the Blue Pond.  At the end of Lake --it is a through street, I came out on Division Street just past the Stadium parking. I turned left and went the few yards and then turned left again into the Stadium entrance. A game was in progress and it was a  mild and dry Sunday afternoon. As I drove close up to the stadium  I  could see the familiar winding ramps and the gates at the top of them that I had  climbed over so many days.  My climbing days are over, but I felt such  peace and  happiness as a  wave of sound washed over me. 
 I wanted to go inside. 

I have always loved that moment when you finish your climb up the ramp and you enter the seating area  and look down at the rows of seats to that gorgeous emerald green field  hidden like a jewel in the very heart of the  building.  I also  always love a rain delay when  the crews com out and spread that enormous tarp over the  green grass. So beautiful.

But as I got older I seldom climbed the fence; there was an easier and more direct route in my childhood. I just walked  up to the main gates to the field and walked in--I did that if the man who was sitting in the little guard house to the  left of the gate was in a good mood.
Or if he was  reading his paper and didn't notice-- or if he was taking a little snooze. So most days one of those conditions was met and I walked in and  romped over to the dugout.  

There I was  well-received. I loved listening to the players as they practiced and commented  on the game. They sang songs and they often asked me to sing some of those songs that my father had sung to me  PISTOL PACKIN MAMA  and BEAUTIFUL BROWN EYES.
 I also loved chewing and spitting some of the pumpkin and sunflower seeds that they offered me. I imitated them, their walk and nonchalance and cool swagger. They seemed to me the essence of manliness. 
I never met a player I did not  like--I deeply imprinted on them and their ways and looks. Think of Ted Williams in his prime--that long lanky look, and his easy going and often laconic ways.
Think of Joe Dimaggio walking with the casket of  Marilyn Munroe --as one  commentator describes after his death:

Joe DiMaggio was probably the man in the actress’s life who had sincerely loved her the most - he supported her in the aftermath of her divorce from Arthur Miller in 1961 and arranged her funeral after her tragic death in 1962. Last and not least, he sent several times a week roses to her grave until his own death in 1999.

I came to admire that  kind of stoic faithfulness and deep if often hidden emotion AND when they released those pent up feelings--watch out!.
I loved the way that they would all rush  out of the dugout if any team member got  hit by a ball or started a scuffle with the batter. 
I learned about the signals  between the pitcher and the catcher. AND I  developed  a great admiration and respect for the catcher position because it is difficult and also carries a large psychological load. The  catcher must know how to read, please and calm the pitcher. This relationship is captured so well in BULL DURHAM and that is one baseball movie that gets it.

 Years later when I fell madly in love with  a man I met in Illinois where I was in graduate school, why was I not surprised when he told me that he had  played baseball in the minors. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018



If you have been reading the two other blog entries about Dicks you  know that it was a place where greasers with Ducktails lingered chugging cold sodas. I gained some place in their midst by chugging with them but mostly by keeping my mouth shut.

But one hot August day was different. There was more tension than usual--part of the charm. I was not paying attention to the quarrels AMONG THE DUCKTAILS. I knew only a few by name and even fewer ever spoke directly to me. 

They dressed alike. Their uniform was jeans, white t-shirt with cigarettes in one wrapped sleeve, and some had leather jackets, some had different patches on those jackets, and some had heavy black boots that Bikers wear. And some wore high tops.Some had bandannas tied around their necks. 

It was a day like any other day that alters and illuminates mankind and you are there". (Funny that just came back to me  just as  I was  writing this--that was the lead in to a favorite TV show of mine  I think it was called YOU ARE THERE. They would pick a  date in history and tell us the story of that day,)

This hot day during a chugging session an argument started. Everyone seemed to be shouting at once--something about a '51 FORD. Suddenly the sound of breaking glass caught my attention and  brought silence to the scene. One of the boys had broken a  soda bottle against the cooler and was standing with the broken bottle in one hand.  He called out another boy who stood up and  whipped the bandanna from his neck and  began to wrap it around his wrist. In his other hand  he was holding something metallic.

Suddenly a click sounded in the silence. He had a switch blade in his right hand and he started to circle the boy with the bottle.  Someone threw bottle boy a t-shirt and he wrapped it around his exposed  arm. I heard a man's voice shouting --"NO not here--take this outside."
But they kept circling each other and everyone backed away. Except me--I was frozen to the bench. Right in front of me, they were swinging the knife and the broken bottle. Then the jagged bottle made contact with the switchblade holder's forearm and blood started to pour out.  The switch blade holder jumped in a kind of startle reflex and lunged low at the other boy, his knife caught the bottle holder's thigh and cut open the denim. Bright red blood started to run down his pant leg. I must have been screaming  because someone told me to SHUT UP.
And they suddenly seemed to remember that  I was there.  The store clerk had by this time  moved to the door and was  holding it wide.
All of youse --GET THE  HELL OUT. 
 They surged in a mass out onto the sidewalk.

  I sat there and  the clerk came back and closed the door and locked it. Then he pulled down the shade in the window and turned the "out for lunch sign"  around. 

He looked at me and then he gave me some wet paper towels.  I then saw that I had some blood that had  spattered on to my blouse and on my arms.  I washed it off and  he gave me another orangeade.
  He turned up the radio on the counter for the baseball game.  He sat next to me on the bench and the stillness was broken only by the voice of Curt Gowdy calling the RED SOX .
"You should not have seen that," the clerk said.
"I am tempted to tell your mother, I know where you live."
OH, Please, I won't tell anyone.
Can you keep a secret? 
I promised I would.
And then he added something--and  never come back here ,
DO you understand? 
 I nodded, yes. 
He made me say the YES out loud. 
 He took the empty bottle from me and added it to the empties  in the racks next to the cooler. 
I offered him a dime but he laughed and said. MY treat.
And that was one secret of many that I did keep--not just from my mother--I did not even tell Lucille.
I would meet these boys or their doubles later in life when they became a fixture of the White Tower that sat on the West side of the Main Street Bridge, some of it cantilevered over the water. 

Friday, June 8, 2018



Settling in for the fourth and I hope not the last game of the NBA Finals.

I do not have my CAVS cap on yet--game has not started and  the  23 Jersey that I ordered from FANATICS the night the CAVS   won the Eastern Finals has  yet to arrive.
So if the CAVS lose  I know  who to blame.

I am not ready to join in the speculation of  where he goes and when LeBron leaves Cleveland. He should do what ever he thinks  is best for his family and  their future. Wherever he lands, he will improve the team and the city itself.

We are in the last five minutes of the half and  Cleveland has come back from an 11 point deficit to take the lead.  Then they start trading it  back and forth.  When the Cavs lose the lead,  the GSW smell blood and turn the aggression  up . When the Cavs lead by  just 1 point they relax a little  going down court and  GSW gets open looks and shots. So they retake the lead and add  to it.
The Cavs lack the  killer instinct.

And Curry ends the first half with a  3 pointer that  brings the score to a GSW 9  Point Lead. OMIGOD!

Now at the end of the third quarter the deficit is 20 points.

They did it again :

Now in the last quarter it has become a BLOWOUT

LeBron has  gone to the bench and there is 4 minutes left to play--but he will not play them.  He takes  the applause of the Cleveland  fans.  So the basketball season is over. 




Funny thing is that I still think of this song when any one disses me--or I think that they have  neglected me in some way 

 I don't want to play in your  yard
I don't like you anymore
you'll be sorry when you see me
Sliding down my cellar door.
You can't holler down  my rain barrel
You can;t climb my apple tree
I don't want to play in your yard
if you won't be nice to me.

That is a song that  I some times chanted to a girlfriend who lived  nearby. We were part of a trio--Kathy Rigly and Eleanor Cute and me--and you know how unstable triangles are  in terms of friendships -- someone is always feeling  left out.  And that some one was sometimes  me.

It was not until I was  in the 3rd grade that I made a friendship with a  girl in my class  who was  my best friend. We never fought and we did every thing together. Her  name was Lucille Boucher.

Other songs that I remember  that I sang or my mother sang around the house---
ALWAYS IN THE WAY  became a hit in 1903

Always In The Way
Please, Mister, take me in your car, I want to see Mamma,
They say she lives in Heaven, is it very, very far?
My new Mamma is very cross, and scolds me every day,
I guess she does not love me, for I’m always in the way.
Always in the way
So they always say,
I wonder why they don’t kiss me,
Just the same as sister May,
Always in the way,
I can never play,
My own Mamma would never say
I’m always in the way.

BREAK THE NEWS TO MOTHER (Chas. K. Harris) **This song was was an 1897 re-write of another Charles K. Harris song, "The Brave Fireman" (written in 1891). It became a big hit the following year, 1898, with the outbreak of the Spanish American War While shot and shell were screaming across the battlefield The boys in blue were fighting, their noble flag to shield Then a cry from our brave captain said, "Boys, the flag is down Who'll volunteer to save it from disgrace?" "I will," a young boy shouted, "I'll save the flag or die!" Then rushed into the thickest of the fray Saved the flag, but gave his young life, all for his country's sake We carried him back and heard him softly say... Just break the news to Mother, she knows how dear I love her And tell her not to wait for me, for I'm not coming home Just say there is no other can take the place of Mother Then kiss her dear sweet lips for me and break the news to her >From afar, a noble general had witnessed this brave deed "Who saved the flag? Speak up, boys, 'twas a noble and brave deed" Then a cry from our own captain said, "Sir, he's sinking fast" Then slowly turned away to hide a tear The general in a moment knelt down beside the boy And gave a cry that touched all hearts that day "'Tis my son, my brave young hero. I thought you safe at home" "Forgive me, father, for I ran away" Just break the news to Mother, she knows how dear I love her And tell her not to wait for me, for I'm not coming home Just say there is no other can take the place of Mother Then kiss her dear sweet lips for me and break the news to her


After the ball is over
After the break of dawn
After the dancer's leaving
After the stars are gone
Many a heart is aching
If you could read them all
Many the hopes that have vanished
After the ball.

I looked these  songs  up on You TUBE--how wonderful to have this memory check so close at hand  -- and all these songs were written in the  1890s by a man named Charles Harris.  

        My mother was not born until 1910--so these must have been songs that her mother  learned  and sang to her. And I guess they were very popular in the early decades of the 20th Century. Harris was the  first man to sell  over one million song sheets of the same song.  The radio   gave people the chance to hear music in their homes. 

My father sang me to sleep some nights  and he had two favorites that I asked for over and over:
Beautiful Brown Eyes
Willie, I love you, my darlin'
I love you with all my heart
Tomorrow we might have been married
But ramblin' has kept us apart

Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes
Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes
Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes
I'll never love blue eyes again

Down through the barroom he staggered
And fell down by the door
The very last words that he uttered
I'll never see brown eyes no more

Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes
Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes
Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes
I'll never love blue eyes again

Funny to admit that years later I heard the  Song  "Brown -eyed Handsome Man"
And loved it.  Kind of the story of my life -- my father and any boy or man that caught my eye  had those Brown Eyes.  Early imprinting--I guess..

and Pistol Packin' MAMA

Pistol Packin' Mama by Al Dexter, 1943
Drinkin' beer in a cabaret And I was havin' fun!
Until one night she caught me right, And now I'm on the run

Lay that pistol down Babe, Lay that pistol down,
Pistol Packin' Mama, Lay that pistol down.

She kicked out my windshield, She hit me over the head,
She cussed and cried, and said I lied, And I wished that I was dead.

Lay that pistol down Babe, Lay that pistol down,
Pistol Packin' Mama, Lay that pistol down.

Drinkin' beer in a cabaret, And dancing with a blonde,
Until one night she shot out the light, Bang! That blonde was gone.

Lay that pistol down Babe, Lay that pistol down,
Pistol Packin' Mama, Lay that pistol down.

I'll see you every night Babe, I'll woo you every day,
I'll be your regular Daddy, If you'll put that gun away.

Lay that pistol down Babe, Lay that pistol down,
Pistol Packin' Mama, Lay that pistol down.
Lay that pistol down Babe, Lay that pistol down,
Pistol Packin' Mama, Lay that pistol down.

Now down there was old Al Dexter, He always had his fun,
But with some lead. she shot him dead, His Honkin' days are done.

Recorded in 1943 by Al Dexter, an ol' East Texas boy from Troup.

After my father left in 1953 I would ask my mother to sing them to me but she  refused-- said I was too old for that  lullaby stuff.
I get it now--it was too painful. 
My mother had to take a factory job and she worked the second shift. So I only had Anna there and it was us two trying to lull my sisters to sleep. No one was singing to me.

My mother started singing a new song around the house  by another Country star Ferlin Husky   "Since You've Gone".

Since you've gone the moon the sun the stars in the sky know the reason why I cry
Love divine once was mine now you've gone
Since you've gone my heart my lips my tear dimmed eyes a lonely soul within me cries
I acted smart broke your heart now you've gone
Oh what I'd give for the lifetime I've wasted
The love that I've tasted I was wrong now you've gone

(You can hear Ferlin sing this song on YOUTUBE and you will hear the longing dripping from every note) 
 Finally my Aunt Anna asked her to stop singing --it was all too close to the bone.
Notice that  I do not include the Irish songs.  The list would be too long--anything John McCormack  recorded. My mother knew them all.  One of her first purchases after  my father left and she had a regular  salary that would not be spent on horse racing was to buy a new rug and a new record player.
And then I discovered  a local DJ on the radio CHUCK STEVENS
and he opened the doors to musical heaven for me,