Sunday, April 15, 2018


Tongue Tied  Misery

Just finished reading a book 
 by Benson Bobrick about the history of stuttering and attempts to treat it.  The author ends in the last section by  telling his own tale of  struggle with the affliction of stuttering.  This book which I must have purchased and read several years ago  brought me  back to the memory of my own history of stuttering. and I decided to write a narrative and not stay hidden even to myself in the stuttering closet..

 I realized that as an adult I have  very rarely mentioned or told anyone that I  stuttered for the years of my childhood.  I try not  to think of it -it was extremely mysterious to me both in its inception and its conclusion.  I am afraid of it on some deep level, and I was not sure of any of the facts of stuttering. As a child no one ever spoke to me about it although they did attempt to cure it--unsuccessfully.

I don't remember my mother or anyone at home making comments about my speech,  In fact they exclaimed with pride when the first word I said as a baby was BOOK! But as soon as I started in the kindergarten at Prospect Street School they said that I had  a speech problem. And I knew that I did: I had trouble with A VERY SPECIFIC CONSONANT--I COULD NOT EASILY SAY ANY WORD THAT BEGAN WITH  M.

Funny to admit, I found  one hard piece of evidence of a "compensation" that I resorted to  in the Saint Patrick's Day Program that surfaced recently.  It seems that one song was sung by someone called Clumpy. I was startled when I saw  it written in my  hand--I had  "Forgotten" that I called my mother Clumpy.  Why? Because every night she told repeatedly the story of a movie called ELEPHANT WALK to my sister Sheila.  And I  could hear her imitating the sound of the Elephant  She would call out CLUMP! CLUMP!  CLUMP! Well that was how I justified the substitution  of Clumpy for Ma, Mommy, Mother  or even Margaret. I hated using it because she hated it.  But
at least it allowed me to address my mother without seeing the horror in her face as she turned and watched and waited as I struggled to  produce the M-words.

So I began to be sent out of the classroom to  meet the speech therapist who  came to help us improve our speech. We were a motley crew--some were the students who could not yet read or write.  Some  looked dirty and disheveled, sat with bowed heads, and being put in that company dismayed me.  Because both of my sisters had Down Syndrome, I wondered why I did not have it and  I expected retardation to show  up any day in my life as well. 

Here it is--I remember thinking when I went to the Speech sessions.  The therapist was a man, and he seemed to believe that stuttering was about tongue action because he  put us through a regimen of tongue exercises. At one point he  put  his hand into my mouth to grab my tongue.  Something fierce in me refused  this invasive move and I clamped down my jaw and bit him hard.  I  think that he yelled aloud and hit me slightly. I am not sure, but he sent me to the principal's office . No one was there, and they sent me to my class and my teacher  asked me what had  happened and I could not speak--I  was crying. And she made me go and stand in the cloakroom. ( For any younger reader-the cloakroom was a sort of closet with coat hooks off the classroom where we left our coats and were often sent for that era's version of time out.) 

After what seemed like a long time,  the principal came in to see me.  "How can a smart girl with books all over her dress be in the cloakroom?"  I turned and looked down at the dress I was wearing which my mother had sewn for me and  whose fabric  was a design of open books with letters showing. It was my favorite. 

"I bit the finger of the speech teacher. I am  very stupid--"
"No, you are the only child in kindergarten who can already read and write."
She sent me back into the classroom and that was the end of speech therapy.  I did not dare tell anyone at home what I had done.
Instead I started longing to be in another school away from my sisters.  In the tradition of manipulation I began telling my mother that I wanted to go to a Catholic School, I knew that would please her. I also asked my father and said that I was  teased about my sisters. And next year--halfway through  the first grade I was switched to Saint Joseph's School.

Friday, April 13, 2018



I know that when I  wrote about my Aunt Anna Coleman one of the things that I stressed was her  participation in "Shows" that  I would  arrange with my sisters Janie and Sheila as a sort of last resort  to amuse them--it was  my ace card that never failed.  For the past  months I have been having unexpected finds when Mikey, a Conlon cousin, helps me twice weekly to go through the endless boxes of books and household items stored in our  patio and garage.
Recently I found tucked in a collection of Irish poetry a little folded  blue paper with my childish penmanship listing the  sequence of songs and performances for one of those shows that I recall so vividly but of which I am the only still living participant.

So finding the little program is like discovering evidence that I am not  making these memories up. Sometimes I  doubt myself  and wish I could  talk  about them with a witness,  but that is difficult when no one but me is  alive to remember them.
So I was amazed when I found  the little folded paper that listed what must have been a Saint Patrick's Day show. All present were  full participants, and my Uncle Joe must have been visiting because he is included as Brother Cyril.

Here is the program:
 Intro --Me
WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING ---Sheila (my younger sister
DANNY BOY   ---  Norma
recitation  by Norma of
AFTER THE BATTLE  by Thomas Moore
After the Battle by Thomas Moore
Night closed around the conqueror's way,
And lightnings show'd the distant hill,
Where those who lost that dreadful day
Stood few and faint, but fearless still.
The soldier's hope, the patriot's zeal,
For ever dimm'd, for ever crost --
Oh! who shall say what heroes feel,
When all but life and honour's lost?

The last sad hour of freedom's dream,
And valour's task, moved slowly by,
While mute they watch'd, till morning's beam
Should rise and give them light to die.
There's yet a world, where souls are free,
Where tyrants taint not nature's bliss; --
If death that world's bright opening be,
Oh! who would live a slave in this?

McNamara's Band---  Aunt Anna with Drum
 and all join in with pots and pans 

Comic Recitation  Dinty McCarty spoken by Anna
(I don't recall how this   goes and could not find it on the internet)

Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms--Margaret, my mother

My Wild Irish Rose-- Janie, Sheila, and Norma

Molly Bawn--Norma

The Rose of Tralee--Brother Cyril--Uncle Joe

I am sure  there were a few Irish jigs thrown in  since Anna often led Janie and  Sheila in  dancing.
We always  ended with a group recitation of  a section of SAINT PATRICK'S LORICA 

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the
Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

My mother called this the Breastplate or the CRY OF THE DEER  and  told us that once when  his enemies were  waiting in ambush to kill Patrick and his followers  they were seen by their would-be attackers as a group of deer passing.

Friday, April 6, 2018


Easter Rising thoughts in Pawtucket

The historical fact that there is a Fenian Grave of  Wilson buried in Saint Mary's Cemetery  was made known to me by an old family friend Al McAloon.  By the time Al told me the story we were colleagues teaching at  Bryant College--now University.  He taught psychology and was a  fervent  disciple of Carl Jung; I taught English lit  and was a fervent disciple of Bernard Shaw. 
Once Al learned that I was born and raised in Pawtucket, he figured out our family connections--his wife was a close neighbor and a distant cousin of my mother Margaret Coleman. My dissertation was about Shaw's connection to Ireland and his attitude towards the National Question as displayed in his great play about Ireland, JOHN BULL'S OTHER ISLAND.

Discovering that I was unaware of the role Pawtucket played in the drama of the rescue of some Fenians imprisoned in Australia, Al took me  Saint Mary's Cemetery to see Wilson's grave with its Celtic  Cross marker and told me the amazing story of how a Fenian  fighter for Irish freedom had been captured and tried and sent to Australia  for imprisonment by the British government  then occupying Ireland.  Al could recall the very day of Wilson's burial vividly because he  was a schoolboy at Saint Mary's School and the nun teaching them brought them outside to watch the great man being buried  right before their eyes.
All Fenian graves are a great source of patriotic devotion for Irish Nationalists. It is considered a blessing and honor to have the  graves of these patriots in  a community.
Padraic Pearse, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising,  is  remembered for  his funeral oration that set Irish hearts on fire with renewed  zeal  to fight for Irish freedom.  Pearse was speaking at the graveside interment of another Fenian O Donovan Rossa, and he concluded his remarks with these  words that have sent  pride running through the veins of  every Irish person worldwide and should rouse fear in every British Imperialist :

They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! - they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.

How amazing to think during this Easter season that Pawtucket  is  privileged to hold one of these graves . Be aware that the spirit of  rising against oppression that marks the ME TOO Movement and  the BLACK LIVES MATTER and the  Parkland students ENOUGH IS ENOUGH-- again shows the constant  motion of human history towards  justice.  And this Easter as with every Easter -- still we rise with the Risen One  who came to SHOW us that  the sacrifice of a person in the struggle for freedom does not end the struggle, it sanctifies it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


 It's Dark in Here
I am writing these poems
From inside a lion,
And it's rather dark in here.
So please excuse the handwriting
Which may not be too clear.
But this afternoon by the lion's cage
I'm afraid I got too near.
And I'm writing these lines
From inside a lion,
And it's rather dark in here.
This funny poem by Shel Silverstein  which I came 
upon this morning in a  pile of notes and clippings  over
 a decade old was in the printing hand of my grand-daughter. 
she had mailed  it to me when she was  about 8 years old.
 She also added her own drawing of a hand with a pen emerging
 from the mouth of a big crouching cat. Even  now I am struck
 by her appreciation of  humor and poetry on full display here.

 And also I have come  to think that  this little rhyme is more 
accurate and  more serious about the  vocation  of the poet
 than  it may seem on first reading. It could be the prologue
 for almost every book of  poetry.
  Poets do often  feel that they are  writing in the dark
 and that is a scary place to be.  
 Also  many  know the creeping unease  of being in a dangerous
place; that sense of how unwelcome are the insights of poets  who
 write  from the heart of a repressive society.  Knowing vaguely
that  we are in a place that could easily devour us if it even
condescended to notice us.

The poet makes constant and unsuccessful raids on
 the inarticulate as TS Eliot described:

 And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Márgarét, áre you gríeving 
Over Goldengrove unleaving? 
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? 
Ah! ás the heart grows older 
It will come to such sights colder 
By and by, nor spare a sigh 
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; 
And yet you wíll weep and know why. 
Now no matter, child, the name: 
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same. 
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed 
What heart heard of, ghost guessed: 
It ís the blight man was born for, 
It is Margaret you mourn for. 

Gerard Manly Hopkins' poem about  the springs of sorrow that all humanity shares was  one of my mother's favorites because it was addressed to a child who was also named Margaret.  She took it personally and often recited  lines aloud. I now understand that maybe she did this when she was sad and tempted to express her sadness by weeping.  I, on the  other hand, cried loudly and often as a child-- and  sometimes still do. 

"No use crying over spilt milk," she would say.  And there is some truth in that proverb--but like many things it is not an absolute.  There is some use to crying--no,it does not bring the milk back into the glass, but it does express dismay and sometimes remorse.

Reading  the  Gospels and epistles for this Holy  Week I am struck  by the   admonition to Peter  when  Jesus foretells that  he  will  deny  his Master three times.  Even though he  protests that he will die with him, Peter does just that later that night in the courtyard where he watches as the torture of Jesus gets underway.  He lies and says that he  was never with him and does not know him. And after the third  lying denial, he hears the cock crow and he looks towards Jesus and Jesus returns the look with  what must be such  all-embracing  love and mercy that Peter  stumbles out of the courtyard and weeps.

Yes, Peter weeps and  that is all he does that night, and so  does Jesus weep over the death of his dear friend Lazarus, and we are told that he weeps over Jerusalem. And if we weep when we  read or see on TV stories of people dying--like those  young people  from Parkland who tell of  their classmates who died. Or the story in  today's news paper of a ten year old  child  who wept as her father  tortured her with  whippings and forced squatting and feeding.  Or the story of the  children in Siberia who  left messages  for their  parents from the  raging inferno of a mall where they were trapped  by flames.

  All of these  horrors make us weep and make heaven weep. But our weeping must stop as Peter's stopped  when he wept but unlike Judas did not  kill himself, When we weep, we  must also   work for an end to our weeping.  

We take up the task of adding to the justice and mercy in the world when we see that we  who weep and care must also be the ones who organize and agitate  for change.


Thursday, February 1, 2018



Today is the anniversary of my mother's death. February 1 is also the feast day of Saint Brigid- the great Irish saint and patron of  nursing mothers--so it always seemed fit that my mother should die on the date of the  feast of the Queen of the Gaels.  They now call this recurring sadness Grief Work,  In the  Gospel Jesus called it mourning, blessed it and  made a promise:
I would like to recall two poems that speak to  loss and the role of  tears   Just one for today  "Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean---"

 from The Princess: Tears, Idle Tears
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, 
Tears from the depth of some divine despair 
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, 
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields, 
And thinking of the days that are no more. 

         Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail, 
That brings our friends up from the underworld, 
Sad as the last which reddens over one 
That sinks with all we love below the verge; 
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more. 

         Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns 
The earliest pipe of half-awaken'd birds 
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes 
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square; 
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more. 

         Dear as remember'd kisses after death, 
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign'd 
On lips that are for others; deep as love, 
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret; 
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!




Writing about the  way Jack White II rescued our family from  despair at my father's departure when I was nine, made me bring to mind  so many of the events that surrounded us in those chaotic  days.
One of the principal people in our life was our grocer Modesto Lunadelli.  He ran a grocery store at the corner of Meadow St and Brewster St a few blocks from our house. Even now when I drive by that corner I can see the signs that there once was a storefront there. In my childhood going to the  store was almost a daily event.  My mother took me there when I was a toddler, and after I was four and my younger sister was born, she  trusted me to take a note and bring the groceries home.   I remember how Mike (Modesto's nickname) would pack the bag and make sure I could handle it.
On Wednesday I would leave our written order and on Thursday  Mike would deliver the large order to our front hallway.  That is how  people without cars or telephones shopped in those days before super markets ended the family store. On Saturday my mother sent me  to pay Mike and to pick up a few small things we needed for Sunday dinner.  Every week, no matter what the bill was, she sent me to the store to hand Mike  twenty dollars.  So we had a balance. 

     Since my father's gambling made our ability to pay uncertain, Mike was used to not getting the full amount, but he usually got that twenty dollars.  But when my father left, there was no income.  My mother always said that MIKE CARRIES US.  And I would picture  him putting all of us on his  shoulders. Now he really would  be carrying a full load. 

I don't know  what my mother told Mike, but I do know that  his manner  never altered.  He was still funny and full of advice and offering me samples of the exotic foods--fruits and cheeses that he ordered from Italy  to please his Italian mother. So he taught  me how to eat a ripe fig, all about the varieties of olives, and the fact  that a  great cheese could be alive with maggots.  Some shocks but all welcome and exciting experiences.  

Mike and his wife loved opera and would  listen in the back of the store to the radio operas from the Met. He understood the Italian operas and would tell me the plots of  the works of Puccini and Verdi. One day he even taught me how to pronounce my own name. Having a Pawtucket accent, I guess that I offended  his ears when I said my own name.
"Your name is not "Normer"-- you have a whole opera named after  you --say it this way  No-r-r-ma--" as he rolled his  r's and made it wonderful.  "Always remember you are a Celtic Queen."