The apple never falls far from the tree, part one

tracey

Tracey

This is a story about my sister Tracey. Tracey, for the unitiated, was my closest sister growing up and our exploits could fill a book. Maybe two. She is quick to anger and can hold a grudge like only an Irishman. She is also the one person you want having your back. Seriously, she will cut a bitch. For real.

This story, like so many, begins on Sheridan Street.

Tracey was probably about 5, making me 4. Our house had not yet devolved into a total circus. Mom was busy with 5 kids and a home to run. Dad worked 2 jobs, full-time as a mechanic for the city and part-time at the local gas station. He was, of course, responsible for any maintenace issues that would crop up in an older home.

On this particular day, Dad was trying to fix the toilet. The only toilet. In a house full of kids. Yeah, not fun. Dad had a great sense of humor, most of the time. When irritated and frustrated, not so much. So after many hours of trying to fix the problem, he was in no mood for children or their questions.

Picture a small bathroom. Just big enough to house a tub and toilet along one wall and a double vanity directly across. Now imagine, Jim. Big Jim. The giant of my youth. Cramming himself into the corner trying to figure out what was clogging up the works. Yeah, not a happy camper.

At one point, late in the day, Tracey and her constant companion (that’s me) sauntered, oops, walked into the bathroom to check on Dad and give encouragement. There she stood, tiny little Tracey with her auburn and brown hair, looking at her father – her sweaty and tired and frustrated father.

What does this, his middle child say to him, what words of love and encouragement does this child seek to impart to her father.

“Maybe it’s an apple.” An Apple. Tracey had flushed her apple down the toilet!

At four I don’t remember his immediate reaction but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the version he used later in his multiple retellings –  his Irish eyes shining with delight, as he polished and embellished this story into family lore.

Stay tuned for Part 2, wherein Jim exacts his revenge.

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A Sassy, Foul-Mouthed Brunette: The Girl That Slayed The Giant

WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE AHEAD

andrea(If you’re new to the blog, I suggest you first read How 5 Little Girls Briefly Slayed the Giant.)

Andrea. I think about her often. I hope she’s happy; she deserves it more than any person I have known.

Andrea lived at the New England Home for Little Wanderers. Aunt Maryanne (one of the 13 permanent residents of Sheridan Street) worked there, cleaning up after the residents and staff. I always assumed it was an orphanage but all of the Little Wanderer residents went home on the weekends.

All except Andrea.

Andrea was a ward of the state. She had been in and out of foster care and, finally, had been permanently removed from her parent’s care after their umpteenth time of causing her actual, physical harm. I think the last straw was when her mother tried to drown her in the bathtub. Apparently beating and burning a child with cigarettes are not sufficiently cruel enough acts to warrant being removed from parental care.

Andrea, having no where to go on weekends bounced between the professional staff until she found a home on Sheridan Street. She spent every weekend and holiday with us, a fragile patch in our quilt of crazy. When she was introduced into our lives she was broken, in body and spirit. She was practically feral. She didn’t know how to use utensils, or clean herself, or anything really.

She was 6 years old, looked 10, and swore like a sailor.

It seemed to take no time for her to acclimate to the rhythm of life on Sheridan Street. She was wanted and she was loved and after a time she seemed to realize that and she relaxed. A little. With Andrea you had one simple thing to remember or you would set off a firestorm of cussing that would curl your ears.

Never, ever, try to take her food. Ever. Seriously. NEV-ER. Especially if that food was pizza.

Andrea loved Maryanne (her primary caretaker at home), Aunt Barbara (my mom), all the various kids and guests. But her special, all consuming love was reserved for one person: Uncle Jimmy. Or Papa Smurf as she would call him, laughingly. A completely appropriate nickname coined for him by Deb’s friend Robin, for at that time in his life, he looked, well, like Papa Smurf.

Dad treated everyone equal. Prince or pauper, you were good people until your actions proved otherwise. He treated Andrea like all the other kids, to him she was a kid no matter what lie in her past, and he treated her like he treated the rest — and tough luck if she didn’t like it. When she didn’t, she let him know in the most vocal, invective-filled way imaginable.

An Andrea rant was a thing of stunning simplicity. It consisted mainly of saying “fuck you” as loudly and creatively as possible. For example: fuck you, Uncle Jimmy, fuck, fuck, fuck, you. Uncle Jimmy. You fuck, fuck, fuck you. From a six year old. They’re legendary in our family and all it takes is one FU Uncle Jimmy to make all the sisters dissolve into laughter.

She would stand there red and angry; immovable; sputtering and growling (really, she would growl, grrr; low in her throat). There she was, not crying, chin up, shaking with rage, staring the giant in the face and telling him to go fuck himself. And Uncle Jimmy, the original red-faced sputterer, what did he do? Well, he looked right at her and laughed. A deep, rumbling, silent laugh that would have his whole body shaking. And that, THAT, would infuriate her and spur her to ever greater heights of fuck youing.

I was 17 when Andrea left us. She was adopted by a family that had experience dealing with children like her. Experience, the state decided, our crazy home did not possess. The family that taught her about love and family and fun and Christmas. Yeah Us. We weren’t a suitable family for Andrea. Us, the ones who taught her to share, and be social, and laugh, and be patient. Why? We didn’t meet state guidelines. We were also told that for her transition to be successful all ties would have to be cut; we never saw her again.

I remember the day she left. She was wearing Dad’s ridiculously large cowboy hat and carrying her favorite stuffed animal. I remember her waving from the car and the car pulling away.

In the action of her leaving, it was in that moment, that I thought Dad had finally met his match. A sassy, foul-mouthed brunette with an appetite for pizza and Papa Smurf. The battered and broken little girl who looked him in his eye and gave him hell, Her. She left him standing in his front yard, smaller than I had ever seen him.

Trying hard to hide his tears.

Why don’t you go sit on the couch, next to Mom

bruinsMy mom has changed very little over the years. Sure she is losing the battle with age. Her hair now sits, white, upon her head. She has trouble walking so spends her time outside the house in a wheelchair. She has survived more than a few brushes with the Reaper. She is a testament to medical science.

Mom’s heyday was the 70s. She was raising five girls and running a home. She babysat for everyone and anyone, she fed and housed any stray that Dad dragged home, and she did it without complaint or reward.

She did it because she has the same big heart that Dad had. She just didn’t publicize it.

Mom had a few vices. She drank hot tea by the gallon and she chain smoked — at first Pall Mall Menthols and later Salem 100s. Back in the 70s, when kids were allowed to buy cigarettes, one of us would be dispatched to F&M to get her more if she were running low. Imagine that happening today!

She loves sports and she is the quintessential homer. Her Red Sox. Her Celtics. Her Bruins. Especially her Bruins.

Back in the day, we had one TV. It sat in the bay window in the living room, with rabbit ears and human remote controls. Arrayed around the room was typical furniture – sofa, loveseat, chair, assorted tables. In the evening, the living room would fill up as we spread out to watch TV. Arguments about seating were legendary and alliances were forged and broken to make sure prime seating was kept by those with the foresight to get to the living room early.

On certain nights, the TV watching dynamic shifted – hard. Everyone scrambled to the floor. Fighting and shoving to get as far away from the furniture as possible. You had to be strategic, to close to the TV and you would be up and down – the official channel changer for the evening, but you needed to be far enough away from the couch to be safe.

The Bruins were on and Mom was going to sit and watch them. Terror stuck the sisters! Mom was not a quiet fan she was not a passive fan. Our mother, the calm that ran our lives, became a raging, crazy lunatic whenever the Bruins played.

We always seemed to have company. Always. On this particular night the Powderly’s were visiting, at least Dan and his daughter, Mary Jo. They lived just over the other side of Sheridan Street. Dad and Danny were childhood friends and Mary Jo was a constant presence in our house since she was best friends with Debbie, my oldest sister.

Dad and Dan settled in, each with a beer. Mom sat at the end of the couch, alone. While all of the sisters, plus Mary Jo, squirmed around on the floor. Mary Jo, puzzled, asked why she couldn’t sit on the furniture.

One of the sisters, not sure which, said “Why don’t you go sit on the couch, next to Mom”.

So off she went. It was fine, at first.

Then the game started in earnest. Her focus firmly on the game, Mom would start by talking to the TV – get him, GET him, GET HIM! Son-of-a-bitch GET HIM!

As the game progressed, so did Mom. She quickly moved from talking to yelling to jumping to flailing. At one point the action was so savage and quick, that Mom literally lept from the couch – scaring poor Mary Jo; who looked at our mother as if she had lost her mind.

That’s when it happened. Mom – sweet, lovable Mom –  worked into a frenzy by her big, bad, Bruins clenched her hands, raised them above her head, and – WHAM – punched, yep PUNCHED, a child. In the leg. Hard.

A child, by the way, that did not belong to her! The woman who wouldn’t harm a fly, who never

laid a finger on any of her children – yeah, that woman – became a crazy lunatic. Because of the Bruins. The Big, Bad Bruins. Baby.

Mary Jo recovered from her leg injury without any lasting physical damage. Although she kept her distance from Mom for a while after that incident.

Mom, she still loves her some Bruins (and all the other home teams) and watches as often as she can. She watches them alone. In her room. Perched on the edge of her bed. No longer chain smoking but still guzzling her tea – now iced. Intent on the action. Having the time of her life.

You don’t have to watch the game to follow the action. You only need to listen to the sounds emanating from the bedroom. Her shouts of joy, frustration, irritation, and incredulity tell a story more compelling – to me, a non-sports fan – than any announcer ever could.

All I know is, if there’s a heaven, God better be a Bruins fan! Or he’s in for one hell of an eternity

How 5 Little Girls Briefly Slayed the Giant

Jim had girls. Five in all: Debbie, Patty, Tracey, Barbara (that’s me), and Laura. The older four happened quickly — only 3-1/2 years separate Debbie and me; Laura was born a couple of years later. It was a cruel trick played on him by the universe. He didn’t know what to do with us, he didn’t know how to discipline us, and he sure as hell didn’t know how to relate to us.

He did his best to avoid having to discipline us when we were young. He wouldn’t hit us because we were girls. Jim had only one rule, no crying – ever! If you did something, you took your punishment like a man. Even if you were a five-year-old girl.

I’m sure it was quite a sight. Jim was not a small man. Physically he wasn’t incredibly tall but he was broad, and big, and damn, could he holler! Thunderous. His voice could peel paint. And when directed at you, you had to stand there and take it – like a man; a five-year-old-girl-man. There was no bending down to your level for a conversation and a gentle readjust. There was just Jim. Getting louder, and redder, and madder.

The four who weren’t in trouble would close ranks on the condemned sister. She would be out in front. Alone. Chin up. Looking straight ahead. Taking it like a man; a five-year-old girl-man. The remaining four would stand directly behind, two on each side. Chin up, looking straight ahead, crying like only little girls can. Heaving, snotty, sobbing, silent crying. Four little girls, protecting one of their own.

It didn’t take long for the crying to have the desired result. Jim giving up with a “Jesus Christ, Mul” (to my mom), you discipline them, I can’t take all the damn crying.

There were instances when we all got in trouble at the same time. They didn’t happen often but they did happen. The most memorable of these had five little girls lined up, shoulder-to-shoulder, chins up, looking straight ahead. Taking it like men; five little-girl-men. Luckily for us, just as Jim was really winding up his tirade – bellowing and sputtering – it happened! His top teeth shot out of his head and dropped – plop – on the floor between us. Much to his credit, he leaned over, picked his teeth up, and walked away. What little was left of his dignity preserved in that small action. And the sisters, well we had the grace to wait until he was out of ear shot to fall, laughing, to the floor.

I’d like to say that Jim met his match in those 5 little girls, but he hadn’t. That would have to wait a few more years. I was a teenager then; Jim’s bellowing didn’t bother me. If he wanted my attention, he grounded me and took away my phone privledges. That’s how you punish a teenage girl that likes to talk!

Sisters, you know who I’m talking about – a sassy, foul-mouthed brunette (no, not you Patrice).  So, shhh, don’t spoil it for the others.

To read about the mystery brunette, click here.