Guest-speaking: To Be Compared to Her is ‘Heaven,’ Indeed

“Colleen, you’re like the Erma Bombeck of Rhode Island education.” That’s what one person said who reads my regular educational Op-Ed’s in the Providence Journal.bombeck_in

I loved the fact he compared me to a witty lady who had a wonderful, common-sense approach to things. Like Erma, I like to use humor to get my message across.

In that vein, I’m happy to report that I’ll be guest-speaking at a number of times in the months ahead. Some folks who read my columns in West Warwick’s Kent County Daily Times (where I revisit my childhood) have asked me to speak before a large East Greenwich group in the fall and a smaller church group has extended an invitation, too (they don’t know yet that they’re the parish where my father grew up!!) Before these groups, I’ll talk about the importance of shared memories. In that regard, I’m a memoirist, encouraging others to share their stories.

Then, too, I’ll be providing a significant element to PBS’s “Our Town” for their Sept. 7, 2016 focus on West Warwick.

This year, I hope to go before teacher groups to encourage those in the field. That’s been my calling for many years. As such, I write the monthly column about students/teaching/education that appears on the second Thursday of each month in the Providence Journal Op-Ed section.To date, I’ve written 50 of these.

In presentations, I am lively, spirited, and engaged with my audience.

With that, I want to encourage those in the field who set up educational/teacher workshops or in-service programs to contact me as guest speaker, for I’m one who’s actually “walked the walk,” as 30 year, highly-successful veteran of the classroom who knows how very important a teacher’s job is.

I’ll get that importance across to those in the classroom, today.

And I’ll do it with humor.

Today’s teachers need a champion who knows how important their job is.

I can do that and I welcome the opportunity.

Email Colleen Kelly Mellor at ckmellor@cox.net

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Even Milltown Kids Dance

horgan-elementary-school

With Brylcream-slicked hair and Mom-pressed shirts, the boys stood against the auditorium wall, as if they were about to be shot by a firing squad.

In a metaphorical way, they were.

Soldiers each, they were about to embark on the most damnable mission of their young lives…crossing the auditorium’s wide oak floor, to ask one of us girls at the opposite wall to dance.

We girls stood together, pretend-chatting, trying to appear blasé, hoping we’d be asked by some boy, not left the lone girl unworthy of invitation.

If we slow-danced with a boy, we’d sheepishly extend hands, hoping damp palms didn’t give away too much the fact we were terrified at such proximity to the opposite sex.

We needn’t have worried:  the boys were just as terrified. After all, they were supposed to lead.

If a girl rejected some brave boy’s request (and many did,) the boy would have to slink back in retreat across that floor or risk a second “No,” from another.

No 12-14 year-old boy had that kind of intestinal fortitude.

Because of the format, Al Angelone‘s School of Dance Night at West Warwick Jr. High became a sort of Maginot Line for young men. It would ready them for life contests to come.

But those important nights came much later than my introduction to dance, for I’d had my own personal dance lessons earlier in life, when Mom brought me, weekly, to Mrs. Helen King Walthers’ Dance Studio, held on the second floor of the brick J. Flanagan building in Clyde, the Phenix section of town. I was probably around eight years old.

The lady who ran the school was typical of ballerinas everywhere, in that she was lithe, slim, and flexible, with her blonde-ish, silver hair tied up in a neat little bun, allowing her to do the low bends and sweeps she’d doubtless spent a lifetime perfecting.

As a young girl, I was fascinated not so much by her agile movements as the black, diamond-patterned, net stocking tights she wore with her form-fitting mini-leotard and short-stacked heels. To me, she was the quintessence of glamour. No other mothers looked like her.

From her, I’d come away with the belief that dancers who no longer graced the stages of New York for fine performances such as “Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” came back to their hometowns to open their own dance studios when they got older.

In class, we students lined up at the bar, before the mirror, limbering up, while the musical cadence helped us through the moves.

I’m sure each of us imagined dance shows where we believed we’d dazzle in those lovely, netted tutus, adorned with sequins. We’d pirouette on one leg, like the dancer on those music box covers. Oh, we’d be magical….

But my career as ballerina was cut short due to circumstances beyond my control, when Mom got a look at 16-year-old ballerina, Betsy Marshall’s (made up name) sinewy, over-developed calves. Just as I was to advance to “toe,” and balance on the front part of the ballet shoe designed to allow such, Mom whipped me out of ballet classes, saying “No daughter of mine will have legs like Betsy’s.”

Despite my protests I’d seen no other girls who suffered that particular affliction, Mom’s decision was final. My career as ballerina was over.

I wouldn’t dance, with real partners, until years later, when Al Angelone’s Dance Night came each Wednesday to West Warwick Junior High….

Even then, those ‘real partners’ were questionable.

Now, my question:  Were you a dancer? Do you remember Al Angelone’s Dance Night at West Warwick Jr. High? Comment below, or to the Facebook pages to which I post these articles, or to the Kent County Daily Times’ website under my column.

 

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.

P.S. I may have missed the chance to dazzle, but I made sure my own daughter had that opportunity. Here is daughter Kerry Mellor in proper sequined tutu, doing what I’d hoped….dazzle in a show.ballerina kerry

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Our Mill Town Jobs Helped Make Us Who We Became

 “Colleen, we’re taking you off the floor and putting you into screen-printing,” screenprintingsaid my shift supervisor at Oresman Bros. Factory, on Pulaski St., in the Crompton section of town. He apparently had great faith in my ability.

I didn’t know screen-printing was a skilled position.

He introduced me to Tom, the taciturn man in charge of that dept. who’d teach me how to superimpose an image of Santa with his reindeer…Santa with his sleigh…the elves at work in the toy lab…onto the red felt cloth that would go to the sewers, after us.

Except I never got the image right.

My prints looked like what would be in the field of vision of a drunk…all wobbly and wavy.

Tom gave up on training me and I knew:  I created the “rejects” mill inspectors would label.

You see, “inspector” was my previous job at the mill.

When I wasn’t checking product quality and affixing my inspector’s number to a product, I sat at a machine all day, as foot press operator, lining up bells on the toe of Christmas stockings and then bolting them to the fabric.  When I got bored doing that, I devised a method where the bells came down a chute, faster, inadvertently bumping up the piece rate a worker could accomplish in an hour. My co-workers weren’t impressed. They were going to do these jobs a lifetime, while mine was a temporary stint.

Every day that summer, I’d go home with red plush fiber lodged in the pores of the skin. I never considered where else those particles might be.

There was the Christmas break, home from college, where I worked at the Post Office, in a time when we employees put mail in little boxes assigned to individual houses. On one occasion of thousands of envelopes arriving at the Post Office, addressed to young men in town, I learned that these were draft notices whose recipients would go to Viet Nam. I knew I’d be changing the Christmas holidays for many that year.

And my very first job—at A&P grocery store, across from that U.S. Post Office, on Main Street. The same grocery store I’d accompanied my parents to on so many occasions, during a time when markets enticed customers with sets of inexpensive dinnerware packaged as individual place settings and S&H green stamps. As a child, I loved to affix the green stamps to books we filled for catalog items we wished to purchase.

As checker,  I worked from the age of 15 (working papers allowed,) where I  stood for hours and manned the cash register that never told the change (we had to mathematically figure that out) and whose drawer was tallied each night, to make sure the count agreed with “items sold.”

We store clerks needed to know, too, the ever-changing prices of every item of produce, as well as regular inventory, unlike today’s grocery clerks whose computerized machines or those damnable stickers tell them all.

We kids in this mill town never had life easy. There was no sense of entitlement. Most of us worked from the very day we could legitimately do that and others did illegitimate jobs “under the table,” for no one simply gave us money.

Today, I know those jobs were critical to the person I became.

What job(s) did you have, as teen or young adult, in our mill town? (feel free to write letter to editor or put your answer one one of the Facebook pages dedicated to West Warwick where I post my column. Or add below, in the Comment section.)

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes two books, “The Asheville Experiment” and “In the Shadow of Princes.” Follow her at colleenkellymellor.com.

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A West Warwick Native Walks Back into Her Childhood

principal's daughter in kt cty times‘The Principal’s Daughter’

principal john j. kellyAs Guest-Speaker, I Don’t Plan on ‘Pulling a Larry Wilmore’…

 

You know—the alleged comedian of “The Nightly Show” fame who some say ‘bombed’ at the 2016 White house Press Conference Dinner, as he skewered several, with the result an audible groan —or worse yet for ANY comedian—no response– came up from the audience.

No, I plan on sharing the funnier aspects of my life, in guest-speaking, and I’m slated for several opportunities to do just that.

A few years back, at my 50th. West Warwick High School class reunion, I boldly went where no woman goes, by stepping up to the mike and asking classmates if any of them wanted to date me, in high school (who does that?)

Amazingly (to me), hands shot up.

My reason for doing that? I wanted to find out—at last.

I had no dates….throughout high school, which put me seriously behind in social adeptness at attracting a mate all through college, for junior and senior high are the proverbial training grounds for dating and finding a mate.

I understood. In high school, no young man wanted to come to my house to pick me up. Why?  The principal of the high school, Mr. John J. Kelly, lived there– a stern, authoritarian man who’d be properly called “old school,” by anyone’s definition—if they were respectful.

Those who were not respectful called him “Old Chrome-Dome (he was bald).”

Out of earshot, of course.

I recall, distinctly, my sitting in a school assembly, when my father pronounced to the students: “And you’re not to go to Turcotte’s Hall, after a football game.”

Now, many considered that directive pure sacrilege, since Turcotte’s Hall was the “go-to spot” for celebrating with food, drink, and dance, after another glorious Wizard win, or an occasional defeat.

They groused: “Who does Ol’ Chrome Dome think he is anyway, telling us where we can go, when we’re out of school?”

I slunk deeper into my seat, praying for anonymity.

Yep, he’d take on almost-parental authority if the activity were school-related in any sense. Turcotte’s Hall owners had complained and he delivered the blow.

But in self-protective mode, I wanted no one to associate “Ol’ Chrome-Dome” with me.

No kid is that brave.

I recall a classmate dropping me off, once, looking out to see my father in his half-acre garden, pulling weeds, during the summer, saying, in shock: “Your father’s got legs!” He was wearing those half-leg length Bermuda shorts popular in the 50’s.

I realized at that point how very strange others’ perception was, regarding my father.

There was only one other girl who truly knew what having such a father was like.

Lorraine Weston lived across from Prata Funeral Home in the Riverpoint Congregational Church parsonage. A fun girl and spirited, Lorraine was two years younger than I, daughter to Congregational preacher, Reverend Curtis Busby. We were friends for a short while, in the way a two year difference in youthful friendships allows. So, while my father set educational standards, Lorraine’s Dad set a moral code, in the community.

Both were no-win situations for their daughters.

How did my older brothers fare, with the high school principal as their father? Perfectly well…for they were star athletes, named to All-State teams.

In so doing, they crossed the invisible line of acceptance.

For, as anyone knows, in West Warwick, sports is “king”…

And its stars are “princes.”

P.S. The photo on top left is of front page of Saturday’s Kent County Daily Times (where I appear each week) and one on right is my father, principal John J. Kelly, from the Chronicle, John F. Deering High School yearbook.

_________________

The above article appeared as Feature Story, on May 14, 2016, in the Kent County Daily Times. Ms. Kelly Mellor’s memories (and probably those of many others) will grace the front pages of this newspaper each Saturday.  If you wish to make sure you do not miss one, subscribe in upper right hand corner of this website and “Thank you” for your support.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.

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To Me, Poles Are ‘Fancy People’

Walking Back into My Childhood

In preparation for the PBS, “Our Town” focus on West Warwick, to be aired in the fall, West Warwick native and author, Colleen Kelly Mellor, writes of her memories of childhood, growing up in this town, in the 40’s through early 60’s…

To Me, Poles Are ‘Fancy People’    poles--a fancy people in kt cty timesstorm glass wall mount liquid barometer          

From the age of 4, I lived on Pulaski St., named for that Revolutionary War hero, Count Casimir Pulaski, alongside Polish and French. In my crazy-kid-kind-of-memories, I recall the French family on one side—the Beauregard’s (means “good-looking”) being reserved and quiet and having a parlor that only adults were allowed to enter.

That made it all the more exciting to me, for our Irish/English family had no such reserved room.

I’d peek through the glass French doors at the forbidden realm where the most fascinating item, to me, was a glass weather bottle, hanging from the wall, filled with a liquid that changed color, depending upon the earth’s barometric pressure. As such, it predicted the weather.

My family had no such device. We took our weather as it came.

The Polish family on the other side, the Krauses, had no similar restrictions and invited me often, to eat with them. From them, I learned to love Polish foods, like galombki and pierogi, those little envelopes of savory meat and vegetable/cheese concoctions.

The chewy doughy ones, filled with cabbage, were my favorite.

Walzack’s grocery was a one room mercantile down the street from us, where Mom sent me, often, for items. Once there, an older Walzack woman wearing some kind of babushka wrap around her hair, greeted customers and filled their orders of dry goods and meats.

I’d give her my note on which Mom penned her needs, pay, take the items, thank her, and leave. Few words were exchanged, probably because I couldn’t speak Polish.

Mr.Walzack had the much more intriguing job of smoking the meats in his smokehouse at the back of the lot. We kids never actually saw him do this but knew when he was at it, by the tell-tale smoke curling up the chimney.

Because of him, I learned to love Polish sausages and kielbasa.

I loved the Polish church, too, up the street, in Coventry. Our Lady of Czenstochowa Church had tall spires that rose, gleaming, from its altar in the late afternoon sun.

In the summer, they were one of the many church communities who had their festival which was heavily attended by all who’d go for the food, the arcade games, and the dancing.

From these, I came away with my unwavering belief regarding Polish:

To me, Poles were fancy people who polka-danced, wore colorful costumes, ate the chewy, dough-pockets of pierogi and sausage, and had a waaaay prettier church than mine, even if no one but Poles could pronounce it (Shens-ta-ho-wa) and no one could spell it.

An interesting irony? While I was raised on Pulaski St., in West Warwick, Rhode Island, my “significant other” of twenty-four years grew up in Pulaski County, Arkansas.

Count Casimir Pulaski apparently got around to many different, far-flung locations…probably in the same vein as General Washington who allegedly slept in many beds…

Or maybe just his name did.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes two books, “The Asheville Experiment” and “In the Shadow of Princes.” Follow her by signing up on this website (subscribe by putting your email address on top right hand side of this page.  It won’t go anywhere else.).

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My Personal Invitation to You

 

kent county times pic of st mary'scolleen and john--may procession--croppedMy stories are ones that will echo your own memories—all the more if you were raised in a milltown in Rhode Island. If you weren’t one of those fortunate ones (I say with a wink), perhaps my stories will reflect your experiences of being raised in the 40’s through early 60’s.

This past Saturday, I began being featured in my hometown newspaper, the Kent County Daily Times. I’m happy to report (through others who have told me): It’s had blockbuster sales. Am I being arrogant? Not at all…I’m just thrilled that little ol’ West Warwick will be getting some long-overdue positive press.

I intend to provide that.

So, I start the journey through my childhood…the memories of many of us…and I invite you to join (sign up on this website in upper right hand corner.)

If you’re younger, you just might want to understand your roots…which are deep and impressive.

So, here are the articles appearing in Kent County Daily Times:

April 30, 2016—“Walking Back Into Childhood” series…first article:  “Memories come flooding back…” (already on stands but sales have been robust.)

May 8th. “Poles Were ‘Fancy People’ “

May 15th. “The Principal’s Daughter”

P.S.  At the same time, I will continue as monthly commentator in the Providence Journal Op-Ed pages and I will be appearing in many venues as guest-speaker (I’ll put that schedule out, too, as it firms up.)

Busy times ahead and I am loving it, for I have heard from many of you who appreciate my efforts.

Thank you so very much….

Colleen Kelly Mellor

ckmellor@cox.net

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Father Augustine F. Burns

st. mary with mary statueIn the 50‘s and 60’s, parish priests held powerful sway.

And none was more powerful than St. Mary’s Pastor—Father Augustine F. Burns.

Rotund and rubicund, with a bulbous nose, Father took to the pulpit, each Sunday, to pound the lectern, enjoining parishioners to ‘give more’ to the church, suggesting their souls might be at risk.

Unconcerned about my soul, I worried about his health, as I awaited the coronary I was sure would come.

Church-goers quipped others needn’t bother going  to church…

For our Pastor’s voice would go to them, as it thundered through the valley.

In a poor town, parish priests needed to fill the coffers any way they could.

PS…How many of you remember him? Care to share your story?(Some have already done so on the 3 West Warwick pages of Facebook, where I put this post, as well.)

From “In the Shadow of Princes

(a future book, about growing up in West Warwick, by author and Prov Journal commentator, Colleen Kelly Mellor)

P.P.S. Many comments are on the 3 FB pages “You’re probably from West Warwick if…” to which I added this post…Check them out and add your own. It’s been informative, indeed.

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The Sewers (Garment Makers)

Women at sewing machines “Ouch!” I’d hear as the needle hit their finger. It was the only human sound I heard from that section of the Oresman Bros. Christmas Factory, muffled as it was by the whirr of sewing machines.

The sewer stopped, bandaged up, and went on.

There was no more focused individuals in the mill than the sewers, women that worked at breakneck speed, sewing together the two halves of Christmas stockings, so they’d hold the goodies little ones had grown to expect.

Like Santa’s Elves, they worked all year for a one-day-celebration.

These women (for I’d never seen a man among them) sat in a big room, hunched over machines, with their zip—zip—zip—bursts of sewing, as they ran down one side of the cloth and up the other.  That’s when they occasionally ran over a finger, sewing skin to fabric.

They never took coffee…bathroom….or lunch breaks.

You see, they were on piece work.

Wedded to their instruments, they’d become “machines” in their own right.

P.S. What mill jobs fascinated you?

From “In the Shadow of Princes,” a book in production

By Colleen Kelly Mellor (colleenkellymellor.com and @ColleenMellor) #milltownrigirl

 

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West Warwick-ites—Please, Get Me Names….

Hello West Warwick-ites!              colleen stony knob cropped seriously

I am excited to take part in PBS’s “Our Town” segment, about our hometown—West Warwick. As a writer, I intend to shine a spotlight on exceptional people, sort of like CNN Heroes–those who have achieved in high profile careers, like judges?…movie stars?…entrepreneurs?..or people who’ve met incredible challenges in life. Or they’re just fantastic people who do our town proud. But I need your help.

Do you know of people from West Warwick who are exceptional? After all, little Rhody produced CNN Magic Map news commentator, John King and fellow foreign correspondent Christianne Amanpour, who both  graduated from URI but are nationally prominent. Are there any from our town who’ve gone on to significant fame?

Maybe, too, there’s a woman (or man) who raised 6 kids—alone—after a mate’s tragic  accident—6 kids who are now successful contributors to society. They’re heroes, too.

The point of my story? Our modest town produced greatness.

And I believe there’s a direct correlation between success and the way we were raised.

That serious work ethic taught us if we persevered, we would succeed.

I will interview the people you offer and write about them, but I need your help in identifying them. Please PM (private message) me with names, along with a way to contact them.

Our town deserves the recognition that PBS will give it, as we collectively work to show West Warwick’s uniqueness to a statewide and regional audience.

Thank you….

Colleen Kelly Mellor (West Warwick native, author, and monthly Prov Journal Op-Ed commentator whose article “Parent blames me for his failure” is in today’s–April 14– newspaper. It is available on-line, as well.) Below are my websites and my e-mail address.

ckmellor@cox.net

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Dance Night at West Warwick Jr. High

horgan elementary schoolWith Brylcream-slicked hair and Mom-pressed shirts, the boys stood against the auditorium wall, as if they were about to be shot by a firing squad.

In a metaphorical way, they were.

Soldiers each, they were about to embark on the most damnable mission of their young lives…crossing the wide oak floor, to ask one of us girls at the opposite wall to dance.

If a girl rejected some brave boy’s invitation (and many did,) the boy would have to slink back in retreat across that floor or risk a second “No,” from another.

No 12-14 year-old boy had that kind of intestinal fortitude.

Because of the format, Al Angelone‘s School of Dance Night at West Warwick Jr. High became a sort of Maginot Line for young men. It would ready them for life contests to come.

The year was 1956.

From “In the Shadow of Princes” (a book ‘in production’)

Subscribe above if you don’t want to miss release date….

@ColleenMellor #milltownrigirl

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