Ode to Miss Gladys Evelyn McCormick

scylla and charybdisSometimes, upon an older person’s extending his hand, in greeting, I inwardly hear Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

“He holds him with his skinny hand/’There was a ship,’ quoth he./’Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’/Eftsoons his hand dropt he.”

Little do these people know I associate such high drama with mere extension of a hand.

My association comes unbidden, arising from long-ago memory of being in the class of a remarkable teacher.

To her students, Miss Gladys E. McCormick was ever “Corky,” a term we never used with her directly.

As teacher, she was both quirky and brilliant.

And since she taught college-prep English classes at West Warwick Junior High, no fewer than 60 years, her legacy is profound.

How’d she teach so long? The town could never verify her age, since her birth certificate was destroyed in a fire at Town Hall years earlier. I suspect “Corky” never facilitated them in discovery.

And in the same manner as ‘vintage’ anything, her reputation improves with the years.  That’s why, whenever we Baby Boomers share memories at class reunions, we sing her praises. Our only regret?  We never told her how much we valued her.

She was about 5’ 2,” matronly, with corkscrew, blue/grey hair that never bowed to control. Oh, she tried, as when she ducked into her walk-in, supply closet, at the front of the room, where she’d quickly run a comb through the thatch. She’d come back out, looking the same.

While there, she’d reach into her blouse and hoist up a bra strap charged with holding up her ample bosom. Then, she’d make a final check of her appearance in the little mirror hanging on the door and end with a spritz of “Evening in Paris” from its cobalt-blue glass atomizer.

We students committed her rituals to memory.

One recalled her lunging out of that same supply closet, brandishing the janitor’s wet mop she’d accidentally released from its pail, uttering the Shakespearean: “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well.”

“Corky” loved high drama.

On occasion, she’d shake her head, mumbling “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” whenever we’d fail at something we should have known.

Each day we’d be charged with solving a brain teaser she’d written on her blackboard, such as “What does ‘Between Scylla and Charybdis’ mean?” Since it was before Google answered everything, we students searched encyclopedic texts for answers.

She became our portal to literary greats like Shakespeare, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Longfellow, and a host of others.  That was important for we were milltown urchins who never enjoyed automatic exposure to culture. But many of us would go on to become our generation’s doctors, scientists, church leaders, teachers.

Miss McCormick was a fervent believer in something educators would sadly disavow in later years:  rote memorization of important literary works. As such, she had us internalize whole passages of great works.

That’s why today, I never witness Memorial Day services, without silently quoting “In Flanders Field:” “We are the dead, short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow./Now we lie in Flanders Field.”

As a parent reading stories to my own children, at bedtime, I’d recall Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s: “Between the dark and the daylight/ When the night is beginning to lower/ Comes a pause in the day’s occupation/ That is known as the Children’s Hour.”

And in times of dissidence and national conflict, I hearken to words in President Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and  dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”

We former students note that we can still deliver, verbatim, whole passages we internalized.

And, in the process, we internalized our teacher.

Today, “Corky” rests in a modest gravesite in Coventry, aside her parents, with the simple identification on her marker: “GEM.”

We who had her as teacher are not surprised.

To all who teach, today:  Be the “Corky” for your students.

Your legacy will be assured as your students carry you with them, forever.

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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How West Warwick Kids ‘Did’ Summer:

 

camp ayoho now a campgroundCrompton ‘Free’ Library…Camp Ayoho…Vacation Bible School

She’d been really sweet—the reader, that is. Telling me I ‘made her smile,’ with my accounts appearing here, each Saturday

She said I stoked her own memories.

We chatted back and forth on one of West Warwick’s Facebook pages where I post these articles and she mentioned the Crompton Free Library (libraries are never ‘free’ to me; I always owe money for late books.)crompton library

But I digress.

Donnalee Garofalo is a woman who grew up in the same time period and part of town as I. That makes us kindred spirits.  And when she told me how she used to sit in a corner of the old library in Crompton (did it really have only 2 small rooms?), reading Nancy Drew Mysteries, she transported me back in time.

I was probably in another corner reading “Little Women” or “Five Little Peppers.”

I remember the pleasant smell of books in that library.

Now, psychologists say smell is the one sense of five that stays with us longest. A sudden whiff of a flower, perfume, or after-shave can blip us back to a familiar scene/person from long ago. How do I know? The men’s cologne, English Leather, transports me back to a Paul Newman look-alike guy I dated but never married, when I was in my 20’s (don’t tell my husband.)

Pungent day lilies remind me of too many funerals in my younger years.

Donna’s memory of the library prompted other recollections.

For instance, we kids all gathered, on summer mornings, in the small field outside the library, awaiting the bus to Camp Ayoho, in Coventry.

My two older brothers and I walked the mile from home to that field, to get the bus.

When we arrived at camp, girls and boys separated and went to two big tents where we stashed our towels, lunches, and changed into bathing suits.

Periodically, a few boys bent on mischief would sneak over to the girls’ tent, and lift up the canvas flaps, in hopes of catching us, unaware…and naked.

We’d howl our protests, until an adult intervened.

Recovering shattered dignity, we went down to the water where lifeguards taught us to swim. I learned wrong and continued to contort my neck from side to side, while swimming, all through life.  I hated burying my face in the water.

On rainy days, we sat on the floor of the big recreation hall and watched movies.

Or we girls went to the crafts tent where we made countless gimp bracelets (do kids still do this?) or scores of multi-colored pot-holders.

I don’t recall my brothers making any crafts while they were at camp.  Maybe crafts was considered a less-than-masculine activity in the day.

We kids brought bagged lunches and bought candy or ice cream on rare occasions Mom gave us spending money.

When Camp Ayoho wasn’t our destination, my sister and I went to St. Mary’s Vacation Bible School which was run by my church, supervised by parish nuns, and held where the old Crompton Elementary School used to be, before it was demolished and built anew as an apartment building.

At these two-hour morning sessions, the nuns gave us tear-out’s of “Moses and the Bullrushes,” “Joseph and His Many-Colored Cloak,” or “Noah and the Arc,” to name a few, from coloring books, and we happily colored them in (today, adult coloring books are considered a serious de-stressor.)

Then we discussed the morals of each story.

Whenever I see Vacation Bible School on church marquees, today, I smile, for it evokes fond memories.

Except for the day an older driver almost killed my younger sister. She alighted from the bus at our stop, following the day’s session, and raced across the road to our driveway, without looking. He was coming from the opposite direction, did not stop for the bus (as the law requires,) and ran over my sister’s foot.

I followed her up the driveway, screaming to all:  “Sharon’s been hit.”

I considered her survival a true miracle, most probably owing to our being in a state of grace…

After all, we’d just come from Vacation Bible School.

Now, what are your childhood memories of summers in West Warwick? Did you go to Vacation Bible School…Camp Ayoho? Another Camp? Or fashion your own recreation?

Post answers on the Kent County Daily Times website or to the several West Warwick sites aligned with Facebook or right under my column here.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker, freelance writer, and author to children’s books “Grandpa and the Truck” (grandpaandthetruck.com). She is also a regular commentator in the Providence Journal,  Wall St. Journal, etc. 

P.S. Today, Camp Ayoho on Johnson’s Pond, in Coventry, is a campground for RV’s; Crompton Free Library is Pawtuxet Valley Preservation and Historical Society museum.

 

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The Day of Yellow Rain

hoechst chemical“My cats came in covered in yellow,” one person stated. Another said her mother saw barrels of the Crayola-yellow stuff positioned against the fence that separated the neighborhood of Windsor Park from the Hoechst chemical facility.

I posted a shorter version of this story to several Facebook pages dedicated to West Warwick, and I got a ton of reaction, for most of us remember the day(s) when a yellow dust fell from the sky and coated everything, at least in my neighborhood of Crompton.

Something went woefully wrong, for we recall waking up to neon yellow all over hedges, cars, yards. It mimicked an eerie scene from “The Twilight Zone.”

My father who had chemistry/physics background did some checking the next day and told us  “nothing harmful happened”—the company had assured him.

Of course, that was before all of us of a certain age recall Love Canal in New York where the Hooker Chemical Company gave similar assurances to its neighbors.

In the summer, during a dry spell, kids playing on the athletic fields were suddenly ankle-deep in sludge rising from below, wicking its way up through the ground, a chemical wash that was toxic indeed. Next it was found coming through basement walls, all owing to the way Hooker was indiscriminately disposing of its toxic waste, sending it out, onto the land where it filtered down, creating an underground plume that knew no bounds.

As a result of the suspected poisoning, there was a virtual abandonment of the community and inability for homeowners to sell but a greater toll remained:  cancer cluster groups developed and people succumbed at a far more alarming rate than was average.

It was a lesson for all of us in mill towns across America.

Nine years ago, my husband and I zeroed in on the idyllic community of Asheville, North Carolina, a town set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on everyone’s short list of preferred retirement communities. With that, we went on a shopping spree, with a buyer broker realtor, to identify our home.

There, sitting at the top of a gorgeous expanse of mountains, was a home we could love…if not for the two factories below. One sprawling building was defunct and I knew that would predict dire consequences in future when upkeep would become non-existent. It would crumble and decay and become an eyesore on the otherwise pristine horizon.

The other factory was still active, suggesting worse problems. A pond nearby had signs posted “No swimming…no fishing.”

My husband, a good ol’ boy from rural Arkansas (where there were no factories or industrial waste), suspected the admonition was due to the fact there was no lifeguard and the company didn’t wish to be liable, while I believed otherwise. Then again, he’s the one who asked if the trout on the menu at a North Carolina restaurant in a small local town was ‘from a nearby stream’ to which the waitress answered “No, it’s farm trout. You wouldn’t want fish from a nearby stream.” She knew what he didn’t know.

Outside the town of Asheville sits an upscale housing community of homes priced at $500,000+, which has painfully learned the lessons mill town residents know for, at present, a toxic underground plume grows and creeps towards them, affecting a nearby stream, air, and well water. It comes from an abandoned former metal plating factory nearby.

Their home value has plummeted; they cannot sell; they cannot leave.

Their retirement dream has turned to a nightmare.

In my book, “The Asheville Experiment” I show how I protected us against the possibility of buying in an out-of-state community whose toxic dump sites we couldn’t know.

But it is my heritage as a mill town girl, coupled with my training as a professional realtor, that taught me such.

For that, I am grateful.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker, freelance writer, and author to children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com). She is also a regular commentator in the Providence Journal and the Kent County Daily Times.  She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about her husband’s and her nine years in the trendy retirement town of Asheville, NC.

She’ll also tell why they returned to live in Rhode Island (This book’s a manual for all those who contemplate a move–anywhere– but who like their non-fiction laced with humor.)

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West Warwick Produces Champions

newspaper photo of us kellys on dockWe got the news in the winter of 1960, that our family from West Warwick would represent Rhode Island in a national contest to be held in the spring.

We were Rhode Island’s candidate for “All-American Family.”

This was no small honor, for families all over Rhode Island competed to represent our state.

It was 1960, when Wheaties ‘Breakfast of Champions’ sat on tables across the land,  a time when America boomed along,  post World War II; President Dwight D. Eisenhower  (Ike) was in the White House.

My generation of kids was the product of renewed faith.

My father had entered the statewide contest. It made sense, for he loved contests of all sorts. That’s how I got my first roller skates, the ones with the key. He’d solved the jingle leg lampand won.  Instead of the crazy leg lamp the Dad won in “The Christmas Story,” my Dad won a pair of girl’s roller skates. Now, I skated up and down the sidewalks in our neighborhood, one of the few girls with skates, skurr…skurr…skurring  for hours.

But since the All-American Family contest was big, we’d get far more than skates if we won.  We’d be semi-famous and we’d become owners of a brand new, modern ranch home in the recently-built development of Lehigh Acres, Florida.

The contest sponsors flew us to that southernmost state, where we checked in, met others, and began the week long elimination process.  There was interviewing and a talent contest.  Here, we Kelly’s had the advantage, since my family was used to on-the-spot questioning, for Dad had us kids compete, in yearly science fairs, from a young age.

Each morning, we fifty families filed into a big auditorium where we breakfasted with Don McNeil of “The Breakfast Club” radio show.  He was joined by former beauty queen/TV star, Anita Bryant,  who sang “Come to the Florida sunshine tree,” in TV commercials seen all over the United States. An outspoken Christian, she’d get in trouble, years later, for her homophobic commentary. But during the period we met her she was one of America’s darlings.

Our disadvantage in this contest (according to Mom) was the fact we lacked an important family member.  West Point wouldn’t allow my older brother to join us, for he was in his first (Plebe) year and the Army didn’t think vying for America’s top family spot was valid enough reason to release him.

On one occasion, each of the “Fab Fifty” ( a name I gave) families  stood aside a water hole, pretend-fishing, dangling poles at the same spot over the side of the dock, smiling for the camera. It was a silly photo-op in that Mom wore a dress and heels (who does that while fishing, except maybe Barbara Billigsley of “Leave It to Beaver” fame?)

Those photos were sent to all state and hometown newspapers for publication (copy of newspaper photo is above.)

For one solid week we were on our best behavior which meant that on Sunday, we Catholic families traveled by bus, over a hundred miles, to church, since none were in our area. What do I recall of this journey? Passing miles of palm trees, barrenness and Seminole Indian villages alongside muddy canals in  a seemingly-blighted territory.

Finally, at the end of the week, it was announced:  Our neighbor to the north– the Massachusetts family– took top prize and the house in Lehigh Acres.

Ten years later, another West Warwick-ite’s family would win. Andrea Peterson had married Michael Mucha and they’d go on to have four children. They lived in Coventry but Andrea had been raised in West Warwick. Now, in 1970, her family was crowned Rhode Island’s All- American Family. They, too, went off to a week-long competition in Lehigh Acres, Florida.

Apparently, our little town produced champions in more areas than sports.

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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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.

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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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