Coming Home: Martha Reynolds McVeigh

The ‘Real Fabric’ of West Warwick:  Her Peoplemartha reynolds

West Warwick resident Martha Reynolds was single until the age of 36, when she met and married Jim McVeigh. At that point, she took on her husband’s name, figuring “McVeigh” had a nice ring to it—especially when added to Martha. That was before the Oklahoma City bombing, of course, when another McVeigh (Tim) became a household name. Even so, Martha’s quick to point out:  McVeigh “the bomber” is no relation.

As author, Martha uses her maiden name—Reynolds—and in her world, name recognition is important, for Martha is a best-selling author with six books to her credit: the “Chocolate” trilogy (40,000 downloads) and “Chocolate for Breakfast” (her debut novel) remain her most popular (available at  MarthaReynoldsWrites.com and Amazon.com).

Her books are ‘real life fiction,’ meaning there’s just enough woven in of the ‘real’ to make those who know her wonder: “Which is fact and what is made up?”

But her storyline is pretty interesting.

Her Mom was West Warwick native, Joyce Handy, daughter to Earl R. Handy.  The family first lived in a little house on Ames St., in the Fairview Ave. region and eventually moved to the grand turreted home on Fairview Ave., when the family became more financially comfortable.

Joyce would go on to marry John M. Reynolds, a man who was ten years older than she and who worked for the Providence-Washington Insurance Company. They went on to have three daughters, one of whom was Martha.

In the 1950’s, Grandfather Earl Handy who never finished high school but who had significant life skills took his business acumen and opened his own real estate and insurance company out of the little house on Phenix Square that is now Williams’ Barber Shop.

His business flourished.

In her own right, Martha graduated from Providence College and became a fraud investigator for Sheldon Whitehouse’s Attorney General’s office, after working years in the banking industry.

She and husband Jim bought a home in Warwick, off Tollgate Rd.

In 1996, they both decided (ahead of the current housing trend) that they wanted to be ‘maintenance-free.’ With that, they bought a condo in Governor’s Hill, West Warwick, an area they liked for its convenience, affordability, and aesthetic appeal.

And Martha continued working for the AG’s office until 2011.

Today, she’s retired from her investigator work and is employed one to two days a week for Hospice, while she continues to market her books, all six of which are available through Amazon.

As such, she continues the entrepreneurial tradition of her family.

And today’s connection to Williams Barbershop in Phenix, the little setting where her grandfather first began his business as realtor and insurance salesperson?

Martha’s husband, Jim NcVeigh (not Tim) now goes to that barber as customer.

Martha Reynolds’ life truly has gone full circle.fairview ave with tower

(House is the turreted one on Fairview Ave. where Martha’s Mom grew up and little house is Williams Barber Shop, former setting for Martha’s grandfather’s real estate and insurance business.)williams barber shop

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***Got someone you’d like me to interview for this series? Email me at ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in Subject line.

P.S. Ironically, I just discovered the house is up “For Sale.” Click on the main pic and then click on each of the directional symbols to give yourself the full tour of Martha’s mother’s home…http://www.trulia.com/property/3237697255-37-Fairview-Ave-West-Warwick-RI-02893#photo-26

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 “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com

 

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Notable West Warwick People in All Walks of Life…

Sports is what most people associate West Warwick with. They know of legendary football player-turned-coach, Monk Maznicki or professional baseball catcher, Mike Roarke.

But most don’t know other ‘greats’ from West Warwick who continue to inspire.

Bill Gadoury attempts to give closure to families of America’s MIA’s. Today, he works for the US Embassy in Laos and is interpreter for heads of state, like John Kerry and John McCain. Below, Gadoury (in his younger years,) is seen working with a recovery team, as they comb the jungles of Laos for those still missing.     gadoury

Dr. Lawrence Porter is professor, author, and former Dean of students at Seton Hall. As eminent scholar, “Larry” was sent to China as the Holy See’s representative, along with the head rabbi of NYC and the top Protestant minister of North America. porter, larry

James Miller lives in Brooklin, Maine, where he’s General Manager and publisher of “Wooden Boat magazine,” a position he’s held since 1984.  miller james

Mike Clark learned Spanish and took his drummer talent to blistering heights, by becoming ‘substitute drummer’ for international singer Jose Feliziano (of “Feliz Navidad” fame.) Now, Clark (to the right of Jose) travels worldwide, as drummer, appearing in impressive concert venues.clark, john--jose feliciano

Dr. John Kelly, former Wizard star athlete, graduated from Brown University and then Yale Medical School. He went on to serve many years as chief neurologist at George Washington University Hospital. An ALS center was recently named for him.kelly john

Ann Hood, current resident of Providence, is author of eight novels and a short-story collection.  Her work has appeared in such periodicals as Good Housekeeping, The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, and The Paris Review.hood ann

Major General Reginald Centracchio was Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard who oversaw training, equipping, and deployment of 3,500 troops in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.Centracchio

Alice Gibney presides as PresidingJustice of the RI Superior Court and is one of the first women appointed to that court. She led the court’s mediation program for fourteen years.gibney alice

The above are an eclectic mix… just like the town (West Warwick) that produced them.

But it’s well-nigh time others got journalistic focus and I’d like to give them that.

With that, I ask you readers to recommend others raised in this town who’ve gone on to most productive lives. They don’t need to be famous. Examples are:  the teen who works several jobs to help contribute, financially, to his family; the young child dealing bravely with a devastating disease; the mother who started another career in her 50’s because she hated the mind-numbing job she had; the older man who devoted his senior years to serving the less fortunate; the long-haul trucker who’s driven his Harley motorcycle cross-country; the West Warwick teacher who tutors struggling students “free” after school  every day.

Consider these folks like CNN Heroes– only they’re Kent County People (West Warwick or Coventry-ites who’ve moved away are eligible, too.) You can even suggest yourself.

What will they have in common? Their lives are inspirational.

I’ll flesh them out (with their permission, of course) and make them come alive.

These people are the real ‘fabric’ of West Warwick.

Email me at ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line and tell me why you think your candidate deserves attention.

Be brave—Drop me a line.

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Where Are They? Past Members of Our Class No One Knows About…..

valley-country-club-2015-single-class-1-membership-1-1996392-regular“Whatever happened to So-and-So?” we’d ask and no one seemed to know. In fact, our sleuthing reunion detectives (and we had some really good ones,) couldn’t find these class members—no matter what.

I was on two reunion committees, but since husband and I lived away, in North Carolina, through a meaty time of reunion preparation (those intervening winter months when all members of the class are contacted and information is disseminated), I never did a lot.

Oh, I tried. The most I could contribute was in setting up the board of all of us attendees, with names and pictures from our high school yearbook. Of course, those pictures were of little help on the night we arrived for the reunion, since most of us have changed so much during the years from our 17-year-old selves.

If we wore our high school photo and name on a button on our clothes, that night, it was often met with hesitation and then disbelief when a former classmate encountered one of us and began the conversation, “Oh, hi….Wow! We haven’t seen one another in years.”

Translation?  “Wow! I would’ve never known it was you if not for your name tag.”

Actually, some of us considered that we may have seen one another, over the years, in the Mall…in restaurants…wherever…we just didn’t recognize each other.

At the Reunion committee meetings, we’d discuss where the celebratory event would be held (with decided preference to keep it in West Warwick, in support of our own,) what band or DJ would be hired; what menu we should offer; and our classmates.

It was hoped that we could contact all but that never happened.

As the years ticked by, we needed to cull that list, since each year saw a passing of some.

Then ‘many’ as the years advanced (and some classes planted trees in their honor, along the hillside of West Warwick High School.) Our class of 1963 never did that, perhaps anticipating that there’d be a forest for each class eventually.

But some of our class have never responded to reach-out attempts over the years. It was as if, with graduation, they got their “get-out-of-town” pass and left—never to return.   They seemingly never had curiosity, either, about the rest of us…how our lives went…what we did or didn’t do.

Some who were “stars” in our high school years went on to average lives, while others who were nondescript rose to national and international fame.  Some who were voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” fulfilled the destiny we assigned. They went on to become the doctors…the entrepreneurs…the academics who’d make a sizable contribution to our society, just as we all thought they might.

Who are the most interesting? Those who never stood out in high school but waxed brightly with advanced years.  They found their voice and star power much later.

Some came to Reunions and we’d offer later “Oh, Buzzy Bankowicz…Wow!  He became a financial whizz and now he lives on a posh estate in the south of France. He’s just in town to visit family and to come to this Reunion… a first for him.”

Rhode Island’s done well with folks rising to stardom in the media, as evidenced by TV host, Meredith Viera,  Deborah Messing who became a full-blown television mega star or Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Conservative talk-show panelist on “The View” and later commentator for Fox News.

But it’s the West Warwick stars some of us really want to know about…and some of those ‘stars’ don’t need to be the TV or professional variety. They can be the ones who successfully led a really difficult life, raised wonderful children, did a lot for their town because they recognized its formative influence on them.

Those might be the real ‘stars’ of any class……

(Photo above is a stone arch of the Valley Country Club where we held our last Reunion.)

P.S.  I’m coming to the end of my feature stories appearing in Kent County Daily Times weekend edition. But I’d love to write about YOU, so if you’d like to be the subject (or you know someone who’d  like or deserves spotlight), write me at ckmellor@cox.net. Put “Kent Times article” in Subject line.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivator/speaker and freelance writer whose work appears 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 on her 30-year career as teacher, in the Providence Journal. At present, she completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about a Rhode Island couple living in one of the ‘hottest retirement towns in the US’ for nine years (and answers why they returned to Rhode Island.) Her second book, “In the Shadow of Princes,” tells the story of her childhood, growing up in a milltown, in a highly-competitive family. 

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Mondos and Colleeges

 

future nurses 1963Mondos…and Colleges (pronounced “Col-leeges”)    Photo of Future Nurses is from ‘63 Chronicle (Deering High School) yearbook. I’m in back row, far left.

Yep, if you ever watched “Happy Days,” you knew there were at least two major groups in any high school, in the 50’s and 60’s—the Mondos with their slicked back hair, motorcycles, and basic indifference or outright contempt of education (think of Fonzy as lead player) and the Colleeges, that other group slated for college.

And then, too, were the kids that didn’t fit into any category.

When I was in John F. Deering High School (now called West Warwick High School), from 1960-63, we girls who were even offered a college education considered the two fields that were open to us—nursing and teaching. It probably explains why I was a member of both extra-curricular groups in high school “Future Nurses” and “Future Teachers.”

I’d go on to become a teacher, a career I continued for 30 years.

I don’t even know if they have those same clubs today.  I do know one thing:  They wouldn’t be the only offerings for young women who consider their futures. Today, there’d be ramped up efforts to get girls into the fields of mathematics and science, a decided difference from my day, when it was thought only boys had a penchant—and ability– for the ‘more serious’ subjects.

My father was actually a proponent of that belief, frequently saying:  “Girls can’t do math.” I resented his thinking that told me I was expected to fail in this arena.

Yes, girls in my era were supposed to be in training for their real jobs, as wives and mothers. If married women worked, their employment was supposed to last until the kids came along. My mother was of this group. She involved herself in PTA, church functions, and charitable collections, while she did all the domestic duties of raising four kids, keeping the household clean, and providing dinners nightly.

But as older daughter, I was expected to help with those domestic tasks. Each Saturday I accompanied her to the Phenix Laundromat where we pumped quarters into the washing machines, enabling us to do endless loads of wash. Considering there were 6 of us in the household, with two boys in all sorts of sports, there was a ton of dirty clothes. As a result, Mom and I spent hours in this weekly enterprise—all because my father refused to buy a washing machine.

My older brothers never had to help in laundry…dinner preparation…setting or clearing the table…or even cleaning their room. That was my job, too.

Ours was a household of the belief that boys and men were designed for loftier pursuits, while women were to facilitate men’s goals.

We went on only one family vacation in our entire growing-up years (which deserves its own column.) Disney and family cruise vacations were not yet the American way.

We kids all brought our lunches to school, in paper bags. If Mom ran out of bags and she thought to use a clear plastic bread bag, we balked. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to appear with see-through temporary lunch enclosure that told everyone what we were to eat—tho’ it was no different from theirs:  tuna, peanut butter and jelly, ham, on white bread, with fruit.

Drinks were always individual cartons of white…chocolate…and coffee, the only item we bought in the lunch line, usually.

In our day, it was considered a decided treat to buy hot lunch at school.

In future times, buying hot lunch at school would become anything but “cool,” as the trend reversed.

Then, the “cool kids” brought their lunch…

But never, still, in a bag designed for something else.

Are these your memories? Did you grow up in a family that assigned separate roles for girls and boys? How did that affect later decisions?

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.  She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about her husband’s and her nine years in the retirement town of Asheville, NC. She’ll also tell why they returned to Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.

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To Me, He Looked Like Elliott Ness of “Untouchables” fame…

     coach kelly (2)dad as coach

Oh, you know—the good guy…the one who went after the mob…the thugs…the ones selling the booze, shady women, drugs or other illegal substances in the period of the Depression. Yep, that’s what I thought.

To me, my Dad, John J. Kelly, looked like the actor Robert Stack, who reincarnated the crime-fighting  Federal agent, Eliot Ness, in a role Stack played from 1959 to 1963 in the ABC drama series  “The Untouchables.” In each program, he and his federal  agents  routed the bad guys like Bugsy Moran, Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, while we in the television-watching audience cheered them on.

The picture I have of my Dad in his overcoat and brim hat confirmed my impression.

But really, he wasn’t battling the mob…He was doing something far more important to all of us in West Warwick:  This photo depicts him as coach of the West Warwick Wizards’ football team, before the legendary Monk Maznicki took over that role.

But before his teaching career, my Dad was quarterback with the Lippitt Tigers in a semi-professional football league.

My father maintained his coaching position, along with being a chemistry and physics teacher, until he became vice-principal and then principal of John F. Deering High School (now West Warwick High School. ) He also ran the film projector for the school in a day when audio-visual department was catch-as-catch-can, not the assigned, full time teacher position schools would enjoy in later years.

On Friday evenings, he’d bring home the projector; set it up; and we’d watch National Geographic films that had made the circuit to our school.  It’d be a divergence from our usual family watching of my Friday night favorite show–“I Remember Mama” where my most prescient memory is that of the pocket door Mama pulled out of a wall to close off the parlor when she wished a private adult talk.

I thought a door disappearing into a wall so cool.

On those Fridays, Mom made popcorn and we kids got our one Coca Cola or Pepsi drink of the week. Then, we’d hunker down to watch aboriginal tribes in far-off regions.

A little known other “fact”? My father had been significant in bringing the teachers’ union to West Warwick. It was the era when teacher unions were the exception, viewed as almost heretical .  He pushed for them in that (according to him,) ‘good teachers often lose their jobs when political winds shift,’ and he didn’t want to be part of the sacrifice play.

For teachers’ jobs were often political plums, doled out to loyal foot-soldiers who supported the ‘right candidate.’ West Warwick was known as a political town, so his advocacy for good teachers keeping their jobs was important.

I remember accompanying him on errands for Mom, about town, when I was still pretty young.  He’d introduce me as his daughter to Miss So-and-so and the teacher would smile and ask me if I were going to be a teacher, too.

I’d later ask:  “But why are they all ‘ Miss’ (as in ‘unmarried’)?”

And he’d tell me that they’d all lost their fiancées or boyfriends in the war.

I remember thinking that all these women were the unluckiest group, ever, who’d all lost their men to World War II combat.  As a consequence, they never made it to the altar.

I’d not know—then– that there was another, perhaps bigger, reason why these young female teachers remained “Miss.”

That knowledge would come to me when I entered the ranks of teacher, myself.

 

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivator/speaker and freelance writer whose work appears 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 on her 30-year career as teacher, in the Providence Journal. At present, she completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about a Rhode Island couple living in one of the ‘hottest retirement towns in the US’ for nine years (and answers why they returned to Rhode Island.) Her second book, “In the Shadow of Princes,” tells the story of her childhood, growing up in a milltown, in a highly-competitive family.  Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.

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The Bridges of West Warwick

 bridge                                                                                                                                                                          If the 19 original Bridges of Madison County, Iowa (immortalized in a book by the same name by Robert James Waller and its subsequent movie,) were covered, wooden affairs, those that spanned rivers in West Warwick, in an earlier era, were red or green metal, with wooden slats across the roadway. I know that fact, for my street, Pulaski, had one such metal bridge, linking the Crompton center with my neighborhood further up the road that stretched to Coventry.

On a lazy summer evening, I’d walk down the half mile to Red Bridge and hang over the edge, gazing at the water below. It was purple-blue, iridescent in nature, swirling and eddying, in the currents, resembling the bottled liquid children blow to make bubbles.

Sometimes the current created a foam that rose up out of the river and bubbles drifted in the air.

I’d daydream and get lost in the colors, thinking them beautiful. After all, I couldn’t know the substance was dye waste, spewed out into the river by the mill that dyed the cloths and sent them all over the world, to be admired.

After all, I was only a child..a mill town child at that.

Colored water in our streams was a regular happenstance in my town.

Sometimes I’d scamper down the hill from that bridge, to the bank and swirl my stick in the water, interrupting its usual current, fascinated by the rainbow of colors released right above those waters.

In that day, adults never hovered, lest a child fall in the river.

Sometimes drowning occurred as in the Windsor Park neighborhood in 1960, where a mother and her 3-year-old child fell through the ice, in the mill trench behind their home. The entire town came out for the memorial service, aware this could happen to any of us.

Town officials argued for days about the wisdom of building a wall for these trenches, to prevent accidents in future. But no real change came about as the town sank back into life-as- usual, following the immediate shock.

Sometimes, on my walks in summer evenings, I’d hear the crack of baseball bats as the boys played, in Little League, at the ball field aside the Polish Club where neighborhood men gathered, nightly. And sometimes, out of boredom, I’d stroll over to the field and sit on the wooden benches to watch a game that held my attention only briefly.

Both in the church and in organized sports, there were few outlets for girls, in my growing-up years. Quite simply, those of my gender were being raised to take our places as wives and homemakers….

Except homemaking as sole occupation didn’t happen for many of my generation.

Instead, we became the inadvertent “bridge” to a whole new era whose slogans like “We can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan,” promised we could work full time, while we still did the lion’s share of domestic duties.

In reality, we groaned under the weight.

Yes, my generation, women in the early 60’s, were the first en masse to get college educations and take on outside-the-home jobs, full-time.  We became the nurses…the teachers…the social workers…the secretaries.

If some of us did enter the business world, to compete against men, we were assigned gender-specific accounts (marketing women were assigned the Pampers or Huggies account because, after all, women knew diapers, while ad men were given the more important, Coca-Cola client.)

The television show “Mad Men” readily depicts the dichotomy of roles and the pecking order that showed women lower on the chain.

That hierarchy would change, too, but that change would come slowly, indeed.

***The bridge above, one of the remaining metal bridges spanning West Warwick’s rivers, is located in Phenix, but it’s closed to traffic.

______________________________________

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 “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com

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A Note to Readers….

leg art--ashevilleDoes Asheville as Retirement Town deserve its star billing? In short, does it really have a leg up on its competition?

I know…all the talk about West Warwick on this site might almost get you to think I’m not writing about my husband’s and my experience, living in Asheville for past nine years.

But I am.

At present, I complete “The Asheville Experiment,” the book about us–a couple from Rhode Island, living five months of every year in a sweet Southern town chuck full of promise.

That’s what we thought…

It didn’t quite work out that way, however. And I write why.

In this book, I write about out-of-state home-buying; what you need watch out for; the pitfalls of condo ownership, anywhere (they call them townhomes there), lawyers… I tell you how to make good selection, what you need watch out for…Toxic dumps sites….But I lace my accounts with humor. In short, I tell you all the stuff you won’t think of….all the stuff I know is really important.

Remember, I was successful realtor.

Why else will this book be important? I’ve talked to several others who had a similar experience–They loved their new community in the beginning, but ultimately they got disenchanted, sold, and moved “home.”

No one talks about this….so I feel pretty confident I’ll be the first.

But make no mistake:  This book is not just for those moving to Asheville. It just helps that Asheville is ALWAYS one of the top 10 retirement towns in America (no. 1 or 2.)

Some of you have already told me to reserve a copy of “The Asheville Experiment,” and I greatly appreciate.

For all–I will post updates, periodically, to let you know how close I am to completion.

across the steet on Hamburg Mtn rd.Below is a pastoral scene across the street from our townhome community. Of course, this property could be sold and a Walmart could move in at any time.

Just something you should know…..

If you don’t need what I talk about in this book, consider getting it for somebody who might–It’ll help them make good decisions in home buying– anywhere– and much of it is just good fun.

It’s the story about how Paul and I searched up and down the East coast of America, for many years, finally settled on Asheville, NC, and found out, ultimately, it wasn’t for us.

The why’s are important–as are the why not’s.

Perhaps our story is yours, too.

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Poliomyelitis and ‘the Gun:’ a West Warwick Girl’s Memories of Life in the 50’a and 60’s

It’s street name? Polio.

It’s what scared us to death in my growing up years of the 50’s. Its advent and its conquering was what got vaccination its well-deserved recognition as life-saver…at least in that time period.

Polio was as feared in its day as AIDS would be decades later. Or the zika virus which threatens a pandemic, today, considering the Olympics will be held in Brazil, a country ravaged by the mosquito-borne disease.

In my era, all around us were young people succumbing to polio—a terrible crippling disease that cut down many in childhood. The most frightening of all?  Those whose breathing apparatus was affected. The iron lung was devised for those most severely affected, the ones who couldn’t breathe on their own.

They were tethered to a machine that would inhale and exhale for them, imprisoned forever to that metal coffin-like affair.

In my family, my Mom always told us that Uncle Harold was a polio survivor. He lived but his legs were useless as transportation contrivances. He was permanently affixed to crutches encircling his wrists.

Then Dr. Jonas Salk developed his miraculous vaccine that promised to stop the disease’s ravages.

With that, we townspeople all lined up to get it, with parents bringing their children to polio clinics at the granite stone Visiting Nurse building, in Arctic.

Lines snaked around the building as whole families stood together, anxious for the inoculation they hoped would spare them from this horror.

On one occasion, my Mom stood with us in the sweltering heat, about 50 people back in the line. This was a special day, indeed, for the experts had devised a whole new way of getting the serum into us, rather than our quaffing a small plastic capful of the liquid or getting the shot.

I kept fooling around, doing somersaults, straying from the rest, knowing my place in line was kept by family members. Why did I do this?  To assuage my fears.

You see, lining up for the vaccine in the day was a lot like waiting in pews to enter the wooden, boxed-off, Catholic Confessional.

No one knew what really transpired inside. We all just waited our turn.

All  we’d been told in advance was that once inside the Visiting Nurse building, white-uniformed public health nurses took information and oversaw folks filling out forms.

Then the nurses would bring out “the gun,” the latest device to deliver the life-saving serum. To me, even the name sounded threatening. The serum was supposedly shot through the skin at a blistering clip—a clip that was allegedly not felt.

But that last part of the message apparently eluded me…or I didn’t believe it.

And because I didn’t hear “It didn’t hurt at all” from anyone ahead of me (once they were ‘shot’ they left the building via an opposite door,) I did what any self-respecting kid would do:  I conjured up my own thoughts.

With fears running wild (would they call this an anxiety attack, today?), I fainted.

My poor Mom who was all of 5’2” struggled to hold upright a daughter who was already 5’6.” She hoped I’d regain consciousness, but when that didn’t happen, a policeman hurried over to help, carrying me to the shade of a nearby tree where he placed me down. There, I slowly recovered.

They all believed my fainting was due to the heat but I knew the real reason: I expected to be shot dead with Jonas Salk’s famous serum in a “kill the messenger” scenario.

I was assured I was going to be the lone victim of a salk vaccine gone astray whose medicine was far worse than the affliction.

How about you? Do you remember standing in long lines for the vaccine at the Visiting Nurse building (or other facility)? Remember “the Gun”? (a really stupid name, in retrospect).

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 “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com

Picture of former Visiting Assoc. Nurse Building, one of centers where polio shots given out.VNA

 

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‘Screwing Around’ at the Donut Kettle

 

trestleOr….Youthful Hijinx…Charity Collecting…The Donut Kettle….Mruk’s…and when I learn the WORST swear word in the English language….   

“Screw the lid on the top of the sugar shaker just like this, so it appears as if it’s on,” Joe whispered as he prepared the glass sugar shaker for an unsuspecting customer who’d doubtless upend the container to find a rush of that granular sweetener into his coffee.

We high school kids crouched low in the booth so the counter waitress couldn’t see what we were about.  We’d learned early in our lives that adults usually look the other way, regarding adolescent antics, unless they suspect serious misadventure—the kind that burns down buildings.

As it was, we watched and admired our friend Joe’s willingness to wreak havoc on another.  His was typical youthful misadventure.

We kids often went to the Donut Kettle, on Main St., in Arctic, where, if we did it right, we’d arrive just as a batch of fresh donuts came out of the fry-o-lator, ready for the chocolate drizzle that went on top…all the more heavenly if the freshly-fried donut made the chocolate topping warm and melty.

It was a once-in-a-while treat we afforded ourselves, usually after collecting for charities in the raw weather, outside some of Arctic’s more visited shops—Seena’s, Maxine’s, St. Onge’s. We’d all be out in force during the holidays when the townspeople were all the more amenable to giving to those less fortunate. We’d hold our cardboard containers with the cut in the lid, so people could fold up their dollars (if we were lucky) or press through their quarters.

The Chronicle (John F. Deering High School yearbook) signifies all sorts of charity-collecting as a graduate’s activities in the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t know when charity-collecting in front of stores ceased (maybe when the Malls arrived), but it was an activity many of us engaged in, during our era.

We’d be on the streets for hours and then turn our containers in, at American Legion Post #2, where an adult collected and counted the results of our work.

We girls opted to stand outside the ladies’ and girl shops while the boys took on St. Onge’s.

I hated accompanying Mom to the latter store, when she was bent on a mission for either or both of my brothers, for I felt the store a colorless place. Even the names “olive drab,” or “charcoal grey” for suits suggested dull and were a far cry from the oranges, pinks, and yellows one sees in men’s and boys’ clothes today.

In our era, boys’ and men’s clothes were supposed to suggest seriousness of purpose.

No such color constraints operated for girls’ and women’s clothes.

If the Donut Kettle were a daytime gathering spot for West Warwick High School kids, in our day, Mruk’s in Coventry attracted a nighttime contingent. In retrospect, it was an odd choice since it was in the next town whose high school was a rival of ours. Mruk’s was positioned in the center of the village of Anthony, next to a wall, running alongside the mill river, where several yards away the ominous train trestle spanned the river. We kids had heard stories about that trestle, such as how two kids got stuck walking across it one day when a train came through.

My distinct memory of that trestle and the wall (see pic above) that supported it? On the wall is where I first saw the word “F..k” scrawled, in big, black letter, graffiti-style. I noted it as I walked back from my Girl Scout meeting held in a small building up the street.

After walking the mile home, I came in and called out, loudly, “Mom, what does F..k mean?” Her immediate reaction?  “Shhhhh…..your brothers are in there” (the living room.) She never did tell me the word’s meaning but I learned: It’s not a word we use.

In retrospect, it seems odd she would be in such protective mode of not wanting my brothers to hear a word they were probably all too familiar with by that point.

After all, they were 16 and 14, respectively, while I was only 12.

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 “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com

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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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