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.

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

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.

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

 

‘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