The ‘Real Fabric’ of Kent County: Its People: The DeSilva Men—

desilva-boys-we-served-best-and-brightest(Picture above shows, from left to right: Albert, Richard, Manny, Arthur, and Eddie in succession.)

The following story of mine appeared in the Kent County Daily Times. But to tell you the truth, in interviewing them,  I thought we might be kicked out of the Cozy Grille, on Tiogue Ave., in Coventry. Why?  Our laughter got so raucous, for the simple reason:  The De Silva “boys” are a hoot.

I can only imagine what life must have been like for their parents who raised 4 sons, longing finally, for a daughter. Alas, it wasn’t to be. That’s when the youngest—Eddie came into the world–fifth and last of the DeSilva boys.

He’s the one who contacted me, asking if I’d like to do a story on the 5 DeSilva “boys” from West Warwick who all served in the military (that’s their picture in uniform, 1 Army and 4 Navy).

They were all raised in West Warwick, across the street from Mac’s Bowl—A-Way, in the Lippitt section of West Warwick.

Their Mom was Brazilian-born Mary Branco, a Portuguese woman who emigrated to America. In Lowell, Massachusetts, she met and married Richard, Sr., a British subject from British Guiana, South America.  He, too, was of Portuguese descent.

Then, they came to West Warwick, in the wave of various ethnic groups who arrived to fill factory jobs.

Apparently, the DeSilva boys were paperboys for the Providence Journal.  As such, they turned in their weekly customer collection money to none other than my grandmother (Kelly) who acted as neighborhood bookkeeper for the newspaper (something I never knew.)

‘Stern and unforgiving’ were terms they used for her, when their amount conflicted with what her books said they owed.

Two of these “boys” had my father, John J. Kelly, as teacher and coach, and I begin to realize that in doing this series, I am learning about my own family in ways I never knew.

They’re now “up there” in age. The youngest, Eddie, 83, a retired teacher and former administrator at West Warwick Jr.High, now lives in Massachusetts. Coventry resident, Richard, 94, was a meat-cutter, by profession; and general handyman, Albert, oldest at 97 lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. The brothers visit him in winter.

The two oldest DeSilva brothers are fresh off the laying of the wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier, at Arlington Cemetery, on Oct. 1st. They were selected for the honor, since they’re now ‘the oldest men in New England who served in WWII. ‘

An organization flew them and bused them to the ceremony.

I asked why the younger boys switched military service affiliation, from Army to Navy.  Eddie said oldest brother, Albert, warned them “Not to be a ‘dogface’ because Army soldiers ‘dig foxholes and get into them.’ Then, ‘the rains come and they get soaked.” The brothers listened:  the next four went into the Navy.

Two middle brothers, Manny and Arthur, have since passed on.

The fact that all 5 served in the military initially intrigued me, but in interviewing them, another story emerged.

They all considered their growing up years in West Warwick, a positive experience, where they got the chance to mix with different nationalities (the ‘melting pot’ who had come to work in the mills). They feel fortunate for the opportunity to learn others’ customs, food, and traditions.

Because their parents suffered the Depression, there were few luxuries. But they all praise their parents as hard-working, with good senses of humor. The DeSilva’s were a close-knit family who enjoyed their time together.

Their Mom worked as lace spinner in Royal Mills, for years, and Dad worked at textile print works in Clyde. In 1935, after years of hard work and saving, the parents opened their own small grocery store in Lippitt, DeSilva’s Market, near the bowling alley. There, they all worked.

As such, the DeSilva’s are the true embodiment of the American Dream.

The picture below is of the 4 boys, before youngest, Eddie, came into the world, thus dashing hopes for the long-awaited girl. desilva-little-kids

The good news for the family? Four of the “boys” married Portuguese girls, so this Portuguese family got their girls, after all.

There I Was—Back at My Father’s Childhood Church

I’m pretty amazed at my life.  I never know where the next door leads. I just keep going through doors that present, trusting…even if, at times, I hesitate. sspeterandpaul

A perfect example is what I’m embarked upon now—guest-speaking.

You see, I’d never have believed guest-speaking would become something I love. I just had too great a mountain of panic to overcome. It all started when I was a junior in high school, in Mr. Al D’Andrea’s class:

To this day, I can conjure up the fear…the anxiety.

Our eleventh grade “Problems in American Democracy” class held 30 seats and mine was the back seat in the second row, in from the door. Near the big plate glass windows. Where a cold draft blew in, in winter.

I often sat back there, quaking nervously.

I feared Mr. D’Andrea’s walking about the room, gradebook in hand, containing the roster of students in our class. On this day, his eyes swept along the column and then he called out: “Miss Kelly.”

I froze in my seat.

Slowly, I got up and walked to the front of the class, to stand at the podium,  awaiting questions which would come, rat-a-tat-tat-style,  of a rifle.

I felt the class’s eyes on me, examining my every fault and imperfection.

He asked:  “Miss Kelly, tell me what you know of the Dred Scott case.”

I said nothing.

Now, it’s important to note that at times such as this, all moisture disappeared in my Sahara Desert of a mouth. My tongue became cemented to the roof of my mouth.

He asked again.

Again, I said nothing.

After 5 punishingly-long minutes, he dismissed me.

I wanted to scream out:  “Yes, I know the Dred Scott case, and frankly, there’s nothing I dread more than being exposed before my class and you, my adored teacher….due to my fear of public-speaking.”

Instead, I slunk back to my seat.

_______________________________

Where am I today in all this? As a 71-year-old guest-speaker,   I love my audiences and have great fun with the people.  But I share my original fear of public-speaking as a hurdle I needed to overcome in my journey to become the person I am today. I encourage others to go forth–to conquer their own fears.

This past week, I enjoyed a wonderful night, speaking before 25 ladies (and one priest) of SS. Peter & Paul church on Highland Street, in Phenix (West Warwick, RI).

Soon, I will go before 150 women in East Greenwich, a Leisure Living group who, I’m told, will have ‘lots of questions.’

Baby steps….baby steps….

Guest-speaking: A Hoot!

colleen kelly mellor--guest speaking poster with 5 locationsI’ve spoken at Plaza Esperanza and Wildberry Apartments in West Warwick, in past two weeks, and now will go before an audience at SS. Peter and Paul church, Highland Street, in Phenix, West Warwick, RI. on Wed. night, Oct. 19th. 7:30 PM (I’m gonna try to have them out in time for debate.) What’s so unique about this opportunity? This is my Kelly ancestors’ church where my Grandmother Kelly went (and probably my father.) I can’t wait–It’s gonna be exciting!

P.S. To book me for your event, contact me at ckmellor@cox.net or call 401-884-1969.

sspeterandpaul

Native Daughter Colleen Kelly Mellor Speaks to Kent County Audiences

Many of the folks in my audiences remember my father, John J. Kelly. They paul-in-trucker-gearjust don’t remember him as I do, for they only had him as high school principal.  

I tell them I had no dates in high school, since no young man wanted to come to my home. None was that brave. I hoped the reason didn’t signal some serious defect in myself.

I tell them I stood at the podium at my 50th Class Reunion some years back  and asked:  “All right, men….I always wanted to know:  How many of you actually did want to take me out on a date, but never dared, when we were in high school?”

Hands shot up and we all laughed.

I was happy…. even if they were just being kind.

I now write about youthful memories and focus, too, on other West Warwick folks in articles that appear in the Kent County Daily Times’s Weekend edition. I’m also a regular commentator in the Providence Journal Op-Ed section.

But I’m a late bloomer as writer, for my writing career follows my 30 years as teacher and another 8 years as realtor.

I now add guest-speaker to my resume, and I have to say:  I’m loving it.

Husband Paul Wesley Gates and I went before two West Warwick audiences at Wildberry Apartments and Plaza Esperanza last week where we had a ball. While at one, a woman came up , tapped my husband on his arm, and said: “You look just like Roy Rogers.”

I laughed, inwardly, as I thought:  “That must make me Dale Evans.”

I get why she said it. He’s tall, lanky, with a Southern drawl (he’s a long-ago transplant from Arkansas who got here as a Navy Seabee.) As such, he’s a great favorite of the ladies. It helps that he wears a western hat, cowboy boots, and a leather vest with insignia sewn on.

I freely admit:  I use him for my presentations.

You see, I write about his adventures in our children’s books, Grandpa and the Truck (Books 1 and 2), for he was a long-haul, big rig driver who went all over the United States, moving households. Our books are the perfect vehicle (pun intended) to teach geography, regional differences, dialect, trucker lingo (the words we can safely use). Each story comes with guide questions, maps showing where the truck is, a moral (remember—I’m a teacher) and table of contents.

To date, we’ve published two colorfully-illustrated books, and we give lively presentations on those, too.  Our biggest audience was a 200-child school gathering in Tiverton.

Since writing/guest-speaking is my third career, it proves:  Age is no stumbling block to new experiences.

I get that message across to my audience.

My mission is to give the over-55 crowd encouragement to try their own hand at writing, for it’s my belief we all have an arsenal of stories inside, narratives that are rich in detail, almost screaming to be told.

I tell my senior students to get a writing journal and “start small,” considering “Who are the 5 people who had the most impact on you?” I then suggest they describe those five, with 2-3 phrases each.   Then, choose one person of the 5 to develop more fully.

For example, my own mother, Doris Barlow Kelly (I bring a picture of her to my presentations), would be “energetic”…”a little spitfire”….”oldest daughter of a large mill-working family” (she had 16 siblings.)

I then proceed to flesh her out and let her come alive, mentioning perhaps one funny incident of many.  I’ll share an example in future.

I like to think of writing as “painting with words.”

How’d we start off in our new guest-speaking venture? Lucy Goulet, Resident Services Co-Ordinator for Housing Opportunities Corp., looking to inject spirit into her residents at Plaza Esperanza and Wildberry Apartments invited me to speak to residents in both apartment buildings, after seeing my website (www.colleenkellymellor.com).

She’s to be commended for working to enrich the lives of her residents.

As for us, we will continue “on the road” in future, guest-speaking, encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone, for we’re living embodiment of what happens when one keeps going through doors in life.

(Pic below, my Mom, Doris Barlow Kelly, appears on the left,  alongside the book jacket for Book 1 of Grandpa and the Truck.

Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net) will guest speak at 3 more locations in weeks ahead. If you order her children’s books through www.grandpaandthetruck.com, she can  personalize-to-child and autograph them.   Contact her at email address for guest-speaking.

Picture below is of my Mom, Doris Kelly (she accompanies me ‘in spirit’ to each of my presentations) and one to right is of the lean, handsome cowboy image, Paul Wesley Gates on cover of our Grandpa and the Truck book 1. He’s the real draw at our talks–especially to the ladies.mom-paul-on-easel

A West Warwick Athlete Finds Himself in the Jungles of Viet Nam

mike-montigny-ring“Welcome to Hell” was the sign he saw prominently posted at the gate at Parris Island, North Carolina.

Its message wasn’t over-the-top bluster.

Instead, it was the not-so-nice entry point telling Michael A. Montigny his life was about to seriously change. He was at this camp to learn skills that would enable him to survive deployment to Viet Nam.

The former West Warwick athlete had no serious intention of going to war but he was one of the unfortunates who weren’t already signed on to a college or university. He didn’t have powerful “others” of wealth and influence who could get him out of the precarious position.

No, instead, he was the son of a hard-working, West Warwick family.

That meant, at 18, he was available for the draft. Recognizing that, he felt it was better to die a Marine than aligned with another branch of the service. And so, he signed on and entered  the toughest arena of his young life.

Now, in 144 pages of his new book, “A Few Good Angels,” Michael A. Montigny tells how angels stepped in, at critical junctures, changing the trajectory of his life.

He’d discover:  he wasn’t to be a casualty after all.

In fact, he was to tell his story to countless others, giving hope that there just may be a higher purpose in life, after all.

What struck me so, as I interviewed Mike? That I may have figured in his story, too, for as a young college girl, home on Christmas break, I pigeon-holed the envelopes that went out to thousands of the young men in my town. I recall asking a co-worker, in my naivete: “Why’s the US government sending all these Christmas cards to the young men in our town?” Her answer? “They’re not cards—they’re draft notices. These guys are going to Viet Nam.”

I thought it especially cruel they got them during the holiday season.

I wondered if I put Mike’s letter in his family’s postal slot. I could have. I was employed when he got the notice.

What happened as I read his book? I was there with Mike as he endured tough training….I landed with him in Viet Nam where a batch of glazy-eyed Marines were leaving, only to have one of them thread through the ranks and pick out Mike to give him a ring—a ring that the Marine said saved his life, a ring Mike still wears.

I noted the foxhole that blew up and killed a fellow soldier shortly after Mike left it; I saw the killer cobra stare fixedly at Mike, in the cave, until a mouse distracted it; I knew the power of the prayer beads.

The stunner for me? It could have been me going through all this.  If not for my gender (women didn’t fight in combat during this period) and the fact I was a college student, I could have been in those jungles, suffering those hardships—the  terrible psychological and physical trauma from which many never recovered.

If they did come home, many were mortally wounded in other ways, never fully recovering.

I could have been West Warwick’s Mike Montigny.

Just another foot soldier in a very foreign land.

If not for fate.

Mike speaks of the time that he, as uniformed soldier, came home aboard a commercial airliner and the captain invited him to sit in 1st class, as means of thanking him for his service. When other passengers balked  (Viet Nam was in disfavor,) he moved to the back of the plane. Today, he notes the far different tenor of the country that sees young people at the beach who see his Marines tattoo on his arm honor him for his service of many years ago.

Today, this former Vice President of Human Resources, Amtrol has a message he delivers. It’s important. Instead of focusing on the terrible things he had to overcome, he notes the positives…the wonders…the forces…the ‘angels’ that led him out and protected him. One he highlights as most instrumental? His wife of many years—Sandra (Boutello) Montigny who saw him through many dark times following Viet Nam, times that precipitated his giving up both drinking and smoking.

Is his message finding fertile soil?

Well, if audience size determines likelihood of success, Mike is already a best-selling author. At Valley Country Club, where Mike had a recent book signing, his crowd swelled to 150. Why was he at this particular venue? He is a a member there and current vice-president. In September, this new author became president of Rhode Island Golf Association. That sizeable group, coupled with his many friends from his former employment at Amtrol, and countless others he’s helped through his life, insure he has a loyal fan base.

I know—I’m one of his admiring fans.marine_mike mike-montigny-with-rifle

 

***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current resident..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.

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.