Creative Nonfiction, Featured, Robert S. McCarthy

Adams Street, Springfield, MA

by Robert S. McCarthy

I figured Adams Street and the South End were just fond memories. I was mistaken.

Adams Street in the primarily Italian South End runs northeast three city blocks from Main Street to Ashmun Street. Joe Morello, later the drummer for The Dave Brubeck Quarter, was raised there, but I remember it for three lesser known but to me equally memorable figures.

Dick Smith was the first. He lived with his parents and two sisters in an apartment block at 71 Adams Street. I met Dick at the convenience store run by his grandparents a few blocks from my house in the Forest Park section of the city. Jocko, Ball, and other friends and I hung out at the store and sidled up to Dick because he had his own car, whereas we had to beg permission to use our parents’ cars.

In addition, Dick had what they called a “wild streak.” He had no qualms about sneaking a candy bar or two while his grandparents were waiting on customers and he vowed that soon he would soup up his ’56 Chevy into world-beater class. Moreover, he was always mooching, especially when he needed gas money to take us to A&W for root beers and burgers. If we balked, Dick had a Plan B.

Dick’s dad, nicknamed Moon, drove a sedan delivery sedan for a local dry cleaner. At night, he parked the car in a garage across the street from the apartment. Dick would coast west down Adams Street in his Chevy, put the car in neutral and glide up to the curb. With a length of garden hose and a gas can, we would creep up the driveway to the open-air garage. Then Dick would siphon gas from the delivery sedan. Back in his Chevy, he would drive down to the intersection of Adams and Main Street with the lights off. Then he would stop and empty the purloined gas into his tank.

Secondly, I remember Mr. Wood, whose automotive machine shop, H.B. Wood and Son, sat at that same corner of Adams Street. Later I would become even more familiar with that company. A former high school classmate of mine was working there and when he decided to enroll in the police academy, he recommended me to take his place.

I had some experience working for an auto mechanic and after being interviewed by Mr. H.B. Wood and his son Brad, they offered me the job. It was a small shop with counter space in the front and shelf after shelf of auto parts, such as sparkplugs, brake linings, air filters and more. In the back, where I worked, was the machine shop. There I would perform valve jobs, grind cylinder heads, rebuild clutches and related tasks.

At the time, there was numerous independent auto mechanics in the county and Brad would make the rounds taking their orders and selling the company’s machine shop services. His father, H.B., ran the front end and waited on the walk in traffic. He had a little office away from the counter and when a customer would come in, they would ring the bell on the counter and say, “How about a little service?’ H.B. would reply, “Why? Aren’t you getting little enough?” It was a running joke.

After a couple of years, Uncle Sam beckoned. I opted for the Navy; attended electronics school for nine months, and after graduation, was assigned to a facility in California. I figured Adams Street and the South End were just fond memories. I was mistaken.

I had a cousin on my father’s side that lived across the river in the town of West Springfield. We were close in age and hung out together occasionally. I was scheduled for annual leave, so I wrote him and asked if he knew any girls I could ask for a date while I was home. He wrote back and mentioned a girl named Carol.

I remembered her. I had dated one of her girl friends and the four of us had double-dated. I wrote her, re-introduced myself and asked if I could call her when I got back there. She said yes. A couple of days after I arrived home, I called Carol and asked her out. Two nights later, I borrowed my dad’s car and drove from our home in Forest Park down to the South End and the single-family house at 66 Adams Street.

This was the 1960s and as befitting the dress code of the day, I wore the three-piece suit I had bought at Carson Pirie Scott in Chicago while I was stationed up the road at the Great Lakes Training Complex.

I parked the car, climbed the steps and rang the doorbell. The door opened and there stood Carol, a cute blonde haired girl of Italian heritage. She ushered me in, I crossed the threshold to 66 Adams Street and was greeted by her parents and two younger sisters.

After we shook hands, her father invited me to take a seat and then complimented me on my spit shined shoes. All I could do was quietly thank the Navy for helping me make a good impression.

That evening Carol and I went to The Meadows nightclub in East Longmeadow, a suburb of Springfield. Come to find out, we had both graduated from the same high school, but I was three years ahead of her. After graduation, she enrolled in a technical institute and graduated as a licensed practical nurse. She had worked in an intensive care unit and was then working in a long-term care facility.

As we talked over drinks, we discovered that we had much in common, including music, movies and cars. For the remaining week of my leave, we dated every night, sometimes going out to eat or to one the popular night clubs of the day, including The Red Gertrude or the Jolly Jester.

Carol had two personality features I liked right away: she had a sense of humor and she was candid. It was easy to talk with her and to let down my guard and share personal peccadilloes I had never let any other girl see. I felt I could trust her.

The Sunday before my leave ended, Carol took me to meet her extended Italian family at the regular breakfast at her maternal grandmother’s house, which was two doors down from Carol’s. I had never seen so much food and so many people crammed into a kitchen and living room. It put my family’s Irish gatherings to shame.

I returned to California for the eight months left to serve on my active duty commitment, but Carol and I kept in touch. Besides writing letters regularly, I send her mementoes from my trips to San Diego, Los Angeles or the tourist traps on the Mexican side of the border.

I was discharged from active duty, and for the next two years, we dated as I worked summers and attended college the rest of the year. We spent more and more time together, such as Sunday dinners with her family or weeknights watching TV together.

There was no formal engagement, but we decided to set a date in May 1971 to be married and we were. We honeymooned at Provincetown on Cape Cod and set up housekeeping on the fourth floor of an apartment in Springfield. Looking back, our life since Adams Street has been both memorable and fun, with two sons and a granddaughter who will help us celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in May 2021.

Brenna Manuel, Featured, Poetry

Lake Host

by Brenna Manuel

“You know bass fishermen…,”
he goes on. He cranes
his angled cheek up to look
one eye closed my way.

His torso bends
forward straight to make
perfect “L” to outboard motor
with blades that glisten
sharply in the sun.

He pauses, sputters,
“Best engines…,” he goes on.

My brows go up-
confused, I pull
my empty archives
on bass fishing boats and gear.

I am here to look beneath the boat
for crawling, alien species from Asian Seas.
I inspect for hardened mussels, sea flora
shaped like Christmas wreaths,
or single strands of seaweed lost
that make the ocean voyage,
desperately grasping hulls.

I don’t know why a clam would travel far
or a man would cast and haul all day
for pounds of fish to weigh and toss away.

Elaine Reardon, Featured, Poetry

Easter Cherog

by Elaine Reardon

Sleep and stillness cling to my eyes.
Morning light trickles through pine branches
into the kitchen where yeast has raised
soft pillows of cherog dough overnight.
I slide the fragrance of warm yeast
into the waiting oven.

I kept the fire going last night
to coddle the dough,
to be kind to myself.
Now I sit at the window as early fog lifts
in wisps and sip tea.

The world here is quiet, aside from
the faucet dripping and the ping of
the oven as it heats.
Strong tea mingles with the aroma of
rising dough.
Do we not all rise with some redemption,
new each morning?

In other homes people are moving toward family gatherings
or waking to a jumble of legs and arms in unfamiliar beds
while I sit with my ancestors baking this bread.

I receive the old ones and the fragrance and the taste.
I listen to the small kitchen sounds against the quiet outside—
the complete stillness of each branch and leaf,
the warm cup in my hand.

Elaine Reardon, Featured, Poetry

Winter Sounds

by Elaine Reardon

We’ve gotten used to sounds
deep in a winter night,
a sharp ping of the wood stove
reaching some cooler temperature,
muffled tumbles of a smoldering log,
the creak of floorboards
as if someone walked quietly.
Downstairs the refrigerator
hums, the water heater readjusts.
What is shifting inside this house
I wonder, content, then roll into sleep.
Wind buffets the metal roof, snow
falls off in a grand whoosh, louder
than any wild animal out there.

Featured, Linda Warren, Poetry

Great Blue Heron on the Swift River

by Linda Warren

I vexed a Great Blue Heron
as I walked the path
along the catch-and-release section of this stream
that flows year round, gift of the accidental wilderness
around the reservoir that quenches Boston.

She didn’t move far, just to another fallen log,
an easy pebble toss from where I stood.
She looked well fed and feathered,
in this Anthropocene landscape
for which five townships and their homesteads drowned,
and a hundred thousand acres were returned to grace.

She eyed me, fellow wader of this unoccluded water,
then arched her neck and tipped her beak down to the trout
she herself had no plans to release,
a famous beauty deciding which delicacy she desired,
as rich as she needed to be.

Creative Nonfiction, Featured, Leslie Vogel

Climbing Mount Monadnock

by Leslie Vogel

I took a day off today, and a bright and beautiful day it was, too.

I went to hike up the mountain, solo; although you couldn’t really call it solo because Mount Monadnock truly lives up to its reputation as one of the most climbed mountains in the world, especially on a beautiful fall day like today. And it’s just as well. If I were really climbing solo I’d be thinking about bears all the way up the mountain and all the way back down again, and I’d be afraid to bring snacks.

This way I was climbing with all sorts of international families. There was the family with the little boy who was dragging his feet all during the initial woodland stretch of the walkway, but who got all energized climbing up on the big rocks later on, and even found a lucky quarter near the top of the mountain. There was the family who took turns carrying their 14 month old baby in a backpack all the way up the mountain and all the way down. There was the little German girl who showed her mother exactly where to put each foot in each stepping place all during the steep rocky part, speaking rapidly in bright, non-stop instructions. There were the three young teachers, barely out of school themselves talking about teaching in a charter school, and the young woman who was telling her hiking companion all about her latest sad relationship. There were the two young men walking vigorously while animatedly discussing hiking equipment, and the elder couple resting and sipping from their water bottles—wondering out loud to me as I greeted them about how it was that the young ones were constantly passing us by on the trail.

“Isn’t that their job, both on the trail, and otherwise?” I wondered in return.

And then there were the four young people at the very top of the mountain who looked at me curiously and just had to ask:

“What era could your leg warmers possibly be from?”

I had forgotten about my leg warmers.

I was wearing the very same day-glow rainbow leg warmers which, over ten years ago, my youngest daughter had expressly forbidden me to wear in public ever again. I had put them on today to keep my sixty-five year old leg muscles from cramping up on such a long hike, and there were no daughters around to fuss about it; but now here we were.

I had to laugh with the quartet of young people and remind them that if you were going to go ahead and actually wear leg warmers (era of the ’80s, I explained: original purpose to warm the legs of dancers in rehearsal) then you might as well go all out and wear rainbow ones. Besides, you’d be easier to find out on the trail after dark if you got lost.

But here’s another thing that happened. When you hike a well known and familiar trail each rock, step, crevasse and chimney stirs your memory: there they are, as they were before, unchanging. As they were the time when I climbed solo and barefoot in my early thirties, and the other times when I climbed with my friends, or with my sister, or with my own children.

And the early years when I climbed with my brother.

Now the voices of the families climbing nearby fade away, and I am climbing with my brother again. Here  we are at the rocky part, and each step I step for him as well because he can no longer climb these earthly mountains.

“Don’t step on the ground, only rocks” he says—a favorite game of ours when we were young. I play it now; blithely leaping with my sixty-five year old legs that have suddenly become twelve year old legs, and landing precariously on one good stepping stone after another in my tired old sneakers.

I’m in this earlier world, just for a moment, stepping from rock to rock on the side of this ancient granite mountain. It is almost my brother’s birthday, and I place a small rock for him on one of the cairns, and then another.

I am glad I could climb all the way to the top of the mountain today, for my brother, and also for myself.

The voices of the other families climbing nearby fade back in again, and I enjoy being a part of the international chatter around me; the children, the young people, the parents, and the old folks like me.

I had given myself five hours of daylight, lots of snacks and water, a warm jacket; and of course, the leg warmers.

All well, and a day well spent.

Berith Arragh Hogan, Creative Nonfiction, Featured

They, Me & the Sea

by Berith Arragh Hogan

Since first the ticks of time recorded me in attendance I have made a yearly pilgrimage to Cape Ann on Massachusetts’s rocky North Shore – on some lucky, and some sad, occasions the trip has exceeded the yearly dictate. Funerals, weddings, Thanksgivings, spring breaks, and deathbeds dot the calendar in between.

I have driven, flown, or taken the train. I’ve broken down, turned around, and wept as a young lady trying to get from North Station to South Station (or was it the other way around?) to board the commuter rail. I’ve clocked in at six hours flat from my home base in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and I have made it in twelve when circumstances conspired against me. I cannot imagine, though, a distance long enough to prevent me from making the trek.

My mother, Jane, married into the deep dark of the North Atlantic when she wed her first husband, David, a thousand ebbing tides ago in 1963. They had a daughter Kira and a son Micheal, my eldest and only sister and the oldest of my brothers four. The marriage to the man did not last, but his mother Nadia, his sister Julia, and the ocean churning invited her back year after year – even after her second marriage to my father Michael, yielded a raucous family with no shared blood. A lent-out lineage legacy lasting generations beyond the dissolved union of its origin.

I joined the family’s yearly caravan north with my natal arrival in 1981. My mind in its infancy had no words or shapes assembled to log the sprawling stays of lazy summer weeks – but by the time my sentience had garnered such capabilities the tidal pools of coastal rocks had always hosted starfish, snails, and younger swimmers. The nooks of the sea-blackened boulders had always offered precarious perches to be shared with mussels, seaweed, and barnacles. Blueberries had always been plucked warm from their bushes along forest paths leading to the abandoned granite quarries we swam in. There is no frame of my memory’s blink untouched by the crashing waves or lazy eddies offered by Cape Ann’s Rockport, and Rockport’s Pigeon Cove.

The water was already haunted by the time I got there, swallowing so many of Gloucester’s fishermen. Even Nadia’s son Daniel had walked out into the hungry sea. But despite, or in thanks, or in indifference, the ghosts I spied in her waves bore power equal in sadness and in peace. Both moonrise by the settled sea and the violent crashes of storm-swelled surf carved an ache out of my heart before the heartbreaks had been enacted. The ocean warned me of the pain there would be.

My brother Daniel was the first ghost of my lifetime. His time on earth ending at the age of twenty-two. My world breaking at sweet seventeen. Nadia left not that much after, my borrowed grandmother with the house by the sea.

The ocean did not change her story. Not once did she ever mislead. Still when my mother passed twenty years after my brother the pain shocked me with its depth and its crash. The worst heartbreak was offered just after. Four months later I lost my infant daughter, my sweetest Margot, now tucked forever in her sleep. The depths of the lightless black pressure of this loss traversed only by creatures designed by its deep.

I return to the ocean in three days now, with my husband Will and our four living children in tow. We will stay at the home of my Aunt Julia, once Nadia’s. The same weathered house perched at the crest of the deep ocean’s shore. We will meet there two of my brothers, Jake and Joshua, their children, and Jake’s wife Hilary who has been joining us for more than twenty years now. My aging father will still venture the journey. The fleeting tick of time grants each gathering an unsolicited nostalgia.

So, gather we will on the cusp of the sea’s rhythmed, beating shore. The children will bathe in her cold majesty. Her magic will render us all under her spell. There will be peace in the calm of her power. She doesn’t lie, no, she could never. She tells a tale and I now know the story. I know more shapes and words than I wish I could assemble. While she smooths the bones of my ghosts, my beloveds, she whispers the song of my spirits in her gale.

Featured, Poetry, Theresa Hickey

Dappled Days

by Theresa Hickey

The grandeur of sky and sea is awesome, but
in an orchard, one notices
small wonders every season

Each turn of weather
bears fruit, cleaving to the vines
clinging for clemency from storms

Dimpled valentines of berries,
tiny jewels—red and radiant
black and blue—fill baskets

Pierced in their prime, flushed
pinks and reds, noble nectars flow
from peaches, plucked from branches

In autumn, apples line rows of meadows.
Succulent still, as once to Eve; the apple’s
robust beauty tempts each hidden desire

Hardy seeds become the fruit of life
and we, our sight and taste reborn
from fertile soil the farmer tills,
are awed in silent ways
as we eat our fill
to offer thanks and praise
for dappled days

 

This poem appears in Theresa’s poetry collection, Shy, published by Finishing Line Press.