When I met you last week in Brookline, Massachusetts, I was so moved by your story about your dad that I could barely speak. You kindly signed my book in memory of my father, Jack.
I was 4 years old in 1955 when Dennis and his family moved into the downstairs apartment of our two-family house in an Irish section of Lowell, Massachusetts. Dennis was my best friend for four years until my parents bought a single family house a mile away. He and his family moved to another part of town. I never saw him until high school when, at a school dance, he took the stage as the lead singer of his own band. I proudly told my friends that he had been my best friend and that we lived in the same house. “You lived with Puerto Ricans?” they asked. I looked closely at Dennis, and, for the first time, saw a Spanish face. By the time I got home, as memories of Dennis’ brother and mother and father came back, I realized that I had indeed lived with Puerto Ricans. My mother confirmed it, and laughed. She then looked quiet, and sad, as if there was more to the story. “Sit down” she said.
I heard about how my parents rented to the Rivera’s and “all hell broke loose”. Though Mom and Dad were lifelong residents of the neighborhood and active members of the local Catholic parish, they were harassed mercilessly by many of their “friends” and neighbors for this treasonous act. There were petitions and flyers and threats. My father, a former pilot and decorated veteran, dug in and told everyone to go to hell. Dad later told me that when we moved, he sold the house to a guy who planned to open a “package” store on the first floor of the house, which was in a mixed commercial zone. The neighbors eventually blocked the liquor store, robbing my father of his revenge.
Why the secret? I can see why they would want to shield very young kids from the ugly events at the time. But why never speak of these matters again? The answer was in the heaviness and sadness of my mother’s tone. She was not just angry at these friends and neighbors; she was ashamed of them. These people and their children populated the church and Catholic school that largely defined our social (and previously, our moral) existence. It was disturbing to learn of these events, but I cherish the memory of my principled parents, and my first best friend.
If I had not seen Dennis on that stage, would I have ever heard about any of this? And how many other stories did my now deceased parents accidentally or intentionally forget to tell me? Maybe I know enough. I’ll trust their judgment on the ones that got away.
- About Michele
- About the Book