This week I am pleased to present the writing of Walter F. Curran, a novelist, poet, and, of all things, the mayor of Ocean View, Delaware. Curran submitted “Remembrances” in response to the writing prompt “Should you ever choose.”
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by Walter F. Curran
You love me and have for forty-seven years.
I love you and have for forty-eight years. It took me a year to convince you.
You are a pessimist. Not just “the glass is half empty” but a full blown “OMG the glass is cracked and leaking” sort of pessimist, a Roseanne Roseannadanna type of pessimist. A flat tire is not an inconvenience, it is a catastrophe from which there is no recovery, until, of course, AAA fixes it. “Never mind!” Your pessimism has increased with age.
I am an optimist. Pretty much a run-of-the-mill “the glass is half full” kind of optimist. I’m flavored with a strong belief that there is always a chance to improve things if you simply hang in there long enough. My optimism has diminished somewhat with age.
You are from East Boston, as Italian as you can get and still be in America. The minute you exit the northbound Sumner Tunnel and take a hard right you can smell the pizza from Santarpio’s. You see the old-timers dunking biscotti into their anisette-laced espresso and watch the stereotypical nonnis scrubbing or sweeping the stoop and sidewalks in front of their row houses.
I am from South Boston, unavoidably, indelibly Irish. A few Lace Curtain types but mostly pig-shit Irish regularly ensconced on their corner pub thrones. A chronic forum for ridiculing the Lace Curtain Irish, claiming disdain but evincing envy. The Lace Curtains in turn behaved the same toward the Boston Brahmins. No one was happy being themselves. Only the Irish!
You didn’t have money. You worked with your father, Mando, part- time at a millinery wholesaler. A mini-sweatshop, minuscule desks loomed over by stacks of boxed hats, compounding the inherently poor lighting. You were stuck in total darkness in the freight elevator with your father on November 9, 1965, the great New England power outage. He discovered you smoked when you lit a match. Scrimped and saved just like everyone else in your neighborhood. The way to get ahead was to work hard and you never shirked. You worked until I forced you to retire at sixty-two. You had earned the right to rest a bit.
I certainly didn’t have money. I started working odd jobs at seven years old and never stopped working. All the money went home to Ma. I hated a lot of my jobs. Laundromat go-fer, cat food plant cookroom cleaner, warehouse mucker, all of which would qualify for Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs. I hated them but I never resented them. Working was the only way to get out of my Irish ghetto world.
You had a baby brother, Joey. Born thirteen years after you and ten years after your sister. He was the long-awaited son. Mando now had an heir. You and your sister Lorraine got even for Joey being the favorite by telling him he had a mystery brother named Gerald who would someday come back and claim his inheritance. It was a running family joke. It’s still running.
I was the baby brother. Twelve-year span between me and my oldest brother Al, but four other siblings were strewn in-between us. I got away with a lot that my siblings didn’t get away with. Staying out late on school nights, not always being there at suppertime, not having to clean my plate when I was there, not doing household chores. The other five had worn down my Ma to the point where she was too tired to chase after me. In a way, I was the family joke.
You were brainy and a goody-two-shoes up until college. You went to public grammar school, got good grades and got accepted to Girls’ Latin High School then got a scholarship to Emmanuel College. All girls there, too, taught by Sisters of Notre Dame.
In your first theology class, the nun asked the girls, “Who went to a parochial school?” Everyone but you raised their hand. “Who went to public school?” Your arm a solitary flagpole wanly poking the air. You could feel the supercilious glances of your peers. “Well for everyone that went to parochial school, forget everything they ever taught you about religion.” Instant gratification! You knew then that you could deal with the bullshit. Your blue-collar foundation was at least as strong as your peers’ silver-spoon upbringing and your drive to succeed far outpaced theirs.
I was not brainy. Not dumb, just not interested in education. Grammar school taught by Sisters of St. Joseph, sadists by any other name, followed by Boston Technical High School, an all-male school. We both escaped the regional high school. The standing joke was that if you went to either East Boston or South Boston High School, you’d enter with an eighth-grade education and graduate with a fifth-grade education. I went to summer school for three years, finally waking up in my senior year. One of my aunts, Elizabeth, a teacher, tutored me for two years. She had more faith in me than I did. I got a political appointment to Massachusetts Maritime Academy, a military trade school for Merchant Mariners. It instilled the discipline that I sorely needed even though I didn’t appreciate it until after graduation.
Your social life through high school and early college years was closely monitored by your parents, Rena and Mando. Rena was the sentry and Mando was the deliverer of punishment. You were sly enough to mostly outwit them with your occasional smoking and drinking but when caught, the punishment was swift.
I didn’t have a social life in high school and for the first two years of college. Socializing took money. Also, I was an introvert and painfully shy. I didn’t smoke or drink because I didn’t want to, so I didn’t need to be sneaky. At eleven years old, I would be out on the street until midnight just because I could. I wasn’t making a “statement” or defying Ma and Dad, that’s just the way it was. Like you, Ma was the sentry and Dad the dispenser of pain, though actual physical punishment was a rarity for me.
You raised the kids, endless hours of tutoring, taking them to sports practices and games, piano recitals. You were the disciplinarian and did a terrific job with the kids. I was the hammer you held over their heads but it never dropped. When our youngest, Amy, started first grade, you returned to work as a teacher. Anything you earned went into either a savings or vacation fund. You took after your mother when it came to handling money, a good thing.
I participated in raising the kids but on a part-time basis, weekend games, a little coaching. I earned the majority of the income but spent a lot of time at work. I was a workaholic. We agreed that we would live on my salary and never live beyond our means. You and I both hated owing money to anyone. Other than the house and a car, we didn’t buy anything unless we could pay cash for it. You and I still live by that rule.
You started as my girlfriend, became my lover and wife and now, in the twilight years, have become my best friend.
I started as your boyfriend, became your lover and husband and have always been your best friend, even when you didn’t know it.
You and I have been “we” (or is it “us,” I’ll have to ask her — her choice) for a long time and will remain that way until the end.
If you should ever choose? I’m thankful that you have.
Walt Curran is a retired maritime executive and the mayor of Ocean View, Delaware. A member of the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild, he has self-published a book of poetry titled Slices of Life, Cerebral spasms of the soul. His first novel, Young Mariner, is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions, as well as at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach. He is working on the second of the trilogy, Young Mariner: On to Africa, and hopes to publish it in the fall of 2017.