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Hungry Hill

Hungry Hill: A Memoir

Carole O’Malley Gaunt
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Hungry Hill
    Book Description:

    On a sweltering June night in 1959, Betty O'Malley died from lymphatic cancer, leaving behind an alcoholic husband and eight shellshocked children—seven sons and one daughter, ranging in age from two to fifteen years. The daughter, Carole, was thirteen at the time. In this poignant memoir, she recalls in vivid detail the chaotic course of her family life over the next four years. The setting for the story is Hungry Hill, an IrishCatholic workingclass neighborhood in Springfield , Massachusetts . The author recounts her sad and turbulent story with remarkable clarity, humor, and insight, punctuating the narrative with occasional fictional scenes that allow the adult Carole to comment on her teenage experiences and to probe the impact of her mother's death and her father's alcoholism.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-093-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Introduction: LIMELIGHT
    (pp. 1-4)

    “CAROLE, WHY DO YOU want to rake up all that family stuff?” Michael, my older brother, asked, gravel in his voice. “Isn’t it enough you lived through it?” His bluntness was chilling, spiraling me back into the gray-tiled kitchen at 21 Lynwood Terrace where my brothers routinely dismissed me as the “crazy” one. But I had changed, and this time I would not back away from first-born Michael’s harsh questions. Hadn’t I raised my children, and didn’t I know what a “family” could be? My daughters’ passage into adulthood may have spurred me into writing this book. It was time...

  4. 1. Last Rites
    (pp. 5-11)

    LATER THAT SUMMER, I would resent that my older brother, Michael, knew all along my mother was dying. He had been told back in March, and I had not. I knew she was really sick. But as a thirteen-year-old, I believed in the magical power of miracles, believed in what the starched Sisters of Saint Joseph had told me: that a true miracle could occur at any time, if only I prayed hard enough. Either the nuns had lied to me, or I prayed the wrong prayers.

    “Carole, I’m taking all the boys to Dombrowsky’s to pick up cold cuts....

  5. MOTHER’S DAY 1992
    (pp. 11-15)

    JOE: Hey, Katsy, I wish your mother could see this apartment. God must be smiling at you these days.

    CAROLE: You could say God’s not so distracted these days. Do you still take milk and sugar in your tea? Joe: I guess you’re not offering me anything stronger. I’ll have to settle for this weak sister tea.

    CAROLE: Weak sister? Why not weak brother? Dad, that expression sounds to me like you’re putting down women.

    JOE: (Placatingly.) I’m sorry, Punkin. You seem defensive.

    CAROLE: You’re familiar with the word “sexist”? Joe: (Half jokingly.) There was no women’s movement in my...

  6. 2. Gone
    (pp. 15-18)

    AFTER THE GAME, Anne, basketball under her arm, and Di head out of the park toward Penacook Street, and I wave goodbye, walking toward home, glad Anne always brought the basketball. The leaves on the trees sit still, watching me, warning me, Hurry home, hurry home. Hit by a need to get home, I start to run, reach the intersection of Liberty and Newbury, still running madly. Out of breath, I slow up at Marchese’s when a car sidles up next to me. A Dion and the Belmonts song is blaring on the radio.

    “Doll, we’ll give you a ride....

  7. 3. God Takes the Saints Early
    (pp. 18-27)

    “GOD TAKES the saints early.” John Dowd, a white-haired man with a crew cut, shakes my hand, looking directly at me with his pale, watery blue eyes as he canonizes my mother on the first night of her wake. The saint remark brings out a chill on the back of my neck, making me think of my mother always ordering me to do some chore and my yelling back at her to ask one of my brothers for a change. “Why me?” I’d shout. How does Mr. Dowd know my mother is a saint? She, Elizabeth Marie McCue O’Malley, mother...

  8. 4. Chocolate Cake
    (pp. 27-31)

    AFTER THE WAKE, my aunts and uncles, friends, and neighbors all crowd into our kitchen. The whiskey bottles are lined up on the counter, their caps swimming in little puddles of spill. I have tasted whiskey before, but I don’t like the taste, and the smell alone can make me gag. My aunts are putting food on the table when Mrs. Metzger comes over from next door, carrying a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Mrs. Metzger would never buy a mix. If I stand in our driveway, I can smell her baking, how the butter and sugar fall over one...

  9. 5. Perfect Skin
    (pp. 31-38)

    EVEN BEFORE BREAKFAST, it’s hot out. The outside door is open, but no air is coming in. The house this morning is quiet, except for Tommy, the baby, sitting in his wooden high chair, slapping it with his toast. Tommy has torn up his toast, smearing the grape jelly all over the high chair tray. Now he leans over in his chair and points to the toast scattered on the floor. I grab a dishrag from the sink, spin around, and see my father glancing at Tommy. My father likes to play a game with the baby where he picks...

  10. 6. Anne of Green Gables
    (pp. 38-43)

    THERE IS TALK about who gets to ride in which limousine once we’re out on the sidewalk. Joey and Gerry, in a protest instigated by Gerry, are refusing to ride in the smaller limousine with Aunt Madeline and Uncle Bill. Michael, Danny, and I, the big kids, know that we will get to ride in the first limousine, right behind the funeral car. For a minute I am afraid my father might ask me to ride with the little kids, but I calm myself, knowing my aunts and uncles are there to take care of them. Well, Gerry crabs his...

  11. 7. Graduation Dress
    (pp. 43-50)

    “DAD, I NEED a white dress for graduation.” I pick up a milk-soaked Cheerio from the table and flick it toward the sink. My father is sitting at the kitchen table in his robe with white piping, staring at the white refrigerator door, an untouched piece of buttered toast in front of him. I think about just sneaking down to his bedroom and slipping a few bills from his wallet. His wallet is in his pants pocket hanging on the closet door. At least, he’s still predictable about the wallet.

    “What, Carole?” my father asks, picking up his toast.


  12. 8. Honor and Privilege
    (pp. 51-56)

    “CLASS, THIS IS a wonderful day for you and your families. With the Lord’s help, I have prepared you for high school. With continued work and application—” she pauses, “I think you will do well.” This is an extraordinary day, Sister Agnes Edward has never been so peculiar . . . kind, almost.

    The eighth-grade classroom is summer-ready. The erasers have been clapped, the textbooks stored, and the desks scrubbed. Sister Agnes Edward places the fleshy part of her palm on the chalk tray and scans the classroom. When she finds nothing out of order, she leans back against...

  13. 9. Complete Change of Scene
    (pp. 57-60)

    THE TUESDAY MORNING after graduation, I am in the kitchen halflistening to Mrs. Meade tell me stories about her son Wally’s weak heart, his being a blue baby and all, when my father walks in lugging a suitcase. A suitcase? We are a family of surprises, but the suitcase shakes me because I have no idea where he’s going or what he’s doing. Since it has been only two weeks since my mom died, I’m fluttery about any change.

    “Your uncle and a few friends and I are going to Florida to play a little golf,” my father explains. My...

  14. 10. Kelsey Point
    (pp. 60-65)

    IT HAS RAINED here for three out of four days, and although Mrs. Metzger is in no way to blame for the weather, in my head I blame her. I’m almost ready to pray for sun and apologize to God for my complaints about rocky beaches. Rocks are fine, God, I prefer sand, but rocks will do. All part of Your creation. I am sick of Gin Rummy, Crazy Eights, War, Fish, and watching the rain. At least there is basic arithmetic involved in Twenty-one or Blackjack, with Danny always pushing for the dealer’s advantage. The little kids play Slapjack...

  15. 11. The Boys at the Corner Drugstore
    (pp. 65-72)

    AT THE CORNER of Woodmont Street, there are three boys standing on the corner, and two of them are blowing smoke rings, a trick I would give anything to be able to do.

    “What would you do if those boys called us maggots?” I ask Kathy. “Wouldn’t you just die?”

    “They will not call us maggots. The curly-haired one goes to Tech. He’s a junior.” The curly-haired one is the best-looking of the three, so goodlooking that I can almost feel his confidence radiating across Newbury Street like space rays in a comic book. “Richie,” Kathy adds. “I don’t know...

  16. 12. My Mother’s Closet
    (pp. 72-76)

    “OUCH!” I YELL, as the backs of my legs touch the sun-scorched stone wall in front of Cal’s Variety Store. Watching me from his carriage, Tommy’s eyes fill with fear, then tears. Quickly, I hand him pieces from my Mounds to distract him. When he crams the dark chocolate in his baby mouth, his tears miraculously stop. The candy, dribbling down his chin, works its tranquilizing sugar magic, lulling Tommy into staying in his carriage instead of trying to climb over the side on this endless afternoon. I am on a mission to Cal’s and have bought Hostess cupcakes for...

    (pp. 76-80)

    CAROLE: Come on, you can do this. You can do this.(Carole places her gloved hands against her temples and lowers her head on them for a minute. Sighing, she opens the door and walks over to a white stick planted a third of the way into the section. She reads the rough-drawn number 605. Carole begins searching for her mother’s gravestone, a marble rectangle planted in the grass, but the Massachusetts winter has been hard and maintenance has been poor, making the gravestones barely visible. Kicking the overgrown brown grass aside, she reads the letters and moves down the...

  18. 13. The Boys’ Bathing Suits Are Missing
    (pp. 80-85)

    “NATURALLY, YOU WOULD remember to pack your bathing suit for a beach vacation and forget ours,” Danny says, his voice all godlike judgment.

    “I packed underwear, shorts, jerseys, towels, and toothbrushes,” I say lamely.

    “Just admit it. You forgot the bathing suits,” Danny taunts me, waiting for my answer. His accusation gets to me. As if I have forgotten intentionally. As if I planned to forget their bathing suits. As if I even knew where Mrs. Meade had packed them away.

    “OK, I forgot.” I count the five mostly matched chairs in the kitchen and even with Tommy’s high chair,...

  19. 14. An Evening of Informal Modeling
    (pp. 86-89)

    ALTHOUGH IT HAS been three months since my mother died, the house still has a peculiar, empty feel to it. After dinner, the Tuesday night after Labor Day, my dad reads aloud from a front page article in theSpringfield Daily Newsthat Cathedral High School is going upscale. The downtown site on Elliot Street, overcrowded, ancient, and funereal, has been tossed aside for a brand-new building in Holy Cross parish. It was good enough for him, he sighs, but not good enough for his daughter and sons. He’s teasing me, I know, but all I can think of saying...

  20. 15. The Jewel of the Diocese
    (pp. 89-92)

    HOMEROOM IS ALPHABETICAL, O through P. John Ouellette sits behind me and Noreen O’Connor front of me, two new names. The home-room nun, Sister Peter Maria, has mixed boys and girls together, so unlike grammar school where the girls sat on one side and the boys on the other. As I study my class schedule and compare it to the school map, Sister takes attendance and tells us to raise our hands and say, “Present.” If the program is right, Sister Maurice Joseph has transferred from Our Lady of Hope, I’m hoping without her steel ruler, and I have her...

  21. 16. The Dark Horse
    (pp. 92-94)

    No . No . No . If I had only said “No” to Monica, the three-minute-older twin, when she called me Tuesday night and asked me to nominate her for class office, I wouldn’t be sitting here in an aisle seat in the auditorium, surrounded by seven hundred classmates, dreading my thirty-second speech in front of the entire ninth grade. Secretly I felt flattered that Monica had asked me, but in bed last night, I just kept picturing myself tripping up the stairs leading to the stage, a slice of slapstick. The twins’ plan is that one would be secretary...

  22. 17. Campaign
    (pp. 95-98)

    WHEN I PULL my Latin book from my green book bag and check the kitchen clock, I see that it is ten past ten. I love our kitchen clock, a black wrought-iron circle with wavy squiggles surrounding it and a brown and red rooster in the middle, a painted rooster I think of as the O’Malley family pet. Memorizing the vocabulary list for a Latin test, third-declension nouns and the pluperfect “era-had” tense, I cover the words with my hand, first from Latin to English, then English to Latin, my surefire method, when my dad walks into the kitchen, heads...

  23. 18. The Dating Scene
    (pp. 98-101)

    MY DAD HAS started dating, not that he bothers to tell any of us, but Danny, a ladies’ man himself, has guessed, and we all know the woman he’s dating. Her name is Mary Ford. When my grandfather died, she came up for his funeral and shared my bedroom. I remembered watching her unpack a big jar of Pond’s cold cream from a corner of her suitcase and how she used the tips of her fingers to pat the cream all over her thin face. The transformation scared me. What had been a bright shiny pink lipstick face became the...

  24. 19. Cheerleading and Candy Striping
    (pp. 101-104)

    IN EARLY APRIL, the sign is posted, the announcement is made: cheerleading tryouts, the day I have been waiting for. I’m clutching a white square with the number 112 on it. Already the sweat from my hands is curling the edges. Milling outside the girls’ gym in an endless line of ninth-grade girls, I am waiting for my number to be called and joking with Di and Anne, pretending that the tryout is no big thing. For moral support, I have begged them both to come with me to try out, but when Di and Anne take in the size...

  25. 20. Clip-on Tie
    (pp. 105-109)

    EVER SINCE PALM Sunday, Danny and I have been making the kids look out the window for the Easter Bunny. By vaguely threatening that the Easter Bunny may withhold baskets, I can pretty much head off anyintra fratesfighting all week. Joey, I can tell, is faking belief in the Easter Bunny, but Gerry with his usual flair is carrying on about the rabbit’s white fur, the straw hat, the size of the basket, and the time we can expect him on Lynwood Terrace, and throwing in off-key snippets of “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” A conniver and a worrier,...

  26. 21. Auxilium Latinum
    (pp. 109-112)

    “WE WILL BE reviewing verb tenses and conjugations for two days,” Sister Agnes Veronica announces at the beginning of Monday’s Latin class, “to prepare you for the Auxilium Latinum test.” Sister Agnes Veronica just keeps pushing us along in Latin, so reviewing will be a break for us. “This is a national test and given to Latin students all over the country.” Sister never smiles and has a way of sounding like a talking test booklet. “Prizes are awarded to students who achieve a certain score.” Prizes? My ears prick up because I love prizes, starting with the cellophane-wrapped trinket...

  27. 22. A Buyer of Sofas
    (pp. 112-115)

    I PLACE MY report card on the coffee table on top of the picture of Senator Kennedy and his dark-haired wife in theSpringfield Daily News,a couple far more glamorous to me than Hollywood’s Liz Taylor and Eddie Fisher.

    “Dad, I made the first honor roll again. Do you want to see my report card?” I ask my dad on a chilly June night. He’s lying on the couch with his hands behind his head, staring at the plaster swirls in the ceiling.

    “What? I’m sorry. School’s over already?” Between Easter and Mother’s Day, my dad had started dating...

  28. MOTHER’S DAY 1993
    (pp. 115-116)

    JOE: I loved Susie’s note—on your Mother’s Day card. Quite the tribute.

    CAROLE: For a twelve-year-old, she sometimes has the insight of an adult.

    JOE: Like her mother at that age.

    CAROLE: (Laughing.) I hope not.

    (Joe slaps the sofa and picks out a white feather from a pillow. He strokes the feather between his fingers.)

    JOE: Carole, did you pick out this sofa?

    CAROLE: No, I sent Abby to the furniture department at Bloomingdale’s. She’s fourteen.

    JOE: (Playfully.) You’re with the old man for two minutes and already you’re slipping back to your old sarcasm.

    CAROLE: I just...

  29. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  30. 23. The Doctor’s Revelation
    (pp. 117-121)

    WITH SEVEN WISE - MOUTH brothers (though in fairness, I probably shouldn’t count Tommy), you would think I could stand just about any humiliation, but not my dad’s dating. I just wish things would slow down for him in the romance department and speed up for me. Tonight, he’s back on the sofa, tired, listening to Nat King Cole and talking to Michael as I pass through the living room, carrying Tommy upstairs to his crib.

    “How about a kiss from TJ?” my dad asks. I carry Thomas James over and lower him down for a kiss.

    “Worn out from...

  31. 24. Casanova at the Beach
    (pp. 121-130)

    LIFE AT THE beach has a different set of rules. On Thursday nights, there’s an outdoor movie on the beach, and tonight it’sOld Yeller.But my dad, Mr. Romance, will be skipping the double feature because he left right before dinner to pick up his “date” in Old Lyme, his new date. When he left the cottage, Uncle Bill sang, “Some Enchanted Evening.” All I know is she’s not the cold cream lady.

    Cathy Lamoureux, my best friend at Point o’Woods, and I are lying on an old Army blanket on the beach gazing up at the stars waiting...

  32. 25. Stage Left, Stage Right, Entrances and Exits
    (pp. 130-137)

    WITH A GOOD two hours before the Saturday afternoon football game, Cathy Lamoureux is in my room, fingering the piles of clothing in her open suitcase.

    “Rene’s hand-me-down. They’ll never fit,” Cathy says with a laugh. “Is your dad driving us to the football game?”

    “I think Michael will.”

    “You could have gone to the cemetery with your dad this morning. I could have found something to do.”

    “If he was only going to the cemetery, but he was going to the butcher’s too. And I went last week.” I wonder if Mrs. Lamoureux goes to the cemetery every Saturday...

  33. ARMISTICE DAY 1994
    (pp. 137-140)

    JOE: Thank you, Gretchen.

    (Carole smiles at the waitress.)

    CAROLE: You’re a fixture here, dad.

    JOE: I have a certain loyalty.

    CAROLE: I picked that up from you. I’m loyal. Too loyal, I think, sometimes.

    JOE: There’s no such thing as too much loyalty. (Joe picks up an oldfashioned glass of whiskey and sips.) Ah, the nectar of the gods.

    CAROLE: How sweet it is. (Carole holds up a glass of water.)

    JOE: Remember that food basket Rupert sent over to the house when your mother died? He’s a generous man.

    CAROLE: I’d take Leo’s candy over the Fort’s sausage...

  34. 26. Party Time
    (pp. 140-147)

    “LOOK AT JFK in the limousine. Eddie Boland’s sitting right next to Senator Kennedy.” I point to the full-page spread in theDaily Newswith half a dozen pictures of Senator Kennedy at a rally in Court Square the day before the presidential election. “Is that a Cadillac limousine?” Danny asks. “How many people are there?”

    “Over 40,000 people, the paper says. I didn’t even know he was coming.

    Did you?” “No, but that’s why Mary Eugene was threatening expulsion to any Cathedral student who left school for any reason. The principal was afraid we’d storm the rally.”

    “From the...

  35. 27. Joey, the Bird
    (pp. 147-150)

    DO ALL NEWLYWEDS celebrate a two-week anniversary? Winking at me, my dad says he and Mary are off for the afternoon to the Sheraton to celebrate two weeks of marriage with a few glasses of “the bubbly.” Closing the door behind them, and with Mary safely gone, I decide to celebrate my few hours of freedom from her eavesdropping on my telephone conversations.

    “No, of course I’m not going to the EDT dance, Carole. I wouldn’t know anyone there. Even if we were here Thanksgiving night, what boy would I ask? And which lucky fellow did you end up asking?”...

  36. 28. Fledgling Journalist and Mad Scientist
    (pp. 150-154)

    THE 5 Ws and the H pretty much sum up Sister Edward Agnes’s journalism class. Who, what, when, where, why, and, sometimes, how.

    Who takes this alphabetic elective? Mostly sophomores and a few juniors, all of whom have bulls-eyed the honor roll from time to time.

    What? To learn the basics of journalism, or just the facts, ma’am.

    When? Sixth period.

    Where? Room 208, across from Sister Agnes Veronica’s room.

    Why? The job of our journalism class is to learn how to put out the school paper,The Cathedral Chronicle,and to take over the tasks of graduating seniors.


  37. 29. Under the Knife
    (pp. 154-157)

    RIGHT AFTER THANKSGIVING, Mary checks into the hospital in Hartford for an operation on a “hiatal hernia.” At breakfast, when I tell my dad that the index to the biology text does not list a hiatal hernia, he suggests I abandon my medical research. With Mary recovering in the hospital for three whole days, a calmness creeps into the house. I no longer need to be on twenty-four-hour guard, waiting for her to find fault with me, my brothers, my friends, my aunt and uncle, the world at large. The house falls right back to being a mess, rolled-up socks...

  38. 30. Dress-up Day
    (pp. 158-161)

    AFTER OUR JANUARY exams, Sister Mary Eugene awards the students “a dress-up day for all our hard work.” Since my John Meyer outfit cried out for the perfect shoes, I copied Maria Scibelli and Ellen Seymour’s choice of Bass Weejun loafers, shoes not carried at the low-end Baker’s. In Springfield, a girl with money shops at Casual Corner and Peerless, shunning the look-alikes at Lerner’s and the even lower King’s and J. M. Fields. Last night, while I struggled to jam pennies into the loafers’ leather openings, my dad had chuckled, asking me, “If you’re doing all that work, why...

  39. 31. Sweet and Sour Times: Easter, the Election, and (Step)Mother’s Day
    (pp. 162-167)

    MARY IS QUITE proud, I can tell, of how she has put together a serving tray for Easter with jelly beans, mostly black and green, which I hate, marshmallow chicks, and chocolate aluminum foil-wrapped eggs. For neatness sake, she portions out the fake grass, which gives the tray a bare, skimpy look.

    “Joe, Michael, Carole, and Danny are just too old for Easter baskets so I thought I’d put together a tray for Easter,” Mary announces in a pleased-with-herself voice to my father.

    “You’re in charge, Mary,” he answers flatly, barely looking up from his newspaper. The decision that I...

  40. 32. Fifteen Forever
    (pp. 167-170)

    THE SCHOOL YEAR ended in a yawn, and now it seems as though August 20th will never come. I will be fifteen forever. I am too old to ride a bike and can’t get my driver’s license until I turn sixteen in August.

    As bad as an entire summer is without being able to get around, I can’t get a summer job either. The law in Massachusetts says you must be sixteen to work, but I could get a job in the tobacco fields in Enfield, Connecticut. No laws for farm workers. When Mrs. Patterson down on Hartley Street ran...

  41. 33. The Ambush
    (pp. 170-176)

    I’M BREEZING THROUGH junior year. As an eleventh grader and student council treasurer, which no one else but me seems to know or care about, I feel as if I rule the school. Finding the chapel, the library, the school store, and the chemistry lab is a finger snap for me. I have the Cathedral High School lingo down, and by now I know the nuns’ nicknames, “Big Al,” “Patty Joe,” and the names of many of the seniors, the girls anyway, and the boys by sight. That one academic year and calendar edge make the senior boys more mysterious,...

  42. 34. Planning for the Future
    (pp. 177-180)

    MY MOTHER WAS never sick in bed even one day until her cancer, and then she died; but Mary runs to doctors so often that she drops their names in conversations as if they are family members—Uncle Bill, Dr. Baltrucki. Only doctors understand her; I could not. With the back of her wrist to her forehead, Mary announces over a dinner of pork chops and Mott’s apple sauce that she needs an operation. My eyes glaze over when she lists her weekly ailments, involving body parts and conditions I had overlooked in tenth-grade biology. When Mary mentions her pain,...

  43. 35. Lil’ Kiss
    (pp. 180-183)

    MY BROTHERS HAVE been calling me crazy as long as I can remember. It is easier for them to call me crazy than to listen to me, but I have to try. It’s a Wednesday night in mid-January, and Mary and my father are out. Snow has been falling since late afternoon and a two-day blizzard is predicted. Michael, Danny, and I are in the kitchen.

    “The snow is really bad,” Michael says. “Dad shouldn’t be driving in this weather.”

    “There aren’t any other cars out driving in this blizzard,” Danny says.

    “Look, as long as Dad’s got her out...

  44. 36. Skidding
    (pp. 184-188)

    THE SNOW LASTS two days. No school Thursday and, a winter gift, no school Friday as well. The only black spot is that the Friday cancellation means the one and only scheduled student council dance, a sock hop, is canceled and, at sixteen, I am too old for sliding on Thornfell Hill. Although most kids’ parents won’t let them drive the car in the snow, my dad gives me the family chariot. It should have been no surprise to me, but East Longmeadow Friendly’s is church-quiet, and I come home early, disappointed more of my friends had not seen me...

  45. 37. Snowbound
    (pp. 188-191)

    “IDLENESS IS THE devil’s workshop” is a long-favored threat of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, at both Our Lady of Hope and Cathedral. Sister Patricia Joseph utters this warning if she so much as sees a student glance out the classroom window. Platitude Patty, Michael calls her. Now, with his knee cramping him, Gerry is a sitting target for Satan and his evil ways, especially with a week-long winter vacation and two days of heavy snow. The younger kids have been sliding at Thornfell, making snow families, and waging more than a few snowball fights ending in tears. Gerry is...

  46. 38. Down the Drain
    (pp. 192-196)

    AFTER A TWO-HOUR minstrel show rehearsal in Ellen Seymour’s wood-paneled basement, the twins drop me off at home on a Friday night. When I pleaded with my dad this morning to let me borrow the car, he gave me his customary refusal, a look of pain in his eyes. Rarely do my dad and Mary spend a weekend night at home anyway, so I’m not sure why I bothered to try. From the back porch, I wave a goodbye to the twins, who are backing out of the driveway. Although a light is on in the kitchen, the rest of...

  47. 39. Hold the Fort
    (pp. 196-199)

    “CAROLE, YOU MESSED up on the dance steps. You put your back against your partner’s back on the line ‘Then, I’ll never grow up . . .’ Have you got that?” Ellen has singled me out and is instructing me as if she’s Margaret Curry, our physically unfit gym teacher arranging a Scandinavian folk dance, but I can’t blame Ellen. My mind keeps wandering off to 21 Lynwood, and I have started pinching my wrist to force myself to pay attention to our “I Won’t Grow Up” routine fromPeter Pan. My mind wanders in school more, too. When I’m...

  48. 40. Imperfect Prayers
    (pp. 200-202)

    ALTHOUGH MY DAD might throw up every morning, he never missed work. At eight-fifteen, after he had dropped the little kids off at school, he would drive down to his office at Aetna on State Street. But on Ash Wednesday, March 7th, he was too sick to get out of bed.

    It is a little after four, and Gerry is telling me all he knows.

    “Mrs. Metzger knocked on the window when I was coming through the backyard, like she was waiting for me. She wanted me to bring Tommy back home.” Gerry takes a gulp of milk, and I...

  49. 41. A Yellowed Cheek
    (pp. 203-206)

    LATE THURSDAY AFTERNOON, my aunt reports that my father’s improving, may return home as soon as tomorrow, and suggests we not visit him. We’ll have Tommy’s birthday when my dad gets home. Afraid Tommy would feel cheated, I duck into Liberty Bakeries on my way home from school on Friday and pick up a dozen cupcakes. After a supper of tuna sandwiches, we sing Happy Birthday as tunelessly as ever.

    Squeezed into a booth at East Longmeadow Friendly’s later that night, I have just set it up that Dotty Homan, Big Black Dot (my brothers’ nickname), will pick me up...

  50. 42. Cashmere Sport Coat
    (pp. 207-211)

    “HE SO LOVED this cashmere sport coat,” Mary says, stroking the sleeve. “I can smell his after shave,” she says, inhaling and closing her eyes. Two dark business suits and my dad’s sport coat are draped over a kitchen chair, picked from his closet by my aunt and uncle. Mary’s birdlike body begins to shake with low moans, and she puts her face down on a shelf of her folded arms. My uncle murmurs soft words and casts a helpless look over Mary’s bent head at my aunt. Without looking up, she says, “Bill, you and Mad pick something out...

  51. 43. Dr. Blackmer’s Magic
    (pp. 211-214)

    ABOUT A WEEK after the funeral, I wake up with a sore throat and a high fever. Not counting my stitches, I’m never sick, and now I don’t even know what day it is. Three days later, Mary calls Dr. Blackmer, who pulls up in his black Lincoln, diagnoses strep throat, stabs me with a shot of penicillin, and tells me to stay in bed until the penicillin kicks in. Closing his black bag, he hums the music from the Dodge car commercial, and I’m too sick to smile. While I am home with strep throat, Tommy stays with me...

  52. 44. Job Market
    (pp. 215-219)

    THAT SAME AFTERNOON after the Patty Jo incident, while standing at the bus stop, I vow to arrange my life so that I will never ever have to ask Mary for anything. Within a few days of my father’s funeral, Mary, cheeks ablaze, had launched a lack-of-money tirade, in which she ranted that we would all be out on the street and then what would we do?—a speech that terrified my younger brothers and made me go numb. Although my uncle had told us that my dad had left a “substantial” life insurance policy and we would be fine,...

  53. 45. Bargain Tables
    (pp. 220-222)

    STUDYING THE CURRIER & Ives calendar on the kitchen wall, I notice how Ash Wednesday was March 7th, the day before Tommy’s birthday, and Easter this year was April 22nd, the day before Gerry’s birthday—odd how they overlapped—and there are only two weeks left until the Junior Prom. While I have asked Kevin to my prom, he has not asked me to the Senior Prom, so after school today I hung out at Big Ben’s secretly hoping he might be there. No one was there so I hit every department store in Springfield—Peerless, Forbes, Casual Corner—and...

  54. 46. Beautiful
    (pp. 222-224)

    AS A MEMBER of the Junior Prom decorating committee, though one with limited artistic talent, I stop by the cafeteria after the student council meeting and am amazed by the transformation rolls of multicolored crepe paper make. Pastel paper roses hang from the ceiling, decorating the mirrored columns and the base of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I, the visiting drone, compliment the buzzing worker bees and search for a suitable task. Gathering the scissors, tape, wire, and leftover crepe paper, I carry them to the secretary in the principal’s office. When my crepe paper roses are laughed...

  55. 47. A Ten-Second Phone Call
    (pp. 224-225)

    SISTER WALTER MARIA, a French teacher and the head of the school’s memory book, is fond of flirting with the boys. And maybe it is her romantic French accent, but Sister is good at it. On the Tuesday afternoon of Senior Week, Sister is speaking French with Klaus Shigley, her favorite, in the corridor before unveiling to us the school’s first memory book. Just as Father Leary runs the student council at Cathedral, Sister Walter Maria has controlled the memory book, but I have been the one to give it a name:Pantherpix.

    Since the thin, purple spiral-bound books are...

  56. 48. Rich Woman Someday
    (pp. 226-230)

    STANDING ON THE wide stairs of the Hampden County Courthouse at eight-twenty on the morning of my first day of work, Uncle Bill is busy nodding to passersby like a candidate running for office. Behind him, the square courthouse, built of a rusticated gray rock with three curved arches spanning the entry, has a look of propriety and respectability. When my uncle kisses me on the cheek, I sniff the pine of his aftershave, my dad’s smell, and notice the fine red veins, map lines on his round cheeks.

    “Ready, Katsy? You’ll be fine. Dan says Margaret Hoey runs the...

  57. 49. Handbag
    (pp. 230-233)

    IN JUNE, MARY announces that she can no longer afford to run the risk of Michael or me getting in a car accident, which would raise her insurance premiums, so we are forbidden to drive the family car. Now it’s her car. Then, unsatisfied by our meek acceptance, she launches into her familiar lecture about money and being out on the street and where would you children be? Am I supposed to say thank you for not letting me drive the car? It’s not as if we had said anything. What’s the point? I want to hit her when she...

  58. 50. Best Tunafish
    (pp. 234-238)

    SISTER ROSE CARMEL terrifies me. After a run-in Kevin had with her in the hall last fall, I remember his saying that if Sister could play defensive guard for the football team, they might win a game or two. In the opening minutes before the bell rings, she asks what we have read over the summer, and Gail Culver just about does cartwheels overCatcher in the RyeandRabbit, Run. Although I had read nothing beyond the summer reading, I could recite the name of every town in Hampden County and many of its employees as well, a recitation...

    (pp. 238-249)

    CAROLE: Hi, Mary. I brought you this plant.

    Mary: Pardon?

    CAROLE: I brought you this plant, right here. (Carole holds up a red flowered plant in a clay pot.) Can you see it?

    MARY: Yeah, what is that?

    CAROLE: It’s a . . . oh, what did the florist say it was?—it’s a primrose. (Pause.)

    MARY: How come you’re so nice to me?

    CAROLE: I don’t know why I’m so nice to you. You’re very lucky, aren’t you?

    MARY: Yeah, I’ll say. (Carole puts the plant down on a dresser next to a photograph of the O’Malley children.)

    CAROLE: Mary,...

  60. 51. Only a Dish
    (pp. 249-252)

    THE TURKEY HAS been hacked to bits, stripes of baked-on squash hug the serving bowl, and squares of orange pineapple Jello wobble in the Pyrex dish. With a heavy grayness and little conversation, we have almost survived Thanksgiving, our first Thanksgiving with neither parent. Just let it end in peace, I pray silently. There is no hint of sun anywhere this bleak afternoon. With dessert yet to come, Mary starts to clear the table with me following her, when Michael hits his dinner dish with his elbow, breaking the plate in half.

    “Mary, I’m sorry. It was an accident,” Michael...

  61. 52. Term Projects
    (pp. 253-255)

    SISTER ROSE CARMEL plucks tortures out of the air on a predictable, seasonal basis. This winter it is public speaking. In late fall, for a project in medieval literature, she directed us to form groups of three or four and to integrate what we had culled from this stilted, heroic literature into a presentation to be made to the class. Gail Culver, the reader, Diane Scagliarini, the poet, and I met during lunch and hoped some Muse of Inspiration would join us in the corner chair. During the two-week period of preparation, Diane changed the spelling of her name to,...

  62. 53. Runaway
    (pp. 256-260)

    “I’LL SHOW YOU! I’m getting out of here. You’ll be sorry, all of you!” Joey yells on his way out the door. From the backyard hedges, he shouts back, “You’re all jerks anyway!” An experienced runaway, Joey has spat out the language of mistreatment and warning, but has ignored the lion/lamb March weather with its falling temperatures and risk of snow. Only in sixth grade, Joey has already taken off from home four or five times. Families of runaways on television always care about the “missing” child, call the police even, but Mary just said to let him go, and...

  63. 54. Prom Fever
    (pp. 261-268)

    HEPBURN AND TRACY hit the halls of Cathedral High School. Robert Browning, played by John Brody, and Elizabeth Barrett, played by Christina Lovett, are waltzing off to the prom together. It must be reciting all those flowery sonnets. Bella, played by me, has no date, and the prom is only a week away. It is hot and stuffy in the auditorium as the imperial Suzanne, our director, is trying to bar any audience, insisting on a government-like secrecy surrounding the production. Richard Trudeau dashes around the stage, setting props. Watching him, it strikes me that he will ask Suzanne to...

    (pp. 268-272)

    GERRY: Hey, what’s up, Carole?

    Carole: You love that caller-ID feature. GERRY: I do. I do. I played the answering machine and heard you have a question about Mary. She’s physically fine, in and out mentally. More out than in.

    CAROLE: So the question is. . . .

    GERRY: Go ahead, Carole. Get it out.

    CAROLE: Why didn’t we stand up to Mary?

    GERRY: (Smugly.) Oh, that’s easy. The Nuclear Option.

    CAROLE: The Nuclear Option? And what would that be?

    GERRY: Her threatening to leave us all the time. Any time there was any kind of major dispute—it was...

  65. 55. We’ll Remember Always Graduation Day
    (pp. 273-275)

    THE COLISEUM AT the Eastern States Exposition grounds, an ice rink for hockey games in winter, is packed with camps of parents and relatives squinting to find their soon-to-be graduates. For the graduation ceremony, the girls in white caps and gowns—purity?—and the boys in purple—royalty?—are separated by sections. The sea of relatives sits behind me, my back is to them, and I imagine my parents are just late to my graduation, scrambling for seats in the last rows, craning their necks to find me. My father, handsome in his tan summer suit, adjusts my mother’s mink...

  66. Epilogue: FADE OUT
    (pp. 276-280)

    MY FATHER LABELED me a “tough cookie,” and I never thought to question his definition. And Aunt Madeline urged me, “Carole, be strong for your brothers.” I never thought to ask, well, what about me?

    The loneliness, the hurt, the secrecy, the isolation, the shame, I stuffed down into the pits of my brick-hard soul.

    As an adult, I twice sought psychiatric help and was twice dismissed as highly functioning, as if not being so were somehow the only measure for help. These psychiatrists either glossed over or did not ask about my childhood credentials, the abandonment of my early...

  67. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 281-284)
  68. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-285)