These days it was just Diane, Susan and I who really had anything to do with Gert. As far as Judy was concerned, Ma was “dead, to her,” and she considered our Aunt, Esther to be her “real mother.” Besides me, Judy was the only other one of us to graduate high school and we kind of lost touch after I joined the Air Force although some of the others went on to get their GED. She moved up north to New Hampshire to get away from anything to do with the family and to raise her own. She’d decided early on she’d head for the hills and so she did.
Aunt Esther was one of my mother’s five sisters and she was everything my mother wasn’t and we wished she were. We all looked forward to seeing her and my cousins. She was always laughing and was a working mother who always made sure her kids were well-fed, happy, and full of life. Such a stark contrast to the world we lived in.
She once told my sister Judy and I that when my mother was due to give birth to Eddie, she offered to take David, who was about two years old, to stay with her this time.
We all got farmed out to other relatives again, as usual, whenever my mother was going into the hospital to give birth. And I, as always, got to stay with Nana Bovaird, and I loved sleeping on the couch, listening to her cuckoo clock strike in the quiet morning hours. It was a gift from one of my uncles who’d been stationed in Germany with the Army, much in the same way I’d brought one back for my mother.
Aunt Esther explained that when David was there she was feeding him and some of mycousins their dinner. When she placed Dave in the high chair and put his dish on the tray, “he started to scream,” she said, and “scared the shit out of me.” My two young cousins looked at David with an odd expression, but dug into their own plates with gusto. My aunt and my Uncle Bud couldn’t figure out what the hell was wrong with him. Uncle Bud pointed out to my aunt that David was staring at the pork chop on his plate and instructed her to take if off. When she did he stopped crying and went quiet, eating the potatoes, beans and applesauce that remained on his plate.
She surmised that the poor kid didn’t know what meat was. She went into another room and cried. Later, when she was readying the kids for bed she filled the kitchen sink and then proceeded to bathe each of them one at a time. Her kids loved bath time and getting their hair washed. When it was David’s turn he screamed when she tried to put him in the water, so she sat him on the counter top and gave him a sponge bath.
She said it was the last time she took any one of us to stay over saying it was just too distressing for her to see our reaction to a normal household. When my parents came to get David she said cried her eyes out and didn’t want to give him back, but Uncle Bud said he wasn’t her kid so she had to.
She was just a few years younger than my mother, and had made her own way in the world including earning her own retirement. She was determined and independent, unlike my mother who was always dependent upon everyone else. Ma had a job for maybe two weeks in her entire life. Like my father, she never finished high school but she did work for a very short time at the old Sears building in Kenmore Square not too far from Fenway Park. She worked in the mail room and stuffed envelopes into pneumatic tubes destined for the various departments in the store along with the other girls in the mail room. Then she met Georgie and had her eight children, almost each about a year apart. There were also a couple of miscarriages along the way.
My father, George William Boudreau, was born on September 8, 1927 to Angela (Boccuzzi) and Simon Aloysius Boudreau. They were living in the Mission Hill projects that sat at the foot of the Mission Hill district in the Roxbury section of Boston and in the shadow of the Mission Hill Church and its beautiful gothic spires. Technically, the church was elevated to a basilica status in 1956 by Pope Pius XII and its full name is The Basilica and Shrine of our Lady of Perpetual Help, although everyone still calls it the Mission Hill Church.
I went to parochial school there for part of one year when we later lived in those same projects, and all the kids called it “Our Lady of Perpetual Motion,” driving the nuns crazy. The Redemptionist Fathers first built it as a modest wooden mission church on the location in 1870, but the present day church was built in 1868 and made of Roxbury puddingstone, and its spires were added in 1910. Puddingstone played a historic role in the area, and there was a quarry that ran between Tremont Street and Allegany Street that produced the stone foundations of most of the late nineteenth century houses in the surrounding neighborhood. The stained glass was exquisite and detailed and boasted the most brilliant colors, and there were dozens of abandoned crutches mounted above the altar in one of the cavernous apses to the left side of the main altar. All left behind by those they say experienced a healing miracle, right there in the basilica.
Next to the Vatican itself, I’d never felt myself to be in a more holy place. So when we ourselves later lived in those same Mission Hill projects for a short time during the late sixties after we’d been evicted from a place in Roslindale, I often slipped off to five o’clock mass on Saturday afternoons even though I’d have to get up and go again on Sunday morning. Of all of the benign and forgotten addresses over the many years and moves, 33 Plant Court would turn out to be the most indelible and impactful one for me. It was there that as a ten year old boy that I first discovered a real sense of spirituality beyond my first communion, and to gain a sense of understanding that although there were many fears that would have to be overcome in life, somehow I would. I captured some sense of hope and optimism on Mission Hill that never left me.
To be continued…