Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rita Gillooly's Boston

Rita Gillooly, Mary Clark and Beth Ferree - Friends from Houston days

I met Rita Gillooly in the lounge of the University of Houston law school in 1974.  She was also eating a sack lunch alone.  We were both transfer students from other law schools and naturally gravitated to each other.  Our differences were stark despite her being only three days older.  Rita grew up in public housing in Boston and I was a farmer’s daughter from the panhandle of Texas.  No one in her family drove a car and I had my license at age 14.   My family traveled extensively and hers got no further than a summer jaunt to Cape Cod.   Yet, we bonded, stayed in touch, and in June, I finally got to experience Boston through Rita’s history.
117 Garfield Avenue is on the right

The Gillooly family immigrated from Ireland to join the many Irish in Boston.  With such an unusual name, anyone claiming it had to be kin to Rita.  She knew of 35 first cousins.  Her father delivered mail and her mother cared for the four children.  Rita candidly disclosed that her father’s drinking caused instability in the family.   They moved often with occasional residence in public housing  (Rita attended 5 schools in 7 years), before settling in Hyde Park, a nice neighborhood south of Boston proper.  Though surrounded by middle class homes, her cul-de-sac ended in several two story, three bedroom public apartment buildings. Theirs was number 117 Garfield Avenue.

When we visited it, Rita was shocked at the quietness - empty stoops, vacant street, and no hordes of children playing on the back yard monkey bars.  She noted window air units had been added since her time, possibly the source for the minimal activity.  Rita pointed out one apartment where she had done Mrs. Carroll’s hair and the O’Grady and O’Hara families’ homes where she babysat.  All earned money went for clothes as she avoided the outfits bought by her mother at  Salvation Army’s thrift store.

Boston bomb memorial in Copley Square
Thanks to her good grades and teacher recommendation at the end of 6th grade, she was told she would be going to Girls Latin School  - an offshoot of the oldest public school in America,  one with high expectations and  dedicated to college preparation for girls. To get to the school on Codman Square, Rita had to take a bus, trolley and bus again.  After school,  students would hang around downtown Boston, including Copley Square where the makeshift memorial to the Boston bombing victims stood.

At home, Rita’s mother knew the value of education and played word games with the kids, surrounded them with books and alw
ays had paper and pens ready for writing.  Even though the TV was often on, her mother would lay a board over a chair for each to do  homework.  Her father was harder to please.  Despite her excellent grades  (she graduated 3rd in her class), her father would look at the report card and always  say, “Room for Improvement”.

Her life changed forever when a school counselor suggested she apply to Brown University, a nearby Ivy League school.   She had never heard of Brown, and never been to Providence, despite its proximity at the end of her train line.  The school was full of far wealthier students and Rita realized quickly she needed to tone down her strong working class accent.  After getting her undergraduate and law degrees and practicing in Texas for several years, Rita returned to Boston in 1985.

Charles River, Boston
On a stroll along the Charles River,  we learned her father and five uncles served in World War II and one has a sign honoring him.   She also pointed out a reference to Thomas  “Mumbles” Menino, mayor of Boston for 20 years. Her brother has worked for the Mayor for many years and her mother used to write letters telling him exactly what he should do.  The Mayor even attended her mother’s funeral - indicative of the roots established by the Gillooly family over the years as well as the small town feel of Boston.
Swan Boats in Boston's Public Garden

At the Public Garden, across from the Boston Common, we saw the famous swan boats ferrying tourists and families around a small lake.  Rita’s mother would bring the four kids downtown once a year to ride the boats, an experience they loved.  And nearby we walked by the headquarters of the insurance giant, Liberty Mutual, where Rita now works in the legal department.

Rita is not bitter about her father’s drinking nor does she indulge in self-pity.  She and her husband raised  two children in Canton, only two train stops  from her family’s apartment on Garfield Avenue in  Hyde Park.   Her journey to a home in the suburbs with good schools is the American dream.   I missed seeing many famous sites of Boston but the city became  more real with Rita as the guide - a place for immigrants to settle and thrive and where a self-motivated, smart child of the projects could use a good education to expand her world.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Fancy Dancer at Red Earth Festival
Because of the Indian Removal Act of 1837 , Native American tribes were forcibly moved to Oklahoma, resulting in 39 of these Federally Recognized groups having Tribal Headquarters in here.   Oklahoma has the most Native Americans in the U.S., more languages than Europe, and no reservation system that is common in the West. There are sovereign nations with their own police but the population is mainstreamed into Oklahoma society.  I have long wondered where the Native Americans hung out in Oklahoma and I found many at the 27 year old Red Earth Festival, a multi-tribal pow wow.

For those of us who remember “Westerns”, the image of a pow-wow is a circle of Native American tribal leaders called to resolve a problem.  For Native Americans, its root is from the Algonquin word “pau wau” referring to a gathering of spiritual leaders or medicine men.  But today, it refers to a gathering of both Native Americans and others to dance, sing, socialize, and honor the tradition.
Laketa Pratt 's Buckskin Doll

Chase Earles - Caddo piece
The Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City is a surprising choice for a Pow Wow location but the advantage of indoor air conditioning is notable.   The festival is unique in its combination of a juried Art Show with dancing and drumming. Most artists traveled from New Mexico and Arizona but a healthy number of emerging Oklahoman artists participated.   Chase Earles is part of a Caddo Rivivalist movement, learning the ceramic crosshatching thin coil method and pit firing from an elder and by trial and error.  Mary Alston, a Cherokee from Woodward, Oklahoma uses traditional honeysuckle and buck rush for Cherokee basketry.  And Oklahoma City Laketa Ann Pratt, a Cheyenne Arapaho Sioux Creek, works with soft buckskin to create her dolls.

While exploring the  arts and craft section, I met three tour agents from Germany who were thrilled to be there.  As children, they all read books by Karl May, a German author who wrote a series of books about Chief Winnetou,  fictional chief of the Apache Tribe.  One agent said he would receive a new book every Christmas and birthday and he was fascinated by The Old West.   Because of these books, many Germans still come to the Southwest on their American vacation and the Oklahoma City Tourist Office promotes its destination throughout Germany.

A grand parade each morning brought several hundred dancers into the arena, led by an elderly honor guard of  veterans, the highest honor of a warrior society.  This year, members of the Seminole tribe carried a traditional staff with eagle feathers in front followed by the American and Oklahoma flags.  Singers sang in their native tongue to a deliberate drum beat.   Women’s dresses swayed easily to the simple steps.  Children followed in native regalia.  Young male dancers swirled and jumped.  All stood in a circle as the Native American Flag Song was sung honoring the American flag.

The dancing soon began, with four contests each for men and women.  All hoped to win a cash prize up to $1000 for first place.  A special family prize of a quarter horse was  donated by the R. G. Harris family - one of the emcees and a former fancy dancer -  and given to the best fancy dancer. Eric Oesch, director of the Red Earth Festival, admitted their prize money can’t compete with those offered by pow-wows sponsored by tribal run casinos but it was enough to draw a good crowd.  Most were dancing for the tradition even though their native garb easily cost hundreds of dollars.

Jingle Dance Dress
For the men, the Fancy Dance is based on a War dance and requires strength, The Traditional Dance tells a story of bravery in the hunt, Grass Dance celebrates the importance in grass in a warrior’s life, and the southern traditional Straight Dance, also known as the old man’s dance, requires a Golden Eagle tail feather.  Women can choose the Buckskin Dance, originally only open  to princesses and women in leadership roles,  Fancy Shawl as the newest,  Jingle Dance with its story of a child healed, and Cloth Dance distinguished by ribbons imitating grass blowing.  Feather fans, jingles, and stunning shawls accompany the women.  The traditions are still being past down in families with 10 to 12 years old boys and girls participating as well as one 72 year old man who had been dancing since he was six.

Past and present day life played out in the civic center as a painted warrior pushed a baby stroller,  a father used a Q-tip to paint his child’s face, and at the food court, a young Fancy Dancer was more interested in finding pizza than an Indian Taco. A man from Dallas seated next to me asked, “Is this your first pow-wow?”  He had just begun exploring his Cherokee/Choctaw heritage and enjoyed attending pow-wows on the week-end.  There are many to choose from in all 50 states.    Four other pow-wows were advertised on the Red Earth week-end, including one in Texas.  I replied, “yes, it’s my first pow-wow but it won’t be my last.”

Contact Red Earth Festival - Red Earth Festival Site

Contact Chase Earles - http://www.caddopottery.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/caddopottery

Blog Archive