This is a bit longer than a usual blog, but it is so funny and so well written, that I went the distance with this guest author.
“I MUST KNOW SOMEONE IN THERE.”
“Mary Ann, it’s time to pick up Ma Sheridan,” my mother would bellow out our third-floor tenement. I would stop playing with my friends, and leaped up the stairs with all the gusto my little six-year old body would allow. My mother had a fresh outfit laid out and would scrub my face, ears and hands so rigorously that removed everything but my freckles. Then she brushed my sandy brown hair and put in a ponytail way up on the crown of my head, tied with a plaid grosgrain ribbon.
As she handed me a dime, she reminded me to be careful and make sure to look both ways. I would bound down the stairs and start my journey up Regent Avenue. I knew the route well. There were a plethora of three-deckers lining both sides of the street with plenty of trees disbursed throughout. I thought every neighborhood in the world looked just like this. I would pass by the convent where the nuns that taught me lived. Our church had to be the biggest church in the world. Hoey Funeral Parlor was across the street. I knew that dead people went there, but not much else about it. There was a pretty florist next to it with beautiful samples displayed in the windows,
Soon the UTC bus arrived and made the sound of air brakes pumping to come to a stop, and the door would miraculously open. The driver with a funny looking cap on his head and a big fat belly would greet me. I was told to sit near the driver and I always obeyed. The bus would meander through the streets of Mt. Pleasant, making many stops along the way, with persons exiting and entering the bus. On some occasions they would ask for a transfer, whatever that was. The driver would take some change from the passenger and rip-off a yellow stub of paper and hand it to them.
Soon the bus would arrive at Exchange Place and I would always thank the driver and proceed on my merry way to see my beloved Ma Sheridan. Such a formal name for a grandma, but that’s what we all called her. I would cross the bus hub and walk through the brick alleyway on the side of the Ming Garden and look both ways on Washington Street and cross over to Child’s Restaurant. Such a fete for a six-year old traveling solo.
Child’s was a magnificent restaurant with booths on the left-hand side with swirling stools at a counter on the right, I always hopped on a stool and immediately started swirling, and the waitresses wore
Brown uniforms with pink aprons and funny looking pink caps pinned to their heads. One waitress winked at me as she was applying ruby red lipstick. After checking it out with her hand held compact rubbing her teeth, she would shout “Hey Sadie, your granddaughter, “Mary Ann, is here,” Ma Sheridan was a short-stout woman. With brown hair and matching hazel eyes, and a broad smile, she would welcome me with a juicy kiss. It seemed like seconds later I was always served a toasted English muffin with butter and jelly, and a cup of hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream. My grandmother would change into her street attire and we would make our way back to Exchange Terrace and take the outgoing Chalkstone Avenue Bus. It would head out to South Main Street and turn up Smith Street to ascend the climb up the hill. We would pass by the beautiful State House, and a hot wiener joint that is still here to this day and then turn left on Chalkstone. On the right was Roger Williams Hospital, where my mother gave birth to my brother and me. He was a presold War II baby and I was a post war baby four years later.
As we made our journey home, there was no better feeling than having my small fingers intertwined into her plump hard working fingers. Then when Skeffington’s Funeral Parlor was about to focus on our right, she would say, “Mary Ann, pull the cord.” That was just cooler than the bee’s knees and the cat’s pajamas. We would exit right in front of Skeffington’s. Like on queue she would declare, “I must know someone in there.”
Up the stairs we could climb with my grandmother holding my hand, we would be greeted by a very serious looking doorman and proceed into one of the viewing parlors. There was usually only one when we would stop in. We would proceed through the receiving line, “sorry for your loss, sorry for your loss, “until we arrived at the head mourner. My grandmother would say “I’m Sadie Sheridan and this is my granddaughter, Mary Ann. Has anyone said the Rosary yet?” Of course not. BAM, down on my knees I would go in front of a casket with a dead person in it that I didn’t even know. We would rally ‘round the five decades with precision-like accuracy.
But, WAIT. THERE’S MORE. She would add a sorrowful mystery with each decade. The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning of the Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross, and finally The Crucifixion” It was sort of like the super deluxe at a car wash. We would convey our condolences one last time and retreat from the parlor. Holding hands we would chatter during our trip our back to Regent Avenue. She lived next door and would kiss me goodbye, bid our adieus, and retreat to our homes.
Sort of a strange ritual for a six-year old child, but anytime alone with my grandmother was very special. I treasure these excursions together. I also never miss a wake, no matter how far removed the person is from me. I make sure I know them first at least.