Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lawrence – My Hometown

She says she’s a mop

Richard E. Noble

Lawrence is, of course, the Immigrant City. In Lawrence your ethnic heritage was a thing of pride and all your friends knew what nationality you were. I never thought much about it until I settled in the South.
In the South ethnic heritage is more simply defined – you are either black or you are white; you are a Yankee or you are a good old boy (Redneck). I have managed to pass for white here in the South but I have never gotten past being a Yankee. The minute I open my mouth some guy who looks like Baby Huey and has a whole pack of cigarettes in his mouth that he is attempting to eat but can’t seem to swallow says, “You ain’t from around here, are ya?”
Many guys “way down yonder” are named “boy.” I would imagine their sisters are named “girl.” In the South they are not much on imagination or diversity. They are all “American.”
I told somebody who came to my little ice cream parlor that I was part English. The rumor went around town that some “foreigner” from Britain owned the ice cream parlor in Carrabelle. British tourists would come into my shop and ask me where in England I was raised. Many locals in this neighborhood think New England is a country in Europe. It is mixed in somewhere among those other countries like Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Spain, France and New England. I told one guy that Massachusetts was in New England. He said, “No way man, Massachusetts is right here on the east coast of the United States.” I decided not to pursue any further debate on the issue.
But in Lawrence a person’s ethnic heritage was something to take pride in. The majority of my buddies had a parent or grandparent who spoke something other than English. When some old grey haired woman stuck her head out of a second storey window and began chattering in gibberish, it was no big deal. From my point of view all grandmothers spoke some sort of gobblygook. It didn’t bother me or any of my buddies.
Mr. Reardon, who lived next store, was Scottish. Mr. Reardon spoke English, he wife said, but whatever he was speaking was Greek to me.
He would pick me up in his 1934 Chevy four door with the red, spoked tire rims on his way to church. He would mumble something and they would both turn and look at me sitting there in the back seat of their car. After a few moments of awkward silence, his wife would say, “He wants to know how you are doing in school.” It would continue like this all the way from Chelmsford St. to the Immaculate Conception Church. He would mumble. She would look at my bewildered face and then translate and I would answer.
My grandmother spoke no English that I remember. Her usual greeting was, “You workie, Richie?” As long as I “workie” she would give me a smile.
I would sit in her living room as a little boy for hour after hour listening to a Polish radio station playing Polish polkas. Every half hour or so the guy on the radio would say something in English. It went like this, “Pierogui goumphki mushtuski Heffern’s gas station. Or in the middle of a long line of gibberish the announcer would throw in a Breen’s funeral home, or an Essem hot dogs. I thought it was all some kind of comedy show, like Sid Ceasar’s Show of Shows. Even the music was funny. I would laugh and Grammy would laugh because I had laughed and we both had a great time. I didn’t know what she was laughing at and she didn’t know what I was laughing at, but it was all laughs so who cares.
One day we had a minor calamity at 32 Chelmsford St. My uncle Clayton and my aunt Amelia were moving out of the apartment upstairs. They were buying their own home over on Exchange St. across the street from the Polish Bakery. A new family was moving in. The little tenement was a buzz with rumors. What would this new family of strangers be like? My mother was snooping around for information. She couldn’t get much out of my uncle. She saw my grandmother sitting out on the front porch. She decided to go out and grill her. My mother spoke Polish. I could hear them jabbering. It was summer time and the windows were up with the screens in place.
They were talking for some time when suddenly my mother burst into laughter. She came running down the corridor and into the house. She couldn’t stop laughing.
“What’s so funny,” I asked.
“The new lady upstairs, she’s a mop.”
“She’s a mop?”
“Grammy was talking to the new lady and Grammy asked the lady what nationality she was. Grammy said that the lady told her that she was a mop. Grammy shrugged her shoulders and asked me if I knew what country mops came from? I couldn’t figure it. I asked Grammy if she knew the lady’s last name. The lady’s name is Ciardello.”
“She ain’t a mop. She’s a wop.”
“Yes, Mrs. Ciardello told Grammy that she was a wop and Grammy never heard of the word wop, so she figured she meant mop. So Grammy thinks Mrs. Ciardello is a mop.”
“So did you straighten her out?”
“I tried. I told her that Mrs. Ciardello was a wop and not a mop. But Grammy said that she knew of no country called Wop or Mop. I tried to explain to her that people who come from Italy are called wops but Grammy said, wops, mops it doesn’t matter to her as long as the lady pays her rent she can be a mop or a wop or whatever she wants to be.”

Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on He can be contacted at 1-850-670-8076 or for bookstore discounts and volume sales.

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