Oh, you know—the good guy…the one who went after the mob…the thugs…the ones selling the booze, shady women, drugs or other illegal substances in the period of the Depression. Yep, that’s what I thought.
To me, my Dad, John J. Kelly, looked like the actor Robert Stack, who reincarnated the crime-fighting Federal agent, Eliot Ness, in a role Stack played from 1959 to 1963 in the ABC drama series “The Untouchables.” In each program, he and his federal agents routed the bad guys like Bugsy Moran, Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, while we in the television-watching audience cheered them on.
The picture I have of my Dad in his overcoat and brim hat confirmed my impression.
But really, he wasn’t battling the mob…He was doing something far more important to all of us in West Warwick: This photo depicts him as coach of the West Warwick Wizards’ football team, before the legendary Monk Maznicki took over that role.
But before his teaching career, my Dad was quarterback with the Lippitt Tigers in a semi-professional football league.
My father maintained his coaching position, along with being a chemistry and physics teacher, until he became vice-principal and then principal of John F. Deering High School (now West Warwick High School. ) He also ran the film projector for the school in a day when audio-visual department was catch-as-catch-can, not the assigned, full time teacher position schools would enjoy in later years.
On Friday evenings, he’d bring home the projector; set it up; and we’d watch National Geographic films that had made the circuit to our school. It’d be a divergence from our usual family watching of my Friday night favorite show–“I Remember Mama” where my most prescient memory is that of the pocket door Mama pulled out of a wall to close off the parlor when she wished a private adult talk.
I thought a door disappearing into a wall so cool.
On those Fridays, Mom made popcorn and we kids got our one Coca Cola or Pepsi drink of the week. Then, we’d hunker down to watch aboriginal tribes in far-off regions.
A little known other “fact”? My father had been significant in bringing the teachers’ union to West Warwick. It was the era when teacher unions were the exception, viewed as almost heretical . He pushed for them in that (according to him,) ‘good teachers often lose their jobs when political winds shift,’ and he didn’t want to be part of the sacrifice play.
For teachers’ jobs were often political plums, doled out to loyal foot-soldiers who supported the ‘right candidate.’ West Warwick was known as a political town, so his advocacy for good teachers keeping their jobs was important.
I remember accompanying him on errands for Mom, about town, when I was still pretty young. He’d introduce me as his daughter to Miss So-and-so and the teacher would smile and ask me if I were going to be a teacher, too.
I’d later ask: “But why are they all ‘ Miss’ (as in ‘unmarried’)?”
And he’d tell me that they’d all lost their fiancées or boyfriends in the war.
I remember thinking that all these women were the unluckiest group, ever, who’d all lost their men to World War II combat. As a consequence, they never made it to the altar.
I’d not know—then– that there was another, perhaps bigger, reason why these young female teachers remained “Miss.”
That knowledge would come to me when I entered the ranks of teacher, myself.
West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a motivator/speaker and freelance writer whose work appears in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator on her 30-year career as teacher, in the Providence Journal. At present, she completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about a Rhode Island couple living in one of the ‘hottest retirement towns in the US’ for nine years (and answers why they returned to Rhode Island.) Her second book, “In the Shadow of Princes,” tells the story of her childhood, growing up in a milltown, in a highly-competitive family. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.