Author Archive: Bill Black

I'm a baby boomer, lefty Democrat, Boston Irish Catholic, born in 1953. I work as a public affairs consultant in Washington.

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Storyworth: What were your favorite subjects in high school?

| March 8, 2022 | 0 Comments

Oddly, my favorite subject/class in high school was physics, mainly due to the teacher. I think his name was Mr. Jacobs, but I’m not sure. But I had physics classes with him in my junior and senior years. There was a lot of lab work, which I thought was really cool. I remember one lab where we calculated the diameter of a molecule. I loved the technique for doing so. You would have a dish with water in it. You‘d sprinkle some powdery substance on top of the water. Then you would take an eye dropper with a precisely measured non-soluble liquid in it. You‘d drop the liquid into the dish and the liquid would spread out on top of the water, pushing the powdery substance into a circle. You‘d assume that the spreaded liquid would be one molecule thick on top of the water. So, if you knew the volume of the liquid, you would somehow divide the circumference of the formed circle into the volume and get the diameter of the molecule. Even trying to explain this, I’m not sure I got it right. But I do remember thinking how cool it was to be able to do it.

I remember another class where Mr. Jacobs asked us to consider the possibility of inter planetary travel. Would we do it if we could? Very cool to contemplate. But all I remember from the discussion was Mr. Jacobs‘ frustration with the answers from the class. Kids kept saying that they’d have a hard time leaving friends, presumably permanently. Finally, Mr. Jacobs said, “Get over it! You’re going to spend you life leaving friends.“ I think he was looking for a more elevated discussion of space travel.

I was so inspired by Mr. Jacobs that I started college at Northeastern University as a physics major. What was I thinking??

Actually, I did OK for the first semester and kind of enjoyed it. At the beginning, the math was all differential equations and I understood them. It was in the second semester where I crashed and burned. That’s when you start having to learn calculus. It was as though the class switched from English to hieroglyphics.

That was when i decided I didn’t need a college degree and enrolled in the New England School of Photography in Kenmore Square. That didn’t work out so well either, but that‘s a story for another chapter.

Storyworth: Who were your favorite professors in college?

| February 28, 2022 | 0 Comments

This one is easy. Professor Louise Smith (English) and Professor David Hunt (History).

It took me 8 years to finish undergraduate college. This is one of the defining facts of my life. To this day, I’m not sure why I had so much trouble. But my problem was very specific. I could not get through Freshman English. And the reason I couldn’t get through Freshman English is that I had a pathological aversion to writing. It’s very ironic looking back, given the amount of writing I’ve done personally and professionally throughout my life. But there you go.

Here’s how it would go. I would get a writing assignment for the class and I would put it off and put it off. I might be able to force myself to write something and submit it and I would get a good grade. But that wouldn’t motivate me for the next one. Inevitably, I would fall hopelessly behind and end up either dropping the class or getting an incomplete. I think I felt that putting my thoughts on paper was too revealing. I was worried that something I would write would make me look stupid. And there was, of course, the laziness. Writing was, and is, hard work.

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Storyworth: Did you have a job while you were in high school?

| February 22, 2022 | 0 Comments

In Roslindale Square, there were two grocery stores when I was growing up. As you went down Corinth Street through the middle of the neighborhood shopping area, Roche Brothers was on the left and Corey‘s was on the right.

My father got friendly with the delivery guys from Roche Brothers. When I was 13 years old, he convinced them to hire me as what was called a “striker.” Generally there were two people in the car or truck delivering the groceries, the driver and the striker. The striker was the kid who would actually bring the groceries into the House while the driver waited outside in the vehicle. If the order was four bags or less, the striker would grab two bags in each hand. This is before bags had handles so you would just sort of scrunch them up and grab them in a fist. When you started doing this, you would get blisters on your knuckles from rubbing against the paper of the bags. It was a real badge of honor when, over time, those blisters would turn into calluses. While they would be unsightly it would show that you were an experienced striker. Also, after the blisters turned to calluses the pain would stop.

The crew that did this delivery work were various types of miscreants from the neighborhood. This was my first exposure to the delinquent class of Roslindale. I also learned a large number of new words.

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Storyworth: What’s the Dumbest Thing You’ve Ever Done?

| February 6, 2022 | 0 Comments

The VW on the Beach

It’s an overcast, cold day in May in the mid-70s.  I’m in my twenties, standing on Humarock Beach in Scituate, Mass.  I’m looking at my pride and joy.  A recently acquired cherry red Volkswagen Beetle in perfect condition.  Not a scratch on it….yet.  

It is completely surrounded by water, sunk in the wet sand up to its axles.  And the tide is coming in.  I’m psychologically preparing myself for the fact that it will likely be washed out to sea and trying to figure out how I’m going to explain this to the insurance company so the will pay the claim and I’ll be able to pay off the car loan I’d taken out to buy it.

This was during what I like to call my “lost decade,” because I was lost professionally, psychologically, academically, spiritually, etc., etc.  I had joined a group of neighborhood friends who rented a cottage right on the beach for the month of May.  It was about a forty minute drive from Boston, so it was easy for us to visit and stay over, without necessarily taking time off from work.  And it was technically off-season, so cheap enough that we could afford it.

On this day, there were about five of us in the cottage and it was decidedly not a beach day.  Cloudy and cool.  With nothing else to do, we decided to play a drinking game where you drink a shot a beer a minute.  That’s it.  That’s the game.  Just drink beer.  I’ll do the math for you.  60 one-ounce shots means you drink five 12-ounce cans of beer in one hour.  Utterly reckless.  Don’t try this at home.  I’m only revealing this publicly because both my kids are older now that I was then and are much, much more responsible drinkers than I was.

At some point, we ran out of beer and Jimmy and I took my new red VW bug to the liquor store to get more.  Jimmy drove.  I’d like to think that was because Jimmy was not participating in the game and that this reflected at least one example of responsible behavior.  But I don’t remember for sure and it would have been out of character for us on that day.

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Storyworth: Did you have any pets growing up?

| February 1, 2022 | 0 Comments
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Bridget with Maggie, Butch’s Successor

I was about 10 years old when my Uncle Charlie brought Butch to our house. I don’t recall agitating for a dog. I don’t think it occurred to me that we’d ever have one. Charlie was my mother’s twin brother and had brokered dogs for others in the family. But I don’t think he ever owned one himself. My mother and father discussed whether to keep the dog and decided to do so. I’m not really sure why.

Butch was a rescue dog. He was a one year old Beagle when we got him and was extremely timid. We were told that he was a hunting dog who was “shell-shocked” when a gun went off close to his ear.

Whatever the reason, his timidity was profound. When he walked along the sidewalk, he would always stay right next to walls and bushes. He seemed fearful of being exposed, walking out in the open.

The first time he barked, we’d had him for a least a year. Yes, a full year without making a sound. And the bark came under extreme duress. He actually got himself locked in a closet in our third floor attic. He was missing all day, hours and hours. We had no idea where he’d gone. Then, after about six hours, we heard a very tentative yelp coming from the third floor. And there he was, stuck in the closet.

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Storyworth: What were your grandparents like?

| January 24, 2022 | 0 Comments
Kieran and Me

This chapter will be much shorter than the previous ones. Of my four grandparents, only one was alive when I was born. My mother‘s mother was Margaret Mahoney. I knew her as “Ma.” She lived with my Aunt Theresa in the downstairs apartment from where my family lived. I remember very little about her, but I believe I was her favorite grandchild, probably due to the fact that I lived in the same house and was the first grandchild to do so. 

I have a vague memory of being shuttled off to my cousins’ house in Roxbury when she died. There seemed to be unusual concern among the adults about the impact it would have on me. Clearly, I had a special relationship with Ma. Presumably, she loved me and nurtured me. I was her favorite grandchild. And I’m sure I loved her back. But I remember very little of any personal interactions with her.

In order to gather some information for this installment, I called my Aunt Mary, widow of my mother’s twin brother, Charlie. It was her house to which I was shuttled off when Ma died. She’s the only aunt or uncle I have left. She’s 96 years old, sharp as a tack and lives independently in Boston. I was hoping to get some warm family anecdotes that would help me describe Ma for this article. I was particularly hopeful that she might fill the gap in my memories of my very special relationship with Ma.

”Meanest woman I ever met!” she said when I asked. 

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Storyworth: What Was Your Most Dangerous Adventure?

| January 17, 2022 | 0 Comments

In December, 1980, about two weeks before Christmas, Barney Frank, newly elected congressman from the 4th District of Massachusetts, offered me a job in his Washington office, starting in 3 weeks on January 3rd, 1981.  I was 27 years old and had never lived outside of Roslindale (aka Rozzie) my Boston neighborhood.  This was a big deal.  But I was utterly unprepared.  

My first problem was that I had no place to live – or even stay – in DC. A good Rozzie friend connected me with the brother of his then girlfriend, a guy named Ralph, who lived in Falls Church, VA, a suburb of DC.  He offered to put me up for a few weeks upon my arrival as I searched for an apartment.  But Ralph had something else that appealed to me strongly.  He had his own 2-seater plane.

Having never lived outside of Rozzie, I was very concerned about cutting off contact with all my friends and family while starting a new life in DC.  Having a friend with his own plane meant I could easily come back to Boston on a fairly regular basis, or so I thought.  

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Storyworth: What Was Your Mother Like When You Were a Child?

| January 10, 2022 | 0 Comments

When I look back on my mother’s life, at least the part since I was born, I see specific chapters. The first chapter is the time when she was building a family with my father. The second chapter was the time after my father got sick and had to stop working. Then the period after he died. 

They were married in June of 1952 and I arrived in May of 1953. So, they got right to it creating a family of three boys and a girl.

My father worked as a machinist at B. F. Goodrich Company. It’s known today as a tire company, but, in those days, they also made sneakers. They eventually sold the sneaker division to Converse. The two top brands were P.F. Flyers and Jack Purcell’s. P.F. Flyers were high tops for kids. Jack Purcell’s were tennis shoes that grownups wore. Every spring, my father would bring home a pair of sneakers from the “seconds” pile at the plant. These were sneakers with imperceptible flaws. He got them for free, which I thought was incredibly cool. One of my “coming of age” moments came when my father brought home the Jack Purcells instead of the P.F. Flyers. I felt that was a sign I was growing up. Back then, that was good news, less so these days. I know I digress and this anecdote should have gone into the chapter about my father, but it came to mind, so I’m sharing it here.

But back to my mother. She was what was known at the time as a “homemaker” or “housewife.” Today, it’s “stay at home Mom.” She didn’t have a job outside the home until after my father died.

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Storyworth: What Was Your First Big Trip?

| January 10, 2022 | 0 Comments

There were no trips in my family when I was growing up. I can barely recall a cottage we had in Humerock, MA, about 40 minutes south of Boston. I remember it was right on the beach. There is an image of a starfish burned in my deep memory. I think I was probably 5 years old.

Other than that, a vacation was when I stayed over at my cousins’ houses in other neighborhoods of Boston. We were in Roslindale. My mother’s two brothers and a sister had families in Dorchester and Mission Hill. Two of them had eight children, one had seven. There were only four in mine. Each of them had a child near my age and we all were very close. Staying at their house was always fun and involved many adventures. 

But that was it. We never went anywhere far enough away that I slept anywhere but my own bed or at my cousins’. We’d go to Wollaston beach for a day. And the more exotic trips were to Nantasket, which had an amusement park next to the beach. But they were always day trips.

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Storyworth: What are some of your childhood memories of your father?

| December 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

I was named after my father, but I’m not a junior. He was named William Henry Black. I’m just William Black. I’ve always puzzled over why my parents didn’t give me the middle name of Henry. I remember my mother saying they just didn’t like the name Henry. But there has to be more to it. I’ll never know.

My father died when I was 17 years old. I was in full adolescent rebellion and I still grieve over the fact that many of my last conversations with him were contentious. He didn’t deserve that. He was a good man.

My Father and Mother in the Early 50's

Bill Black was the guy everyone called to fix things. He was a machinist for B.F. Goodrich, so pretty mechanically inclined. I would often accompany him on his house calls and I hated it. My role was simply to hand him the tools and it bored me to tears. I also recall helping him help people whose car was stuck in snow. My father was a master at wrapping chains around slippery tires.

Before my rebellious years – and after he died – I greatly admired him. He was a handsome man. He had jet black hair and brown eyes. His hairstyle was a flat top. My mother never allowed me to grow enough hair to have a flat top. Her preferred style was the wiffle.

He exuded strength. He served in WWII and landed at Normandy on D-Day Plus One and slept in his truck on the beach for his first week in France. He was 26 years old at the time. His account of that experience is attached at the end of this post.

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