The story of Irish immigration to Fall River ends when the Corky Row Club closes. And that is the biggest eulogy you can give to a small social club on a cold concrete corner in a neighborhood of old tenement houses.
The story of Irish immigration to Fall River ends when the Corky Row Club closes.
And that is the biggest eulogy you can give to a small social club on a cold concrete corner in a neighborhood of old tenement houses.
I know people who live in the suburbs, far from sidewalks and tenement houses, who are overcome with grief when they visit their old neighborhood in Fall River, only to find the houses run down and the corner store closed, even though they hadn’t spent a nickel in that corner store for 20 years.
We expect, I think, that somewhere the landscape of our past remains, unaltered, the way we see it in dreams.
Which is why the seemingly inevitable closing of the Corky Row Club draws tears from former Corky Row residents, people who visited the Corky Row from time to time and, strangest of all, people who just want to know that the Corky Row Club is there, like the old corner store is there, or the house where your grandparents used to live.
I was probably in the Corky Row Club twice in my life. I didn’t dislike the place. It just wasn’t one of the bars I frequented.
But, somewhere inside me, there is a glimmer of nostalgia for something I never knew, some dim feeling that there should a Corky Row Club and it should be filled with pint-sipping Irish-Americans and there should be people sitting at the bar who walked down from their second-floor apartments. I may not want to go there, but I want it to exist.
No one weeps when a corporate restaurant closes except the employees. No one speaks movingly of a lost chain drug store, but my wife, who grew up on Tremont Street, saddens visibly when she drives past the now-closed Ventura’s Pharmacy on Bedford Street.
My old grade school in Taunton, the former St. Jacques, is an apartment building now, and I do not like to look at it.
While I still buy things at Vaillancourt’s, the corner store up in the Flint, and though the people who own it are nice, I can’t walk in without missing the two old French ladies who ran it when I was a kid, women to whom neither I nor my father ever spoke English.
Isn’t this what we wanted when we built the highways and the malls? The ability to move quickly between places that look the same? The Big Mac and Wal-Mart the same in every town?
They were on the move when they came here, the Irish who settled Corky Row. Many of them were fleeing poverty or the English government, or some terrible combination of both.
And, as immigrants do, they re-made the Old Country in America, only with more and better food.
But you cannot keep the Old Country alive forever and, soon, your children or grandchildren are on the move again, to college and then to the nearest suburb. Most immigrant families live only a generation or two among “their own kind” before journeying out into the bigger America.
In 1965, I would walk down Pleasant Street with my father and he would stop and talk to other men his age and they’d speak in French or sometimes in half French/half English. People in Fall River’s Portuguese neighborhoods speak Portuguese/English in the same way, though, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed you hear less Portuguese in Fall River every year.
And isn’t that what we wanted? To be American? To get out of the cramped third-floor apartment and into a house with a “great room” and a two-car garage?
Look at Fall River and mark the places that “used to be” a Catholic school, a neighborhood working class bar, a corner store, a factory employing people who walked to work, a clothing store, a movie theater. The Uke. The Polish Home. The China Royal.
This won’t be the last eulogy I’ll write.
Marc Munroe Dion is a reporter for The Herald News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.