Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Run Disney - With Pride!

Had the honor on Wednesday of moderating a panel in Lowell about policing in America, 2016.  The panel featured leaders from the law enforcement community, including, among others, Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor and former Lowell and Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis.
Wait - what's the Disney connection?
At the front side of the panel, a former colleague from the Lowell Police Department - looking right at you Debbie Kenney - took some creative liberty with my bio and added a new descriptor to the end of it.  So after a recitation of my professional background, Lowell Police Capt. Paul Leferriere then added a new piece to my curriculum vitae - Disney Runner.
So there it was.  Police leaders from all over not just this country, but Canada as well, heard me labeled a Disney Runner.
And I'm just fine with that designation.
The ID allowed me to dust off some pictures from the Cook family roadtrip of just about one year ago, a blogalogue that never quite got finished because a whole lot of other life issues popped up in the process and bumped some entries from the journal.
So for those of you not into travelogues and vacation pics spotlighting this incredible world of ours, , you might want to skip this post (not to mention a whole bunch of others to come.)
It gets the thumbs up, though, from fellow Disney Runner Andrew.
We had already done the interior of the parks the day before, so this particular morning's run was relegated to running through the environs outside the parks.
We were there to help the park celebrate its 60th anniversary. 
Clearly, the crowds didn't realize from whence I was running, as they were facing the wrong way to cheer me on.
Andrew was scouting out somewhere we could return for breakfast.
(Don't worry, beignets were on the menu a short time later)
The first, and still the greatest in Andrew's eyes. 
King of his own Kingdom 
Out of the park's plaza, it was back to the hotel, with palm trees lining the way 
And if nothing else, they provided a pretty cool photo landscape for a morning run 
Even with the subject matter 
Quick and easy, that was our Disneyland miles.  Elsewhere on this blog, I've chronicled some of our other runs on the Florida side, both in recreational runs and in the DisneyWorld marathons of 2014 and 2016.
So yeah, you're right, Debbie.  I am a Disney Runner, and damn proud of it.
Thanks for helping me update the bio!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Song for Mom and the Christian Doctrine Choristers

So I recently came across an aged, yellowed, and tattered scrapbook of my mom, Marie, who passed away in 2011.

Adhered to the book's pages were literally dozens upon dozens of Lowell Sun (and other publications) newspaper clippings documenting the exploits of a Lowell women's singing group, the Christian Doctrine Choristers.

Growing up, I always knew my mom sang in her youth, and I would occasionally hear tales of some of the concerts at which she performed.  My aunt Helen, mom's older sister, would often say my mom was a melodious harmonizer who had an unforgettable voice.  In her later years, all of my mom's grandchildren would hear those tones, almost always as she tried rocking them to sleep.

In recent months, I've been trying to archive and get my arms around some of the historical artifacts my parents left behind, mostly photos with no dates or IDs on them.  A frustrating but thoroughly fascinating process.

But this book was different.  It was distinctly deferential to my mother's singing years, which apparently began during World War II, and lasted into the mid 1950s.  My guess is those singing days ended when my brother Jimmy came along.  I think everyone started singing a different tune when that happened.

My mom's connection to the group began when she was but 16 years old.  Marie Payette of Gorham Street received the letter shown above from Father John L. O'Toole of the Oblate Fathers at the Immaculate Conception Rectory on February 22, 1944, welcoming her to a new radio program, the Cathedral Hour.  She was told to report for her rehearsal at the League of Catholic Women Rooms, 53 Central St., 5th floor.  Does that address even exist anymore???

Here's what I've been able to figure out about the group and how it evolved beyond the Cathedral Hour, from yellowed Lowell Sun newsclippings.

The Christian Doctrine Choristers performed under the direction of Rev. Harold W. Fraser, who was a graduate of the Catholic University School of Music.  He was apparently assigned to the Sacred Heart parish on Moore Street.  When Fraser took over the weekly singing group, he changed the name of its radio program from the Cathedral Hour to the Christine Doctrine Hour, looks like somewhere around 1944, right after my mom joined.  It was broadcast locally on WLAW (680 on your AM radio dial) on Sundays at 5 p.m.
The group appeared in the first of a series of semi-annual shows in 1945 (my mother would have been 18), and continued performing throughout the area until the mid 1950s.

Their reviews in the Lowell Sun were stellar: "The Choristers, who have been presented four times on both National and Columbia Broadcasting networks, are consistent proof that the city abounds in talent which needs but correct training and the opportunity to succeed in the entertainment world."

The singing group also attracted its share of star power.

I was able to find one clip of Eddie Fisher (father of Princess Leia/Carrie Fisher) coming to town to perform with them on June 21, 1947 at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.  At the time, Fisher was a private in the U.S. Army.  My mother would have just turned 20 for this concert.  The Lowell Sun, previewing Fisher's Lowell performance said "recent appearances have led to near riots on the part of teen-agers to secure his autograph.  A precursor to Beatlemania, no doubt.

Don't believe me?  Check out this photo of Lowell Police Officers Frank Sexton, Sgt. Richard Cullen, Inspector George Handley, and Joseph Winn holding back the hordes.  I believe, perhaps incorrectly, that this was the same Officer Joseph Winn who would be killed in the line of duty during an assault 22 years later in December of 1969.  Anyone know if that's correct?
By the way, Perry Como was also supposed to have been the headliner for a May event, but cancelled out, bringing in Fisher as his pinch-hitter.

In April, 1951, Danny Thomas came to town, an event my mother frequently referenced for the next half century.  She was smitten by his jovial personality.  He was always a favorite of hers, and because of him, she adopted his St. Jude's Hospital as the charity to which she donated right up until her passing.  Thomas apparently returned for another gig with the group in 1953.
By the way, if you wanted to buy tickets to Thomas' gig, besides finding them at the LMA box office, you could get them at Gagnon's on Merrimack Street, Maloof's and the Epicure (where my Aunt Virginia worked) on Central Street, and at the Christian Doctrine studios in the Fairburn Building.  So yeah, anyone under the age of 60 probably has no idea where any of the places I just named once were in Lowell.
A look at their song list standbys includes covering such hits as Only a Rose, Summertime, Someday, Moonlight Sonata, Galway Bay, the Way You Look Tonight, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Were You There, Ave Maria, and dozens of others hits of the day.
Here's the names of just some of the other ladies I could glean from various articles: Virginia McMullen, Margie Largay, Dolores Donnelly, Colette Grandchamp, Dorothy Allen, Florence Brown, Elizabeth Carolan, Patricia Cullinan, Pauline Gaumont, Rita Hennessy, Florence Kelley, Claire Kennedy, Helen Meagher, Elizabeth McGovern, Eileen Nestor, Dorothy Webster, Ann Smith, Phyllis Skaff, Ann Shugrue, and of course, my mom, Marie Payette.  Admittedly, the names changed during the evolution of that decade, but that may be because some of the ladies married, and they dropped their maiden names.

My mom, along with Carolan (a dear friend of hers), Allen and Skaff had a sub-group of the Choristers called the Chordears.  Your guess is as good as mine as to the origin of that girls' harmony quartet's name, but I found multiple references to them frequently performing Beseme Mucho (Kiss Me Generously) MOM!!!!!!!!!!!

Hell, learning even more surprise facts about my mom, in this photo from April 27, 1951, just two months after she married my dad, she's playing a ukelele during Thomas' gig at the auditorium.  My entire life, I never knew my mother could play the ukelele!  Go figure.
Sun scribe Alfred Burke wrote in one article that the Chordears again captured their share of the spotlight during one of their performances.  "Their voices blend well together," he wrote. "Added to this is a natural gift for harmonic color."
In March of 1951, one month after getting married, my mom and the other Chordears were singing at the Policemen's Ball.  Who knew we held Policemen's Balls in Lowell?  Apparently the city also hosted Firemen's Balls, too.  And yeah, they sang at those, too.

The group was frequently accompanied by Frank Simpson on the Hammond organ, Jack Payne, and Barbara Berke.

A bit of irony?  The Christian Doctrine Choristers, joined by Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers, performed at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium to honor 441 Lowell heroes of World War II.   Among the 441 was one Gerald Cook, the older brother of my dad, Jim Cook, who would become Marie's husband just a few years later.  She sang in memory of a man who would have been her brother-in-law had he survived the war.

Another weird piece of irony: this next photo depicts members of the Christian Doctrine Choristers feting a fellow singer at her pre-nuptial shower at the home of Mrs. John McGoohan of 237 Nesmith Street - just around the corner from Middlesex Community College's Nesmith House.  The singer, Miss Payette, was scheduled to wed Jimmy Cook the following month on February 3 at 2 p.m. at St. Peter's Church.  So yeah, my mom's wedding shower made the Lowell Sun.

I could go on and on and on about the reviews, performances, and exploits of the chorus found in the scrapbook.  Makes me wonder why they ever stopped performing.

Do you know any of the ladies I referenced (or perhaps some that I didn't, who joined at different points of that decade of performances?)  If one of your loved ones = moms, grandmothers, sisters - is in the pics or might have some history tied to this Lowell group, drop me a line at and I'll add their names to the listing be happy to let you and your loved ones pore over these clippings.
So this song's for you mom.  You and all your fellow Choristers and Chordears.  

Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Maria, gratia plena
Maria, gratia plena
Ave Ave Dominus
Dominus tecum,
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus
et benedictus fructus ventris
ventris tui, Iesus.
Ave Maria.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Signs, Sounds, and Snakes of a Great (Brook) Trail Run

Back out to wander the fabulous trails of Carlisle's Great Brook for this morning's E Streeters trail run, and this was one for the books.
All the signs were there that it was going to be a historic run, and less than one minute into the sojourn, we knew we had hit the jackpot.
Thank God that Jackie, Heather, Abby, and just about everyone else we know who has an inhuman fear of snakes wasn't with us today.  This bad boy ranks up there as one of the largest, most aggressive, and downright confrontational snakes we've come across.  It was particularly venomous towards Carlos.
Sadly, we didn't follow this trail marker, and instead ran in the other direction.
Everything was going quite nicely as we made our way through our first mile. 
Until the cyclists - Carlos' trailrunning kryptonite - once again distracted him to the point of him toppling like a mighty oak on the pathways.  Maybe it was the sap falling upon his shoulders.  Andrew provided the sympathetic support that E Streeters are wont to do whenever one of us falls.  In other words, he laughed hysterically at his co-runners' plight.   Me, I just took pics.
Somewhere in the mix of this maze of trails, there lies a town line marker.  If only someone was astute and skilled enough to find it and take it.  Twice.  Hmm... who could do that? 
The Garrison House,  and us, looking a little worse for the wear. 
Some call it Turtle Rock.  Others call it Pride Rock.  Either way, Simba wears the early morning majesty regally. 
Making the bridge to the second leg of our travels, onto the Beaver, Keyes, and Tophet trails of Great Brook.  And no, it's not a Bridge Over Troubled Waters. (See next pic) 
Turns out it's a Bridge Over Running Waters.
Come with me if you want to live. 
Even though we may consider ourselves mustangs, we chose to disobey this sign and take it. 
And along the way, encountered the noisiest batch of woodpeckers we've ever encountered.  They sounded NOTHING like Woody, I have to say.  You may not be able to see them, but trust me, they're up there in those trees. 
Back at the parking lot, Jill and Weezer had just finished up their mileage through the trails.
Great Brook was a beehive of activity today!  Cyclists, runners, walkers, snakes, you name it.  Everyone was out there taking advantage of this gem of trails.  What are YOU waiting for?  Get on out there and join the multitude!  Just watch out for those snakes underfoot!