Several years ago I had the good fortune to discover an old, cardboard shoebox tucked away rather discretely into a corner of the top shelf in my father’s clothes closet. I had been looking for something else, I can’t remember what, when I came upon the very old, but very full shoebox. I suppose, because it was my father’s and because it was obviously hidden, I should not have opened that box, but I was very young and very curious, so I did.
Inside, I discovered an untold number of words that had flowed like fine wine from my dad’s pen, many written in a rhyming, poetic form. It was a weekday, and I knew that the house would be empty for the next few hours, so assured that my snooping would go undetected, I began to read.
One piece which dad had entitled “Was That So Long Ago?,” began with the words: “His toys lay scattered on the floor…”
It was a father’s words as he traced his son’s growth through the years right up until he was called off to serve his country at war. Each fourline verse, and there were several, ended with the question: “Was that so long ago?”
After a reading few verses, my eyes began to fill with the wetness that only tears can bring, but because nobody was there to witness what was happening to me, I did not care. Dad had three sons, none of whom, fortunately, ever had to face the atrocities of war, so I realized that he was writing about what might have been and not what had been. Even so, the emotions I experienced reading that piece were very real.
Another, one that evoked laughter rather than tears, was written to my mother on the occasion of her 50th birthday. The piece, penciled in rhyme and with a comedic touch, stepped neatly through the many situations a person coming upon middle age might expect to encounter. I don’t remember a lot of the words, but I vividly recall the last line or two: “I know, my dear, this all be true, For, you see, I’m 50, too!”
My father was a quiet man, a voracious reader and a talented, but undiscovered writer who never had the opportunity to complete grade 10. I mention all of this only because dad never had a Gloria Conway in his life, a person who would offer a stage for his works.
The opportunities that Gloria and the Patriot provided me over many years have been immeasurable. For nearly 40 years, she opened the pages of her newspaper and invited me in. Unlike my dad, who had only an old shoebox with which to share his words, Gloria gave me a vehicle that allowed my words to be spread across this entire neighborhood and beyond. In addition to the space she provided for me through The Patriot, she offered encouragement, and in huge doses.
“Keep it up, Charlie”, she would say. “The people of this community look forward to reading your column.” Sometimes, I would get lazy and not submit anything for a couple of weeks, and she would call to ask if everything was okay, knowing that it was. Her call would be nothing more than a subtle reminder that I was slacking off.
More than 40 years of submissions to The Patriot prove, without a doubt, that those subtle reminders worked. For many years, I made it a point to try to put something special together for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas issues, and if that something was not on Gloria’s desk when the holiday deadline approached, a phone call would be forthcoming from either her or one her staff members.
I have said many times before that Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. Again, through The Patriot, Gloria has allowed me to let so many others know how I feel about the day. In 1997 Charlestown’s “Blades of Grass” found its way to the streets of this neighborhood. For those not familiar with the book, it is a compilation of articles and stories, more than 90 percent of which appeared in the Charlestown Patriot from the mid-‘60s to 1997.
With Gloria’s help, I now have a book that I can place on the shelves of my grandchildren’s bookcases.
I could say “thank you” to Gloria Conway a thousand times, and it still would not be enough, but let me at least try: Thank you Gloria.