One of my uncles passed away yesterday at 97 years old. In my family he was always “Uncle Tommy,” Thomas C. Brady of Lowell, raised along the Concord River and longtime resident of Centralville. He was in the US Navy in WWII, serving in the Atlantic and Pacific on ships in the thick of combat. He worked for decades in the City of Lowell Department of Public Works. For recreation, he raised and raced pigeons, something that tied back to his youth in the Back Central neighborhood. In an interview with Fred Faust about a year ago (published on this blog), George Duncan, banker extraordinaire, recalled the neighborhood expertise around pigeon-keeping. As a kid, when visiting my cousins on Aiken Avenue across from Hovey Field, there were always pigeons landing and taking off in the back yard. My uncle had fought hard and worked hard his whole life, but this other side of him with the small birds always fascinated me. About 20 years ago, I wrote a memory poem in tribute to Uncle Tommy and his birds.—PM
Uncle Tommy, retired from Public Works, always had a coop out back.
After a day of wrestling bulldozers, he’d tend his pigeons.
As a kid, I saw those pets more as flying beagles than gritty street “commies,”
our name for the gray common pigeons scuffling for popcorn downtown.
He once raised a special breed called “muff tumblers”—
the brownish tufty birds soared and somersaulted, then fell free,
before righting themselves and landing on the house roof.
He has more time to work his champions now—
reads up at night and circles the show dates.
Even kept at it after vandals savaged his birds.
Friends gave him young ones to start over.
He drives the boulevard upriver with a caged racer on the back seat.
I’ll have to ask my cousin what happened to the white one called the Holy Ghost.
—Paul Marion (c) 2006, from “What Is the City?”