“Painting Ballrooms in Belvidere” by Jim Peters
Jim Peters shares some memories of his life in Lowell:
As a young child, I wanted to be an architect, but I lacked the motor skills to paint a clear picture, and I was told by my father that I could not do that because of my Mathematics grades. Mathematics was always a conundrum to me. It was a “difficult course” that I could not master. I went to college and took the course of study that did not require mathematics. My good friend, one of my best friends, was Mathematics major and future City Councilor, Gerry Durkin. That was about as close to college mathematics as I would get.
I use the term conundrum as defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “an intricate and difficult problem. I also wanted to be a doctor with the same effect, and a chemist. I recently wrote about my chemistry situation. As a young boy I had the Gilbert Science Kit. I spent many enjoyable hours working on the kit. I made a form of gunpowder, but it did not ignite or explode. It just flaired up in brilliant colors of red and blue and yellow. I thought that I would be able to handle chemistry, but the closest I got to being a chemist was watching the Chemistry Laboratory on the third floor of the high school burn down. I want to be sure that I say that that was after the end of Chemistry classes for me, and I did not burn down the Chemistry Laboratory. Someone did, but it was not me. By that point in my life I had no exposure to the Chemistry Department, and did not even know the Chemistry teachers. I just wanted to clarify that. My father, the Superintendent, never did say how that fire started, but I remember well the billowing smoke. We had all quickly evacuated the building as black smoke covered the school.
So, I was left with my desire to become some kind of scientist, and I took the Political Science route. I became a Political Scientist. I have on my desk at home my B.S. in Science for Political Science. Where did that go from there? I argued repeatedly with my friend, but not at the time my brother-in-law, Paul Tsongas, that science was what propelled him into higher and higher positions.
Paul had a beautiful home in Belvidere on Fairmount Avenue. It had a full-sized ballroom, which I was sure was haunted, but that is another story. In each window of the ballroom was a little shutter, four shutters in size for each window, and all needed to be painted. A couple of friends went over to paint one day, but they quit. I was the only “regular” on the nonexistent payroll.
Paul was a painting artist. He insisted that each window and shutter be painted with a brush. There was no room for spray painting or roller painting in his house. So we painted the entire ballroom with a brush.
Each of those tiny shutters had to be hand brush painted, and there must have been twenty of them. I stood in one window, painting the trim and the shutters from the inside of the house, and repeatedly told Paul that his record of political success could be explained in Political Science format. His response, which I never accepted, was that he was “lucky.” In my entire life with Paul, he repeatedly attributed his success to “luck.” Without the mathematics skills to argue with him I had to let it sit. But, I was sure that it was science.
When he first ran for Congress, he hired a man who was very good with statistics; two men actually. One was our good friend, Dennis Kanin, and one was a statistician named Richard. Now, I might have gotten a little leverage here. These were two statisticians. But, if I asked Paul his standard line was still that he was lucky.
By this point my future wife and I were dating, and my father almost poured concrete in the political mix by saying he was going to run against Paul. I was livid. My potential father-in-law was estatic. Paul was cool and comfortable, calling my father, finding out what was bothering my father, and getting my father to back down, something I could not do. I was mortified that I had put all of this effort and time into the Congressional campaign for what could amount to be a little reward. I never asked Paul to work on his staff, so that is not the type of reward I am speaking of, I am speaking of the reward that comes with a good job being done.
When Paul became Congressman, the first, or one of the first things he did was see that the United States Department of the Interior stretch their vision to include the possibility of Urban National Parks be included with such giants as Yosemite. Recently, a local author, who I do not care to glorify, gave credit for the Urban National Park to another very important and influential man who definitely deserves credit. But, I remember the Urban National Park idea was Paul’s alone. He shared it with everyone, but in the beginning, he talked about it and told me that he was having difficulty with the Interior Department over the placement of an Urban Park in Lowell. He was the one who devised the Urban National Park. That was his.
I like writing about Paul, and intend to continue. There are many stories that I got close to, and I want to tell them. So I hope you understand that this was the ultimate campaigner who was always just “lucky.” I still say that science and mathematics had something to do with his campaigning but I can say that, if he were alive, he would tell me that science had nothing to do with it.
Luck was everything.