I Won’t Have to Shave

I Won’t Have To Shave

By Ed DeJesus

My father, Tony DeJesus, was born in Lowell in 1910. He served eight years in the Mass National Guard until his 26th Infantry Yankee Division was mustered into the Army in 1941 to join the WW II European forces. He was an infantryman and medical specialist, and while on furlough in 1943, he married my mother, Mary. When the war ended in 1945, he came home as a disabled veteran at age thirty-five. Like his parents before him, he worked in Lowell’s Boott Cotton Mills as a fixer maintaining the machinery. He started a family on Cedar Street a block from Saint Anthony’s Portuguese Church on back Central Street.

Tony DeJesus, World War II veteran

In 1950, the year I was born, the third of four boomers in a five-year span, Dad started a job as a nurse’s aide at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford, MA. Later that year with a VA twenty-year mortgage, he bought his first and only house at 62 Cambridge Street for five-thousand dollars. Our family of six was lucky to have the ten-room, two-story tenement, which Dad single-handedly converted into a single-family home. We slept upstairs in separate linoleum-covered rooms except for my little brother and me, who shared the fourth drafty bedroom. Our steam radiators clanged through asbestos-covered pipes, heated by a rumbling oil furnace in our dungy dirt floor cellar.

We were a close-knit Portuguese family that looked out for each other. We’d gobble down our Rice Krispies while Mom packed our lunches with Wonder Bread sandwiches, Hostess Cupcakes and Twinkies. When my little brother entered the first grade at the Abraham Lincoln School, I was in the third, my sister in the fourth, and my big brother in the sixth. We’d saunter up Hale St, crossed Washington and Lincoln Streets, and passed by the Lincoln Memorial Monument on Chelmsford Street. Dad proudly said, “We live in the Presidential section of the city.” Actually, it was called The Lower Highlands, and the Hale and Howard blocks where my Jewish and Black schoolmates lived in slumlord tenements were the first to be torn down for Urban Renewal.

Every day at School, we recited the pledge of allegiance to the flag. When the fire alarm would go off, we’d evacuate in an orderly fashion. Sometimes, a different alarm would sound, and we’d crawl under our desks and cover our heads. That was during the Cold War. In retrospect, it was far less disturbing than the trauma and anxiety that children endure today to prepare for an active shooter’s drill.

Abraham Lincoln Monument, Lincoln Square, Lowell

Cambridge St—which ran from Chelmsford St, crossed Hale St and then over the Hales Brook bridge before it ended at the junk yards on Tanner St—was our wonderland. We fished in Hales Brook and caught hornpout and kibbes. We’d never tell our parents when we skated on the frozen brook or swam in the dark, murky water on those steamy summer days. I remember how excited we’d get by the sound of the bells on the Ice Cream truck stopping on our street. The girls cherished Creamsicles; the boys favored Fudgesicles.

The boys played stickball, kickball, and football in the middle of our street, with cars parked on both sides. The girls played hopscotch on the sidewalks, and sometimes, kickball with us. We all played hide-and-seek together until the streetlights came on, and our parents called us in. We were never bored. We had a rotary phone with a noisy party-line that we’d listen into and eaves drop on the chatty babysitter gossiping about boys. We assumed the babies survived.

We’d sit in front of our black-and-white Zenith TV with rabbit ears and watch Lucy, Bonanza, My Three Sons, Dennis the Menace, and Ed Sullivan. My big brother was four years older and the Prince of the house. My spoiled sister was two years older, and my pampered baby brother, was a year younger. My sister and mom would tease me and say I was the Dennis of the house. As the beleaguered middle child, I was curious and rambunctious; trouble always found me!

I was eleven when the Lowell Connector being built cut Cambridge St off from Hales Brook and made it a dead-end street. When they put the first coat of blacktop on, and the work crews had gone for the day, I ventured out alone on my bicycle. I rode up past the Plain Street exit, which later was the infamous quarter-mile marker for drag racing v8s that often ended as fatal accidents. I nearly became the first Connector casualty when I discovered a steam roller by the housing projects. I climbed up into the driver’s seat and pushed the starter button. It made a grinding noise and lurched forward. I heard someone shout, “Get off. It’s ours.”  I looked over the side and saw a kid about my size waving me down.

When I jumped off, my momentum carried into him, and he shoved me up against the big machine. We put our fists up and before either of us swung, I got sucker punched in the side of my face and nose by his big brother, who had come from behind the steam roller. I went down face first into the blacktop and split my lip and chin open. I covered my head with my hands, thinking they’d kick me. They stepped on my back and climbed aboard the machine. They pushed the starter button, laughed, and said, “Were going to steamroll you and your bike.” I brushed the sticky asphalt tar off my hands, mounted my bike, and raced home. My first but not my last bloody nose taught me not to mess with tough kids from the Projects.

I worried what Mom would say about my tarred and blood-covered t-shirt. I don’t think Dad believed me when I said I flipped over my handlebars. He examined the swollen bruises on my face and nose, told Mom to clean me up, then went outside to check my bike. Dad returned to the bathroom, placed an ice pack on the side of my nose, and said, “The bike’s in better shape than you. Next time, duck.”

One summer night in 1961, I was chasing my kid brother back into the house when he closed the outside French porch door in my face. My left hand smashed through one of the glass panes, and when I fell backward down the steps, the jagged glass ripped a gash through the length of my wrist. I was lying at the bottom of the steps when Mom came out hollering about me breaking another window. She saw the blood squirting out of my artery and yelled for Dad. He grabbed my arm, dragged me into the house to the bathroom, turned the faucet on and blasted cold water on the wound to flush out the shards of glass. I was screaming from the pain and lapsing into shock. Lucky for me, Dad was a medic. He wrapped a towel around my wrist, and tightly tied another around my bicep to make a tourniquet.

Mom held a cold rag on my forehead in the back seat of Dad’s ‘58 Pontiac Bonneville while he raced to the ER at St Joseph’s Hospital on Pawtucket St. The waiting room was packed, the white towel on my wrists was saturated with blood spotting the tiled floor. The desk nurse started asking my parents questions. Dad shouted, “Later, he’s severed his artery, let’s go!”

The nurse abruptly led us around the corner to a room. Dad and the nurse lifted me onto a table, and another nurse and doctor rushed in. They put piles of gauze pads on the wound but the blood had spilled onto the floor. They used forceps to clamp off the surging artery. They shot up my wrist and forearm with a big Novocain needle. The room was spinning, while we waited for the anesthetic to numb my arm. Dad held my legs down, and a hefty nurse with big breasts leaned across my chest to hold my arm down while the doctor started stitching the nasty gash. It ran adjacent to the artery from my hand about four inches up my forearm and other cuts. It required both internal and external stitches, seventeen in all.

The Doctor said, “We need to put two more stitches in his thumb.” When he started suturing me we found out there was no Novocain there. I screamed and shoved the nurse away. She slipped on the puddle of blood and hit the floor. Her white uniform soaked with dark red stains looked worse than my yellow t-shirt. When they wheeled me out, all bandaged up, the people in the waiting room cheered.

That summer, I couldn’t play baseball in St Peter’s Little League with my brothers on the South Common, where Dad coached our teams, no matter how tired he was after taking care of his fellow Vets at the VA Hospital. But by late fall, I was playing football on Cambridge St with my older brother and his friends. I went out for a pass from my brother along two parked cars. I leaped and caught the football the same time that Johnny, who was thirty pounds heavier, tried to intercept it. I bounced head-first into the fender of an old Plymouth. Next, I remember waking up on the couch with Dad holding smelling salts under my nose. Mom held ice on my head and asked me, “Do you still want a football for Christmas?” I got my football and the first of several concussions that Dad had to tend to.

The following summer I was walking back from the Boy’s club on Dutton Street with my friend Dave Normandin. We dallied under the Lord Overpass on Thorndike Street and were suddenly stoned by some kids up above. One rock hit the top of my head, it split open and was bleeding badly. Dave took off his t-shirt and held it on my head while we rushed toward Hale Street. We passed by the tenements where the Blacks lived and made it to my house. Dad iced my head, then shaved the top and bandaged me up.

At sixteen I had run the mile with my Lowell High gym class in the cold January air, and as a smoker I might have caught a touch of Pneumonia. The next night I was shooting pool at Alex’s smoke-filled billiards parlor above the Dutch Team Room on Merrimack street. I felt a pain in my chest and was struggling to breathe. I thought I was having a heart attack. I called Dad. He picked me up out front and drove me to Saint Joseph’s Hospital. I’d had a collapsed lung and spent ten days in the hospital recovering. Consequently, unlike my siblings and Dad, I quit smoking and figured I added years to my life and bought a few cars with the money I saved.

Dad was always there for me. When I grew older I tried to be there for him. In 1953, he was appointed as secretary of Lowell’s US Selective Service Board on Appleton Street and served until Congress disbanded the Draft in 1973. In 1968 at age eighteen I told him I didn’t support the Vietnam War, but I’d join the Army Reserves and if it escalated, I’d fight like he did in WW II. He supported my decision, and like him, I served as a medic from 1968 to 1974, always fearful of that war that killed nearly 58,000 troops.

We were both born in April forty years apart. Dad took me to my first Red Sox game at Fenway Park when I was eight, and I took him to his last when he was eighty-eight. In 1999 at age eighty-nine Dad had a cancerous testicle removed, three weeks later he marched in the Memorial day parade. He always inspired me.

In 2000, I was VP of Engineering for a Global Supply company and returned from a business trip to find Dad in Saint John’s hospital diagnosed with lung cancer. I was at his bedside when the Oncologist mentioned low doses of Chemotherapy—an option that no one past eighty-five let alone ninety had ever considered. Dad mumbled, “Chemo, my hair will fall out.” He shrugged and said, “I won’t have to shave.”  After months of treatments his hair thinned but the spot on his lung shrunk and he went into remission. Saint John’s treatment lab hung a plaque on the wall honoring him as the oldest Massachusetts resident to successfully undergo Chemo.

Nine months later, we had just gotten Mom and Dad settled into a Rogers Street elderly apartment in Rogers Hall across from Fort Hill Park, when the cancer returned. He was on Hospice when I spent Friday night with him at the apartment. He sat in his recliner and I told him our daughter, Jennifer, was graduating Suma Cum Laude from Providence College and we’d be gone all weekend for the festivities. He was very weak and Mom wanted me to carry him to bed before I left. He asked, “Would you give me a shave first?”

“My pleasure, Dad.”  I patted his face with his electric pre-shave and did the honor.

When I got back from Providence, he’d been transported to the Northwood Nursing Home on Varnum Ave. He was sleeping when I arrived late Sunday night. I gave the night shift orderly my cell number, and he called me at five a.m. Dad was laboring. While I drove from my Chelmsford home, I called my siblings. I held his hand ‘til they arrived with Mom who joined me at his bedside. I said, “Dad, we’re all here now.” He never opened his eyes but he whispered, “Mary.” Mom kissed his cheek and Dad took his last breadth.

Dad’s was waked at McDonough Funeral home on May 27th, 2001, Memorial day weekend. His fellow veterans arrived in uniform, saluted, folded the flag and presented it to Mom. After his funeral we held an after party at the VFW club on Plain Street. He was a lifetime member of the Portuguese American Civic League and Disabled American Veterans. He was honored in “the Workers Remembered” video program at the Boot Cotton Mills Museum event center where his interview and oration is still on display.

Boott Cotton Mills Museum, Tony DeJesus orator

In 2002, I went to city hall and met with highly decorated Korean and Vietnam Veteran, Joe Dussault, Lowell’s Veterans Services Officer. We arranged to dedicate a square for Dad on the corner of Chelmsford and Cambridge Streets. My family and I honored Dad on what would have been his 92nd birthday, April 20, 2002. I read a dedication piece I’d written for him. Led by Roy McGuann, Veterans Services, the VFW Honor guard had a seven gun salute and played Taps. It was attended by his good friend Armand Mercier and the Mayor, Rita Mercier. The national anthem was sung by family friend Bud Caulfield, City councilman and leader of the popular Highland Players singing club.

This April 20th will be Dad’s happy heavenly 114th birthday.

Lowell Sun photo of dedication of Antonio DeJesus Square

Antonio DeJesus Square sign

But wait there’s more.

My deceased older brother Tom’s only child, Thomas DeJesus, Jr, is a contractor, who’d worked on many of my Massachusetts properties and some of my Solar projects. He lives in Pelham, NH. In 2016 he hurt his back on a job. He went to the same Pelham Chiropractor, Dr. Titus Plomaritus, a Lowellian Army Veteran who’d treated my Dad until the year he passed.

My nephew, Tom called me in Florida with exciting news. He’d met Claire Ignacio who worked in the chiropractor’s office. She mentioned that his grandfather, Antonio DeJesus had contributed eight pages to a book she published, Our Memories of Lowell. Tom Jr’s mother mailed the book to me that has a copyright date of 2015, the year I retired and moved to Florida.

Claire Ignacio’s self-published book is beautifully done with dozens of stories from Lowellians and countless photos by co-author, Dave Hudon, that spanned the first half of the twentieth century.  Dad’s contribution, HISTORIC-LOWELL-1910 by Antonio DeJesus, warmed my heart.

Dad wrote about growing up in Lowell from age four and his parents working in the Mills. He recalled in 1918, when all the bells in the mills, churches, and the school fire alarms blasted to signal that WWI had ended. He described wearing camphor powder around his neck to protect him from the Spanish Influenza. He’d sit on the Gorham street sidewalk and watch continuous pandemic funerals go by; some accompanied by a parade for a well-known person, politician or soldier. He wrote about: schools, stores, politicians, restaurants and clubs, and too many other memories to summarize here. But I’ll leave you with Claires’ author note.

Mr. DeJesus was one of my first contributors to this book (1999). He was a patient at the Doctor’s office where I worked and said he had many memories of the city where he was born and loved. Handwritten, he submitted (21 pages on lined paper, printed), although shaky it was well written.  I typed it exactly as he gave it to me. I know this dear man has passed by now, but he has family and, hopefully they will read this book and share his cherished memories. Imagine the younger generation of today living as Antonio did?

I treasure that book with Dad’s memories. Born in 1950, I fondly share my generation’s memories of Lowell that covered the second half of the twentieth century.

“Our Memories of Lowell” by Claire Ignacio


Editor’s Note: There are nearly 500 monuments and squares in Lowell dedicated to mostly to individuals, almost all, like Antonio DeJesus, served in the armed forces. Yet beyond the black, white and gold street signs, little is publicly known about these individuals. One of my ongoing Lowell history projects is to recapture these stories and make them public. Stories like this one, written by the son of Antonio DeJesus, are a terrific contribution to our communal memory. If anyone reading this has similar recollections of anyone else memorialized by the city of Lowell, please get in touch so we can compose more stories like this. I can be reached by email at DickHoweJr[at]gmail.com.

Richard Howe

8 Responses to I Won’t Have to Shave

  1. David Daniel says:

    No one — save maybe for the original “Memory Babe” Jack Kerouac — has a memory for faces, places, and details like Ed DeJesus, as this fond reminiscence of his dad and or growing up in Lowell makes plain.

    Consider: “Our steam radiators clanged through asbestos-covered pipes, heated by a rumbling oil furnace in our dungy dirt floor cellar.”

    Beyond his keen memory, Ed is also apparently (thankfully) indestructible, as his recovery from numerous accidents, mishaps, and assaults confirms.

    I enjoyed this piece of personal and local history.

  2. Steve O'Connor says:

    A great job of recall and writing. The slow remodeling/destruction of the neighborhood reminds me of Charles Garguilo’s book on Little Canada. Claire Ignacio just passed last month. Her husband, the late George Ignacio was in business with my father, painting and doing drywall. I often worked with them and Geore’s son, Warren. Her book sounds interesting and your father was a perfect candidate for an interview, or written recollection.

  3. Judy Cote says:

    My dearest nephew Eddy,

    I so enjoyed reading everything you wrote. Somethings I remembered and other things I didn’t. I especially enjoyed the stories of you and your dad. You are certainly a very special son and a loving person.

    I am proud of being your aunt. I knew you wrote books, but this is fantastic. Thank you for sharing,

    God bless you.
    Love always Aunt Judy

  4. Judy Cote says:

    To my loving Nephew.

    I am amazed at the heartwarming stories you told of you and your dad. I remember some of them but others I never heard. I so enjoyed reading them. Special moments with him are so interesting. I knew you were good at writing but what I read in this is amazing.

    Thank you for sharing.

    I am proud to be your aunt.

  5. Robert Baptista says:

    Ed, a great read about your childhood and your relationship with your dad. I will have to look for this book uncle Tony contributed to, perhaps I’ll get some insight into our grandparents and my mom and her brothers and sisters.

  6. Louise Peloquin says:

    Ed, what an exquisitely etched portrait of your beloved father and how you honor him!
    Thank you for sharing these glittering memories of all those experiences which fashioned us baby-boomers – school fire drills, slurping fudgicles on a summer day, catching hornpout and swimming in murky waters in the dark, getting clobbered by tough kids around town, watching Bonanza (how about “Rawhide”?) and all the rest. You mention your unplanned visits to St. Jo’s Hospital ER. Maybe you met my Papa who was a doctor there? Anyway, your engrossing account brings back my childhood days in Lowell’s Highlands.

  7. Ed DeJesus says:

    Wow, thank you all for the kind words. Coming from the top contributors and award-winning writers here—Dave, Steve, Jackie, and Louise—it’s quite flattering for an aspiring author.

    Assuming my novel sells, my dear writing mentor, Dave, will be getting my first royalty check for that Kerouac remark.

    Louise, I didn’t know you were a boomer from the highlands, you might enjoy a piece I posted here last November, ‘From Darkness Into Light…’ It’s a walk in the highlands and downtown in ’65.

    Steve, I’m sorry for your loss. I met Claire Ignacio when I took my mother to that chiropractor’s office a few years after my dad passed. Small world, my nephew Tom runs a sheet rock installation company and had worked with Claire’s son, and grandson. But he met her by chance, and she pulled out my father’s twenty-one handwritten pages from a draw in her desk and gave them to him.

    Thanks again, for enheartening me to keep on writing.

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