Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

September 16, 2010

Jack Kerouac’s Childhood Homes in West Centralville–66 West St. Turns into Rt. 66 West

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Jack Kerouac’s Childhood Homes in West Centralville—66 West St. Turns into Rt. 66 West
   


   

The collage shows Jack Kerouac with all six of his homes in the West Centralville section of Lowell Massachusetts, plus the St. Louis School, part of the parish. The photo of Kerouac is taken from an interview in French with English subtitles. That’s what he said in French, “The children, however, are important.”

Below, we will look at each of his early childhood homes, from the time he was born, until he was ten-years-old, when the Kirouacks moved just a little west of his birthplace on Lupine Road, into the Pawtucketville section of the city. The Merrimack River vees north in Lowell, and at the tip is the crossover from Centralville to Pawtucketville, just south of the town of Dracut. It is from that narrow tip of the V, that both of Kerouac’s sections of the city flower out, Centralville to the east and Pawtuckville to the west. They are the only two parts of Lowell north of the Merrimack River.
   

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Jean-Louis Kerouac was born in the second-floor apartment at 9 Lupine Road on March 12, 1922. There are rumors that his mother Gabrielle (nee Gabrielle-Ange Lévesque) delivered Jack in a hospital 12 miles up river in Nashua, New Hampshire. The family had lived there before Jack was born. Nashua is where his father Leo (nee Léo-Alcide Kéroack) grew up, and where the family would bury his older brother Gerard, who died of rheumatic fever, when Jack was four-years-old. He also had an older sister Caroline, nicknamed Nin.
   

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Kerouac’s second childhood home was at 35 Burnaby Street, just a few houses from the town of Dracut, and a golf shot from the Kirouack home at Lupine Road where Jack was born. This is a nice little pocket of a neighborhood in Lowell, but a longer walk to school. From here, the family would move to 34 Beaulieu Street, one street away from St. Louis Elementary.
   

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His third of several homes growing up in the West Centralville section of Lowell, Jack Kerouac later referred to 34 Beaulieu Street as “sad Beaulieu”. The Kirouack family was living there in 1926 when Jack’s big brother Gerard died of rheumatic fever at the age of nine. Jack was four at the time, and would later say that Gerard followed him in life as a guardian angel. This is the Gerard of Kerouac’s novel Visions of Gerard.

Jack was too young for school when the Kirouacks were living on Beaulieu. His brother Gerard and sister Nin, would have gone to St. Louis from there.
   

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This is a shot west down Orleans Street, to where you can see that it ends at Lupine Road. Jack birthplace is two houses after you take the left down there. Before you get to Lupine, you cannot tell from the photo, but Burnaby Street where his second childhood home is, is a right hand turn about a third of the way down. This is a back-to-back shot from the top of Orleans with the next photo that goes east down to Hildreth Street, where the next two, the fourth and fifth, of Kerouac’s childhood homes are.
   

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This is a shot east down Orleans Street, which begins down there at Hildreth. The yellow building at the tip of the V perspective is a house facing from Hildreth. Taking a right there will lead you about a quarter then half a mile to two of Jack’s childhood homes, at 320 then 240 Hildreth Street. This is a back-to-back shot from the top of Orleans with the photo just above it. When Jack lived in West Centralville, he lived in the western most parts of West Centralville.
   

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In 1927, the year after Jack’s brother Gerard died, the Kirouacks moved to an apartment at 320 Hildreth Street, Jack’s 4th childhood home. It is here that young Jack began school, which allowed his mother to start work at a shoe factory. The shot is from the street in front of the McKenna-Ouellette Funeral home, a place Lowellians will know. Looking down Hildreth on the left side of the photograph, you can see houses on the odd side of the street as Hildreth curves right. Those are about halfway to Kerouac’s next house, 240 Hildreth.

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St. Louis School in the early afternoon, parents getting their kids. This is one street over from Beaulieu, where Jack’s third childhood home is. This and 34 Beaulieu are between 240 Hildreth, his fifth home, and 66 West Street, his sixth. These are the eastern most homes he would have in Lowell as a child, 9 Lupine and 35 Burnaby being the westernmost of his Centralville homes, 320 Hildreth being in the middle.

I understand that the particular school building that Jack went to has been replaced. The photo is of one of a complex of buildings that include the church. It says “L’Ecole St. Louis” above the door. Whatever that means, the neighbors now know it as St. Louis School.
   

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In 1929, the year Jack Kerouac turned seven, about the time the Great Depression began, his family moved from 320 Hildreth to 240 Hildreth, Jack’s fifth home. Much of this moving apparently had to do with his father’s gambling debts. This summer of 2010, the owners of 240 Hildreth have put up a new retaining wall, steps, porch, and fence.
   

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That’s 66 West Street on the left. But notice the two stop signs. This house is at a 5-way intersection with Stanley and West Sixth Streets.

That van at the rightmost stop sign, if it were to take a left onto West Sixth, would be heading to the St. Louis church complex, where a right would take it onto the short Beaulieu Street. To go further down West Sixth, it would merge onto Lakeview Avenue, which would take it to a street named Fred, a right there and a quick left would bring it to 9 Lupine two houses in. However, if the van were to cross the intersection and stay on West Street, West would merge with Coburn, which would end at Hildreth. A left there would bring it to 240 Hildreth, then to 320 Hildreth, then to Orleans, which as above, would take it to Burnaby Road, and down to Lupine. Jack’s houses circle St. Louis Church and School.
   

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66 West Street is Jack’s 6th childhood home, and the last one in West Centralville. But don’t let the name fool you. This is the easternmost home he would have in Centralville, before moving west to the Pawtucketville. It was at this house that Jack lived for nearly three years, when he was seven to ten years of age, the longest span of time he would ever live anywhere. This was when he first started to speak English. He wrote of life on West Street in both Dr. Sax and Visions of Cody.

Notice the number of the house, a prescient 66, as in Route 66. And notice the name of the street, West, as in “go west”. What a short mental distance from “66 West Street” to “Route 66 West,” like going back home verbally, or literally. He never lived on any street that began with East, South, or North, although he once lived in North Carolina. But he lived on the following streets: West 119th, West 118th, and West 115th Streets in New York City; West Center Avenue in Denver; and West 20th Street in New York City; as well as in West Haven Connecticut.

I did a similar amount of moving until I was 9-years-old, from Belvidere across the river, to the town of Chelmsford, to the Christian Hill (or eastern) part of Centralville, to the town of Dracut, back to Christian Hill, and then to the sixth house when I was nine, also on Christian Hill. I would stay put there until eighteen. So the moving stopped for me. But for many of us from these parts, a lot of moving around would make the streets of Lowell, whole neighborhoods in Lowell, one’s home—regularly cutting through or even playing in old back yards, for instance—to the degree that even when I moved to 18th Street in Dracut with my first wife, where a rolling little cow pasture use to be, it was an odd politics that allowed a doctor from the town of Chelmsford, ten miles away, to own the rental property. I was living on my stomping ground. What kind of cock-eyed world would allow this type of Chelmsford-doctor imperialism on this sacred turf? This is a very anti-establishment and ingrained type of thinking, something along the lines of Chief Seattle.

Jack would move to Pawtucketville from here, where he would live in at least another three homes with is family, and from where he would go to high school. Just as Centralville would lay the concrete aspects of Jack’s development of the Beat movement, Pawtucketville is where the formal operational aspects of this jolt to Western and then World culture would formulate. Much of this thinking would begin with his high school connections, and take place in homes around the city, such as the Sampas’ in the Highlands across the river. The jump from Centralville to Pawtucketville would take him On the Road—his entire life, and ours.
   

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November 27, 2008

A Sunday Holiday of Fifty Negro Boys

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A friend of mine bought an old house in Fitchburg, Massachusetts last year.  Inside one of the walls as if for insulation, was an old magazine, a publication called “The African Missions of the White Fathers,” which lists an address of 37 Ramparts Street, Quebec.  This particular issue is dated 100 years ago:  “First Year. No. 3.—March,.1909.”

Inside the periodical, and now shown below, is a letter sent from Uganda a year earlier than its publication.  It is not poetry, but I offer it for Thanksgiving Day from here in New England.  Yet, isn’t it more a letter to us from a brother?  And instead of talking about our grandfathers, isn’t he still talking about our children?  You’ll see what I mean.  I hope you enjoy it.  This grandfather/grandchild identity reminds me of, and for me, gives new meaning to the song, “I’m My Own Grandpa” written by Dwight Latham & Moe Jaffe in the 1940s.  Below the article is a YouTube presentation of that song, sung by Willie Nelson.  Aren’t we all one big family across time? 

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever and whenever you are.

Yours,
Clattery Machinery
 

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The African Missions of the White Fathers, March 1909 cover

The African Missions of the White Fathers, March 1909 cover


 

 

A Sunday Holiday of Fifty Negro Boys

A letter from Rev. Father Eug. Déry to his youthful brother.

Mitala-Mariya, March 10, 1908

 

Dear Maurice,

I am sure that at your age a holiday is much more pleasant than the few hours spent in the class room.  Let me then have the pleasure of relating to you some incidents of the long walk which my school boys enjoyed the day before yesterday.  This picnic had been promised sometime ago, but had to be postponed on account of unsuitable weather.

The long wished for day was finally fixed for the 7th. of this month.  I noticed that three or four days previous to this day, our boys attended school more assiduously, behaved somewhat better, and would work as never they did before.  Fancy, what a pity it would be, should any of these dear boys be prevented from enjoying so delightful an acting !

In the morning of the 6th. I sent one of the eldest boys to the chief of the Province, to ask him if he could give us lodging and board till the next day, a Sunday.  Kaima—that chief’s native name—informed me that he should be delighted to give us hospitality, and that he had ordered his people to prepare meat (!!…) and mashed bananas for their guests.

We started on Saturday evening.  The head of the file comprises a drummer and two flute players ; behind these is your brother, followed by his fifty urchins :  such are the rules of etiquette here in Uganda, when any great man travels (and the Fathers are great men here).

I forgot to mention a concertina.  The awful noise they made with it !  They are better drummers.  Our drum is a Feast Drum, the evening drum for singers and dancers.  They beat it with their hands, very softly and rhythmically, indeed.  Uganda flutes are simple reeds with four holes.  The natives do wonders with such poor instruments.

Whilst our musicians beat the drums, play the flutes and tease the poor concertina, the other boys sing songs and hymns.

After three hours’ walk—nothing at all for a Uganda party—the runners from Kaima arrive two by two.

“Kaima sends us to see you (atutumye okukulaba i)

“Well, how is he (Ao, atya) ?”

“He is seated, all goes on well (Gye ali, atudde).”

And while I receive Kaima’s messengers, he receives mine, hears the same greetings and answers in like manner.  It is a point of honor for a Muganda messenger to repeat exactly what he has been ordered to say, and to do it quick.  Therefore they must run hard, sweat, puff and blow till they reach those to whom they have been sent.

At length, Kaima himself is seen coming slowly with his drummers and flute players, and followed by hundreds of attendants and other subordinates.  There then rises a deafening uproar !  On each side the drums sound as thunder.  You must know that all the petty chiefs who accompany Kaima, have their drums, and that each drum is beaten in a different way according to the degree of the chief who owns it.  Now all the people on both sides shriek and shout until the two parties meet, and even somewhat longer, noise being a sign of joy.

Having arrived in the middle of Kaima’s people, every one made it a point of duty to congratulate me on my happy journey ; and Kaima, for the honor of having such a guest.  Meanwhile we reached Kaima’s chapel, which we entered to thank God by a public recitation of the “Our Father,” the “Hail Mary” and the “Glory be to the Father.”

The boys were next shown into a large reed house whilst I was introduced by Kaima himself into his own Palace.  I should like to give you a description of this palace ; but it would require too much space.  An idea, however :  here is the chief’s own hut ; there the cots of his attendants ; on the right side, a kitchen ; on the left, a large hall for the chiefs of the Province to meet, each Monday ; a little farther, a similar hall for strangers.  All this is surrounded by a reed hedge, with a number of inner hedges, the object of which is to separate one dwelling from another ; a real labyrinth !

Kaima is one of our first and most faithful Christians, and has been through every persecution.  He was the kings’ great gunsmith.  Like all the high-bred Uganda chiefs, he has cut more than one ear, and killed many a man.  But since his conversion to our Holy Faith, he has become very kind and engaging.

Do you remember the spectacles I asked you for ?  They were for Kaima.

The fact that my boys had heard before me, at our arrival, that an ox had been killed for us, was a subject of great joy and, mark well, they made it no secret.

The following morning, before sunrise, every body was up.  Sunday, was a great day for Kaima, because a High Mass was to be sung for the first time in his chapel !  In fact, even low Masses are seldom said in that place, being too far from the Mission.  But could the whole Mitala school spend Sunday at Kaima’s and have no High Mass ?  I should not be able to express the joy Kaima and his people felt.

After the service, a long program of sports.  The Blacks are so fond of sport !  Foot races, trotting matches, wrestling, etc. etc.

Now and then Kaima would leave us and go to inspect the kitchen work.  When all was ready, he himself gave orders for the distribution of the food.  Seated in the armchair, a large basket of meat was brought before him.  A tremendous business to perform, and a most important one too, on account of the number of guests to serve.  Every one must say before he leaves the place :  What a dinner I have had !  I have never eaten as I did to-day !

A whole leg of beef was portioned for the Priest, the Mukuru, your brother ; for his school boys, another leg ; for the chiefs, a shoulder ; for the village boys, the second shoulder ; and the remains for the Chief’s own household.  Nothing is lost, not even the bowels.

To all this meat Kaima added numberless baskets of Matoke (mashed bananas).

 

Kaima, his wife and two of his daughters

Kaima, his wife and two of his daughters


 

The sports were suspended and our people served from baskets.  No plates, nor knives, nor forks were used.  Every one ate well, having found the Mmere (food) delicious.

Soon after, the sports were resumed.  The first item of the new program was a rope tied to two trees ; to which, pieces of string with meat for the skilful to catch and eat.  The boys were placed under these baits and had to jump and catch them with their teeth.  Try to do that, Maurice, and tell me if it is an easy feat to do.  Of course, some were successful ; but what faces they made !  It was enough to make you die of laughter.

Towards evening, by torch-light we proceeded to Kaima’s mansion to thank him for his very kind hospitality.  Drums, flutes, voices and…concertina sounded in praise of that great chief’s liberality.  Now and then I expressed my gratitude to him according to the custom of the country :  “How well you have cooked !  Many thanks :  Ofumbye nno webale!” Or again :  “My boys have eaten exceedingly well:  bakkuse” And though relishing the compliments lavished upon him, he seemed not to have heard me in order that I might repeat the tickling address.

We took leave early on Monday morning.  According to the custom of the country, a great number of Kaima’s servants accompanied us till we reached the Mission, and remained for some hours with us.

You may well understand what a remembrance my boys will have of their visit to Kaima.  One will tell his friends that he was fed there with meat ; another that he got a double ration  …I not less than they shall remember that picnic ; “Johanna, if you do not work better, we shall go to Kaima’s without you !  …”

Eugène Déry, W. F.   

 

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