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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October 31, 2007

The Ghost of the Susquehanna vs. the Curse of the Bambino

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All across the USA, every Red Sox fan knows, that the Curse of the Bambino kept the team from winning a World Series for 86 years–or so they say–a curse broken in 2004. But who or what broke it? How could it be, that the spirit of Babe Ruth was overruled?

Here, in 2007, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, we get our explanation. And along the way, two more mysteries get explained: (1) what or who is the Ghost of the Susquehanna to which Kerouac refers in his most famous book and (2) why the Red Sox fans sing Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline‘ as a victory song.

Jack Kerouac loved baseball, was inspired by it. In an article for the Colorado Rockies, Kerouac, baseball and Denver, Owen Perkins notes:

Kerouac epitomized America on the move, taking his game with him just as the country took its pastime from one coast to the other. He measured his life by the accomplishments he could check off from one World Series to the next, but he could never have imagined that the Denver neighborhood offering a ballgame beneath the gas light and rekindling the joy of childhood sandlots would one day host a Fall Classic featuring his beloved Red Sox up against Neal Cassady’s Colorado Rockies.

And wouldn’t he have loved the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox farm team established in 1996 in Lowell Massachusetts, Kerouac’s birthplace and town of his boyhood. And in August 2003, the very year before the Curse of the Bambino was lifted, the Spinners honored Kerouac and his love for baseball with a bobblehead doll. Jack, the boy from just across the river that LeLacheur Park faces from its banks, was in the stands.

Could this be a coincidence–that on the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road, Kerouac’s Red Sox played Neal Cassady’s Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series at the baseball diamond in Denver? If you think so, then is it a coincidence that a batsman named Mike Lowell, whose last name happens to be the name of Kerouac’s hometown, was named World Series MVP? Or that the Red Sox won “on the road”? Or that this was the 103rd World Series, and on page 103 of my copy of On the Road, Kerouac writes, “I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October”–what Lowell did in Denver. Coincidence? So far, I would be with you if you said “yes”, but further down that same page 103:

The bus roared through Indiana cornfields that night; the moon illuminated the ghostly gathered husks; it was almost Halloween. . . . I cut right along. I wanted to get home.

It was the night of the Ghost of the Susquehanna.

Is it a coincidence, then, that the Susquehanna rises as the outlet of Otsego Lake, two blocks from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where a man named Lowell, now, will become immortalize?

Or a coincidence that Boston Red Sox fans sing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” as a victory song, diamond as in baseball diamond, Caroline being a variance of Carolyn, as in Carolyn Cassady, Neal’s wife with whom Kerouac had an affair, and Neil being a variance of Neal Cassady? Isn’t Kerouac saying that the “I” of Sal Paradise was at those games?

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