I can still picture the terribly comical scene that my mother described as she recalled aloud (more than once) the story of how she and her five sisters got the nickname that has stuck with them for just over 50 years. Oh, to have been a fly on the proverbial wall back then! To have seen such a sight with my own two eyes, some sort of a costume (a fly or the like) would have been necessary. Mom and my aunts would never have let loose, acted so unencumbered, had child-me been a witness.
As the story goes, it all started innocently enough, with a special dinner to celebrate one of their birthdays (whose no one can remember). In those days, they all loved going out for Chinese food together, so that was just what they did on that fateful night. As parking is tight in South Boston, their original hometown, they met up and walked together to the restaurant. It was a nice night for a walk... so it must have been April, Aunty Betty's birthday, or May, Aunty Ellie's birthday. Or, it could even have been the fall, which can go either way, weather-wise, in New England. That would mean it could have been October (Aunt Maggie's birthday) or November (Aunty Kay's birthday). There's no way they were remembering a January (Aunty Jo's birthday) or February (Mom's birthday) in Boston as a nice night for a walk, considering most of them were definitely in heels.
Over chicken wings, fried rice, chow mein, and spareribs (on the bone), the sisters exchanged news about childhood companions, love-based insults, and stories about their children—even Ellie, who had previously dedicated her life to God and the Church. Still, she treated all the nieces and nephews as her own, so she wouldn’t have felt left out of such conversation. In addition to the smorgasbord of food, they consumed strong mixed drinks as only Chinese food restaurants seem to provide. The sisters chatted easily, teased one another mercilessly, ate lavishly, and drank well. This was indeed a much-needed “Girls Night Out!”
Feeling satiated, relaxed, and replenished by the enjoyable time they had spent lingering together, the sisters finally settled the bill by throwing cash at one another and arguing, “just take it and shut up.” Then, teetering to their feet, suddenly giggly as they realized they were ‘feeling good’ (code for drunk), they made their way out of the restaurant. Remembering that they had not driven (thankfully), the six of them linked arms in the parking lot and set off for the short walk back to their childhood home, now owned by Ellie. Surprisingly, they did well for the majority of their journey. Staggering, wavering, and nearly stumbling, they made their way down familiar Southie streets until they turned on Pacific.
Did the forboding hill give them pause, or did they, bolstered by alcohol courage, push ahead brazenly? Mom couldn’t remember that particular detail, nor what exactly caused the events that took place next. I have my guesses: Aunt Maggie’s massive clogs, which she was infamous for wearing, whether it be out on the town or cleaning her apartment, were at the top of my list of potential antecedents. Or was it Aunty Betty bursting out in her contagious laughter that set the whole thing in motion? In a different scenario, I could easily imagine Aunty Kay breaking their chain of interlocking arms just long enough to reach for her flask of coffee brandy. Then, of course, Aunt Ellie may very well have pinched someone’s upper arm, her equivalent to a "love tap." Maybe Aunty Jo simply tripped over her stylish boot-cut jeans. Or, could it have all started with my mom (Bella)? She was known for her fast walk, which became superhuman when she drank.
Whatever happened, I guess we will never know because all any of the sisters recall is being upright one minute and, the next, all going down like dominoes and rolling down the hill together. Their tumble ended with them all piled up, one atop of the other, in the gutter! Newly and forevermore dubbed “The Gutter Girls,” the sisters could not manage to get themselves out, between their collectively inebriated state and the hysterical laughter they had no control over.
* * * * *
Over the decades, the sisters have spent countless special and memorable moments together, with and without their children. My parents played host to family parties quite often when I was young—backyard bar-b-ques in the summer and indoor basement bonanzas in the not-so-great weather. Daddy ran his own bar down there, complete with his specialty for us kids, Shirley Temples with extra cherries. Aunty Ellie’s Southie house, bathtub full of beer chilling on ice, was another hot spot for family to gather. Once she purchased her Cape house, we’d head down to Hyannis for get-togethers by the ocean. As time went on, the torch was passed, and cousins began taking over the parties. What did not change was the open-door policy to all in our huge family, as well as anyone they cared to bring, plenty of food, and the flow of alcohol for those 21 and over.
The sisters also continued their feel-good birthday celebration dinners (always at Chinese food restaurants, either in Southie or at the Cathay Pacific in Quincy, one of their top favorites). Additionally, the Cape house became a kind of respite for just the six of them every long holiday weekends. They spent some of their best times together, taking leisurely walks to the JFK Memorial and along the shoreline, playing cards, and just sitting up late into the night talking. The already strong bond between them only solidified with these Cape weekends, whether they were staying in with bottled Chianti or went out to the dockside restaurant bars. Still, there was never a repeat (or anything that came even close) to a
“Gutter Girls” moment. They laughed about that night often, though.
* * * * *
Today, as Mom and I talk over the breakfast I have prepared for us, I purposefully take her down memory lane to that joyous moment in time. With three of her beloved sisters now in Heaven, Mom carries more sadness in her heart now and, at the age of 95, her memory is not what it used to be. She needs a bit of a nudge recalling these gems from her past so I prompt,
“Mom, tell me again—how did ‘The Gutter Girls’ get their name?”
The smile that turns back the time on my mom’s face melts my heart as I notice her eyes go distant. She stays silent, but that is okay—I don’t really need to hear her retell it. Along with so many more involving mom and her life-loving sisters, that story is etched in my mind, on my heart. She should relive it herself, in peaceful stillness, just one more time before she goes to join her angels. 👼
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Love the story. The telling of the incident and the bittersweet ending.
Hi Kathy! Sorry for my extremely delayed response. I was on a long hiatus so I am just seeing your message now. Thank you so much for your comments. I'm so glad you enjoyed my story. I have been working on a full-length novel, based on and in honor of my mom and her sisters (the true Gutter Girls) and I wrote this piece freshly for that prompt. I still haven't merged it in as, in the novel, the ending has changed. I appreciate you.
Mary Jo, some sections of this story were so well-conceived and well-executed that I kept repeating them to myself. Well done.
Hello Kevin B.! Thank you for talking the time to read and comment on my story. It delights me that you repeated sections to yourself. I appreciate your thoughtful feedback, which is vital to my growth as a writer.