Tom Sexton is a Distinguished Alumni of Lowell High School and the former Poet Laureate of Alaska where he lives in the winter. He’s a regular reader of this site and has sometimes shared his poems and comments with us in the past. Today he shared the following essay about his Lowell neighborhood, Lowell Belvidere.
Not long ago I met a man from Lowell who like me has lived in Alaska for decades and never wanted to go back to Lowell not even after he was dead. He made it clear that he hated the place. He’d recently retired from the post office and had some land near Talkeetna. After we talked for a few minutes, he asked me where in Lowell I was from, and by that I knew he meant in what neighborhood and what church did I go to. Two things that would tell him all he needed to know. He asked it the same way people ask what college you attended. I responded Lower Belvidere with the emphasis on Lower so he would know exactly where and what I meant: blue collar and near the Concord River and the mills. The Immaculate Conception marked me as most likely as Irish-Catholic, but his question and my answer had little to do with religion. I didn’t want him to think I meant the other Belvidere of fine Victorian houses and manicured lawns, houses with a view of the city and what now remains of the mills below. For some reason, reverse snobbery perhaps, I didn’t want him to think that I was from that other Belvidere, the Belvidere that climbs almost straight up from Nesmith Street. I know the taunt: if you can’t get a girl, get a boy from Belvidere.
The way we move around today from place to place, I doubt many ethnic neighborhoods still exist. A childhood friend, a woman I hadn’t been in contact with for almost fifty years, saw something about me in the Lowell Sun a few years ago and called me in Anchorage. During our conversation, she remarked that she hadn’t realized we lived in an Irish-Catholic ghetto until we went to high school. Her comment wasn’t exactly true. Our neighborhood store was owned by Mr. Danas who was Greek, and certainly there were neighbors who were neither Catholic nor Irish, but the neighborhood did give us a shared identity. It bound us together in many ways. We all walked to church on Sundays, and our fathers drank in the same neighborhood bar, a bar with a separate entrance for women and a booth near the back door where a priest could feel comfortable. read more »