‘The Guys from The Flats’ by Charles Gallagher, an excerpt

Former City Manager Charles Gallagher was an active participant in a writing program at Willow Manor Nursing Home in 1992 that was led by Bill Roberts, now a professor emeritus of English at UMass Lowell. Gallagher was a university student at the time, assisting Prof. Roberts. The community writing project was made possible by a grant from the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission and support from the Division of Continuing Education at UMass Lowell. Essays by Gallagher and others were collected in a booklet titled “Reflections from Willow Manor” (Willow Manor Nursing Home, 1992)—PM

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from “The Guys from The Flats” by Charles Gallagher

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“I was born in the Flats, and, believe it or not, other residents of Lowell could not tell you where The Flats is . . . an area located across from the Concord River from lower Belvidere (east), west by Central Street, south by the Grove section, and on the North by Church Street. A real small congested section of Lowell.

“Sixty or seventy years ago, when I was young, The Flats was inhabited by a majority of Irish-Catholic Democrats. Also included were English, French, Polish, Lithuanians, Finns, Scotch, Japanese, Chinese, and Italians. Prohibition was the law of the land. Most of the inhabitants worked in the Lowell mills. Of course, we all thought that the couple of Japanese homes that existed had nightly dope parties. The Polish and Lithuanians hated each other, but, believe it or not, there was a high percentage of marriage between the two nationalities. Maybe this could be a ‘Neutralization Act.’

“When I get depressed and feel useless, I am drawn to The Flats. I drive to Merrill Street, where I lived, and circle around the area, and then I park my car and get out and walk around. The first house that I usually look at is that of ‘Boozer’ Smith.

“Boozer must have been about sixty-five years old when I knew him. He must have weighed over five hundred pounds. Day after day he sat in a chair outside his home, regardless of the season or weather. I always wondered how anyone could afford to feed him and how he could be attended to when he was ill and had to be moved about. Though he had the name Boozer, I never saw him drink any of the bootleg whiskey that was available in The Flats. Maybe he confined his drinking to inside his home. He might have been given the name Boozer simply because we thought fat people got that way from drinking a lot of beer. He had only one outfit that he wore winter and summer. I never saw an overcoat on him, and on the coldest days he perspired as he wiped his face with an old white rag. But, as strange as it seems, he never seemed upset, and he wore a bit of a smile at all times. We were privileged to have such a character as Boozer for our neighbor because we always had the fat man of the circus close by. To make matters even worse, Boozer had another character of a different background as the occupant in the other part of the house—a man named Axel Anderson. . . .”

1879 map from the UMass Lowell Center for Lowell History

2 thoughts on “‘The Guys from The Flats’ by Charles Gallagher, an excerpt”

  1. Charles Gallagher,

    When you were on your daily constitution at Fort Hill over a year ago, I stopped my car, got out, and had a chat with you. I gave you my daughter Grainne O. Murphy’s recent CD entitled Short Stories. She’s a world-class fiddle champion. At the time, I knew you through past conversations with Harry Keon… I did not know you were from the Flats. Here are a few words for from me to you, a guy from Kinsman St. and Lyons St. Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat! By the way, the setting on my poem is Pine Hill near Chambers St. and Hale’s Brook.

    Daniel Patrick Murphy

    The Flats

    The stick glides through the summery days of a bushy-bearded man, past the tenements with multi-colored laundry dousing out windows over the pavement of calloused-footed kids who shout, You cheated; that’s not fair and chant at some dream of finding the best grip on a sawed-off broom handle stolen from someone’s

    mother. She labored with seven kids and a husband who was once again late for the thick stew filled with fresh green beans, tomatoes, and fatty chunks beef, potatoes big as an old widow’s arse stinking up the living room under mounds of hand-me-down dresses that witnessed the grandest funerals in the neighborhood and a ribbed girdle

    pressuring from every lost curve she is imagining. And the stick refuses to remain itself, spinning out of its path, curving around the leaves of a skunk tree that’s used as an escape from a sweltering attic where three bedrooms smother the kids at night except when a breeze dares intrude through a rusted screen where mosquitoes and

    slices of moon slide into heads of dirty pajama girls and tee-shirt boys. They gawk at the beauty of Mary’s bright red hair and the swoon in Danny’s breath as he whacks another clothes pin over the barn of Mr. Clancy whose dog Midnight barks because he can’t figure the why and how of another dog’s luck. All the while the stick flung

    by the little bastard down the street whooshes into the untilled yards and tin-canned Cat’s Alley bending itself into a strange shape. It lands in the little boy’s hand that stands naked under the stars with his head tilted toward a constellation that has no name and he shouts with elation at the angled stick that’s smooth as the warm breast of the moon.

    –Daniel Patrick Murphy

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