An outrageous 90th birthday
Dottie McCarthy told me to get to the Board of Canvassers by 3 Friday. I was running late but I knew I hadn’t missed the party when I spotted Gloria Walker’s florescent orange car sporting a bouquet of plastic flowers from the antenna parked outside City Hall. Maybe they had saved me a slice of cake.
Monday was Gloria’s 90th birthday and Dottie decided to get a head start on the celebrations. She baked a cake, invited Joe Gallucci, former chairman of the Board of Canvassers and spread the word among City Hall offices. Dottie recruited Gloria as one of her poll workers some years ago and the two get along like naughty sisters. They feed off one another and once they start telling stories there’s no stopping them.
Gloria was dressed for the occasion, a flaming red shirt pulled over an Iggy’s T-shirt, red white and blue anchor earrings, blue cap pulled down over her frizzy blonde hair and large red-framed glasses perched on her nose. Style? Outrageously Gloria. The hat didn’t stay on long. Gloria had arrived and the air was electric.
Gloria does that; she gets your attention. I’ve seen it at John Wickes School where she is affectionately called “Grandma Gloria” by the staff and students. She loves the place and most of all the special needs students who she rewards with stickers they get for being good. They put them in books she’s made from scrap paper.
“I’m addicted to kids, not alcohol,” she said.
Gloria doesn’t have a lot of money – it wasn’t something any of her four husbands – she was divorced twice and widowed twice – left her. But then she has so much more and I was hopeful that over cake she might share stories from her colorful life including how she got to know Red Sox player Ted Williams and ended up with his Cadillac.
It didn’t take much goading from Dottie to get Gloria going. She started with Joe Gallucci, looking him over and declaring he should lose some weight. Joe protested. He said he had lost weight and was feeling fit. And she wanted to know what Joe would do with his time once he completes his term on the City Council next year. Joe doesn’t plan on running for reelection.
“I’ll get a job,” he said defensively.
Then she dropped the bombshell.
“You’re still a member of the dirty-talk club,” she declared.
Was Joe blushing?
“The what,” I asked?’
“You heard it,” Dottie said.
I was waiting for a demonstration, expecting I wouldn’t be able to print a word, but apparently the club wasn’t meeting. Instead I learned how Joe had just let all the trash talk go over his head even to the point where he was accused of falling asleep while leaning back in his chair.
“And you said you were just resting your eyes,” recalled Dottie. Joe insisted that was the case.
“And what about the time you got hit by a truck,” egged Dottie. Gloria was geared up to recount the tale how she was on the inside lane on Post Road and a truck was turning onto Coronado. She insists the plastic flower tied to the antenna saved her. She believes the truck driver spotted her floral alert system and swerved before crushing the front of her car. Nonetheless, it sideswiped the driver door rendering it inoperable. The truck didn’t stop, and there was no way Gloria could open the door.
At this point in the story I learn it was Halloween and Gloria was on a mission to deliver treats.
“And she’s dressed as a witch…the pointed hat, everything,” says Dottie with a cackle. A Good Samaritan shows up and Gloria climbs out of the passenger door. AAA arrives to tow the car as Gloria gives an account to the cops still in her witch outfit. But she doesn’t forget the treats – doggie treats that she delivered to her animal friends.
It was after the accident that Gloria had the car painted extreme orange. She wasn’t going to have another truck driver miss her.
But she never had the same affection for Ted Williams’ Cadillac.
It was Roy Costa, principal at Wickes who told me Gloria and Williams had been friends, so I asked her that had happened. Gloria said she is has always been a diehard Red Sox fan. At the time she was a waitress at Lindia’s in Cranston. Apparently Williams was looking to do a fundraiser for children with cancer and chose the restaurant.
“I’m a baseball fanatic so I volunteered as a hostess,” Gloria recalls. The event was a success and when Gloria’s husband learned Williams was looking to sell the car he had been given as the outstanding player of the year, he decided to get it for Gloria.
When she heard it was a Cadillac even before setting eyes on it, she wanted no part of it.
“I hate Cadillacs, they’re for old farts,” she said. She told her husband not to bring it home. There was no undoing the deal, so the car came home and Gloria reluctantly drove it until she went to get it gassed up. Those were the days when they pumped gas and checked under the hood at no extra charge. When the hood was raised, the attendant called over others in the garage to show them what he’d discovered. There was Williams’ name and citation. Gloria wanted no part of it.
“I got rid of it,” she said of the car.
A year after Gloria lost her husband she started going out with Williams. Their dislike of Cadillacs was a starting point and Ted asked her to go to Florida with him. Gloria wasn’t interested.
“He was a nice man, down to earth, but he would piss me off,” she said. What infuriated her was how Williams treated kids. She said they would come up to him looking for autographs and he would dismiss them as if they weren’t there. She said she asked why he did that and he told her all he cared about was playing baseball.
That evidently brought the relationship to a close although I can’t be sure. Gloria was onto another topic. Dottie lit the candles and we all backed away as she blew them out - 90 was never better.