MartiniPundit

Random thoughts and insights – always shaken, never stirred

Anthony Morella 1964-2008

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In my neighborhood of Boston, there are a few locals, and a gazillion tourists. It’s one of the prices one pays for living in such a great place (politics aside).

When I first moved here, one of the people I met was a guy a couple of years older than me named Anthony. He was different – unique, in fact. Though an adult in middle-age, Anthony was a perpetual child – roughly eight or nine years old. Fascinated by fire-trucks, gold, police cars, slapstick humor, and all the things one associates with little boys. He lived alone — his parents both being dead — but he was high-functioning enough for someone of his condition that he was able to do so. He was always clean, always dressed, and never helpless. True, many, myself included, helped in small ways. His hair was attended to by a local barber, his meals mostly provided, his laundry done. I quickly came to view him as a yardstick: how people treated Anthony told you something about their character.

He could be trying. There were days when he persisted in ‘meowing’ and then wondering where the cat was. There were times when he would talk about nothing. And there were times he would get angry or scared, and those were hard for he didn’t know how to deal with those two emotions. But even when he might be angry with you, it was plain he didn’t really mean it, and surely you could overlook it, however difficult that might be with the stresses of life and what. I loved to watch him do crossword puzzles. He would carefully take the puzzle, and then the answers. He would place them side-by-side, and then with a blue ball-point pen, methodically ink in all the answers in perfect block letters. I often joked I would like to be as good as Anthony at crosswords one day. Sometimes I would come upon him standing near my car, as if making sure no one would go near it.

So it was a real shock when he died.

He had been at the skating rink, and walking it seemed in the direction of home, or perhaps the fire station, In the end, it appears he had a stroke or heart attack, and was found and taken to the hospital. There he died. I was almost relieved when I heard that for at first I feared he had been attacked, and I dreaded to think of him dying alone.

At his funeral, I was stunned to see so many people I knew, but hadn’t connected with Anthony. He had touched untold numbers of lives. Surely he has gone to be with the angels, of which he was one, albeit a touch coarse, here.

Update The Boston Globe has a fine tribute.

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Written by martinipundit

January 28, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Boston, General

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  1. I’m concerned the BG article may get lost and so I post it here:

    ‘A Grandson to Everybody’

    North End mourns a man whose mind stayed in childhood

    By Bryan Marquard, Globe Staff | February 2, 2008

    He was, in the words of one friend, as much a part of the North End as Old North Church, a landmark he ambled past on his daily rounds.

    A developmental disability kept Anthony Morella anchored in childhood, so when he died last Saturday, it was as if everyone had lost a young son clad in the burly body of a 43-year-old man.

    “He was part of the fabric of the North End,” said Mary McNiff, sitting in Maureen Fiorelli Realty on Salem Street, around the corner from where Morella had lived. Gesturing through her front window, she added, “As Manny across the street said: ‘He was us. He was the neighborhood.’ ”

    And the North End grieved this week, shaken by a profound sense of loss. Hundreds filed through a Commercial Street funeral home Thursday evening or gathered at yesterday’s funeral Mass in St. Leonard’s Church.

    “Everybody watched out for Anthony, and, in return, Anthony was one of the best friends you ever had,” said Geno Mirabella. “If I had my way, they’d name a street after him.”

    From the bocce courts by the water to the bakeries and coffee shops there were fears at first that someone had done harm to Morella because passersby found him on the ground along Charter Street. Those concerns were unfounded, and his family is awaiting results of tests to determine why he collapsed and died.

    Many neighborhoods turn to one resident as an emotional touchstone, but Morella was much more, friends said. With the charm of a man who would always be a boy, he brightened their lives, and they in return made his possible. After Morella’s mother died more than a decade ago, neighbors took him under their collective wing so he could stay in the North Bennet Street building where he had always lived, even though his brother and sister had moved away.

    “When my mother died, a lot of people said, ‘You can’t leave him there alone,’ ” said his brother, Prisco Morella of Arlington, who supported Anthony financially and visited regularly. “And I said: ‘Are you crazy? This is his home.’ ”

    On Salem Street, a block away from Anthony Morella’s apartment, lives Geno Mirabella’s father, Sonny, a North Ender all his 77 years. “Anthony was – how can I say this – a friend, a son, a nephew, a grandson to everybody who knew him,” Mirabella said.

    He was glue, too. Recent arrivals and those who have always called the narrow streets home can regard one another warily. They found a common bond in taking care of Morella.

    “I have to truthfully say these past two days are the saddest days I’ve ever seen in the North End. I mean that sincerely,” a man in his 60s said Wednesday as he sat in Theo’s Cozy Corner cafe on Salem Street, where Morella usually stopped for lunch, calling out, “Oh, my sweetie,” to Regina Peroni behind the counter as he bustled through the door.

    A childlike wonder allowed Morella to still believe in Santa Claus as an adult and to delight anew when he and friends mimicked Three Stooges routines.

    Yet he occasionally uttered profanity that from his mouth seemed as incongruous as an 8-year-old sounding like a sailor. Without warning, Morella could slip into a short-lived petulance, angry at everyone over some small slight. “And then he’d forget about it,” said Rocco LoGrasso, who cut Morella’s hair at Barberia Italia.

    The Salem Street barber shop is so close to Morella’s apartment that he would stop by many days for help tying his boots. An inability to perform simple tasks was matched by a memory for details that astonished his friends.

    “He knew my telephone number by heart; he knew my license plate by heart,” LoGrasso said.

    He knew everybody’s phone number and license. And sometimes it seemed as if he knew everybody.

    “Anthony was one of the great characters of our neighborhood,” said House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, who grew up a couple of blocks from Morella. “But above all, Anthony was a kind man.”

    Creative terms of endearment were his trademark, and women he encountered took note. “He used to call me angel star,” said Jennifer Simonic, who invited Morella along for arts and crafts on Hull Street with her young children. “Sometimes he’d call me princess. I was frequently snowflake princess, which I liked, too. I got my hair colored and cut one day, and nobody noticed except Anthony. He was very observant like that.”

    Morella loved to spend time at the fire station on Hanover Street, where the firefighters treated him as one of their own. He hung out at the bocce courts and skating rink on Commercial Street, too, though he spent much of his time along Salem Street as it climbed up the hill from his apartment. Nights were reserved for phone calls to friends and relatives.

    “Every night at 9 o’clock – I could set my clock by him – he called me and told me what happened during his day: what he did, what he ate, where he went,” said his sister Rita DeRienzo of Avon.

    When the old Michelangelo School on Hull Street was renovated into housing for the elderly, Morella showed up daily to sweep and help where he could. The workers gave him a hard hat and pitched in to pay him each week.

    “He came to work every day for three years,” said Steven Virgilio, who worked at the site and grew up with Morella. “He would stop you and hug you. He used to put his forehead against my forehead, and he would look you in the eye and glow. That was his way of telling you he loved you.”

    © Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

    martinipundit

    September 16, 2010 at 1:00 am


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