(Header note: Some slight inaccuracies may occur here about Charlestown, MA of 1935 as I had to depend at times on other people's memories and hazy postulations of dinner-table stories and off-handed remarks thrown as parting dictates by well-intentioned folks, yet their otherwise stable contributions are the basis of facts posted herein, with the added explanation that those same dictates came to me many years ago and have, as often as they survive, been touched by age, forgetfulness, accuracy and possibility.)
It has come upon me, one, as a survivor of the group that was formed by a bond in our Charlestown youth, and, two, as one who dwells daily in mustering words to present to the reading public whose tendencies favor words of their language to come to them in suitable presentations, or, as one of them might have said, "in understandable clutches being enough for me, and at separate attempts," meaning, I suppose that he liked to read as little as possible but liked what he chose to read ... and that's being selective from the git-go.
Seven of us were in it from the start, and stayed at six of us when Joey Riley first knew, with due certainty, that he wanted to be a priest, that it rode in his mother's heart and mind from the moment he was born in the third tenement building, left side of Ferrin Street heading to where the sun sets on good days. Joey first saw light from a third floor window on "an alley only as wide as a kitchen table top." His father had said that at the very beginning, wondering how he was going to feed another mouth at their long, thin kitchen table squeezed against one window, mere hours of sunshine coming downward on a tough slant on early afternoons. Such babes, boys, men come "tagged" with eternal promise of one sort or another, whether it is at the call of the good Lord or the call of the street, two starts at the head of things in good old Charlestown, beside the Navy Yard, City Square, the "El" that's bound for everywhere else, and Ferrin Street where once a part of a cellar held a secret meeting room which, most likely now, is gone with the ages, rebuilding, re-construction, new looks of these times.
Joey, once released from his first vows of faithfulness to the other Outlaws, knew a sudden spurt of joy as realization set its grips on him by letting him go free of the devil's fear of being caught stealing, theft at great odds but quick riches, burying his mother before her time, allowing his father to cough up all the earlier stories of his growth, the sudden and apparent stuffing of his wallet, his deep pockets, that were seen all over by many others in that squat neighborhood running from City Square to Chelsea on the other side of the bridge with the high arch over the Mystic River, where movement over that arch might often mean escape, new digs, a fresh collection of neighbors whose hands and fingers touched upon labors without question.
The rules binding the Outlaws were simple, direct, came of group discussion without a word of dissent: sworn for life, no signs or symbols or traceability of any kind (meaning no signs or tattoos or single or minor letters on the fingernails, under the armpits, in the crotch, "no idle talk unless we're all here at meeting," no gathering as a group at the Kent School but mixing with other Townies at their lessons, play, recess, routes to and from home, and with our own identities locked herein forever, meaning "be sworn or be cursed." That thought, that covenant of the ages, for the ages, was born within us, so we are blessed and honored by these weights we carry like backpacks being moved away from any starting line.
The Outlaws, in spite of appearances, goals, purposes, came with our own beginning, our own Big Bang. Every penny found, lifted, "scotched off some counter or someone's tabletop, was delivered in later darkness to our mothers' kitchen tables, each one like a shrine of emptiness for the long stretch of some days upon days. "Pennies," as we spoke of them, was a way of including other gifts that shone with coin's brilliance, a bunch of bananas, a loaf of bread from the Bond Bread bakery plant, a can of soup off a store shelf, a single apple or a dozen, a watermelon almost as big as the least of us, but "pennies" to a taste said it best, with an easy finality that our mothers could muster. Our mothers were appreciative but blind to our methods, to the last of them, for they had in all cases a clutch of kids at their often barren table waiting for the first gift of the day .... stovetop toast, cereal without milk, oatmeal in saucers, cups, small bowls as it was mixed with water heated on a black stovetop.