Wash All Their Feet

grace maloney w her new baby 1915

I am very moved that the Pope washed the feet of women in a detention center, for who couldn’t use a blessing like that and a woman shut away from her children; who suffers more?

I lived for the first ten years of my life up in an old Boston house on whose porch this picture was taken. My grandfather bought it in 1913 for his four little children and this new wife Grace, who you see to the left and below.

grace k. maloney collegeFormerly a spinster teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, she was also the sister of his first wife Carrie, who died in 1910 from pre-eclampsia while carrying the couple’s fifth child, a stillborn daughter now buried in her arms.

This house, though built in the 1880s, was new to these newlyweds and for them it carried all the promise in the world. It was there that they welcomed their own new baby, seen here, and who knew that this tall former teacher would also follow her sister into early death, now leaving six people in that house with all their sorrow?

It was also the house from which my mother was married at 38, by then a spinster herself in the eyes of the world. Two years later, when she came to understand that her husband was truly abandoning her, it was the house to which she returned, with a baby at her knees and another on the way.

I was that second baby. My sister Nan was the first. We three lived in this house along with that same grandfather and his mild sister Margaret and his true-spinster sister-in-law Mame, still grieving the loss of her two dear sisters. We all lived there until that good man died and the aunties needed nursing care and then we moved.

Thirty years later, dawn by dream and memory, I went back to this house, which by then was serving as a pre-release center for women getting out of prison. I visited there again and again and in so doing came to know the women a little.

Most of them were mothers.  According to the Family and Corrections Network of the Federal Resource Center for Children of Prisoners between 1995 and 2005, the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. increased by 57%, compared to 34% for men. And 75% of all incarcerated women are mothers.

The mothers in my old Boston house on the Roxbury-Dorchester line were permitted to have their  babies with them, just on weekends, but the house needed more cribs. As it happened, I was just finishing up with the crib I found on the Want Advertiser and bought for $20,  refinished and used for my own three babies.

I refinished it again and brought it to this house, now latticed with fire escapes, but otherwise looking not very different from the way it looked in 1913 as the pictures below will attest. So would I who am not the Pope wash the feet of an incarcerated person, whether man OR woman? Would I perform that humble gesture that says ‘I am at your service’?  You bet I would.

32 charlotte street 1915

32 charlotte street dorchester MA