Eulogy for Paul S. Cultrera,
[Note from BishopAccountability.org: See also Obituary: Paul S. Cultrera, 95, Salem News (June 23, 2010); Lives: A Faithful Man, Sorely Tested, by Steve Landwehr, Salem News (June 28, 2010) with photographs of Paul and Josephine Cultrera and a painting by Paul Cultrera of St. Mary's Italian Church, a few blocks from the old Creek Street; Hand of God, a Frontline documentary by Joseph A. Cultrera; and a brief video about St. Mary's Italian, including comments by Paul Cultrera, Sr.]
My dad was a kid from Creek Street, a street that is no longer there. But if you go to the corner of Summer and Gedney Streets and walk about 50 paces toward Norman Street you’ll see a break in the granite curb, maybe five feet wide. Dad made a point of telling me many times that that is where Creek street started. One of the earliest paintings he made is of Creek Street. It starts from that spot and works its way down toward Margin Street, lined with the houses he remembered. On the back of the painting he listed the names of people who lived in those houses – Colletti, Tina, Salvo, Giuggio, Ingemi, Linares and on and on – a who’s who of Salem’s Italian American community. For what must have been a narrow little street it appears in the painting to widen ever more as it reaches the edge of the paper he painted on, looking like a major boulevard.
As a youngster my father lived in many houses, from the one he was born in in Hartford Connecticut to ones in Peabody, Boston and Salem. His parents had separated when he was still too young to remember his father, and his mother moved in with a succession of relatives. But as an adult he always talked about Creek Street, and was proud to be able to point to that break in the curb, maybe as his way to be sure that the place would not ultimately be forgotten. In the last few days I have found myself walking to that spot to try to imagine what that street must have looked like. And the night before last I was looking at some of his paintings and it struck me how often he chose to depict scenes in which a narrow river flows toward the viewer, widening as it approaches, mimicking the course of how he drew Creek Street, as though he carried that street’s imprint in his soul and was constantly bringing it back to life.
So what was it about Creek Street that was so ingrained in my dad? I’m not really sure. There is always so much in a person that we can never know or understand. But one story he told me that is imprinted on my memory is how one day when he was playing in the street with some friends an elderly man with white hair came up to them looking for my dad’s mother. As it turned out, the man was his father, until then a missing presence in his life.
Around 1935 to make way for the new Post Office building all of the houses on Creek Street were torn down and the street itself disappeared. And Dad moved on, and grew up. One day he saw a woman on Endicott Street and said to his friend “I’m going to marry that woman”. He made good on that boast and that woman is my mother. He moved into her house on Prescott Street where he would spend the next 65 years of his life. He spent 50 years working in the local tanneries that now are also all gone. He took up golf, he always painted, he loved his wife and his three children.
A few months ago he started to slow down. He put down his paint brushes but stayed awake at nights thinking of the colors he wanted to use if he could just keep his hands from shaking. And then last Sunday night, and all too quickly for us despite his 95 years, he left his last home, three blocks from Creek Street.
So now both Dad and Creek Street are gone from Salem, leaving signs behind. Of Creek Street I can point you to that break in the curb. Of Dad, well there are all of us here who can point to so many small ways that this man touched our lives.
My dad taught me many lessons, most of them learned just by observing the way he lived. In his final days, as friends and relatives came to visit him I saw the love and loyalty that he gave them reflected in their eyes. When his labored breathing finally slowed down and his heart stopped beating at 9:30 PM on Father’s Day, I felt like I was being pulled along with his rising soul all the way back to Creek Street and all I could think to say to him through the tears was “Thanks Dad.”
Copyright © 2010 Paul S. Cultrera, Jr.
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