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Girls of Tender Age
Cover of Girls of Tender Age
Girls of Tender Age
A Memoir
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In Girls of Tender Age, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith seamlessly combines a memoir whose intimacy matches that of Angela's Ashes with the tale of a community plagued by a malevolent predator that holds the emotional and cultural resonance of The Lovely Bones.

Smith's Hartford, Connecticut neighborhood is small-town America, a post-World War II housing project where everyone's door is unlocked and everything is within walking distance. Her family is peopled with memorable characters-her possibly psychic mother, her adoring father, and the numerous aunts and cousins who parade through her life with love and food and endless stories of the old days.

And then there's her brother, Tyler, Mary-Ann's real-life Boo Radley. An autistic before anyone knew what that meant, Tyler was unable to bear noise of any kind. The sound of crying, laughing, phones ringing, or toilets flushing was such an assault, he would substitute that pain with another: he'd try to chew his arm off.

Hanging over this chaotic, but joyous American childhood is the sinister shadow of an approaching serial killer. The menacing Bob Malm lurks throughout this family portrait, and when the paths of innocence and evil cross one early December evening in 1953, the havoc he unleashes forever alters the landscape of Smith's childhood.
In Girls of Tender Age, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith seamlessly combines a memoir whose intimacy matches that of Angela's Ashes with the tale of a community plagued by a malevolent predator that holds the emotional and cultural resonance of The Lovely Bones.

Smith's Hartford, Connecticut neighborhood is small-town America, a post-World War II housing project where everyone's door is unlocked and everything is within walking distance. Her family is peopled with memorable characters-her possibly psychic mother, her adoring father, and the numerous aunts and cousins who parade through her life with love and food and endless stories of the old days.

And then there's her brother, Tyler, Mary-Ann's real-life Boo Radley. An autistic before anyone knew what that meant, Tyler was unable to bear noise of any kind. The sound of crying, laughing, phones ringing, or toilets flushing was such an assault, he would substitute that pain with another: he'd try to chew his arm off.

Hanging over this chaotic, but joyous American childhood is the sinister shadow of an approaching serial killer. The menacing Bob Malm lurks throughout this family portrait, and when the paths of innocence and evil cross one early December evening in 1953, the havoc he unleashes forever alters the landscape of Smith's childhood.
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    Chapter One

    Here is how my father describes our socioeconomic level: Working Stiffs.

    We live in the D section of Charter Oak Terrace in Hartford, Connecticut. Hartford is a city where all manner of public buildings, bridges, restaurants, playgrounds, and gin mills are named after the oak tree where Captain Joseph Wadsworth hid the Charter of Independence granted by England in 1687. He hid it because England changed her mind. When James II assumed power, he sent an agent to seize it but the charter had gone missing and the agent didn't think to look in a squirrel's nest. Likely story.

    Charter Oak Terrace was the first low-income housing project to be constructed in the United States. It was built for the GI's returning from war to give them a leg up while they put the Battle of the Bulge, Anzio, Bataan, and Corregidor behind them and looked for jobs. My father's brother-in-law, Uncle Guido, was a WWII veteran so he got to live there, and my father, who wasn't, got to live there because of his job making ball bearings for the war effort. Also because Uncle Guido had pull.

    At D-106, we have a coal furnace in its own little room, an alcove black with soot, between the front door and the kitchen. Our furnace utilizes a primitive heating system consisting of aluminum pipes and ducts and a narrow chimney that carries fumes, gases, and grime out through the roof while providing fitful outbreaks of warmth to our kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms. The vents in the walls have an aureole of coal dust. These heating details differentiate us, Working Stiffs, from the truly impoverished, who also work, but at the most menial of jobs -- picking tobacco in the fields bordering the city's North End, sweeping factory floors, or risky jobs like running numbers. Their coal stoves have no alcove; they are in the kitchen.

    The truly impoverished attach a rolled-up piece of sheet metal to their stoves that leads through a hole gouged out of the wall. Plus they gerry-rig hoses from the main shoot to bring heat into the other rooms. These hoses melt and then the houses catch fire and burn down.

    Their children come to school with rags tied around their shaved heads because they have lice. The truly impoverished girl who sits next to me in first grade with her head wrapped in a rag has a name that intrigues me, Poo-Poo. When her house burns down, she moves to a new school district. Two days after she leaves, all the first-graders have lice. Since we're the children of Working Stiffs, not the truly impoverished, we don't have our heads shaved. Instead we are subject to foul-smelling shampoos, plus my mother combs my hair every night with a fine comb to remove the nits, which are lice eggs.

    Got one! she goes, whereupon she carefully slides the nit out from the teeth of the comb and snaps it between her thumbnails.

    Each morning my father fuels the furnace, shoveling coal into its belly as quietly as he can so as not to wake my mother, who is the prototype of the light sleeper. My mother can be wakened by the smell of cigarette smoke outside.

    Yutchie, wake up. A prowler!

    She's also awakened by Mrs. Alexander's radio even though it's late in the evening in the dead of winter and we're all sealed in tight with our coal dust. My mother can hear a field mouse in a nearby empty lot as well as Fluffy, the neighbor's cat, stalking it.

    Later I will learn that fog comes on little cat feet. My mother can hear arriving fog too. Beyond that, she is just as easily awakened by the absence of sound; one spring night the freight train barreling through Hartford like clockwork at 2 A.M. doesn't send forth its dull blast at the Flatbush...

About the Author-
  • Mary-Ann Tirone Smith is the author of eight novels. She has lived all her life in Connecticut, except for two years when she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon.
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    Simon & Schuster Audio
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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A Memoir
Mary-Ann Tirone Smith
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