LUCK OF THE IRISH really began as a way for me to explore the subject of ghost buying, which was a term my mother used often to describe how my grandparents bought their house in Arlington, Massachusetts, in the mid 1950s. The story I grew up with was that my grandparents had enrolled my mother in convent school in predominantly white Arlington when they were still living in the more-black-than the-suburbs South End of Boston. It was a long drive each day in to Arlington, and while the nuns were happy to keep my mom (who was the youngest student there) during the week, my grandparents wanted to move closer to my mother's school.
They decided on renting in Newton but when their prospective neighbors realized they were black, my grandparents were asked not to make the move. Only sometimes did my mother, when telling the story, mention the threat of violence. She didn't want to frighten us.
The next time they planned to move, they decided on Arlington itself. First they rented in a neighborhood with at least one Italian family and very quickly another black family, The Franklins, with whom my family is still close with today. Integration! That neighborhood, however, was torn down when the Turnpike was built, and my grandparents chose a house further in to the town, a section called Arlington Heights. My grandparents found out the house was up for sale and had a family friend go with my grandmother to meet the owner and see inside. They both dressed up, and revealed very little to the seller when they visited. From afar they looked like a housewife and her housekeeper going to look at future homes. My grandmother was extremely charming and beyond well mannered. She was really good at changing subjects on you, of having a conversation swirl back to how she wanted it to work, so if the owner cared who he was selling to-and by all indications, he didn't-- one conversation with my grandmother and he would probably offered the house as well as his supper to her. The house was in horrible shape and from what I understand he was really ready to sell quickly-he didn't let on in that initial meeting that he was worried about how my family would be perceived. My mom is very quick to tell me, since this play's been workshopped and produced, that nothing overtly illegal took place. "Back then," she explains, "it was a handshake, nothing preapproved, nothing signed in advance. There was no lying on paper."
Kirsten Greenidge is the author of LUCK OF THE IRISH.