Gloucester and its “Pregnancy Pact” – a Native’s Perspective

Long before Gloucester, Massachusetts became known as the town of the “Pregnancy Pact,” I knew it as home… I’m from theyah.

It isn’t just the natural beauty that makes me long to move back. Most of the time, Gloucester is cold and wrapped in drizzle. On those days, I would mentally play the Pogues’ “Dirty old Town” and try not to lose my mind with seasonal affective disorder. Nevertheless, I’d still rather make my home in Gloucester, because there aren’t very many places left where the town behaves as if everyone is “all in this together.”

A brief history lesson is in order. After temporary visits from the Vikings, who didn’t get along with the Indians, a group of English settlers put down their Gloucester roots in 1623. They came mostly from Plymouth. The Puritans kicked them out for not being puritanical enough. Gloucester is still a little bit rowdier than its bedroom community neighbors, and I like it that way.

Almost an island, the town never looked very far west. Even today, there are a lot of Gloucesteroni who rarely travel “over the bridge” or “up the line” — meaning to the mainland parishes of Gloucester, or (gasp) beyond the next town, respectively. Why would you want to go all the way to Saugus, when everything you need is right there?

It is amazing that people who think that Natick is in another time zone think nothing of climbing aboard a barnacled rust-bucket of a fishing boat to travel hundreds of miles to the east. But, to earn a living, small groups of men from Gloucester have always ventured beyond the horizon.

Together.

Depending on each other to earn a living, and as we all know by looking at the Fisherman’s Memorial, they sometimes died together.

The little fishing town prospered, and it became one of the most important seaports in America. Immigrants flocked there, drawn by the hard work and good pay. My great-grandparents, like many, came from Terrasini, Sicily. They came earlier than most, and their house became a staging point for later immigrants. Most families in Gloucester opened their doors to new arrivals from the old country, and this was not just a Sicilian import. The town has always been willing to help out those in need. Gloucester has, per capita, much more public housing than it needs, and more charitable institutions than a little city of 30,000 would normally support. There is a sense of banding together that seems to come from living on an island, and that was merely strengthened by the rapid influx of those who had spent the past thousand years living next door to each other.

Not everyone always gets along with one another, but if someone from out of town threatens to upset the order of things, even local enemies unite.

I remember one un-puritanical evening when some guy from Revere and I got into a bar fight. His friends came over to up the odds, and I saw a guy who was no friend of mine jump in to help me out. “You suck, cuz, but they aint from heah” he said afterward. This “take care of our own” isn’t always a positive. When I was 18, I was mis-identified as being from Rockport (the next town over), and received quite an ass-kicking in front of The Crow’s Nest from some locals who simply wouldn’t believe my pleas that I was “from heah.”

One of my favorite things about Gloucester is the game we call “Whose Are You?” Any time an older person asks my name, they then ask, “Randazza… whose are you?” Then I would explain that my dad was John, but since there were 20 John Randazzas in Gloucester, I had to trace the whole lineage (on both sides). Inevitably, the elder figures out that somehow we are related. Perhaps 4th cousins, 12 times removed, only by marriage, but we are “related.” If I play “Whose Are You” long enough with anyone else in town, at least if their name ends in a vowel, I can uncover a connection that justifies calling them “cousin.” My best friend Jon and I were buddies from age 14. When we were 17 or so, My grandmother asked him “Whose Are You?”, and it turned out that we were “cousins”. He went from my friend Jon to my cousin Jon. We don’t even understand how we are related. He’s my cuz, and that is how the whole town feels. There is a reason that “s’up cuz?” is the universal Gloucester greeting. We’re all in this together.

Until the 1980s, Gloucester prospered with fish-borne wealth. My grandfather never went to high school, but he managed to support a wife and four kids, to buy his own home, and he never drove anything but a Cadillac. If you didn’t make it in Gloucester, it wasn’t for want of opportunity. It was because you were a lazy shit. Anyone could walk down to the waterfront and get a job doing something.

When I was 14, I made $15 an hour “lumping” fish. Back then, with that kind of pay, guys covered the mortgage, clothed and fed their families, and still had plenty of money to save up for a Camaro, buy new clothes at Chess King, and still had enough to all go out together on Friday night – sometimes all the way to Hampton Beach. The guys who had been there a while made double that – a respectable living even by today’s standards.

When I told my co-workers that I was saving up for college, a few of the guys told me that I was stupid for doing so. They had a point. Four years of college was going to cost me about $30,000. In those four years, they were going to make $50,000 a year fishing, lumping, whatever. By the time I graduated from college, they would have made $200,000, and I would have “a piece of paper.”

You’re a fahkin’ idiot to go to college,” they said. These were the same guys who used the term “cunn-hair” as a unit of measurement – (it was the opposite of “a fahkload“).

More endearingly, my grandfather (left) didn’t want any of us to go to college. “They go to college, you know what happens?” He asked, “they LEAVE! They go some place and live all alone.” As if New York City or Los Angeles was “all alone.” But, I now know what he meant. After a decade in Florida, I’m surrounded by people, but unless I am in Gloucester, I feel like I live among aliens. Here, and everywhere else, I walk among the medegani .

Back in the 1980s, I rode my bicycle down to the wharf at 4:00 AM, drank a cup of coffee from a Styrofoam cup, threw it in the water, and we got down to unloading the boats. If a boat had 100,000 pounds of fish or more, that was going to be a long day (more money). The average was around 70,000 pounds. Today, the entire port is lucky to see that much.

Even after my lumping days were over, I kept up with the “fish landings” column in the Gloucester Daily Times. It would show the name of the boat, and how many pounds of each kind of fish it brought in. 100,000 appeared less and less often. Then 50,000 became a rarity. Then 20,000 didn’t happen that often either. During the summers when I was home from college, there was barely work on the docks for the guys who supported a family, let alone for some kid who was working for beer money. The wharf closed down. Then it got repossessed. Then my uncle, who owned it, lost his big house with the pool surrounded by cobblestones he recovered from the street where he grew up. He lives in a shitty apartment somewhere in Danvers now.

Less fish, less work, less money. The town suffered together. Some more than others.

A few guys in the industry diversified into dope smuggling. In 1980, the The f/v Judith Lee Rose got busted with a hull full of marijuana, but other boats made it to port with their bales covered by a few fish. Back then, you could buy a joint in the high school for $2. Then came the “war on drugs.” Smuggling was never an easy job, but moving a few thousand pounds of marijuana was too risky. Heroin was easier to hide and had a higher profit margin. Pot went up to $30-50 for an eighth of an ounce. Heroin was $10 a bag.

No fish. No money. Awash in smack. A few tourist dollars came to town every summer, but for most of the year, unemployment boomed, Camaros rusted, Chess King went out of business, and as hope dried up, Reagan’s idiocy trickled down to Gloucester at the point of a hypodermic needle. Lots of cheap heroin in a town where the future looked as gray as a February snow-bank meant that Gloucester became known as New England’s heroin capital. Armed with good intentions, the drug warriors created a generation of dropout heroin addicts.

Instead of watching the Fish Landings, I scanned the police notes. Who got arrested this week? Who died? The names got more and more familiar. Sometimes we’d play “whose was he?” I didn’t like that game as much as “whose are you?

As bad as things got, the natural beauty of the place kept it from feeling hopeless. Sebastian Junger wrote “The Perfect Storm.” The impressive part about that story is that Junger isn’t “from heah,” yet people opened up to him. People from Gloucester are a bit suspicious when outsiders come asking questions. But, Junger got through that like all good journalists. (Too bad none did during the “pregnancy pact” hysteria). Junger earned the trust of the locals and painted an accurate picture of the town – blemishes and beauty alike. He also showed the real beauty of the town, its spirit that we are all in this together.

Instead of dominating the crime stories, we were the setting of a novel that was on the New York Times’ best seller list. Hollywood showed up and romanticized the all but extinct fisherman. The world looked at us and liked what it saw.

Finally… the “heroin town” stain seemed to wash away. Tourists came and bought lots of crap. The Crow’s Nest was no longer the junkie bar where I got my ass kicked for just walking by while looking like I was from Rockport. As I added diplomas to my wall, stamps to my passport, and miles on my car, I evangelized about my beautiful hometown. I told my future wife that if we ever had kids, we had to raise them in Gloucester. I wanted them to see the harbor from the school bus window every morning, even if they had to scrape frost off of it first. I wanted them to feel that sense that they could never be alone.

You know the movie the Perfect Storm?” I beamed. “That’s where I’m from.

No, the Crow’s Nest doesn’t really look anything like that.”

Yes, the town is really that beautiful.”

It’s the best place on Earth.

And so it went until last week.

The media jumped on a juicy story about 17 young girls and a “pact.” We were in the news again, and a sloppy (or just plain lying) journalist from TIME Magazine, a foolish principal, and 17 fetuses swirled into a maelstrom of salaciousness that made us more famous than the Judith Lee Rose, heroin, and the The Perfect Storm combined. Emails rolled in from friends in California, Vermont, Australia, Singapore… Gloucester’s “baby club” was a world-wide phenomenon, and everyone I had ever met remembered that I was from thayah – and asked me “have you heard about this?” As if I were the only person in the world who missed this story.

I couldn’t really place the emotion that I was feeling, but it was going to come to me.

I am recently married. My wife and I are expecting a daughter. It went without saying that we were going to move “back home” so that she would be a Gloucester girl. I wanted old people to ask her “whose are you?” I wanted her to feel like she is part of something — a feeling that she will never have anywhere in Florida.

Then the news of the “pregnancy pact” broke.

My wife asked, “this is the wonderful town where you want to raise our daughter?

The eyes of the world were on Gloucester, but nobody was booking vacation packages to take a duck tour. Everyone was staring at us like we were circus freaks. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was to feel ashamed.

We can’t expect 14, 15, and 16 year old girls to think rationally. That is why we call them minors. We are supposed to take some responsibility for them. Grown-up journalists should do a little more than just repeat a rumor of some “baby pact,” again and again.

The “pact,” it turns out, never existed. It appears that Gloucester High School Principal, John Sullivan, a guy who (big surprise) ain’t from heah, reportedly “exaggerated” his “pregnancy pact” story.

And the international media bought it hook, line, and sinker, cuz.

Meanwhile very few caught the back-story that the state government cut $25 Million from the department that funds sex-education. The student health clinic at Gloucester High was prohibited from distributing birth control because some flunky thought that he or she knew something about liability. Federal funding for sex “education” is restricted to repeating the word “abstinence.” After seven years of “faith based” sex education, teen pregnancy rates are up. Go figure.

The same judgmental puritans who gawk at these girls and wonder where they went wrong should look in the mirror. I’m not ashamed of The Gloucester 17 anymore, and I’m sorry that I ever was. We grown-ups failed them. They stuck together. They should be disgusted with us.

Meanwhile, the “pact” looks like it is something a lot less salacious than what Principal Sullivan threw into the water, and the journalists feasted upon like so many screeching and diseased gulls. If there was a pact, it was a pact by these girls to stay in school even though they were going to be teenage mothers — no matter how hard it was. To help each other. To be in it together.

They knew that being a teenage mother isn’t easy, but neither was moving from Sicily to Gloucester in 1910. Neither was fishing for a living. Neither was clinging to life on the frozen rocky coast of Gloucester, but since 1623 we managed to beat those odds by sticking together.

I don’t know for a fact which “pact” story is really true, but I’m inclined to believe that the truth is found in the latter. This “pact to get pregnant” defies logic, defies explanation, it confuses everyone, and nobody can confirm it — not even Principal Sullivan.

The “pact to stick together” fits perfectly with how this town has gotten along since 1623. Maybe I just want to believe it, because we Gloucesteroni stick together and I am looking for a reason to stick up for “The 17.” Who knows? My own mother was only 20 when she was pregnant with me. I seem to have turned out just fine. If only other people made pacts that large — to stick together — to help each other through times of difficulty. Maybe these 17 are on to something. Maybe they made bad choices, but they are making the best of it, and perhaps we can learn something from them in the process.

Or, maybe these girls are just as bad as the media has portrayed them, but those reporters, they aint from heah.

Whatever happened, the rest of you can just stop asking “what is wrong with Gloucester?” Whatever is wrong with it, it’s still better than the middle America dump where all these squawking critics are from. Where you don’t know your neighbors, let alone their aunts and uncles, where you have strip malls, and everything is a chain, nobody cares about anyone else… and best of all, there is no freakin’ way that Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers ever played the gym at your high school.

From this day forward, I will not feel shame again. I don’t care what these girls did. They stuck together. That’s how we roll since 1623.

Marc J. Randazza is a Gloucester native and damn proud of it.

35 Responses to Gloucester and its “Pregnancy Pact” – a Native’s Perspective

  1. Rebecca says:

    What a wonderful post! But I still think you should move to Rockport otherwise your daughter may end up with big hair, white boots and driving a camaro! ;+)

  2. Hey, my wife looks like that!

    Just kidding.

  3. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for a wonderful and insightful article. I moved to Gloucester 14 years ago and always call it my “hometown of choice”. We have our problems but we also have one of the most spectacular arts communities in the country and an exceptional group of writers. And the nicest doggone people I’ve ever encountered.

    Thanks again

  4. D.B. Cooper says:

    Marc, I think Heide Benser is just the person who took the photo used in the Time.com story. I suppose this is ironic.

    http://www.heidebenser.com/

  5. D.B. Cooper says:

    Kathleen Kingsbury has the bylines on both stories you linked to.

  6. I’m an idiot. Talk about sloppy journalism. I’ll fix it and thank you for pointing it out.

    Mucho ironico.

  7. Jim Dowd says:

    Dude, this was an amazing post. It was the piece I wanted to write (change the principal name from Farmer to Sullivan, though. Dr. Farmer is the Superintendent)

    But it was amazing, contextual, and what I’m finding about everyone on-island who’s written about this, we’re all writing the exact same piece:

    You can criticize us all you want, but Gloucester is a real place where people stick together, not some piece of shit McSuburb.

    well done, man. Well done.

    Jim Dowd

  8. Hugo B says:

    I’m not from heah…but I am heah, albeit for only 7 years. We’ve found the first real neighborhood up here in Lanesville in our lives together…even without Dowd who scurried away to East Gloucester, the bugger.

    Beautifully written.

  9. Long enough, dood. You can be one of “us.”

    My family had the audacity to go over the cut, to Magnolia, in the 1970s.

  10. shg says:

    One of the finest posts I’ve ever read, Marc. The color, the history, the sense of Gloucester, was quite amazing. Thank you.

  11. bryson says:

    Well said. And Thank You for writing this.
    Bryson

  12. Allison says:

    Great post, Marco! You are making me homesick for the chowdah state…and reminding me why I’ll never be ashamed to be a big-haired, formerly white-booted girl from Raynham.

  13. Harriot says:

    It is amazing Marco, how we both grew up in the same city and have completely opposite views of Gloucester. My family tree can be traced back as far as some of those first Puritans on my paternal grandfather’s side. On my paternal grandmother’s side, many of my relatives migrated to Gloucester for it’s fishing industry, some having been lost at sea and memorialized on various pieces of rock and granite throughout the city. The playing field at Veteran’s Memorial School on Webster Street is memorialized to my great-grandfather, aka Matteo’s field (died in the military). Despite this, once my father took a Korean bride and brought her in over that bridge, it’s as if he had erased all that genealogy in an instant. My siblings and I never had the problem of being mistaken for being from Rockport, but we got our beatings just the same.

    Gloucester was our home; the only home we knew and the way were we treated by many still leaves emotional scars for me that haven’t completely healed. Let alone the physical ones. All I need to do is look in the mirror to see the faded scar on the middle of my forehead to remind me. That’s from when I was a little girl and a bully in the neighborhood (there always seemed to be a disproportional amount of bullies in town) was sitting on the front steps of our home, and when my little brother and I turned the corner to see what he was doing on our property, he picked up a rock and threw it at us, yelling “get the fuck out of here, you Chinks.” The rock hit me square in the forehead and required a couple of stitches. Would it have mattered that we weren’t from China? I think not. Would that be the last time I endured racist remarks? Hardly. Let’s see, Gook, Jap, Bonsai, were some of the others, though the townies predominately preferred Chink or as they would say it Chinkha.

    Gloucester is a tough town, one I tried to raise my oldest child in, but knew bettah. Once I caught a little loud mouthed Italian kid in his elementary school making fun of him for being Chinese. Then I knew we had gone full circle and to me little had changed. The best thing I did for him was to move away and give him t chance to live a life where diversity was embraced. People now judge him for being the wonderful, loving person he is and not by what his last name is or “whose are you”. He has a long list of achievements so far in his short life. I am convinced this would not have been possible had we stayed in G-town.

    I guess once a medegani, always a medegani.

    On another note, I was young mother from Gloucester, though I could legally have an alcoholic drink 15 days after his birth. I am grateful to my friends and family for all the help and support they gave to me. Having my son at a young age helped me to stay focused and accomplish the goals I set out for myself, which included graduating college magnum cum laude, attending law school and traveling the country with my children, living in beautiful homes in beautiful places. The best advice I can offer these girls is to set your goals and aim high and block out the negativity, because there will be lots of it and oh yes, don’t be afraid to go over that bridge. There’s a great big world out there, filled with endless possibilities and most of the time it doesn’t mattah if your last name ends in a vowel to take advantage of them.

  14. Yeah, but wasn’t I always there for you? :) And, I hope that if your son ever plays “whose are you,” he proudly throws in “My godfather is a Randazza.”

    Its true, Gloucester has its problems, its stains, and its dark side. I know you were treated badly because you and your family were “different.” That is part of the point I tried to make when talking about how I got my ass beat down in front of the Crow’s Nest just because I was mis-identified as being from Rockport. Sometimes “we all stick together,” really sucks when the “we” doesn’t include “me.” I won’t ever say that Gloucester embraced me 100% at all times. I needed to get the hell out of that place for a while too.

    But, on balance, I want to come back.

    The town has its issues like all families. Gloucester may be a dysfunctional family. I’ll gladly listen to *you* talk about its dysfunction all day long, because YOU know what you are talking about. You’re from thayah. The sleazy and lazy TIME reporter who pissed all over us doesn’t.

    But, your final paragraph hits a point that I wish I could have expressed.

    Maybe having kids young isn’t such a bad thing. I’m 38 with my first on the way. Unless she is a teenage mom, I’ll be a very old man before I see my grandchildren.

    I am, in a lot of ways, jealous of them (and you) for having kids at what is frankly the “proper” biological age, whether our culture embraces it or not. I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

  15. Burke Sampson says:

    “This just in: Collapse in Fish Stock Tied To Presence Of Styrofoam Cups In North Atlantic”

    Seriously though nice writing. A stirring tribute to a town that a lot of us love and a decent rant against hack journalism. It is an interesting time for journalism when a locally informed and passionate perspective can talk back to Time Magazine. Go the internet!

    Harriot’s comment has me reflecting on the good side and bad side of community. Here’s hoping for strong communities where no one gets rocks thrown at them.

  16. Jefe' says:

    Age is a relative thing. You are as young or old as you feel and having a child at your old age is probably a good thing. Perhaps it will help keep you young at heart. My first was born 3 weeks after my 40th birthday. He is 6 now and a pistol. Personally I’m not sure I would have been able to appreciate him and fatherhood if I were the man I was at 30 or even at 20.

    I must strongly disagree with your reference to a “proper” biological age. How Darwinian!

  17. Fair enough.

    I guess that my only real point was that I am so freakin’ happy about being a dad that I wish I did it a long time ago. If I have my first kid at 38, that means that statistically speaking, I’ll only get to be someone’s father for 40 or 50 years, and I wish I could be it for 60-70 years.

    But, you are right about the maturity issue. Had I become a dad at 20, I’m not sure I would have done a very good job.

  18. Jess says:

    M – Having known you so long, your post is moving not only in the deeply heartfelt hometown pride, but also in your compassion for those to whom you belong, no matter how much they’ve struggled, made mistakes, lost, and then triumphed. Your sentiments get to the real meaning of “home” – that place, wherever it is, in which belonging carries unconditional acceptance and support, no matter what the rest of the world says.

    Since you belong to me, even though I’m from “heah,” I stand with you in frustrated and angry defiance at the way in which the media, without introspection or research, cast a stain on Gloucester in a way that only outsiders can.

    That said, I have to ask you as a father to be, if there’s not a larger point here that no one is talking about (and which, in defense of home, you may have missed)?

    In many, many ways, this same story could have easily been written about Greeley, Colorado, where I went to high school. Greeley is a town whose greatest claim to fame, other than that the Denver Broncos go there for Spring training, is that you can smell the place from at least sixty miles out. More, if there’s a strong wind coming off the foothills. As home to North America’s largest cattle feed lot, cow’s are to Greeley what fish are to Gloucester. Both creatures feed the nation, both stink, both are products that can only culled by the sweat and blood of arduous labor, and the rise and fall of each define not only the economics, but also the culture and fears of the towns who are dependant on them.

    I moved to Greeley for my freshman year of high school, after having grown up until then nestled in the warm embrace of cultish-hippy-ideologues. Hippy school. I was not from Greeley. Which explains why I, in contrast to my peers, stared in confusion and disbelief when I realized that a significant number of my high school classmates were either parents already or parents to be. I can still recall sitting behind Ruby, a girl in my “Western Cultures” class who was seven months pregnant with her second child at the start of our freshman year. Ruby would give birth to her third child before graduating. Significantly, Ruby did graduate. Thanks in no small part to the support and encouragement she received from the community of teen mothers that spanned not only my school, but many of the rural high schools in the area. Although I don’t think anyone made a “pact” of any kind, it was inescapably true that being pregnant in high school in my county gave you admission to a distinct, and admired, club of girls.

    In a time made difficult by awkwardness, uncertainty, and the dire need to fit, being a mother was a path to instant acceptance and status. Motherhood, as is almost universally acknowledged, is a virtuous station in life. Mothers are respected, treasured, admired. Motherhood levels the playing field. No matter if you’re rich or poor, well educated or a drop out, white or (as is the case in Greeley) Latino, if you are a mother, you are someone. The title of mother gains greater status, yes, if you are also a wife. But for teenage girls, who aspire perhaps to be wives, the ability to see only part of the landscape and capacity for only short-term planning, renders marriage an option accessory to motherhood. Also, mothers have iron-clad proof of being sexually desired. In an age where sexuality is terrifying, unwieldy, and maybe even dangerous, the comfort and relief of being able to settle that you are desired, once and for all, is big. It meant you didn’t have to – at least not in the same way – compare yourself to or compete with all the other girls. It meant that the boys, whose approval you wanted, had already deemed you to be worthy.

    So I’m not aware that anyone in my town made any kind of overt pregnancy pact. It just wasn’t necessary. For a large number of my sisters, teen pregnancy was simply a foregone conclusion. A fact that would (inevitably and hopefully) come to fruition sometime soon.

    Which is why my friend Shannon – who had recently lost her mother to breast cancer and spent most nights in the family mobile home tending to her younger siblings while her alcoholic father worked the night shift on the kill floor at the meat plant – was giddy when she asked me to come over so she could share her recent decision. Shannon had taken up with a local wrangler, age 22, about three months earlier. They were, of course, having sex. I was sexually active too, so I judge not. However, unlike me, who was just enjoying the freedom of teen-trampyness, Shannon’s sexual endeavors had purpose: motherhood. I was vaguely aware for some time that, for Shannon, the prospect of motherhood was the brightest light on the horizon. For Shannon, colleges and careers were something for the other kids. Smart kids. Kids who weren’t from Greeley. Kids like me. By the words and deeds of her teachers, her father, her pastor, Shannon was schooled from a very young age that the best, most virtuous, and, well, only aspiration to which she was entitled was to be a mother.

    So I wasn’t exactly shocked when she invited me over to tell me, in the spring of our sophomore year, that she had decided that her new wrangler was “the one.” Mind you, Shannon wasn’t talking about being in love. Yes, in some way she thought she loved him…maybe. But, although she’d never say so, the love of a partner for Shannon was like colleges and careers – something other people get. No, Shannon had decided that the wrangler was “the one” who would father her child. She was ecstatic. Exactly why this wrangler… my guess is it had something to do with timing, and that he wasn’t as much of an asshole as the last guy (never mind that he was a 22 year old dating, and sleeping, with a 15 year old). But I got the clear impression that this decision wasn’t about him at all. Certainly, she had no intention of letting him in on the plan until after he had already played his part. Shannon was simply excited that she had finally mead the decision. It was time. Time to join the club. Time to finally have status. Time to get rolling on this whole “life” thing. Time to be a grown up. Baby time.

    I wasn’t the first person Shannon told about her decision. After her, perhaps long, perhaps impulsive, decision making process, Shannon’s first stop was to see the Mormon home economics teacher at our high school. Ms. Liddy. Upon hearing Shannon’s declaration, it would seem, Ms. Liddy did not call her father, or mine (who was the director of our school). She did not admonish Shannon. Instead, she gave Shannon brochures about the teen-mom home-ec classes held at the community center, and a list of places to get second hand baby clothes and supplies, and, Shannon reported, a great big hug. At this point, it should be repeated that Shannon was not yet pregnant. She had decided – to put it in most honest terms – dupe this guys she’d been sleeping with into knocking her up.

    I spent the next few weeks taking Shannon to grocery stores and K-Mart with a pad of paper and calculator, forcing her to tally up the cost of clothing, feeding, and caring for an infant, and comparing it with the income she’d be bringing in from the job she had at the local Sonic burger joint. My friends Monica, Rhonda and Nikki and I took turns spending the night at Shannon’s (while her father was working), waking her up every two hours, as if we were newborns. We would tell her when we were going out, and then refuse to let her come along, because she needed to care for her child. We took her to the local women’s shelter, and to talk to the few teen moms in town who were active and vocal about the hardships of teen pregnancy. We made a pact to support our friend in a different way. Which worked, for a time. Time enough. Shannon didn’t have her first child until after she’d graduated from high school. Where she found a different, adult, community of mothers to support her – along with her husband, and his extended family.

    My guess is that you’re right, that these 17 young women in Gloucester didn’t make an affirmative “pact” to have babies, and instead had vowed to support one another. Which, faced with the consequences of decisions already made and carried out, is better than the alternative. But the fact remains that the school nurse in Gloucester had administered upwards of 150 pregnancy tests that year – a number that, giving room for exaggeration and error, likely correlates to ten percent or more of the female high school population. (Arguably, the red flag should have gone up much sooner than it did). And, it would seem that like in Greeley, for these girls and many more, teen pregnancy was an assumption. An inevitability. A storm that is coming, for sure, for which they needed to prepare.

    The real question – for the adults and kids – in Gloucester and Greeley and thousands of other towns, big and small, is why aren’t other kinds of pacts being made? Pacts to finish high school without having babies. Pacts to help each other get to college or other kinds of post-high school education. Pacts to practice safe sex. Pacts to challenge each other about their decisions. Pacts to defy cultural and economic expectations, spoken and unspoken.

    You should not be ashamed of Gloucester, which deserves no more or less scorn than any place else. But I think the admiration you suggest, for the girls of Gloucester to stick together, needs to be viewed in a much larger context. It is good, and worthy of recognition, that the community vowed to support each other no matter what. At the same time, the grown ups in Gloucester – like Ms. Liddy and many grown ups throughout the country – are rightfully called to the carpet on this one. Yes, the head of the Gloucester day care has since denied having known about a “pact.” Wouldn’t you? Pact or not, the principal and the other educators, parents and community adults in these girls’ lives have a responsibility to both support and encourage teen girls when they get pregnant, including helping them to support one another. But more importantly, they have an obligation to help ensure that motherhood is one of many options, and that these girls have the perspective, variety of experiences, and opportunities to choose.

    If there’s no meaningful choice, then the question of “pacts” is moot.

  19. Wow! I should bring you in as a guest blogger.

    Aside from some awesome writing, you make a great point about the number of tests performed. That 150 tests is roughly one for every four girls in the high school.

    You don’t need to break confidentiality to tell people about that, if you are the school nurse. You just go to SOMEONE and request supplemental funding — telling them that you need money for more pregnancy tests.

    You’re right. There DOES need to be someone telling them that this might not be the best choice, right now.

  20. Tatiana says:

    I came to leave a comment and it turned into a social critique essay on my blog since it’s too large to post here. :-) Nicely said. I commend your position. It’s intelligent and fundamentaly caring. It’s nice to have read all the support you’ve gotten for it. A little pain usually ends up in some form of pleasure in the end.

  21. StevieCef says:

    Marc Marc Marc,

    You paint the picture welll. Nicely done.

    After years or toiling on the docks and then Not taking over the family business trap I too escaped for a better place. After college and traveling I later found myself living in the south for a few years. Southern hospitality seemed to mean that people were nice on the surface, but when it came to helping thy neighbor they wouldn’t piss in your mouth if your teeth were on fire.

    I only lasted a scant 3 years out in the big bad world over the bridge before deciding there was no place like home. So I returned, built a house on the ‘other side of town’, before long, I had a daughter and an extended family better than blood.

    Harriett, I always found your family’s unique looks very appealing, too bad about that rock hitting you. I hope the little bastard got his for what he did. Obviously that kid didn’t come from a home filled with love and enlightenment. Sadly, you’ll find ignorance in any town if you ever chose to look. Just like you are sure to find the beauty of Gloucester if you chose to see..

    Speaking of revenge; Marc, I was there when you got yours on the morons from the Crow’s Nest. Despite the tromping you threw down on Timmy and company, jerks live (or lived in some cases) a life of emptiness and oppression. Those sorry souls can’t appreciate the beauty of Gloucester, partly due to ignorance and a lousy upbringing, partly because they never left.

    Gloucester is a unique and special place with the best and worst of all worlds. Unfortunately, the media chooses to hone in on only sensational and negative aspects while rarely if ever run stories on the natural beauty, history, arts and heritage that truly makes 01930 one special zip.

    The point: Gloucester is a great place to be if you are on your game and frozen hunk of rock covered in junkie trash if you are down and out.

    I have vowed to raise my daughter with love and teach her about the world as best I can. I will give her the tools and knowledge to make her own way. If she stays, fine, if she moves away and doesn’t come back, well then that is the path she will have chosen on her own. What will be for sure? She will be well educated, loving, tolerant yet not naïve, girlish with the skills of a tomboy and a good person to know. I know you will a great father too Marc. Congratulations. I can only hope that the 17 new mothers to be find a way to equip their youngsters in a similar way.

  22. […] Pact girls and the Gen Xers who have a thing or two to learn about love, sex and motherhood.  A fantastic blog post about it sparked my interest to write this critique and I suggest it as an introductory […]

  23. […] Good Morning Gloucester on the Pregnancy Story Follow Up Joey over at Good Morning Gloucester was approached by a journalist from Marie Claire magazine who was seeking a comment on the Gloucester “pregnancy pact” non-story. (I blogged on this here) […]

  24. […] to a Time Magazine article, but I am boycotting Time until they fire Kathleen Kingsbury. (See here) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Grammy Producer of the Year Mark Ronson Partners […]

  25. […] probably didn’t completely fabricate the pregnancy pact story. (discussed here) It seems that he got a little carried away and careless when he had an unethical and sloppy TIME […]

  26. Matt Webster says:

    Dude everyone knows you’re from Magnolia…

  27. Jessica says:

    I like the “Whose are you” story. I’m only 18 and I can definitely say I’ve played that game more times than I can count. I have even warned new friends, “now don’t worry, my mom is going to ask who your parents are and if she doesn’t know them, she’ll ask where they’re from.” My sister even found out her good friend was our cousin when they saw each other at an Aunt’s funeral.

  28. J says:

    While this is a great story, I can’t just ignore the numbers. The pregnancy rate at this school increased by 300% in one year, how can this not be deliberate? It’s wonderful to be from a place where people “stick together”, but you had great opportunities that these girls will never know, because they will spend their youth raising babies, when they should’ve been adding diplomas to their walls, stamps to their passports, and miles on thier cars.

  29. You make a good point. I personally wanted a youth where I was “adding diplomas to their walls, stamps to their passports, and miles on thier cars.” And, I got that youth. I loved it.

    However, I’m not entirely convinced the grass is greener. My friends who didn’t get that youth, including a few who had children at an early age, are all still back in Gloucester. While they may envy my experiences, I have to say that I envy theirs.

    For all the stamps in my passport, miles on my cars, and diplomas on my walls, they’ve just led me further and further from home. I’d trade most of it to just be back there. And, having waited until I was 38 to become a father means that I’ll be 60 before my daughter graduates from college. I may very well never live to see my grandchildren.

    So, while you make a perfectly valid point, and it was the life philosophy I lived by, I can’t say that it was necessarily wiser than simply having children at the age where biology actually wants us to begin doing so.

    My point is that I have had a very rewarding life — one that most would envy. However, even the most exciting and full life has a cost.

  30. Grant says:

    The pregnancy rate at this school increased by 300% in one year, how can this not be deliberate?

  31. Grant says:

    Sorry, premature send on the previous post. I just saw a story on TV about “the 17″. I am a skeptic and from a small town, so know how gossip goes.

    I want to know why people just assume there was 300% increase without knowing:
    1) How many in other high schools of say 1300 pupils in the area with similar social-economic levels? My wife teaches at a school of ~1800 & thinks the rate may be higher, though probably more abortions than live births.

    2) What was the actual pregnancy rate in the previous 3-5 years at the school? ‘About 5′ does not answer the question.

    3) was there really 17 or 18 pregnancies (no hard evidence I have seen) and is this statistical unlikely to have happened without a ‘pact’?

    My theory; maybe a greater than usual number of girls got pregnant that year (warm weather at the right time?) and girls talked to each other & decided to keep them; then the media (particularly conservative media) blew it out of proportion.

  32. […] The Man at the Wheel on the Massachusetts Quarter! The Satyricon in Chief and the future Mrs. LS in 2006. Numismatics is not a regular topic here. But, as some loyal readers may remember, the Satyriconista in Chief is a native of Gloucester, Massachusetts. […]

  33. Vee says:

    lol! your story was very funny yet you have some good points. Personally I believe that there is something very shady about the gloucester 17 and that some people just can’t or don’t want to deal with the fact that there is a problem and that we all know that with just about every situation that goes on, no matter where you are, somebody is going to overexaggerate the truth, tell something to one end of the line, when you get to the other end, its always something different. Always. But people need to understand that just because a group of kids made the wrong choice, doesn’t mean that the whole town needs to be punished for it. I mean, it is the parents fault because they are not raising the kids the way the are supposed to be raised. But whats done is done we can’t change that. I think there was a pact of some sort. Now, these kids are not gonna tell everybody everything, the reason why the mayor thinks there was no pact cause no body told her anything. So you are gonna say nothing happened if no one told you. To me it is to shady for something not to be going on, and like that woman said on the news, people are just being nieve.

  34. […] I found this blog by Marc J. Randazza who is a native from the town that this happened in. I was reading his blog and found myself laughing at it. He was talking about how all these people showed up again sending […]

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