Friday, July 22, 2005

Excerpt from "John Joseph and St. Joseph"

…Dad was a man to emulate. He wasn’t tall, powerful, or of genius grade---but he was quite intelligent. He didn’t have a lot of education. He wasn’t a drunk, a drug user, or an abuser. He had love, loyalty, responsibility, values, and strong religious beliefs. He was a carpenter, and we didn’t live the high life, but I always felt secure and wanted as a child. I never felt a particular financial want. Obviously, we couldn’t expect expensive items in our lives, but we had what we really needed: the basics and love. He was a good man by any measure.

…Dad’s spankings---taboo in the politically correct current belief---were probably deserved, better by his hand than by a switch (which he never used,) and usually short in duration. I imagine the spanking was even tough on his work-hardened hands, but they weren’t especially hard on us. After all, we usually had clothing to stay between his hand and us. And if we expected the spanking (which was usual, since Mom only threatened us,) there was usually an additional layer or two. Yes, the spankings hurt---but not that much---and after a few minutes, there was little to cry about. Besides, once the spanking ended, we got sympathy. And Dad never bore a grudge. He was immediately mild mannered Dad again.

The major thing Dad was obstinate about was Yankee ball games. He followed them whenever he could. Our family listened to them on the car radio when we took our Sunday rides. It was expected. I remember many of those rides, never knowing where we were going. And the roads we went on were old and hilly. Up and down, up and down. Some hills were like a roller coaster and they would give you that same feeling as Dad motored up and down at normal speed. Those areas of the road were called “Mary Annes” because my little sister liked them so much. Our trips would often end at an apple orchard where we could go into the cool barn and pick out a basket of apples and some cider. What an aroma! One of the great memory smells of autumn. Or we’d end up in New Jersey, perhaps Hamburg (we loved the name) or just through the back roads and stop at an A & W Root Beer stand for floats. Those were days to re-enjoy with memory. Fuel wasn’t a problem. Gas sold for about 20 cents a gallon, except at some corners where there were three or four stations. They’d often have gas wars, and I remember the prices once going down to 13 cents a gallon. Our only deterrent during that period was a rainy day. And, of course, we didn’t make trips in the winter.

I didn’t particularly care to hear the Yankee games all the time, but baseball was a connection between Dad and me, even though I was a Dodger fan. He assumed his team was best, but never belittled my fandom. After all, I knew the Dodgers were the best team around. The only conflict we really had was when the Dodgers and Yankees both had games on the TV at the same time. Dad usually won. After all, he worked hard all day. He paid the bills. He bought the TV. And he had a louder voice, and an ally with Mom, who didn’t care about the games, but agreed that Dad had precedence.

Dad and the Parish men sometimes took us to New York for a baseball game, and it was always to Yankee Stadium. They were all Yankee fans, and despite my pleas, I never got the group to Ebbets Field, where real baseball was played.

My first visit to Yankee Stadium was my first visit to any major league baseball park. Waiting outside on line was no big thing. I had certainly done that before. Whitey Ford being escorted parallel to us on the other side of a cyclone fence was a unique experience, even though he wasn’t a Dodger. But when we entered the cavernous stadium, I saw the field. Viewing the bright, fresh green at the end of a huge ramp and then as we entered the seating level---it was awe-inspiring for a little kid. No lawn I had ever seen could compare with it. I actually felt honored to be there. This was it. This was the field of battle for my knights in ballpark armor. This was where almost-real baseball was played. (Remember, I was a Dodger fan, and the only place for real baseball was Ebbets Field.) I can only imagine what I’d have felt if I was entering Ebbets Field. I might have had a kid swoon. The ballpark field was impressive, but being ensconced in the nosebleed seats and having to watch the Yankees play took some of the awe out of my experiences.

Dad had a strong religious sense, and he and Mom tried to teach us right from wrong and the proper way to be family and pay attention to each other and the Catholic religion. They sacrificed to send us to Catholic school, and made us stay there and participate in all the activities, especially the religious---although in my case, that wasn’t a problem. I was perfectly happy to be where I was and learn what was necessary and desirable. It was all very natural. Living across the street, and Dad being so involved in volunteering, our family was well known to the Priests and nuns. We were often called upon for various services, especially during the summer when we were the only kids around. I was asked to help at school unpacking and distributing supplies or packaging textbooks, or anything the nuns needed. And at Church at all seasons, I served time at Monday night devotions, even when I didn’t want to.

I learned and understood enough about the Catholic Church in those years up through College to stand me in good stead throughout my life. This knowledge included the horrors and mistakes of the middle ages, and I wasn’t unaware of reality. Many non-Catholics who criticize the Church really don’t understand it. The misinformation around lends itself to the drift from non-Catholics and Catholics alike. Case in point is the continual criticism of the Church about the Pope being infallible. He is, but only in matters of faith and morals, and only with the agreement of a special council of bishops. Hence, infallibility as a truth is only proclaimed in rare instances. Too often, people have the wrong “knowledge” that the Pope claims to be infallible with every word he utters. The critics, then, spout opinions having no understanding of what infallibility entails. So what else is new?

None of us, especially Dad, could say no to any requests, although if I was called at the last minute for evening devotions and the Dodger game was on, I was a bit peeved. And I’m sure that wasn’t the proper attitude for a religious service. The priests noticed my annoyance and kept the fact filed away. I know it came back to haunt me one winter when the priests were taking some altar boys to St. Joseph’s lake for ice skating and winter activity. I was only “tentatively” on the list to go---my first experience with the word. I did go, but I’m sure Dad’s influence was the reason.

Dad never missed Mass, prayed when time permitted, visited the Church for confession regularly, and was always ready to receive communion. I was able to observe him at times, and he was truly involved with what he was doing. He probably prayed in private, but I could never tell for sure. He wasn’t one to talk about his faith.

During the fifties, we usually prayed the rosary together, notably during the Marion Year of 1954. I remember well, because we knelt around Mom and Dad’s bed while we prayed. We passed the rosary around to whoever was saying the decade or mystery. Every night after dinner. As a young kid, I let my attention wander at times, and I used my parents’ bedspread as a canvas for my imaginary travels.

The design was a combination of parallel lines, gently curving like roads---all in pink and purple. We had a large brown family rosary, but I don’t remember now what happened to it. Mary Anne probably has it.

The adage at the time was that the “family that prays together, stays together.” That was fine until Ed went into the Air Force in 1957. We still prayed, but we weren’t really together anymore. As we got older, the family’s praying together let off. It was just too difficult to get us all in one room at the same time. Jack was off somewhere right after supper, and I might have been off to the schoolyard to play Wiffle Ball with Feeney. Dad had started volunteering at the Church, and his carpentry skills were being utilized to benefit the Church.

We always said grace before our dinner, no matter whom was with us or how many of us were present or where we were---except maybe at a big picnic or dinner. But, I still noticed Dad was as religious as before. His Church habits remained steadfast all his life. I still have the rosary beads he used: silver ones with intricate designs. Since he had the rosary, I have to assume he used it…

End of excerpt about my Dad. RIP

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