Why I am a Christian Part II

Thursday, November 22, 2012

High School Part VII


In the summer 1960 we converted from being non-denominational to Roman Catholicism. We took our instruction at St. Jude in South Holland. St. Jude had a young priest for the youth and an older priest, Father Naughton who was the lead pastor. I was taught about the church by Father Naughton a very down to earth priest. He taught me so well and had such an influence on me that he was the reason for my leaving the church in 1970. I really liked the Catholic Church of the early 1960s. It still had the Latin mass, The Pope was still infallible and people believed it. The Church condemned movies and books that were deemed as not appropriate for Christians. There was holiness about the way the mass was celebrated especially on high holy days. The three hour fast for food and the one hour fast for water before communion made communion even to a young man holy and meaningful. There was a morality and hope that appealed to me as a young man who was struggling with all those wonderful things teenage boys struggle with becoming men. The church was a rock something stable and unchanging in my life.

Father Naughton taught me that the church was traditional and historic. It could trace its lineage back to Peter the apostle who Roman Catholics revere as the first Pope. He taught me that the Catholic Church was the true church because it was the same yesterday as it is today and that God and His Church are unchangeable. Right is always right and wrong is always wrong. I was enthralled with something holy that could trace its origins all the way back to Jesus. At the time it seemed very logical that the Roman Church was the true church. Being a lover of history the Church’s celebrating the mass the same way for over a thousand years was very special to me. I was taking part in history and in something holy.  I was taught that as long as I went to confession and communion my sins would be forgiven after proper heart felt penance. It gave me a sense of hope that after being cleansed in purgatory I’d make it to heaven as would all baptized Catholics.

Those of us who attended public school had to attend High School of Religion at Saint Jude. High School of Religion taught about the inner workings of the Roman Catholic Church, the saints, what the mass really meant and well everything we would need to know to be good Catholics. We were taught that confession, a good act of contrition and penance followed by communion gave us a clean slate. The idea came to us that we could date on Friday night then go to confession on Saturday night do an act of contrition and penance then take communion on Sunday. Too our way of thinking what happened on Friday night could be confessed on Saturday and then on Sunday after communion we were good to go again until Friday night. The idea that all we had to do was confess, do penance and our sins were forgiven was to us the neatest thing. Every week we would have a clean slate!

It’s not that I dated much at all but I did have a couple of dates and boys will be boys.  When we dated we were after a “home run”. We as I’m sure most teenage boys do use baseball as a way of bragging about how far we got on a date. Most of us never hit a home run and getting to second or third was in our dreams only. Yet, if we even got to second we knew it was a sin so all we had to do was confess it and move on and hope next week the confession would be better. As far as I was concerned church was a matter of faith and mechanics. Sin then go to confession, perform penance, go to communion and have a clean slate, rinse and repeat. Perfect for a guy like me trying to get away with sinning and yet get to heaven. 

I was still having problems in school but not nearly as much as in grade and junior high. I even had the courage to fight a couple of times I lost one and almost one, one. My self-image was improving but I was still lacked confidence but I was slowing changing. Bullies mostly were in gym class and sometimes in the hallway and in study hall. Much of it could be avoided by being alert. In many ways being bullied and having to be on alert all the time in school saved me in Vietnam where being aware and on alert could mean life or death.  

I even stood up to some of the bullies once and even backed them down. I was always taught that girls and woman were to be respected. There was one girl who was being picked on they were calling her names and being very cruel to her. It was a beautiful spring day and we were eating our lunch in the courtyard between buildings. They started to pick on her calling her Cheetah, they made her cry. I don’t know why but I found myself telling them to leave her alone. It must have been the way I said it because they did. I may have paid for that later in gym class I don’t remember but looking back I think it was the confidence and knowing that I was more than willing to fight for her that moved them away. Sometimes it is not our ability but the confidence we show in it that really matters.

I as I mentioned before I was not the best student especially when it came to math and algebra both were required for graduation. I was so bad that I had to attend summer school twice.  I failed because I just didn’t like to study mathematics or algebra. Being a little slow I didn’t learn the secret of doing what you don’t like first to be done with it. So for two summers I had to ride my bike to Thornton about ten miles away for summer school. Dad and mom wanted to make a point, “You failed now you have to go to summer school and I’m not taking you. Ride your bike or walk but you get there and you better pass.” I remember they took some heat from some in the family, “You’re being too hard on him.” they said but I thank God that I had parents who loved me enough to make me uncomfortable. It was hard to ride my bike or find my own way to summer school but in the end it taught me a valuable lesson. I didn't learn the lesson quickly, (having to go to summer school twice) but I learned, there are consequences to failure, so don’t fail.     

Looking back my high school experiences, being in a small business making and selling bikes, cutting grass and washing cars, snow shoveling driveways and sidewalks taught me the value of working hard. Having to get myself to summer school taught me that poor decisions have a price and I am responsible for my poor decisions. These were the seeds of my later political beliefs.                   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Unexamined Belief System Politics Part VI High School


High School Years

In the spring of 1961 we moved into a rented apartment at 15030 University in Dolton. Though it seemed we lived at 111 Street for years it was only a summer, fall and winter and part of a spring. The apartment on University was very nice it had two bedrooms a master bedroom and a smaller bedroom. My dad cut the master bedroom in half so my sister and I could share it. Once she got of a certain age I was moved out into the dining room. Girls after all need their privacy.

The apartment was within walking distance from Thornridge so in rain, snow, bitter cold and 90 plus degree heat I walked to school. There was never a thought of getting a ride from mom and certainly not dad. After all walking is how they got to school, “Why when I was your age I had to walk through knee deep snow to school wearing nothing but galoshes and an old winter coat.” There were of course variations to the story. Substitute rain for snow, or add in bitter cold or heat. 

Most days walking to school was enjoyable, a chance to meet up with friends and talk. Days when it snowed we had snowball fights on the way. When it rained or was too cold or too snowy we just toughed it out, we didn't melt or get sick. Now the very idea of walking to school in inclement weather is unthinkable. That rite of passage is gone for the most part. We do everything to protect our children from even the littlest hurt or inconvenience. Just riding a bike requires a helmet, arm pads and knee pads. We never would consider wearing those things when I was young. Getting hurt, cut, scraped and bloodied was a badge of honor especially for boys.

We live in a very hard and sometimes very cruel world. Those who cannot adapt or who are weak will not survive. Nor will a nation that is made up of weak people who are looking to be taken care of. We as a nation are rapidly losing our ability to care for ourselves. We are constantly looking to the government to solve problems we should be solving ourselves. If we continue to give up our freedom to be taken care of we will soon lose all of our freedoms and like those in North Korea singing the praises of our Great Leader who cares for us.

If there was one thing we knew in my father’s house it was respect for our elders, period end of conversation. If our parents told us to do something we did it or suffered the consequences. My dad use to say, “My children may not love me but they WILL respect me.” In the end I both loved and respected my dad and mom. I thank them for giving me the self-discipline to succeed in life. Without their teaching I could never have done or accomplished anything. My dad taught me that if I wanted something I would have to work for it. That teaching has led me to places I could never have gone or have hoped to have gone. Hard work  and education always leads to a better life.

Living on University Avenue was to be some of the best times of my life. The bulling at Thornridge was in many respects easier to take. There were three of us who didn't fit in with any group and we became friends. It’s easier to go through hard times with friends. One summer day we were fixing our bikes in an old shed by the garage and one of us suggested building bikes and selling them. The next day we went to the Dolton dump and searched through the garbage for bike parts. We found plenty. One man’s junk another man’s treasure.

Two days later we sold our first bike for $35 and our bike business was born. We used the old shed by the garage as our workshop. Throughout the summer we would take the parts from the dump and build a bike out of them and sell it. We got the frames and parts for free and sold most of our bikes at a $35 profit. We got so good at putting bikes together we could build two or three bikes a week easily. We advertised in the Shopper a local paper especially made for buying and selling unwanted or unneeded items. It was free and our only source of advertising.  

We all came from working class families and were taught that if we wanted money we had to earn it. We had pride in being self-sufficient in earning our own money. The bike shop was just one of the things we did. We had a grass cutting, car and window washing and general cleanup business. Every Saturday during the school year when the weather was nice and every day, almost, during summer vacation we went house to house offering to cut grass, wash cars and so on. We made very good money sometime over a hundred dollars a day to be divided among three of us. Because we all worked together we were able to wash several cars and cut several lawns a day. We even had areas set aside. On Monday we worked one area then on Tuesday another and so on. We instinctively knew not to work the same area every day.   

We loved winter especially really snowy winters. We would go door to door offering to shovel driveways and sidewalks.  Very often we made well over a hundred dollars a night. This was before the advent of snow blowers in every garage. Many men didn't want to shovel snow after a hard day’s work. Many times we would be walking by a man shoveling and get a job without asking. The three of us could shovel several houses during a three or four hour period.


Friday, November 2, 2012

The Unexamined Belief System - Politics Part V High School



I graduated Junior High School in May 1960. Shortly after graduation we moved to Roseland, a suburb of Chicago. We lived in a coal heated third floor walk-up that was built in the late 1920's early 1930's. Every morning when it was cold I had to go down to the basement and take care of the furnace to get the coal burning and every night before bed I had to go to the basement to bank the fire so it wouldn't go out.  

Our apartment was located at 111 street just a couple of blocks from where I started school when I was five. It was like coming home to one of the happiest time of my early life. I walked right past my old house on the way to catch the bus to Dolton where I would catch the school bus to Thornridge. After school I would get off the school bus and catch the city bus home. I liked the anonymity of attending school in this way. I didn't have time for anyone to come to know me. There were no after school functions for me to attend I was a slave to the bus and I loved it. We used my aunt's address in Dolton so I could attend high school out of district.

My living at 111 street only lasted a couple of months.  Someone reported that I was not living in district as a result I had to move in with my uncle and aunt. So I could show I had an address in Dolton and was actually living there. I made some friends and was able to hang out with them rather than go home to Roseland immediately after school. I played “sandlot” football and other sports. High school was going to be great, or so I thought at the time. But one of the first lessons of life was soon to hit me right between the eyes was “You can run, you can move but in the end no matter where you go there YOU are.” Even though I was able to fake it for a time that kid that was bullied, who lacked confidence and who was afraid to fight was still with me and he was going to come out.

My parents thought there was nothing wrong with what we were doing i.e., me attending school in Dolton while living in Roseland. After all we were going to move to Dolton soon and they didn't want me to have to switch schools. Looking back over the course of my life I have realized this was the first contradiction of which I was aware and it helped to set my life’s course.  On the one hand we as low – middle income Democrats and strong union members believed the government was there to protect us, solve our problems, and help us when we fell on hard times. The government was also to keep the wealthy and corporations in line. However, when government rules were inconvenient we had no problem in bending them to fit our personal needs. Just like the privileged who were condemned for doing the same thing. It was an unspoken belief that if we, who were poor needed something and could get it be bending the rules so what! We had two standards one for regular people and one the wealthy and influential.  The one trait that seems prevalent in people is the double standard.  I have worked hard not to have one especially when it comes to people and politics.