Melted and Molded

“Where are you from?” A simple question, really. The question to those who came from the same place has become, “Why are we so very different?”

Family, friends, role models, and bad influences evolved from the same concrete community. We breathed the same dirty air, heard the same gospels, and shared the same textbooks. Yes, our individual experiences varied greatly. Formative events occurred behind closed but not soundproof apartment doors. So why do we carry such different outlooks, prejudices, hate, and love? I only know bits and pieces of other people’s stories, so the best I can do is look back at my own.


We boast about where we are from, even though nothing we did brought us to that place. Others chose. My immigrant grandparents claimed a slice of New York as their promised land. They planted their shamrock and seed, adding to the already crowded Bronx bazaar. Why that place, I don’t know. Perhaps the ambition to seek new adventures drained from them on the sail across the Atlantic. The voyage left them in New York with only enough remaining spirit to find a community that sounded familiar. Perhaps they had none of that spirit at all, and darker things set them to sea. Maybe they just wanted to be somewhere different. The Bronx was good enough for that, I suppose.

They passed this complacency on to their children, most of who kept up the tradition of staying right where they were — moving only when other immigrants made it unsafe or uncomfortable. And so, with hands full of their children, they struck out for distant concrete pastures, making a move five miles further into the borough.

Go North

It was beautiful, this neighborhood. The telephone prefix changed from CYpress-8 to FOrdham-4, aligning with the newly memorized zip code – 10468. It was a ready-to-explore solar system within the galaxy of area code 212.

This new place carried a whole cast and crew that made the story come to life: the good and the great, the wronged and the wicked all made appearances. There were no clear markers in this galaxy to distinguish who was purely good and who was not. Sometimes the good guy was the bad guy, the priest was the sinner, and the kindest role model delivered casual cruelty with a benign smile.

It would be difficult to identify a saint among all the sinners, for even the evil ones had streaks of grace veined into their marble-hard hearts. Some bore their ashes on their forehead; others in their souls. So many metaphors and so many stories.

I remain fascinated by them all.

Changing Times

As the decades advanced from the roiling 1960s to the boiling 1970s, the safe place we loved was becoming dangerous. A burning, smoldering rage was eating through the city. The Hydra of poverty, drugs, and social injustice seemed unstoppable. A poorly understood war was taking barely-shaving boys on a romanticized exotic adventure. Some returned to the neighborhood adorned with medals and ribbons atop broken bodies and spirits. These were not the boys we sent off with a patriotic wave; they were frightening, broken men who now struggled through the streets they had happily roamed a blink ago. No longer able to find the peace and joy of carefree youth, they became the next wave of customers for the growing darkness of addiction. Heroin or Four Roses, it didn’t matter.

But for a while, there was a sense of safety.

Apartment 3N

Growing up in an oversized family in an undersized apartment builds character. I do not recommend it. It felt more like a crowded diner than a home. When the doors opened, we tumbled into our lives, grateful for elbow room and breathable air.

For nearly ten years, apartment 3N was my incubator. The front-facing windows offered a constricted view of the world as I knew it. From these city-streaked panes, I could scan the neighborhood. Devoe Park was visible to the left. Parish brick and mortar dominated the opposite side of the street. Relentless rows of cars, parked bumper to fender, extended up both sides of the narrow block.

Above and below, other Bronx Irish Catholic families shared the outside view. What they saw inside, I can’t say. But I can recall our inside. A narrow hall ran the length of the apartment. Square-shaped rooms held too many and not enough beds for the family living there. A single bathroom, with a tub usually filled with dirty clothes and soaked bedsheets, had the heroic duty of serving our platoon-sized family.

By the end of our occupancy, apartment 3N sheltered two parents, five daughters, three sons, and two deranged dogs. My always-pregnant mother spent a good amount of time looking out those front windows, like a prisoner staring through a never-changing frame of depressive bars. Cigarettes and beer cans kept her company as she scanned the life outside. Her pain, despair, and rage permeated every surface.

Central to the room were two beautiful mahogany chest of drawers, one for each parent. They were darkly finished and highly glossed, projecting solidity and an element of quality. My father used the taller of the set. My mother’s dresser was less tall, with four drawers holding her possessions, from blouses and skirts to gimcrack jewelry, orphaned buttons, needles, and random bits of thread.

The shorter top drawer has a sliding piece of wood, with two shallow bowls that bear the markings of one of the many children who somehow accessed a permanent marker and used them as a canvas to express something unreadable yet urgent.

I have heard stories of how my two older sisters and I played in the drawers, pulled out and placed on the floor like pirate ships or racing cars. But that was another time, in another apartment. The next wave of babies, and a late summer riot, made a relocation to 3N an imperative.

I have that dresser now. It sits in my home, thousands of miles from 3N. I’ve taken it down to bare wood, exposing its construction from many different boards. The more I scraped and sanded, the more its imperfect beauty was revealed. On certain days, when the weather is warm, or the humidity is high, opening one of these drawers triggers every memory I do not want. The smoke of a million cigarettes, the seeped-in staleness of spilled alcohol, old lipstick, and powdery makeup drift across the years and bring me again to Apartment 3N.

Even today, five decades removed, the scent from the dresser summons that room and all its grief. I could not scrape and sand enough to erase the immutable ghosts.


Everybody smoked, even the babies. We didn’t mean to, at least not initially. First, second, and third-hand cigarette fumes saturated every cubic foot of air. Kools, mostly, with the occasional Marlboro or Pall Mall from visiting relatives. The more health-aware smokers went with Parliaments, while the less concerned stoked up Camels. Bad choices, memorialized on nicotine-tattooed fingers. The resulting questionable teeth and dulled taste buds didn’t much impact our daily bread, which was mostly Wonder with an occasional loaf of Silvercup or Levy’s Jewish Rye.

All that smoking did not sit well with my asthma. Struggling to breathe was just part of my day. I don’t know if any of the smokers connected the dots. “Hey, I light this cigarette, and that boy starts to wheeze. We both light these cigarettes, and he starts to gasp. We all light these cigarettes, and he wheezes, gasps for air, panics, and occasionally passes out. None of the other kids seem to have a problem. Maybe he needs to go outside and run around.”

I smoked until I was thirty-eight years old.


To this day, I despise cockroaches and the smell of broccoli equally. In my childhood, one was unavoidable, and the other never present. We waved at healthy food from a distance. Our vegetables came in cans or frozen rectangles. The canned ones left quite a bruise when thrown accurately. Iced boxes of peas and carrots eased a headache if applied first thing in the afternoon, during or after a good bout of drinking. We went through a lot of boxes but rarely ate the veggies.

Milk delivered vitamin D in waxy cardboard quarts. During baseball season, collectible coupons were printed on the side of the container. These slick chits were redeemed for tickets to the New York Mets at Shea stadium. With all the milk we drank, we should have seen a lot more Ed Kranepool. Getting to Shea meant lots of subway time, requiring complicated transfers and knowing exactly where you caught the 7 to Flushing. Yankee Stadium – the real one – was only a few stops on either the elevated 4 train or the underground D train. You’d pass it on the way downtown, which in Bronx geography was anywhere in Manhattan.

Drink Up

Milk carton coupons may have brought a few fans to the stadium, but the real star attraction was beer. It was big at the ballpark and big in the apartments.

Schaefer was the one beer to have, except when it was Rheingold. Much like cigarette smokers, different drinkers favored specific brands. Some of it was tradition, based on what a grandfather or uncle drank. The equation for apartment 3N was straightforward. Knickerbocker was for daily use. Volume trumped flavor, and cost determined volume. The empty cans piled into the brown paper bags that held all the household garbage. The whole sloppy mess traveled down three flights of stairs, then clattered into the row of metal trashcans the super dragged out to the street on collection days. The mingling helped obscure a non-sober reality, though it would often reveal itself in other, less subtle ways. Eventually, you run out of paper bags, trashcans, and vegetable boxes.

The unspoken goal of this routine was to change reality without leaving the house. Some of us carried this behavior well into adulthood, expanding the menu with combinations of liquids and chemicals readily available if you knew where to look.

I found them all, until I woke up one October day, a thirty-something adult with a young son, and said, “that’s enough.”

Never Quiet

On garbage day, burly New York City Department of Sanitation trucks clogged the streets, grunting their way through the neighborhood. The whole oeuvre was quite noisy. The garbage cans made a grinding, scraping squeal as they were dragged out of alleys and lined up at the curb. Metal lids often fell off the top of over-full cans, adding a cymbal crash to the score. Even deeper were the ashcans’ sounds, loaded with grit from the coal-fired furnaces that provided heat to many of the apartment buildings. The thicker banded steel barrels added a thudding low end as they joined the lineup. Occasionally a soggy bag of garbage found its way to the pavement courtesy of a random cat, rat, stray dog, or sloppy tenant. Splat, crash, scrape, scurry, curse, repeat every week. It smelled awful, it looked terrible, and it was very noisy. Yet, it barely registered until a garbage strike turned manageable into truly hellacious.

Move That Car!

Alternate side of the street parking rules triggered a line of double-parked cars on one side or the other. Horns alerted the double-parkers that someone was blocked in and needed to get out. A few quick taps grew longer and angrier as the minutes passed. A lot of factors drove response times. A crying baby or a dramatic episode of The Guiding Light could slow things down. A stuporous snore could easily drown out the raging horn of a Ford Falcon or a Chevy Nova while a pile of vegetable boxes lay melting in the kitchen sink.

With one side of the street cleared of cars, mechanical sweepers hissed and swooshed up the block, wetting the detritus before drawing it into the large rotating brushes that often left a soggy smutch behind.

Snowstorms fouled up even the best routines, forcing automobile owners or industrious kids to shovel out buried cars. Garbage trucks sprouted snowplows to clear the narrow streets, often reburying the vehicles that had been shoveled free. Timing was everything.

There is no snow where I now live, and the clinking of wine bottles replaces the crunching of beer cans. Three trucks now pick up the color-coded molded plastic bins that hold trash, recycling, and green waste. The trucks are not so loud, and the crews don’t yell “YO!!!” as they roll down the streets. They pass quickly, and the mechanical sounds fade into the calming waves of the nearby ocean.


When we needed some daily bread, my mother wrote a short shopping list, affixed it to a clothespin, and tossed it from the window of 3N. The note floated down like a knuckleball to the waiting kid below who chased it, caught it, and carried it a few short steps past the alleyway separating our apartment building from the row of small shops that flowed down the west side of the street.

Harry’s grocery, a small, cramped shop run by Harry Migdol and his wife Betty, occupied one of the single-story storefronts. They were lovely people, a bit exotic for the neighborhood. Betty spoke with an eastern European accent that was definitely not a brogue. The business was not a supermarket, like Peter Reeves around the corner or the A&P on University Avenue. It didn’t have a lot of workers like the deli on Fordham Road, across from the park. But it had the things the people on the block needed: milk, bread, beer, cigarettes, canned goods, cold cuts, Raid, Brillo pads, and personal hygiene products.

Other neighborhood delis offered a more extensive range of portable meals, from bacon and egg on a Kaiser roll to hot meatball sandwiches. Some people call them wedges, and others say hoagies or subs. To me, they will always be called a hero. Harry offered up a daily miracle of sorts, turning cans of Bumble Bee into delicious tuna heros in the local version of the loaves and the fishes.

Harry’s was an excellent place to learn basic economics, trust, and accountability. Often, the need for staples did not align with the timing of a paycheck. The Migdols allowed for that reality. They kept a giant square cardboard ledger next to the worn cash register. They wrote down a customer’s initials and a running tally of what was owed. Sometimes those lines got pretty long. On payday, customers stopped in and settled their tab. Harry wrote a reminder on the brown paper bags containing the day’s supplies if things extended out too long. I can’t recall Harry or Betty ever getting upset or embarrassing a neighbor who fell behind.

This kindness and compassion contrasted our parish’s practice of using numbered envelopes to solicit and track weekly contributions. At the end of the year, the Church published a glossy booklet that listed each parish family and the amount they gave. Some claimed it was an acknowledgment of the support. I saw it as a method to embarrass and coerce more from families with nothing to offer. Yet another in a long line of confusing and antithetical actions that led me to question and ultimately reject that particular style of being Catholic.

The Parish Compound

Schools or religious institutions often identify neighborhoods in the five New York City boroughs. Mine had both. Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Parish dominated the area. When asked what community we came from, most just said, “Tolentine.”

An aerial view of this fortress of faith reveals a massive crucifix-shaped church that dominated the length of Fordham Road between Andrews Avenue on the west and University Avenue to the east. The fiefdom extended up both streets, with a line of buildings housing the religious staff that served the Church and schools that gave the area its identity. Broad and bustling University Avenue ran two lanes wide, both north and south. Andrews Avenue, where we lived, sat crowded, narrow, and one-way. South was up the block, and north was down the block.


Cathedral of The Bronx

The Church was a marvel, with an intimidating Collegiate Gothic ashlar and limestone facade. The soaring, gleaming main upper Church sat atop the more demure lower Church. Upstairs, the thundering organ and grim choir reverberated and echoed off stone arches and stained-glass windows. Below, the sounds of acoustic guitars and folk-inspired secular music ministered to the younger parishioners. Thick walls kept separate the sounds of Kyrie and Kumbaya.

Upper Church

That musical dichotomy was both apparent and unsettlingly mysterious to my younger self. The massive, ominous sounds from the organ, combined with tightly regimented voices singing in what I assumed was always Latin, spooked me. The choir seemed to be mournful prisoners rather than joyful celebrants, though I was likely projecting my feelings onto it all. The combination of heavy music, lingering incense, droning priests, and a liturgy delivered in English and Latin was just too much. Everything felt like a threat to my emotional and spiritual existence. Decades later, standing in a similar cathedral in Vienna, Austria, I was brought to a different place by the beauty of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, supported by a full choir, organ, and small orchestra, delivered in a language I still couldn’t understand. Yet, I knew the core spirituality and devotion to blind faith more than I ever did as a schoolboy.

Lower Church

Downstairs at Tolentine was a different story. Everything was in a state of change, and it happened every Sunday morning at the 10:15 mass. The music had shifted a few centuries forward, and small combinations of guitarists and singers celebrated an old faith with contemporary sounds and language. Priests delivered Mass in English, and the overall feeling was more communal and less overbearing. It was still Catholic, though plenty of older congregants, and many nuns and priests, probably disagreed.

Different Devotion

This new take on an old ritual was astonishing and revelatory to a 12-year-old boy. I was drawn to the music, particularly to the acoustic guitars that filled the Church with hopeful and upbeat sounds, so very different from the thunder above. Individual voices blended into the tight vocal harmonies in a language I could understand!

I relentlessly pestered my parents for a guitar, finally getting a cheap and nearly unplayable instrument that allowed me to try my hand at making music. After a while, I graduated to a better guitar, which I played alongside a few classmates at the new 9 AM Children’s Mass. That led to the formation of the ragtag band of fellow novice musicians, which led to a second iteration, and on and on. I followed this muse my entire life.


I was also inspired and encouraged by Joe Girardi, a gifted guitarist and one of the 10:15 musicians. Joe would patiently answer my questions about guitar playing and even lent me an amp for a short while. He had absolutely no reason to be helpful except that he was. At a reunion many years later, I had the chance to tell him how his talent and kindness inspired me to pursue my music passion. More than fifty years later, I am still recalling his name, talent, and Guild acoustic guitar.

Sons of God.


Repeat until saved.

Black and White

The University Avenue side of the Church connected to the rectory, where the Augustinian priests lived and conducted much of the parish business, saying mass and administering the sacraments. Most also taught in the high school. These men wore long black robes, cinched at the waist with equally long and lethal leather belts. On casual days they would go with black slacks and shirt, with a collar choker exposing a small square of white at the throat. Not the whole collar, like Protestant ministers favor. Just enough to say, “Catholic Priest.”

The Dominican nuns who taught in the schools occupied the convent next door. These women also wore the cloth of their calling, with layers of robe, bib, and wimple. Headgear varied a bit, as this was a time of change in the Catholic culture. Older nuns went with the full boxy look, hiding even the suggestion of hair. The long billowy sleeves of the habit hid many things, but always a wad of Kleenex. They also wore long strands of rosary beads that could help rescue a small child from a deep well, should the need arise.

Emboldened by the cultural changes sweeping the world, younger nuns broke out modestly styled dress-like habits showing actual lower leg and proper footwear. Headgear morphed into shorter, kerchief-styled veils, which revealed to disbelieving children that a nun might use a hairbrush.

The squad of nuns was augmented by a handful of lay teachers, primarily women, who seemed less hostile to the children. Perhaps having families of their own gave them a better sense of the human spirit inside these fragile young they were given to teach.

The grammar school came next, wearing the same facade as the Church. Rows of classrooms rose several stories to accommodate the endless armies of students produced in numbers that underscored the Catholic tenets of reproductive rights and wrongs.

Andrews Avenue

Andrews Avenue sat one block to the west. The Church continued in the dominant position, followed by a second convent, then the older section of the grammar school, and finally, the high school. Here, red brick replaced the elaborate facades of the showier east-side buildings.

Big Kids

On school days, young ladies in plaid skirts or pastel dresses entered through the north doors of the high school. Teen boys, forced to dress like little men in coats and ties, split off to the south entrance. Inside, swinging metal doors on every floor protected the sexes from each other. A vigilant army of priests, nuns, and lay teachers carried virtual tool kits containing shame, mild to moderate violence, and the ever-looming threat of mortal sin to keep the sheep from straying.

Little Kids

A pre-pubescent version of the scene played out in the nearby grammar school. Young girls dressed in plaid jumpers, white blouses, and navy-blue variants of bowties. Boys wore white shirts, navy blue pants, and neckties with STN stitched in yellow. There was no gender segregation in these classrooms. Fifty or more children sat stuffed together, presided over by a grim warden in a black-and-white habit.



 We marched, some of us unwillingly, into an imposing faith, filled with threats of eternal damnation and the promise of a saved soul. We lined up timidly, sent to learn in overcrowded grammar school classrooms ruled by mother figures who would casually smack a child while serving the Prince of Peace.

Then, adequately seasoned, most students funneled into the high school to carry on the great traditions of uniformity. First-year students were classified and labeled, with little chance to improve one’s alphabetical standing. Students learned science and history through Catholic eyes. Evidence of any effort to educate based on a student’s uniqueness was as invisible as the holy ghost who hovered over us all.

Not My Place

Other parishes may have offered environments that ignited the imagination, encouraged creativity, and made learning an enticing activity, but it was not my experience, not in this place. There was too damn (Forgive Me, Father, I think I just sinned) much parochial for me. It was not a place to breathe, relax, or grow. I did not like anything about it, and I often didn’t show up.

I made it through my sophomore year when my bad attendance record defeated my good grades. With an academic achievement plaque and a less-than-stellar letter from the guidance counselor, I set off to find a different high school. Thank you, Jesus!


Many students passed happily through this combined institution of learning, emerging with a good grounding in elementary education and a sense of discipline that helped them through college and their careers. Some graduates credit all of their success to this experience, viewing it as a steeling process that made them better, more resilient adults able to handle anything life might throw their way.

Others emerged less healthy, less enamored of learning, and less trusting of the Church. They live with spirits broken by the pain and humiliation of the character-building favored by many nuns and priests. We found hope in The Beatitudes and embraced the suffering in The Stations Of The Cross.

Finding Balance

Men and women found a balance where faith, common sense, and a reliable moral compass guided them through life. They lived and loved, did well for themselves and their families, and added much to the communities they joined. Fathers coached sons, and mothers guided daughters. Sometimes roles were shared across parental genders, handing off from one to the other as the children matured. Blue morphed into khaki as boys aged from Cub to Scout and passed from Den Mother to Troop Leader. Brown beanies turned into green berets as young girls became still-young women. Determined brothers, uncles, and grandfathers picked up shovels, rakes, and cold cans of beer to make a beautiful ball field out of a neglected plot between the train tracks and the river. Moms, aunts, and big sisters collaborated on school projects and Halloween costumes, and everyone staffed the booths at the annual parish bazaar.

Finding Pain

Some stayed cemented in the life that was beaten into them, seeing the world through suspicious eyes and hardened hearts. They went out into the world and provided help to diverse communities, serving, protecting, and tending to the sick and afflicted. They saw things, these protectors, these servers, these healers, these comforters. And what they saw burned through their uniforms, badges, and shields and took small, ragged bites out of their humanity. Shift by shift, tragedy by tragedy.

Come the weekend, we would all find our way to a neighborhood place that occupied a part of my life that seems, in glazed memory, to have lasted forever. In reality, it was a brief segment that set the direction for many lost years. It was a world where any square yard held a dozen stories that could fill a hundred novels and a thousand songs. Dim the lights, drop the needle, dull turns exciting, and everyone was beautiful for a while.

The Gathering Place

Gin mill. Pub. Tavern. Bar and Grill. Call it what you will.

The shotgun-style establishment somehow fit a very long bar, a center room divider, and a row of booths into an area no wider than a few supermarket aisles. A wall divided the front from the rear section. The square-shaped back room held a pool table, an occasional makeshift stage, and on particularly wild nights, a motorcycle or two.

This place, not unlike other spots in other memories, morphed from one reality to another as the sun rose and set. Patrons rarely crossed time zones; they soon moved on to an equally familiar spot at the family dinner table.

A hearty few could blend with the crowd, whether day or night. They staked out a strategic spot at the scarred wooden bar, body hunched forward, arms protectively surrounding the dual chalices of a short shot and a tall beer. Fading eyes stole looks around the room and peered into the mirrors that ran the length of the wall behind the stick.


The room growled with acoustic excitement. Inside lighting dimmed as the outside skies gradually darkened. Thirteen souls turned into thirty, and thirty into heat-building, oxygen stealing total capacity. Conversations grew in energy and volume, animating gestures and bursts of laughter or angry exclamations. A blaring jukebox pumped artificial stimulation across even the last refuges of quiet corners and secluded nooks. The music signaled who was in the room at any given time. We Just Disagree, Dancing Queen, Disco Inferno, Good Hearted Woman, Go Your Own Way, and the occasional Danny Boy floated above the haze of tomorrow’s lung disease. A hundred different perfumes melded with an occasional cologne. Hormones, pheromones, and testosterone, unseen as the Holy Ghost, intoxicated as much as the grains and hops in every hand.

“The Drink” lowered inhibitions and raised emotions. Caution left as “what the hell” entered. As hours blurred, hands began to fly. Lust and hate felt very similar in that crush of sweaty chemistry. Out of this simmer grew friendships, marriages, and lifetime feuds built on nothing more than “I just don’t like that guy.”


In the daylight, the space was sadly worn and dismaying. The smell of perfume gave way to stale beer, whiskey-soaked wood, and nicotine-covered fixtures. The worn linoleum floors had the color washed away by a million footsteps and a thousand scrubbings that never quite resulted in clean. Wood-themed paneling covered the walls and showed every warp, gap, scratch, and gash earned over countless days and nights of hard use.

Daytime patrons, some closer to corpses, replaced the mass of nighttime bodies. But still, there was something comfortable in the unflinching light of day and the noisome smell of bleach and unfiltered cigarettes.

These patrons were not the characters assigned them by the arrogant young, the cruel bully, or the disdainfully righteous. They were friends, foes, and everyday people who enjoyed the comfort of a familiar gathering spot.

The lives they lived colored every inch of them. Some suffered from disease and addiction. They were not losers, just lost. All were young once and danced, sang, argued, and fought. Perhaps, in the patchy and slightly distorted mirror, they still were.


What might we be under our facades? After facing the same triumphs and failures, experiencing the pain and loss of love, health, mind, and hope, who have we become?

We are old, and we are young. It depends on which mirror we choose.

Finding Grace

I’ve shared time and space with all of these characters. I have fallen, sometimes far and for too long, but somehow found my way back to my feet. I have been helped by family and friends of every type. Hopefully, I have returned the favor.

Despite differences in perception and remembrance, I believe that the spirit of the place I come from continues to live on with good intentions and good deeds. There are good, bad, and a whole lot of blended people who can dazzle us and disappoint us equally. Some do good works unto others despite a darkened heart. So many more see the pain and unfairness of life and fight through resentment and anger to find beautiful strands of light. The good, and the trying to be good, give me hope for tomorrow.

I believe in faith without religion. As one of my favorite musicians sings: “I’ve got faith, but I’m no fool. It’s something to hold on to when the world becomes unglued.”

Though I will likely never embrace the Catholic Church, I have come to admire and respect several parishioners in the place where I now live. These good, committed people don’t preach or posture and don’t speak of damnation and fear. They live humble, compassionate lives of service to their community and their faith. They demonstrate their values of faith, hope, and charity.

And they do it lower church style, mandolins and all.

16 thoughts on “Melted and Molded”

  1. Anonymous said:

    Yes, Michael, so true, where YOU were FROM leaves you, unavoidably “melted and molded”


  2. Anonymous said:

    Love the “lower church style, mandolins and all.” I hope Shirley sees this!


  3. Tommy G said:

    Thank you Michael …
    So well written ( product of parochial school)
    I recall the School Crossing Guard on the corner of Andrews & Fordham … The Lady with the Whistle … complete control of the intersection for Every student crossing … Made HS students Examples for grammar schoolers
    Scolded Billy McD & went up to Principle of Girls office to offer her guidance & wisdom …
    When I think of All the lives this woman touched …
    Thx Mom … RIP


  4. Tommy O said:

    Thanks Michael.
    Your brother Gerry was a friend way back then, I think your Dad was our southeastern.
    My folks moved us to NJ When I was going into High School so I escaped in time.
    Though I don’t share some of your views, this is a great piece bringing me back to the neighborhood. Thanks.
    Give Gerry my best
    Semper Fidelis
    Tommy O
    LtCol USMC


  5. Peggy Roach said:

    Wow you certainly captured a moment in time that left its indelible footprint on our hearts, minds and souls. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were my brother except I grew up on Grand Ave and not Andrews. Thanks for the memories! You’re a great writer. 😊


  6. Judy A. said:

    Michael, you brought this time and place to life with such clarity, it is almost as if you could access our collective memories. Your recollections evoke such emotion and really resonate with many. We all shared so much more than a school, church or apartment dwellings, we shared a way of life that is long gone, but somehow seems more vivid now more than ever. Thank you for sharing such deeply personal stories.


  7. Carol Zervos Harrison said:

    You are an excellent writer, Michael Calderwood! I felt like I was in a time capsule as you described every space we all know well.. Although my experience was mostly positive, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. Captivating . (I recognize your last name, too) Thanks for sharing.


  8. Alice Scannell Connolly said:

    Whenever someone asks where I’m from “Tolentine” leaps to the fore! I enjoyed school, my friends with whom I’m still in touch and a great neighborhood to grow up in. Just noted 54 years since High School Graduation ! It was a different world and sadly we can’t go back to the old neighborhood and revisit friends who are still there as some areas can. But all in all I can’t complain


  9. Just had a chance to re-read it and immediately flashed back, legally, to those days; “and the kindest role model delivered casual cruelty with a benign smile”. This is such fine writing, Micheal. Finally, all these years later I understand the influence that Fr Tracy had on the parish and you. Shared a class for 4 years with Joe Gerardi. He was one of those guys who was cool but humble at the same time. On our senior bus trip to DC he led a chorus of Cream’s “I Fell Free” and we all felt carefree and liberated .


    • Ken Rolston said:

      I remember that bus ride with Joe Gerardi. A very cool moment and as you said “we all felt carefree and liberated” which felt exotic under the tight strictures of parochial life .


  10. Thank you! You definitely captured life as we knew it.


  11. Dennis OBrien said:

    I grew up in Holy Spirit parish just down the road and while not all of this is relevant to me enough is to be worthy of comment. I was one of those broken young boys/ men, who returned from an unpopular war not to the cheers and praise earned by our parents generation but to condemnation. I too daughter solace in a bottle only to find it an empty promise. Catholic school did naught to prepare me for adulthood, it only made me set impossible standards for myself.
    I’ve found thru life, the best and hardest teacher that peace comes from within not from a bottle. But growing up where and when I did made me who I’ve become and I’m at peace with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Re-reading this today, and it’s as beautiful as the first time I read it. You really capture life on those streets. I wonder if people from other communities scratch their heads and say “where the hell did he live?” The noise and smells of the garbage trucks became real again. Thank you for sharing.


  13. Charlie McCarron said:

    Thanks Michael, a well written piece that brought many images and memories back to mind. It was a unique place…


  14. I, too, grew up in SNT parish. Though I didn’t live in an apartment house I must say the person I am today is because of this upbringing. We lived in a house on Davidson Ave. I embrace my faith and had very hard working selfish parents who did their best to educate us and provide the best life they could for seven children. Reading your story makes me sad for you as it seems you really want to leave all of who you are behind. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones, whose parents didn’t drink. My dad was a pioneer and so was my uncles. Drinking was never a part of my childhood. However, we all attended SNT for 12 years. Life was not easy but I know I would never trade growing up the way I did. I would never be the person I am today without it. I hope in time you can reflect and see that sometimes the things that we try to escape from are the things that mold our lives into the person we are. I hope in time you will come to realize that God is there you just have to reach out to him. Hopefully some of your bitterness of your childhood will be resolved. I Enjoyed your writings about the parish but felt like I said, sorry for you as it didn’t hold the same meaning for you as it did for me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s