The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.
We would like to live as we once lived, but history will not permit it.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life.
John F Kennedy
Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.
In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.
From Wangari Maathai’s Nobel Lecture, delivered in Oslo, 10 December 2004.
Remembering St. Vincent’s 1950-1958
March 21, 2014
My family arrived in St. Vincent’s parish in early 1950. We stayed at the apartments on 3100 Gramercy while our home on 6638 Westchester was being built. I could look out the window to see the 1949 building every day.
The Gamills, an old sweet couple lived at the Westchester Cason corner. I have the idea that Chester Gamill was the West University Place treasurer from day one to his retirement. The Bordalon family lived on the 6700 black. Jerry Schmidt was our next door neighbor at 6648 Westchester. The Gorman family lived on the 6500 block. The Malloy family lived on the 6400 block. The Kubik family lived on Sewanee’s 6600 block. The Kileys lived on Brompton Place. The Sahas and Nassars lived on the 6700 Rutgers block. The Kellys and Triolas lived on Coronado Court.
On South Main, we had Bill Williams’ restaurant, Gaido’s, Playland Park, the Shamrock Hotel, Crystal Pool and a roller skating rink. Until the late 1980s, there was an amusement park where small children could ride Shetland ponies. In West University, we had Hickman’s grocery store, JMH, the K-G drug store and Blasingame’s drug store. You may have noticed that no business listed above is still operating.
We lived in racist society. The first time I had a black student in my class was when I arrived in Atchison, Kansas at Benedictine College in September, 1962. I quickly learned that the n-word was something uncouth like talking when your mouth was full of food.
In the early 1950s, I remember separate rest rooms and water fountains. I have the idea that our priests and teachers were a mile ahead of us on civil rights issues. However, making a fuss about this or actively recruiting black students would have meant many going to another church and not necessarily a Catholic one.
I have the idea that Father Connelly designed the planter gardens in front of the 1953 church to give chairs for the maids waiting for the shuttle bus. He had seen enough British prejudice in British-occupied Ireland.
In later years, Buddy Steves told me that Mrs. Howard refused to pay the poll tax. In some countries, opposition political parties tell their followers to boycott a rigged election as a sign to not give legitimacy to a corrupt administration. I admire her decision but wish she would have shared her ideas back then. Aside from political agreement with her, she was the best teacher I had at STVP.
The United States saw several social revolutions during the 1960s. White people like you and me started seeing segregation as an atrocity rather than an accepted social southern custom.
Attending St. Vincent’s was almost free: $10 per family per month. Church revenue subsidized the school. During my time, I had six sisters and two lay people for teachers. I heard on a radio show some years back that that the nuns had about a $3 billion deficit to take care of the old nuns. The sisters did not mismanage their money, they never had any. People would not pay the sisters what they would pay priests to run a school.
When we started in first grade, the seventh and eighth graders were hugh, like adults. When we were at Mass on Sunday about all we saw was adults’ backs. During the weekdays, the nuns put the smallest kids in front which made sense.
Our teachers had a grueling schedule teaching about 50 kids in each class.
We and I imagine the kids at West University Elementary and Pershing had a dumbed-down curriculum like we had. People looked for the blandest textbooks possible. As someone who read Reader’s Digest, US News and World Report, Mechanix Illustrated and Popular Science, I did not see much that was interesting in school. Bookstores were few and tiny in those days. We had Cobbler’s in the Village which had as much stationery and greeting cards as they had books.
If I had it to do again, I would have found something who spoke Spanish, French or German to give us a one class a day and give our teachers an hour break. Learning Spanish is something that anyone can do. French and German take a bigger effort. I imagine that most boys would have chosen German because World War Two movies and television shows were abundant.
Our cafeteria was probably an eyesore although we took it as normal back then. With Mrs. Hooks as the manager, the food was unappetizing at best. People who lived during the Leningrad siege would have gladly eaten it but few others would have been eager. Jerry Schmidt had the idea that she sold the left-overs to the farmers for their livestock. Since the pigs refused to eat the food, the farmers stopped showing up. He was probably kidding. The food quality improved dramatically when Sue Ann’s mother became the manager.
Time was a standstill from 9AM to 3 PM. It was a rocket shed on rails when we left the school grounds.
When I was in fourth grade, I had a desk near a window that looked out to the Shamrock. Occasionally, a plane would come by and I wished I was in the plane instead of in class. I associated air travel with freedom. Later when Imco Services sent me to Mexico to examine the financial statements of our subsidiaries, I realized that people who pay your way want performance. Life in the skies was not as glorious as I previously thought.
An elderly gentleman, Mr. Bailey, worked as a crossing guard at Rutgers and Bellaire Blvd. After he retired, Norman Garidel’s mother took the position. Both did a good job keeping us safe.
Someone else who worked to keep us safe was Sergeant Curtis Aaron. The Houston Police Department sponsored a kids show on Saturday morning. During the commercial breaks, the sergeant told us about bicycle safety.
My happiest memory was Sunday Mass where it seemed like I knew everybody, at least by sight. After all, we were all together at Mass during the week and, on Sunday, I saw the parents. After starting at St. Thomas High School, I felt more out of touch each year because I did not see the SVDP students during the week. The close-knit community was a great feeling to have.
I liked the poetic Trinitarian formula God from God, Light from Light, True God of True God.
The newspapers Our Sunday Visitor and Our Sunday Register along with the far more interesting Catholic Digest were available.
St. Vincent’s had many activities and umpteen organizations. We had sports, scouts, the Legion of Mary, the annual bazaar, the Catholic Youth Organization and a few more that I cannot remember. My father was the Holy Name Society president in 1958 and 1966.
Charles Palazzo and my father were friends at Ellington Air Force Base. My father went to the Pacific theater. Charles Palazzo was in infantry soldier in Italy. After the war, he went to the seminary and in 1956, he came to St. Vincent’s.
Father Palazzo told a story that has stuck with me. The setting was a family farm. The teenage son had a date for a Saturday night dance. Late in the afternoon, the father remembered that he needed something at the hardware store. The son who knew that this would make him late for his date cheerfully drove to town. As he drove away, the father standing in the doorstep said, “You are a good boy”. When the son got back to the farm, the family doctor was there. The doctor said that his father was dead. He had fallen to the ground in the doorway, dying before he hit the floor. From then on out, I have made an effort to part on good terms.
By 1983, I realized that Houston was too big and would have preferred a population cap on Houston and Harris County in 1960. This could have been accomplished by issuing only a few building permits per year to replace deteriorated buildings.
We had regime change in 1955 when Sister Mary the tyrant replaced the beloved Sister Joseph. Why run a school as a kindly place when you can run it like a concentration camp? Sister Virginia felt the same way. She mellowed over the years. When I saw her in 2010, she was a sweet lady.
The big shock was the Sputnik satellite. I and others thought in Commie society that they were good at copying but could not carry out sophisticated research. For the next two years, the Houston Post had a least one article per week on our crummy math and science classes. If I were a reporter, I would have added how crummy our literature and social sciences were.
We had an embryonic recycling program. St. Vincent’s had a paper drive every month. Sandra Triola’s mother was the key organizer.
The Bama Jelly Company sold their product in glass containers that became drinking glasses once the jelly was used. The glasses were not the fine crystal that you would see when you go to your favorite five-star restaurant but they did their job. I liked the idea then and like it even better now.
Kids’ humor from the early 1950s
Q When were meat prices the highest?
A When the cow jumped over the moon.
Sign in the boys’ rest room in 1958:
Moe says: Please do not throw your cigarette butts in the urinal as it makes them soggy and hard to light.
From a commercial:
You will stop paying the elbow tax when you start cleaning with Ajax.
When Eisenhower failed to send troops to Hungary in 1956, I thought we had Neville Chamberlain again. Had people listened to me, we would have had war followed by nuclear winter eliminating all life on earth. George Kennan’s containment policy was the best policy although I thoroughly rejected this idea back then.
In the late 1980s, it was obvious to all but the CIA and the mainstream media that the Soviet economy was failing. I saw the articles on a regular basis in Der Spiegel magazine. When the Supreme Soviet voted itself and the Soviet Union out of existence on December 26, 1991, 84% of the population lived in poverty. The CIA estimates for the Soviet gross domestic product were two or three times the actual number. Manufactured foods were value-subtracted. The Soviets could get more for selling the raw materials to make a car than they could for making a car or any manufactured item.
The ugly truth is that the US defense budget had become a welfare state for the contractors and the military establishment. The mainstream media and scholars paid attention to bluster and not the substance. Since the US has not had a peace dividend, the welfare state continues.
Some boys were fortunate to be campers at the Texas Catholic Boys Camp near Mountain Home in Kerr County. I remember Pat Lorocca, Andy Denny, Tom Howard, Fred Howard, Michael Prosperi, Peter Gage, Pete Sawyer, Mike Sawyer, Doug Marshall, Terry O’Rourke, me and Mike Donahue.
Some classmates were in religious life for a while: Wanda Wagenspack, Jim Gilbert, Norman Garidel and me. In August,1963, I and STVP alums from 1959, Jim Bierne, John Krukiel and Ron Green became novices at St. Basil’s Novitiate in Pontiac, Michigan. When David Dubois was about 30 years old, he started at the seminary and went on to be priest. Since he lived in Europe for a while and speaks several languages, he may be our top scholar.
Our shows did not have the violence and sex that are common now. Gene Autry, the Cisco Kid, Sky King, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers never killed anybody. Do remember even seeing blood? Even as children we could see that this was a fantasy,
On Saturday night, our parents watched Lawrence Welk while we watched Have Gun, Will Travel and Gunsmoke. The Gunsmoke show was always good and about once a month, it was especially good.
Television stations operated for 18 hours during the weekdays, starting at 6 AM and shutting down about midnight. Just before turning out the lights, there was a three minute presentation, Vespers, with a non-denominational prayer and pictures showing mountains, the seashore and similar beautiful places. On Saturday morning, a test pattern appeared at 7:50 AM followed by the kids shows at 8.
The 1955-1970 period was a golden era for music although few adults the agreed. Elvis‘ songs terrified some parents since this was Negro music. Would the kids become cultural Negros liking songs, literature, poetry and arts generated by black people? Would their child marry a black person? This fear was second only to Soviet occupation.
Some songs sound better today than they did then. “Come and Go With Me” by the Del Vikings is an example. When this song came on an Oldies but Goodies show, I called Gilma to get her attention and share my feeling with her. For someone who grew up in Colombia, it was just noise. Our parents probably felt the same.
There was “Little Darlin’” in 1957 by the Diamonds that made it to number 2 only behind an Elvis hit. See a 1999 version by the lead singer with an enthusiastic audience. The piano player is Maurice Williams who wrote the song.
World War II comic books, movies and television shows were popular. WWII was an adventure for most Americans who lived during the Great Depression. The US was the only major power where the living standard rose during the war. The movies presented the war as a dangerous sport like mountain climbing. There was no blood on the movie screen and all who died were intact, i.e., no missing limbs and no burn victims.
It is seldom in life that you face Absolute Evil and overcome it. People like me thought that we faced Hitler again with Stalin and Khrushev. Only later, I realized they were evil but almost always took low risk gambles. The major exception was the Cuban missile crisis.
In this 1952 NBC series Victory at Sea, editors reviewed 11,000 miles of film, prepared a stirring musical score and narrative making 26 episodes lasting about 26 minutes each. Television reviewers wondered who would want to watch war documentaries on a Sunday afternoon. By the second week, they got their answer: just about everybody.
On YouTube see the finale for the episode, Beneath the Southern Cross, which described the successful efforts by the American and Brazilian navies to protect convoys in the South Atlantic.
Find this episode on YouTube by going to:
Victory at Sea Beneath the Southern Cross
Start playing at 19:20.
This is the ending narrative:
And the convoys come through,
Bearing the wealth of the Southern Hemisphere,
Refusing to pay one cent for tribute but willing to spend millions for defense,
The American republics have swept from the ocean highways of the South Atlantic their common foe.
Spread wide across the sea
Guarded by the might of nations that can fight side by side because they have learned to live side by side.
The ships stream toward their goal – Allied victory.
As you guessed, I became a WWII buff seeing the war as sporting contest. The worse time for the Allied cause was spring, 1942 when the Axis Powers were advancing on every front. The Big Three and the Allies, however, hung on to achieve defensive victories at Midway, El Alemain, Stalingrad and Guadalcanal. It is a long way from Guadalcanal to Tokyo and Stalingrad to Berlin but then you have to start somewhere. In 1943, at last, the Allies finally started offensives and went on to win the war.
St. Vincent’s started becoming a football power when they hired Charlie Stranger and Harlan Warden. The 1957 game against St. Anne’s was better than most Super Bowls. Charlie Stranger said that the St. Anne’s parents had become arrogant over the years. The last time St. Vincent’s won was 1949. After losing in baseball, the parents said that they did not mind because they would win during football season.
It was a cloudy day at St. Anne’s field. The lead had changed 5 times when St. Anne’s started their final drive. It was a slow moving stream roller, with three yards and a cloud of dust. I can not remember them throwing a pass. My only hope was that the clock would run out before they would reach the goal line. They did score and there was little time left on the clock.
In the ensuing kickoff, Alex Ramirez returned the ball to the 50 yard line. In the next play, he crossed the goal line dragging tacklers with him as time expired. Wow!
This is a game that I will remember until Alzheimer’s sets in.
Coach Warden’s mother was the school‘s office manager. He was not known for his humor. I remember a conversation he had with Mr. Daly, the groundskeeper. He was saying that the baseball players noticed that the ground was uneven making it hard to field the hits. Mr. Daly said with a straight face that the ball was not supposed to hit the ground. This was one time I can remember that I saw the coach smile.
Sister Andrew got her nickname after this exchange with Melvin Talley:
– Wha did Christ come to earth?
– Do you mean why?
– Wha! Yes wha.
As you guessed, she was known as Sister Wha after that.
She probably related to kids in the 1920s but not in the 1950s. She thought that British weights and measures were better than the metric system. She taught the basics well but was out of touch on everything else.
Who was the most popular teacher? There is no contest on this. Sister Stephen would get her baseball glove and play catch, a remarkable feat while wearing her habit.
Who had the best stories jokes and wisecracks? This is crowded field: Andy Denny, Mike Strectfus, Melvin Talley, Mike Armstrong and Ron Niehaus.
Women in those days only had a few careers open: teacher, secretary, librarian, nun, reporter and nurse. Then as now, there were seven sacraments for men and six for women.
How can we save the Catholic Church?
1 End virtual immunity for pedophiles.
2 Ordain women and married people.
3 Provide alternative theories for beliefs that no longer make sense.
The first two ideas are self-explanatory. The third idea takes some development. People will keep going to church even though it does not fulfill like it used to but cannot put their finger on why. It is OK to go to church but becoming a priest. brother or sister does not have the same attraction as it used to because the whole thing does not make much sense.
If the churches are to survive, theologians will have to replace Original Sin with another theory for Jesus’ appearance on earth. When Saint Augustine invented the concept, it fit in with the times. People hardly considered themselves as individuals but defined their personality with family and tribe. If someone killed a family member, killing the murderer and his entire family was perfectly acceptable in most cultures. If a family member committed a heinous crime, the shame endured for generations. The Jewish concept “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” marked a limitation on revenge. According to standard doctrine, some 100,000 to 500,000 years, our ancestors ate forbidden fruit. Now we are all guilty. The only way to fix things was for the Supreme Being becoming a human being, suffer torture and a ghastly death.
Today, the Original Sin concept is reminiscent of the Nazis and other totalitarians who would punish the entire family for a crime that one member committed. Adam and Eve committed some transgression and all of their descendants have to pay for it too. To forgive this transgression, God, for whatever reason of his or her own, sent Jesus to die on a cross to allow human beings to enter Heaven. Theologians do not offer a satisfactory explanation just why a simple act of forgiveness was enough.
Probably starting with the Enlightenment, Original Sin started making less sense. For some centuries now, people are prosecuted for what they did and not what a distant ancestor did. Since God is merciful, why could he or she just forgive what happened and not bother with crucifixion?
I advocate that the theologians get to work replacing Original Sin with another theory to explain the Incarnation. For example, God loves his or her creation and loves mankind. For some reason, God does not make clear why suffering and injustice exists in her creation but does show that she understands by becoming human and suffering injustice first hand.
Something else we can learn is that capital punishment is always wrong. What was heinous for the convicted criminal is heinous to us. Also, torture is always wrong. No excuses. War is wrong. No excuses.
For humans to survive, we will have to abolish poverty, war and nuclear weapons. This is not just something from the hippies and Martin Luther King. This is from Pope Paul VI, Douglas McArthur, Henry Stimson, US Secretary of War 1940-1945, Hitler’s armament minister Albert Speer and Calvin Coolidge. It is too complicated is not an excuse. The Apollo 11 had two million moving parts.
A common feeling is that war is inherent to the human condition. This is a reasonable explanation for homicides due to road rage, fights in a barroom or family disputes. In fact, research on weapons, the B-17, the atom bomb, landing ship tanks, fighter aircraft or anything else are carried out over the years by sober people who are paid well. This is rational activity. Some one hundred seventy five soldiers and paratroopers landed on or near the Normandy beaches on D-Day resulting from planning that took months. This did not happen because Winston Churchill gave a rousing speech in London on June 5, 1944.
I got a master’s degree in Latin American Studies, taught high school in Barranquilla, Medellin and St. Thomas High School. I went to become a certified public accountant. When I moved back to 3227 South Braeswood in 1985, I was active in civic clubs and on June 6, 1991 became a recovering alcoholic.
When Gilma and I were packing up in summer 2008 to move to Gilma’s hometown, Medellin, I sent e-mails and made some calls. Joe Wellborn invited me to lunch and I saw his enterprise the Joe Wellborn Tire Company which probably employs about 50 people.
We moved here in late August 2008. Gilma passed away from cancer on July 23, 2009. In 2010, I met Silvia an attorney here and we got married in 2011.
Living here is not for everybody. I imagine I will live well but am concerned about people who will be here after I am gone. Unless there is major reform, climate change, war, poverty and environmental degradation will do us in. The signs are all pointing downward. For example, Newsweek projected that the predominant iife form in the oceans will be the jellyfish.
The best start is to reduce the US defense budget by 50% since we have no one to fight. See other controversial thoughts at www.edorourke.com.
Since I live in Medellin, I will see only a few of you on earth before we see each other in Heaven. I wanted to share these thoughts which replace my obituary. I appreciate knowing you and our parents and teachers who worked to give us the best. Perhaps they were thinking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer or they were doing the right thing anyway.