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GROWING UP

BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”

. . .

Let me tell you: My cousin Leonard was a Marine in the Pacific in WWII.  (He never told me war stories when I was young, but he showed me his samurai sword and a Japanese flag.)  My cousins Ed, Bill, and Dick were all Marines.  (They all had pretty neat tattoos.) My cousin Jim O’Neil was Army.  (When I first went into scouting, I inherited his sleeping bag.)

My brother Tom enlisted into the Navy, serving on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown during the Vietnam War.  (He inherited Agent Orange illness.)

My brother-in-law Dave was an Army tanker.  (He patrolled in Europe during the Cold War.)  My other brother-in-law served in the USAAF long before I met his sister, my wife-to-be.  (He was based in Newfoundland.) 

My one son became an Army career officer with 30-years’ service, a bird colonel.  (He’s got medals and ribbons.)  His son, my grandson, follows in the Army.  (He moves and transports people and tanks.)  My other son learned the ways of the military in Navy ROTC in high school.  (It helped him win an Air Force scholarship.)

Me?  Here I am, how I turned out.  That’s the story here.

“Many are called but few are chosen”: I heard this mantra weekly–sometimes more than once a day–when I entered the high school seminary in Chicago in 1955.  I was fourteen years old, a 9th grader.  (At present there exist fewer than 10–maybe 5–high school seminaries in the United States.  Check Wikipedia.)

QUIGLEY SEMINARY in CHICAGO

I was marked, though, during 7th and 8th grades as one of the chosen ones to attend the “minor” seminary: high school, grades 9-12.  I was “special” to the nuns and priests.

But during this time, I still had the right toys and guns, leftovers from my Previous Age.  I lived, however, during The Cold War, The Red Menace, The Yellow Peril: the war in Indochina and the Korean War.  Additionally, I still had a close intimate cinematic relationship with William Holden in the film The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), and with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas and old war movies and war comics.

When I was a child, I played soldier.  In high school, I planned priest-to-be.  Not quite enough time for war stories and movies, though I did manage to squeeze them in whenever I could, especially during the summer months.  Now I was, however, “putting on the armor of Christ.” I was a different kid.  Oh, I rode the city bus and had a school bus pass; I studied physics and trig, English and rhetoric, but Latin and Greek, too.  And “the spiritual life.”  Up at “oh five thirty,” church attendance, off to school-classes at 0830, and the day schedule, in the uniform of the day: suitcoat and tie (never mind that they didn’t match). 

Acne Pic of Me in High School Photo

Thus, I carried on, for four years, until college–where all changed: “You’re in the Army now!”  Well, not really.

DAILY SCHEDULE

0530 Rise

Great Silence (Magnum Silentium) until post breakfast, 0730

0800 classes until 1530

Dinner

Magnum Silentium

2230 Lights Out

[with all other duties and activities]

And so it went.

Instead of “Eat-Pray-Love” it was “Pray-Study-Pray” for the most part.  During this (college) time, I had little exposure to war-related items except for studying history or translating the Aeneid from Latin or the Iliad from the Greek.  Singing of arms and men or singing of the wrath of Achilles: it was war.

In 1962 I was able to see the film about the D-Day invasion, The Longest Day.  (I had read the book in my “free time.”)  Somehow, I was able to make my way through the great–and large book–The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) by William Shirer. . . .

“In the world, but not of the world.”

In November 1962, I had completed full three years of “service.” At that time, I decided to leave my position of prayer and studies, turn in my “uniform” by which I was recognized: Roman collar, cassock, and my three-cornered biretta hat, with pom-pom.  No need for those items as I became part “of the world.”

Pic of Me in My Service Uniform Cassock

I left the ecclesiastical service with no regrets.  I was disappointed, at times, with myself that I did not remain longer: for more studies, for strengthening of friendships, and for a bit more maturity and discipline that I was obtaining.

DISCIPLINE: training that produces obedience or self-control, often in the form of rules.  The word “discipline” is from the Latin word disciplina meaning “instruction and training.” Discipline is to study, learn, train, and apply a system of standards.  It’s training, especially moral or character.  And, of course, rules (with “punishments”) and followers (“disciples”).  If I can use ONE word to sum up my experience in my years of training during the years of service, in preparation to go into the world to do work, that word would have to be DISCIPLINE.

Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord–these are the gifts taught to us for us to learn as we became good soldiers.  (The last one was really inculcated during room inspection by the Dean of Men, the “Lord.”)  But by our daily lives, we were highly disciplined, made to learn organizational skills, use of time, even good manners.

I must add, though, we had no firearms, no weapons training.  We did march, sometimes, in line (not on a parade ground), stood and sat to the sound of a bell in the refectory (dining hall), had times of the Great Silence (sometimes for days at a time). 

We made our beds (racks?), a habit I continue, kept our rooms clean, our lockers in order, and our desks neat and tidy (I am not good at that today).  A luxury we did have, though, was laundry service: we dropped off and picked up weekly.  This laundry business I had to learn on my own at home after my separation.  Later, my new wife, thankfully, knew all the intricacies of “whites, lights, and darks” –which I soon mastered, and later taught to our boys when they were able to learn this discipline.

And that, basically, is the end of my story.  That’s all that I’m going to say about it, some sixty years later.  Writing this, I have a tiny inkling of what a WWII Mustang fighter pilot must feel when answering questions about his war exploits or war record during the time of his years of service, no matter how long or short.  “What was it like?” “Were you ever scared?”  “Are you glad you joined the Army Air Force?”  “Any regrets about leaving the service?”

These are some actual questions that I have asked fighter pilots whom I have met in the not-so-distant past.   On the other hand, I have many of my own “war stories,” as it were, memoriesofatime, that I can share about my time together with classmates in hallowed halls, classmates who still reminisce about “duty stations” (classes and work details), “officers” (deans), the “general” (the rector); “S.O.S.” (creamed chipped beef on toast).  But I am not so naïve to make comparisons, to say that academia was completely like military service.

Though, at times, recalling an instance or event that I lived through, I’ll comment, “That’s no different from the Army way.”  And so it goes.

Was I ever in the Army?  Nah.  But note that I did have a draft card when I turned 18. . . .  “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  Some of my “comrades in arms” were called and chosen . . . some have already “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”  

©  JAMES F O’NEIL  2020    

 

 

 

 

BY:  JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few are to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” –Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

* * *

Carlos Ruiz Zafon [born 25 September 1964, in Barcelona, Spain] is a Spanish novelist who began his working life by making money in advertising.  In the 1990s Ruiz Zafón moved to Los Angeles where he worked briefly in screen writing.  He had written some young adult fiction and young adult novels.  Yet in 2001 he published his first adult novel La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind), a Gothic mystery that involves Daniel Sempere’s quest to track down the man responsible for destroying every book written by author Julian Carax.  The novel has sold millions of copies worldwide and more than a million copies in the UK alone.  Since its publication, La sombra del viento has garnered critical acclaim around the world and has won many international awards.

By 2017 he had completed four novels in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, the last being The Labyrinth of Spirits (original title: El laberinto de los espíritus), initially released on 17 November 2016 in Spain and Latin America.  HarperCollins published the English translation by Lucia Graves, releasing on September 18, 2018.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s works have been published in 45 countries and have been translated into more than 40 different languages.  [More in Wikipedia and found on Google Search]

* * * 

“Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his [or her] heart.  Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later–no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget–we will return.  For me those enchanted pages will always be the ones I found among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.”  Daniel in The Shadow of the Wind

***

The first book that found its way into my heart is/was _____.

“Of all that I have read, . . . The Robe, The Human Comedy [8th grade]; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [high school]; Othello [college] . . ..”

“And the Winner, #1, is . . . no doubt: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce 

*** Please, refresh your memory, fill in the blank, have some great memoriesofatime.

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Rosebud…”

* * *

I remember Buttercup Yellow (my favorite paint color for walls); Joe Fontana (my boss as Visitation parish); cool concrete steps (inside the elementary school)—and silverfish.

I remember gummy white bread (probably Wonder bread), white cheese, sliced tomatoes, and mayonnaise sandwiches—and cold “pop”—for lunches.

I remember mirror-like varnished classroom floors (which I was taught how to varnish, and before the Our Lady of the Angels fire), painted woodwork (done while I was seated and as I scooched along those varnished floors), and paint-splattered white coveralls (which fit, gotten from one of my sister’s boyfriends who drove a beautiful ’57 Mercury convertible).

I remember learning how to paint; I had to learn the fineries and delicacies of “cutting in” and “loading on” with brush (1/2-inch or 3/4-inch, with 1/4-inch for window frames.  I was a master of that: window frames), or the handling of a roller and roller pan, even while on a 12-foot ladder.  Colored paint on walls; white paint on ceilings: not the reverse.  (I admit, I was not–ever–good with ceilings; so, I demurred, and let my partners handle those jobs.)

I remember “Uncle” Joe Fontana, my boss.  Weathered, bent over, shuffling along (it seemed), cigarette always lighted in his mouth, teaching us, raising his voice hardly ever unless we deserved it for silliness or goofiness, or horseplay–or for some egregious errors (in painting walls?).  What did we high school kids do to make him angry?  Not working hard enough.  Not completing enough work within a certain amount of time–sticking to a work schedule.

I remember well, more than the paint and the rollers but the scrubbing machine.   I remember becoming proficient with that Monster, difficult to tame at first, with its three different pads: one steel wool for removing old varnish and a school-year’s dirt; one heavy duty bristle brush for washing the floors clean; one soft pad for polishing waxed floors.  Yes, I became keenly adept in the use of all three attachments.

Joe Fontana was a gentle soul.  Why did he choose me to master the scrubber?

He took the mop from the bucket of soapy water, spreading a soap solution over an area of the floor.  Then he called me over, placing (gently) his hands over mine, like a kindly father.  Left hand, right hand.

Then he gripped my hands and fingers over the handle and triggers of the machine.  Off we went: left, right, straight, left, around, him laughing, me frightening.  He stopped us.  “Not easy,” he commented in his Italian-accented voice, cigarette butt still held between his lips.

FLOOR SCRUBBER

“Are you-a ready?”  He told me to scrub.  To do it.  While he watched, and smiled, and smoked.  And I learned well.  I was Mr. Scrubber, for all classroom floors, school halls–and Waxer, too.  I was good.  And less painting.

Yes, I remember those high-school summers in Chicago, working at the parish school, getting up early, making and eating those sandwiches; painting and scrubbing and waxing–all those little details, little things: memoriesofatime…

Part of this past summer’s vacation I did time painting, was on a ladder, was even remembering, not “Rosebud” but “Buttercup Yellow” –one of my favorite colors for those long-ago classroom walls.  I felt Joe Fontana’s “spirit” around me from time to time, my memory of him while I climbed a ladder or kept my brush steady, helping me not forget all he graciously taught me so many years ago.

I hear sometimes, “You’re such a good painter.”  “Thank you (Joe).”

© James F. O’Neil 2019

BUTTERCUP YELLOW

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose // By any other name would smell as sweet.”  Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.1-2.

Back when, as I recall, I was always a lover of beautiful actresses and movie stars, those “starlets” of the ‘50s.  I’m not sure that this hasn’t changed much now, as I still have tendencies toward liking beauty, and appreciating youth, and fine acting.  Then, as now, I have had my favorites, but I’ve never had large pictures of posters of, say, Farrah Fawcett affixed to the ceiling above my top bunk, or of Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe pasted on the wall above my desk.  [Farrah Leni Fawcett 1947– 2009), American actress, model, and artist.  A four-time Emmy Award nominee and six-time Golden Globe Award nominee,Farrah-Fawcett-1 Fawcett rose to international fame when she posed for her iconic red swimsuit poster–which became the best selling pin-up poster in history.  She starred in the first season of the television series Charlie’s Angels (1976–1977).  She was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, dying three years later at age 62.–Wikipedia.] 

I did, however, have pictures inside my high school locker door, probably as a freshman or a sophomore (really? junior? senior?)  Two of my favorites were Mitzi Gaynor and Kim Novak.

About Kim Novak (Marilyn Pauline Novak), the nice Bohemian girl from Chicago, my hometown:  I saw as many of her movies as I could–and still consider Picnic (1955) and Man with the Golden Arm (1955) two of (my) the best films she made.

picnic_poster

She played dual-roled Madeline/Judy in the thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (1958), with actor Jimmy Stewart (considered a classic, but not one of my all-time favorite movies).

bell book and candle life mag She was absolutely beauty and sexy as the witch in Bell, Book, and Candle (1958) (again with Jimmy Stewart).  Definitely one of my favorite “I’ve-never-been-infatuated-by-Kim-Novak-movies.”                                 

With her blond-white hair and her classy-sassy shape, she was playing the Temptress Jeanne Eagles (1957) with hajeanne eagles kim novakndsome heartthrob Jeff Chandler.

How was I so smitten?  So many memoriesofatime. . .

Beyond the movies and the acting, though, the name “Kim” has no special hold on me (or does it?).  Nothing was ever magical in the name, a girl’s name, short for Kimberly; or the title of a Kipling novel (Kim); or a very popular Korean name–like “Lee.” 

“Mitzi,” however, has a different life, far beyond a school locker or a movie screen for me.  As that young movie lover, I first saw Francesca Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber–another Chicago girl (b. 1931)–in South Pacific (1958) on the big screen of a downtown theater.mitzi gaynor wholesome

She danced (had legs!).  She sang.  Posed risqué (a poster girl).  Was sweet, charming, mostly demure.  And, could act, too.  In my years of objectifying females (Y.O.O.F!), she was more than decorations inside my locker. 

I bought movie magazines, scissoring out her pictures, hormoning after her (35-22-35) every time I opened my locker during the school day.  mitzi gaynor legsBut no pictures of her hidden around at home, in drawers, under mattresses, in secret places throughout the house.

I carried her with me, however, made her part of my life, when I called out “What’s in a name?”  I named my first car, bought and paid for, cash deal–$75.00–a 1950 4-door Ford:  My “Mitzi.”  “Mitzi.”  (There would be other cars, but you never forget your first.)  So, what’s in a name?  Why name a car?  Personalization, friendship.  Why is a car female?  (Always?)  A “she”?  “She runs well.”  “She is a real go-er.”  “She gets good gas mileage.”

1950_Ford_Custom_Fordor-maroon-m

“Mitzi” and I had a good relationship for a while, from the first tank of gas in the spring of 1959 to the summer of 1960.  There were some problems with her, however, early on.  First, the gas gauge did not work well, was weak in calibration.  I ran out of gas in Golf, Illinois, coming home, with my sister and my mother in the back seat, after I had just bought her.  The good news was that I had an empty gasoline can and was near a gas station.  So I prepared to exit my stalled vehicle that was off the road.  The bad news is?  . . . a police car, pulling up behind.

The officer of the law approached my vehicle.  The usual “license and registration” while shining a light throughout the car.  My sister, in her best non-quiet voice (she was out of high school then), blurted out, “Does he think we stole something?”  Gulp (to utter the least)!  He asked about my license plates:  “Mine.  They came with the car.”  Wrong answer:  They were not registered to me, the owner.  So, “I’m giving you a citation for driving with fictitious license plates.”  Which he did.  Then he drove me to the gas station to fill up the can–and brought me back to my mother and sister, still laughing at the whole situation.  (I had to pay the fine; I mailed it.  And avoided all roads that led to Golf, Illinois, as much as possible, in later life.)

village of golf.jpg

Later that year, in the Illinois winter, I was driving Mitzi, along with two high school classmates.  Winter-early-evening dark, as we came home from a school activity.  Bam!  Bam!  The engine stopped, and we coasted along a two-lane highway north of Chicago.  (No car-phones back then.)

No luck starting the engine, that only knock-knocked-knocked.  Fortunately, a friend came by and got us a tow-truck to another friend’s house nearby.  So Mitzi sat most of the winter in a cold auto shop, being repaired

rod and pistonpiston and rod

for a “thrown rod.”  By spring, she was good-to-go, but was never the same.

It was rough, the repairs; she endured some serious trauma, and would never really recover.  I visited her as much as I could during that winter.  By summer, I knew her days with me were short.  She became over heated, under pressure, then simply shut down.  At times, I had to wait on a hot summer day for the Temperamental One to relax, start, and run smooth.

I sold Mitzi that following summer.  She was replaced.  I was so fickle, so non-comitted to her as she grew older.  I was looking for a more committed relationship.  When she left–or rather, when I left her, cast her off like some used, used-up, Hollywood starlet on a used car backlot–Mitzi was traded for a sleek 1954 Ford.

1954 ford

But never could this one replace or duplicate the first-time experiences I had with “My Mitzi.”

“Let’s see: First, she needs a new paint job, then a new 4-barrel carb, a new custom grill.  Then I want to install . . .”  “She’s a go-er with her V-8, and . . .”  “What shall I name her?”

© JAMES F O’NEIL  21 April 2019 (Happy Birthday, 1941!)

Kim_Novak_-_autographed

“Hey, Hon, can I put this picture over my desk?”

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

The word assassin is often believed to derive from the word Hashshashin, Arabic ħashshāshīyīn, also Hashishin, Hashashiyyin, or Assassins), sharing its etymological roots with hashish.  It referred to a group of Nizari Shia Muslims who worked against various political targets.  Founded by Hassan-i Sabbah, the Assassins were active in the fortress of Alamut in Persia from the 8th to the 14th centuries, and later expanded by capturing forts in Syria.  The group killed members of the Abbasid, Seljuq, Fatimid, and Christian Crusader elite for political and religious reasons.

Although it is commonly believed that Assassins were under the influence of hashish during their killings or during their indoctrination, there is debate as to whether these claims have merit, with many Eastern writers and an increasing number of Western academics coming to believe that drug taking was not the key feature behind the name.  The earliest known use of the verb “to assassinate” in printed English was by Matthew Sutcliffe in A Briefe Replie to a Certaine Odious and Slanderous Libel, Lately Published by a Seditious Jesuite, a pamphlet printed in 1600, five years before it was used in Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1605).  [Wikipedia]

      So I’m shaving, doing the usual routine: wash face, rinse, apply shaving cream or soap, begin the cutting/shaving process.  I shave the way I have always remembered to do it–my dad having taught me long ago the essentials, then with blue blades and razor (now with Mach3 Turbo).

razor blades

I begin with left side-burn, down to halfway my face.  Rinse razor.  Right side-burn, down halfway.  Then along left cheekbone to middle of chin.  Rinse.  Along right cheekbone, etc.  Rinse.  Cheeks.  Chin. 

Now my story begins as I stare into the mirror at my half-shaven face.  Raising my chin to see what I am doing, I place the razor back near my throat, above my Adam’s apple.  I drag the razor over my skin, through the foam, cutting down the one-day-or-more facial hair growth, my “beard.”  One stroke.  Another to my jawbone.  Then the razor glides smoothly over scar tissue, three to four inches long, midway from throat to under chin.  (“Did you try to kill yourself?!” echoes within my head.  On the inside of my left wrist I have a scar.  Diagonal across the wrist, with suture scars.  “When did you do that?”)

I continue with the stroke of my razor, through Barbasol shave cream, with scraping noises, and water running, rinsing.  Sometimes I linger longer with soap, a cup, and a brush–for variety.  My contemplation of the scar only happens sometimes.  I don’t know why.  But it makes me think of memoriesofatime.

Attempted Assassination #1:  Once upon a time, before I could tell stories, and long before I remember such early stories, my mother tells me that I fell down the basement stairs.  I was carrying Coca-Cola bottles.

coca cola bottles 1940s.jpg

The story is a bloody one, with gory details of a very young boy climbing up the stairs, presenting his mother a bloody wrist.  She thought that was the wound.  Until she saw the blood on my shirt.  “HYSTERICS!” she later told me.  A gaping wound.  I recall her telling “everything hanging down” and so many inches from the inside of my mouth and so many inches from my throat and windpipe.  It must have been frightful for my dear mother, and for my grandmother with whom we lived.  I’m lucky, and glad I don’t remember the details.  “But I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

During one of my many part-time jobs, I worked as an orderly in a hospital emergency room.  One winter a snowmobile accident victim was brought in.  He was well pickled and well preserved with alcohol.  But while sporting in the dark, he and a friend crashed into a barbed-wire fence.  This man had his throat flayed open, displaying his windpipe before me as I moved him from the ambulance gurney to the ER table.  THAT was frightful!  He felt no pain as he was being attended to . . .

Attempted Assassination #2:  South Side of Chicago.  Cold, no snow.  Saint Justin Martyr Elementary School (now closed; just history).  I’m in 4th grade in the 1950s.  Our school had a meeting hall, no cafeteria, but a hall for parties or family gatherings.  Also it was used for movies for us kids.  I was one of those kids lucky enough to see a very real film.  The films were infrequent, nearly never.  But this 4th grade time was different.  Three or four grades of us children could be seated into the hall built below the church above.  Not many more could fit.  So there we were, probably watching The Bells of Saint Mary’s in preparation for the holiday season.  (A movie a year was probably one too many for the Sisters of Mercy, our teachers.)

End of movie.  “All rise” (to the sound of that cricket-clicker) in silence.  “Pick up your chairs . . .” And we stacked our chairs.  The “Great Hall” was ready to be emptied.  “Lines, please.”  We lined up, and were led out of the room by grades, our smiling Sister Doloretta standing at the door as we left.  “Jimmy,” she said, “would you please go and turn off that light switch.”  She pointed in the direction of a light across the naked hall. 

I ran to the switch, flicked it suavely, and turned to . . . utter darkness.  I had turned off the last light in the basement.  I could see, however, away from me, the light coming through the open exit door and the dark shape of my nun-teacher.  Eager to get out of that place to be with my classmates, I ran to the light.  BAM!  “What the..?”  Millions of bright lights and stars in my head.  I was on my back.  “What?  OW!  That hurt!”  Tears, I held my left hand to my eye.  Oh, the throbbing pain.  I made my way to standing next to one of the ceiling support posts.  I crashed into that, head-on, left-eye to nose.

I wobbled to the light and the Dark Shadowed Sister of Mercy.  “Oh, my!  Look at that bump!  What happened?”  I mumbled an answer as she led me to the classroom.  (There was a touching moment I must share here.  Before we left, she pulled me to her, and held me tight against her hard, stiff-starched bib.  Surely I must have shed some tears on the white starched part of her habit.)  Those in the classroom were quiet when we arrived.  They looked at me, the spectacle.

So here was the First Aid, no kidding:______________.  No cold pack, no ice.  “Sit at your seat.  Put your head down.  Down on . . . a Scotch tape can!

scotch tape can

Believe it.  I applied pressure of my throbbing, welting, pounding injured eye socket onto a Scotch tape can.  I tried my most uncomfortably best to lay my head onto this metal can.  (Sister did come to wipe away my forehead and my tears.  My classmates were silent quiet.)

It was nearly noontime, lunchtime.  (The movie was planned that way, to be finished before lunch.)  I was being sent home.  My sister, Janice, was in 6th grade, waiting for me, to go home for lunch.  I had a note for my mother explaining the incident.  By now, my eye was swollen closed.  My sister and I walked home the six city blocks, hand in hand, as usual.  My mother seeing me?  “HYSTERICS!!”  “Were you trying to kill yourself?!”  “What happened?  Oh, my poor, poor . . .” The scar is in my left eyebrow.

Attempted Assassination #3:  Summer 1964.  At the end of my first year of teaching 9th grade English at St Viator High School (Arlington Heights, Ill.).  The first summer of being newly married (after October 1963) with baby on the way (to arrive in August).  The first summer to have a part-time job to supplement teacher salary: Jewel Tea Company. 

I answered an ad for warehouse workers.  I unloaded, from boxcars, packaged and canned foods onto pallets, the food then warehoused for later loading onto delivery trucks.  Five days a week inside a giant warehouse, I opened unlocked boxcars that had been moved into the building.  The opening for the car was level with the deck, the platform.boxcar unloading

Boxcar Unloading

It was tiring, dirty, hard work, no doubt about it.  The pay, nevertheless, was good.  I was young, able, 185 pounds, strong, able to lift sixty-pound bags of sugar.  (We, my partner and I, were able to empty a sugar car in an hour–a Jewel Tea record!) Sugar cars, ketchup, fruit cocktail, canned vegetables of all kinds, flour, and more and more.  Imagine grocery store shelves.

Every once in a while, the large door handle would not lift open the door.  The contents inside the car might have shifted, blocking or jamming the door.  Or just age and rust and dirt outside.  The handles, locks, and seals were lifted up with two hands, then swung out and away from the door–on some cars.  This acted as a lever, to slide open the door in its track.

boxcar detailed image Boxcar Door Mechanism

One morning, I had to jump down between and behind two cars to get to the car we were going to unload.  I found myself between the cars and the wall, slowly making my way to our work car.  “Hurry!  Time is money!”  (Yes, we could get incentive bonuses.)  I then quickly moved in the dark, the only light coming from under the cars from the platform.  It was as though I were walking in a tunnel with a very high roof.  BAM!  Stars.  All the stars.  I was knocked backwards, gradually losing my composure, and was down sitting on my butt.  Pain!  Intense pain in the middle of my forehead.  Burning.  “Are you down there?  What’s taking so long?”

A handle was down, pointing out and away from the car.  Someone had tried to get into the car at some point, but left the job unfinished and the handle for my head.  “I’m all right.  I’m hurt.  I’ll be there.”  Blood dripping off my nose, I could feel the wet on my face.  I stood up and crawled over the couplers of the boxcars.  My partner pulled me up onto the platform.

The supervisor was there and carted me to the nurse.  “Trying to kill yourself?!”  B-I-G bump.  Swelling.  Iced.  Bandaged.  Rested on a cot for a few hours “for observation.”  Then I was sent home with a note, some dressings, and some painkillers–and told to take the next day off.  (I drove myself home under the influence.)  My pregnant wife: “What happened?!”  “I hit my head.  I’m all right.”  I have a Y-shaped scar to prove it all, buried in my forehead, between my eyebrows.  (I almost lost my head.  Well, maybe not.)

ConclusionSome may think my brain is addled from the damage I could have incurred from these incidents.  I was never checked for concussions.  However, in between that first bloody fall down the stairs, until now, I have had my share of bumps and knocks, especially with cabinet doors and car doors, even once or twice falling out of bed landing on my head.  However, all nothing major.  I’ve had no outstanding incidents of head trauma that have made me slow . . . that I’m aware of.  Now that toboggan accident . . .

* * *

Black’s Law Dictionary:  Assassination is “the act of deliberately killing someone, especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons” (Legal Research, Analysis and Writing by William H. Putman, p. 215).  [Attempted killing of oneself is not attempted assassination, of course.  The incidents described herein were not of my doing; they “happened”–or someone or something was attempting to assassinate me . . .]

©  James F O’Neil  2019

 

 

BY:  JAMES F. O’NEIL

“. . . yet in these days, when an extended curriculum tends to curtail considerably the amount of Latin read, it seems to me that anything which may help boys to some knowledge of Latinity in a short time is not wholly useless.”  –Preface, Latin Phrase Book, Trans. H. W. Auden, 1894 [Reprint 1990].

How much Latin should a person remember who has studied the classics and languages, say 25, 35, or even 50 years ago?  Quis curat?  (“Who cares?”)  Does it matter anymore that a person study Latin at all?  Humerus is the humorous bone.  Why know differently?  Funny, no?  Make no bones about it: Don’t forget the radius and ulna, too.

I have many semesters of Latin (and Greek) noted on my transcripts, high school and college.  I have sung in Latin, prayed in Latin, translated into Latin and Latin into English.  I have even had the good fortune (Deo gratias!) to pass the Latin examination as part of my Master’s degree program (M.A., Magister Artium).  Years of daily study, from basic rex, regis (as in “king” and “of the king”) to the study of Thomistic philosophy and theology in Latin, prepared me for a three-hour written translation of some classical piece of Cicero, without a dictionary.

I am still Latinized, cannot avoid it in my life, nor could not avoid it as an English lit/humanities major: Never would I have been able to manage my way through the works of Chaucer nor those of John Milton without some Latin.  Moreover, Latin even contributed to the success of one of my previous blogs, “HOW’S YOUR LATIN?”  OR, SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: https://memoriesofatime.blog/2013/11/08/hows-your-latin-or-sleeping-with-the-enemy/   This gave a bit of my Latinity, and my living with a Dead Language.  Nor can you avoid it–even if you have not studied a classroom word of it.

Yet you have: “Vocabulary test on Monday, don’t forget!” your teacher says as you begin to race out the classroom door on a Friday afternoon.  You know you had to study, memorize, and remember.  And the SAT, the PSAT, the ACT vocabularies: lists of roots and prefixes (like pre-fix: “before”) were the fundamentals (fundus: “ground, earthy, foundation”).  Recall now: anti-, ante-, intro-, extra-, inter-, ad-, mal-, mel-, etc.  (Oh, that’s one: et cetera: “and so forth.”)  You studied from morning to night, a.m. and p.m. (ante meridiem: “before noon”; post meridiem: “after noon”; “before”; “after”; diem: “day,” as in per diem: “per-day” expenses).  Some of you studied long and hard, to illness (perhaps even to “mono” illness) requiring medication PRN, or BID, or TID.  Huh?  Every eight hours?  Ter in die.  Every twelve hours?  Twice a DAY is bis in die.  Maybe for that serious pain, hydrocodone pro re nata, as needed, or whenever necessary–when the Tylenol does not do it!

Ergo (“therefore,” those three dots used in geometry, or the conclusion in philosophy or logic: “Therefore, all men are animals.”), it may not be so easy to be without Latin in our daily lives.  Medicine, geography, law, politics, religion, everyday living, literature, movies, sports, etc.–each contains various Latin expressions as part of the vocabulary of the subject, i.e. (id est: “that is”), particular words recognized by users in that area.  Usually one has to first begin a study of a subject by studying the vocabulary of the subject.  (I cannot forget those long lists of vocabulary in Latin classes, every week.)

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur.  —Caesar’s Gallic Wars.  This is how my formal study began, in 1955 or so.  Church Latin began years before that, however: reading, singing, and listening to Latin at Mass and at Church services. 

I am certain that most of you reading this blog now can look at the Latin of Julius Caesar and guess at a few words, can even recognize a few meanings.  And in this very paragraph, look to see some Latin (not “paragraph,” however: that’s Greek: para-: “beside”; graphein: “writing”: a short stroke or mark was made alongside text to indicate a new “section”).  Look: “certain” (certus: “sure”) and “re-cognize” (re: “again”; cog: “knowledge”).

You can see it’s a living language for me, not a dead subject.  I can watch George C. Scott, the actor, in the movie Patton, walking in the silence in North Africa among the ruins of an ancient city.  I realize what he is there for, portraying this warrior general, George S. Patton, to annihilate (nihil: “nothing”) the enemy.  And I recall my Latin heard, learned, from somewhere, CARTHAGO DELENDA EST!: “Carthage must be destroyed [deleted]!”–now an expression of total warfare.

patton patton

General George S. Patton, U.S. Army

DELENDA.  A keystroke.  Delete: A key on my computer keyboard . . .  (Thirsty here, I take a sip from my bottle of Aquafina [“water”; “pure”] . . .) Now I don’t go around in my life obsessed with Latin or searching for Latinity.  It comes about, comes to me.  It excites me to remember something I learned long ago, still remember, have memoriesofatime, or still use.  Well, maybe not necessarily “excites,” but just makes all that previous effort so worthwhile.  That I did learn something, that I do remember something, that I can read (or hear) and make some kind of living connection somehow with ex officio, vox populi, habeas corpus, ex cathedra, fiat lux, extempore, semper fidelis!, dexter, semper paratus, ad astra per aspera, sine die, de fide, in loco parentis, sinister, gravitas, aurora borealis, summa cum laude,  contra, Taurus, ad hoc, bona fide, placebo, ad nauseam, etc., et al., ad infinitum . . .  You do get the point.

And thus, my friends, SATIS (“enough”).  My revels now are ended.  My Little Living Latin exercise ends; I make my exit (exit: “he leaves”; exeunt: “they leave”).  For certe, Toto, sentio nos in Kansate non iam adesse.  

ADDENDUM

CAESARCommentarii-de-Bello-Gallico

Books and sources abound for further study of the Dead-Living Language.  A Google search (or Amazon quest) reveals copies of major works in Latin, often with English translations (q.v.: quod vide: “which see”):  http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/index.html

Latin is still being taught in many secondary (and primary) schools, and in programs in higher education, here in the United States and in Europe.  So much the language of medicine (anatomy), law, and science, Latin is useful also in the study of words themselves, etymology, from Greek to Latin to French or Middle English.  Useful, fun, T-shirt-able, important, serious–whatever the need: “What good is Latin?”  Well, for one, it’s to help us understand our view of things, to help us “get” it, to even ponder how we think about . . . life itself?

carpe diem t-shirtCARPE DIEM T-SHIRT

. . .

**Latin for Dummies (2002) “makes learning fun and brings the language to life.”

**Latin for the Illiterati (2nd ed 2009) is a reference to common Latin words and phrases.  Not a dictionary, but rather “a compendium of words, expressions, familiar sayings, abbreviations, with an English-Latin Index.”

**More Latin for the Illiterati: A Guide to Medical, Legal, and Religious Latin (2003).

**Latin Phrase Book (1990 Rpt. of 1982 ed.).  A Longwood Academic reprint book I found is a translation (1894) from the sixth German edition of Lateinische Phraseologie by Professor Carl Meissner, organized into seventeen topics, with Latin and English indices.

©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  2018

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I think I have serious latent Catholic guilt issues.”  –Grimes (Brainyquote)

A grey rainy late winter day in Chicago.  My dad and my sister are in the car (our ’37 Plymouth) waiting to pick me up from school.  I was in 2nd grade at St. Jarlath’s, near our apartment on Van Buren and Ashland (long gone now, concretized by the Congress Street-Eisenhower Expressway). My dad worked nights but came to get us home for lunch in bad weather.  What was the delay?  I’m inside the classroom, sitting under the teacher’s desk.  What was happening then in 1949?

Born in April 1941, I have few memories before 1944, though some child development specialists have told they could unlock the drawers holding those before-memories.  How many “major” memories do we get to keep?  Memories are the captured ones, say, the ones not ever forgotten, those “memorable” thoughts and stories that unfolded becoming our lives.  Choosing which ones to share, or to organize those recalled from time to time can be a daunting task, albeit a rewarding one (cathartic one?).  I am certain there were, in my first three or four years, those first baths, and birthdays–complete with cake and frosting in hair, or on the high chairs, and thrown about the room.  Perhaps early birthdays with games and balloons and smashed cake really do form the basis for celebrations of all kinds that come at later dates.

But the memories of our first three or four years?  I delight in all that is forgotten: the pain of early ear infections, of being one gigantic chicken pox when all the pox-dots are connected.  Scarlet fever, insect bites and stings, broken favorite toys, cough medicines, penicillin injections, Vicks-covered wrapped-chests, and more awful things that should remain in those memory drawers, not needing to be unhoused.  For what real purpose?

We hardly also remember all the good times, for they were not so traumatizing on the psyche.  Yet I would not mind the good memories that could be released: memories of first beach day (not a sun burn, of course, but the eternal sand castle building or perfect water temperature), train trips or miniature-train rides in parks or at carnivals, parties and Christmases and Easter egg hunts, and A&W root beer floats, and .  .  .  Release might involve the “good” with the “bad.”  (Personally, Dr. Jung Freud, I like it the way it is–as if I have slept through most of those first three or four years.)

Therefore, my life story begins in 1944: I was three.  That is a good start for my history.  My baby pictures tell enough of that, especially those with my favorite cousin Marilyn on one side and my sister, Janice, on the other side of me–all with our little knees showing.  Three joined at the hip, as it were, on Grandpa Schuma’s front porch.  THAT is the memory, the picture I want to keep alive forever as representative of my early-early life, the “good life.”

jimmy on GRANDMA'S PORCHTHE THREE OF US ON THE PORCH AT 5644 SOUTH SEELEY 1945

It is my school life, though, that has always been a nine-month chunk of my life cycle.  So much of my time, my daily life, was spent in school or around school or going to/coming from.  The summers, then, were sacrosanct with a life of their own.  That is why we probably use the expression so often “School Life,” from pre-K, or even nursery school, to whatever graduation point or final degree.

Overall, I grade my “school life” in the range of “good” to “above average”: C to B+, from first grade through my advanced degree programs.  In “My Life Story: Early Life in School: 1947-1949,” there exist a few milestones, like Baltimore Catechism (and hating–forever–memorization); First Holy Communion (and that dark blue wool suit seen in pictures);

jimmy's First Communion May 9, 1948

JIMMY’S O’NEIL’S FIRST COMMUNION MAY 9, 1948

a Confessional, for the first time.  The Milk Break: I loved milk breaks–any grade.  (And I wish I had gone to kindergarten to have had a blankie and a nap.  My vivid memories center upon “chocolate”: for morning milk [in glass bottles in metal cases, ordered a week ahead].)  Nuns-as-Teachers (I cannot remember their names or their faces, but I do have a picture of 1st and 2nd grade blackness.)  And, finally, the memory that I cannot ever eradicate: Being Late:  A rainy day when my dad was able to pick us up for lunch.  I was late.

Let me back up now.  Earlier that morning, I got myself into trouble.  I was talking to the kid across the aisle from me, no doubt my friend Peter Mendoza.  Now what do 2nd graders have to talk about in 2nd grade in mid-morning after Milk Break?  What is so important that is worth violating the Silence Rule?  (We had no Smart phones to keep us occupied.)

I cannot recall nor remember.  “I have no recollection of the event or the conversation,” politicians say.

Whatever it was certainly drew the attention of Sister Mary of the Rosary Beads, our nun-teacher.  My nun-teacher called a name-not-mine.  I thought I heard her call my name, “Jimmy O’Neil come to the front of the room.”  (Caught!  I was probably talking.)  Guiltily I stood up and accepted the punishment.  So I walked to the Time-Out spot near the blackboard.  A classmate was already there.  “Did she call your name?”  Soon I began talking to one rightfully punished standing by the blackboard.  “Jimmy O’Neil.”  This time I was called out for talking by the One-in-Black-Who-Saw-and-Heard-Everything, and told to go sit under her desk–a Final Punishing Place!  My memory of pulling away the teacher chair and crawling under the drawer and skootching next to the “modesty panel” still hurts.  And how was I going to explain my situation to my dad if I did not come out for lunch on time?  Fear of the Lord.  Guilt.  Crime and Punishment.

I was wearing a flannel plaid shirt.  Brown and white.  I happened to be wearing one of my collectibles: a metal pin-back pin found in cereal boxes, pins of railroads.

Vintage-1980s-Prr-Pennsylvania-Railroad-Train-Logo-Pinback

PENNSYLVANIA RR PIN-BACK PIN

I took off my Pennsylvania RR pin and played with it while listening to nun and students.  I began to formulate my excuse: The Lie.  I would lie and say I hurt myself and had to stay after for help.  I managed, at eight years old, in 1949, to plot a lie-story that would save me from home punishment for the double-punishment of the 2nd grade classroom.  I would show my injury on my hand.  I had to create an injury story.

I picked at the wrist of my left hand with the pinpoint of the Pennsy RR button.  I picked and picked until I began to bleed and open a wound.  I felt no pain.  No guilt either.  Time passed quickly.  The class continued its lessons without me as I picked and poked and bled.  Then the bell.  I heard all leave the room; the door shut.  All left except Jimmy O’Neil, forgotten under the desk.  Everyone forgot me.  I crawled out, with my bloody sore already scabbing over.  It was much smaller than a dime.  I went to the cloakroom for my coat.

Dad and my sister were waiting in the car, in the rain.  As I ran to the car, I let my courage come unstuck from somewhere.  “I’m sorry I’m late.  I was kept after for talking.”  (No mention of being forgotten by everyone, including my teacher.)  No more was said.  Moreover, no one asked about the sore on my hand; I didn’t tell any more than was required.

That’s it.  My brain, learning, and memory cells increased proportionately after 1949.  I know I learned the basics of how to count, to use the alphabet, and how to tie my shoes–even at school.  And, I’ve forgotten so much–trivia, irrelevancies, factoids.

Yet I cannot ever eradicate this one 2nd grade anecdote.  I want to keep it, not tug it around to depress me, but not throw it away either.  It’s a story by a little boy about a little boy.  Maybe it has some Catholic guilt within, maybe some fear of disappointing a dad (or worry about some punishment), or maybe it has a small step in my growing up.  For sure, though, I made certain I never ever had to sit under a teacher’s desk again!

. . .

“Every person’s autobiography is both unique and usual, the story of an individual life and of all mankind.  We are shaped by an inescapable human condition which dictates certain events and themes that will figure prominently in every life story.”  –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey (1989)

©  James F. O’Neil  2018

 

 

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