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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?”

 

 

 

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