Category Archives: nostalgia
Bless me Father for I am about to sin. If you grew up Catholic, particularly in the 1950′s and 60′s and were forced to take part in the Holy Sacrament of Confession every Saturday afternoon as a kid, you remember a similar opening line. It was “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” You then went on to tell a priest who slid open a little dark screened window in the rather creepy (to a kid) Confessional box so he could hear but not see you, while you explained what atrocities you had committed that week. Mine were usually of the I talked back to my parents or called my brother or sister a name variety. I then worried if my discretion’s were a venial sin or God forbid a mortal sin. What would a 10-year-old have to do to commit a mortal sin? I didn’t have a clue but as a child I lived in fear of committing one and being banished to hell if I died before absolution and being given a Penance (another famous Holy Sacrament) greater than the usual “say three Hail Mary’s and three Our Father’s and now say the Act of Contrition.” No wonder I feared so many nuns and priests in grammar school. Everything was shrouded in darkness, pomp and circumstance, secrecy and for many of the older nuns that should have been put out to pasture; pure meanness. By contrast, I did run into some nice nuns and priests throughout my 12 years of Catholic education but most of them “saw the light’ and eventually left the convent and/or priesthood. These I felt, were the smart ones. I stayed friends with one nun from high school who told me after 30 years as a nun, she could do more good in the “real” world. The priest that performed my marriage, a very progressive type that everyone in the parish liked, was a bit too hip for the Catholic Church, he too left for the “real” world. There was a definite pattern emerging, the good ones left. Today, the good ones don’t even join.
I used to wonder what a kid would have to do to get a Penance of saying the whole Rosary? I also wondered why the priests always seemed to give all my friends the same Penance. Was there a rule book for the punishment fitting the crime. Did taking the name of God in vain mean you had to spend a perfectly good Saturday afternoon in church reciting a million prayers? I don’t know, we didn’t do that in those days, our parents would have given us a far greater penance than the priests could ever think up. I have no idea if things are the same with Confession or any other Holy Sacrament of the Catholic Church now-a-days as I pretty much fell-away from it after my four years of Catholic High School were over. The day a Catholic priest walked into our high school and announced he was going to teach us sex education was pretty much the day I knew the Catholic Church had blown it for me.
A priest? Who supposedly was celibate, was going to instruct our Catholic girls school about sex and marriage? I found this astounding enough to ask him about it. He admitted to me privately that he was uncomfortable with the task but his higher-ups told him he had to do it. I remember saying that at least the nuns were women, would they not be as ill prepared as the priests to take a stab at it? Oh no, he said, they are not allowed to teach such things. It has to be a priest. I learned nothing about sex and marriage from this priest’s class but I learned volumes about what the Catholic religion really thought about women. Only men can give absolution, only men can teach anything they deem “important,” only men can tell women what they should or should not do with their own bodies and when the chips are down, only men really count. All these years later, the Catholic Church hasn’t changed. They are still behind the times and out of touch, they are still arrogant, narrow-minded and operate like a well-oiled good old’ boys money machine. Now how the hell Godly is that?
I was a pre-teen with a mission. I wanted to be a teenager so I could go to Philadelphia and be on Dick Clark‘s American Bandstand. My mom was pretty good about not bursting my bubble as we lived far away from Philly, I was years away from the age requirement of I think 13 or 14 to be on the dance show, and hundreds of kids lined up daily to be on the show and mostly the “regulars” from Philly the “dancing stars” I watched daily after school, were the only kids that actually danced on the show. But she would routinely say things like; “you’re a really good dancer and could do just as well as those kids.” Nothing like a mother to instill confidence and keep the dream alive.
When American Bandstand went national on ABC in 1957 with Dick Clark, it was on weekdays after school and the favorite part of my day. The couples on the show became stars by virtue of how well they danced, how cute they dressed, how cool they looked as a couple and how much we liked their hair styles. I got to know these dancers on a first name basis as Paula and Ritchie who won the Mashed Potato (dance) contest or Bunny who was the best at the Pony or Justine and Bob who everybody loved. I learned how to do the Stroll, the Hop, the Twist, the Locomotion and if I needed a partner my mom filled in. She taught me how to Jitterbug and once in a while when my dad came home from work and I would be showing him some of my new steps, he would grab my mom’s hand and “show me real dancing.”
Dick Clark gave so many singers a start on his show and it was always about the music. I watched Paul Anka, Fabian, James Brown, The Jackson 5, Connie Francis and even one hit wonders like Edd Byrnes, from the popular 77 Sunset Strip TV show. Hard to believe now but his popular song ”Cookie, Cookie Lend Me Your Comb” which he sang with Connie Stevens, also from the TV show, was a hit. What I liked most about the music on Bandstand was the variety. When no one paid attention to what diversity was all about, Clark was busy practicing it. He brought us singers, acts and bands from all walks of life and acted like it was normal–because it was. He was way ahead of his time in realizing all music was to be enjoyed by everyone and never pidgeon holed certain music or musicians to certain segments of the population. As many teens have said over the years on Bandstand when rating a new song, “it has a good beat and you can dance to it.” Those words were certainly my mantra as a kid. Thank you, Dick Clark.
I decided I needed to write down these top 10 childhood Christmas gifts quick, before my long-term memory goes the way of my short-term memory that can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. I won’t get into the Christmas is not about the gifts stuff and how we should all be grateful for whatever we think we should be grateful for, this is strictly about the shallow part of Christmas. The materialistic, me, me, me, Santa’s list type, emotional yearning for–gifts. Also, as a child I never bought into the it-is-better-to-give-than-receive creed. As an older and wiser adult–I still don’t buy it. Herewith, my all time favorites:
1. RED COWBOY BOOTS
I was six, I lived in Chicago, far from any cowboys except the ones I saw at the yearly Chicago Livestock Show and Rodeo at the Chicago Ampitheater. Just to be sure I got those boots, I asked for nothing else. I figured, how could Santa say no to just one request? My poor mom told me years later that she had scouts out everywhere looking for those damn red boots. Word was, the first night I had them, I slept with my boots on.
2. YELLOW TRANSISTOR RADIO
Nobody under 40 probably even knows what this is. This was even before boom boxes. It was the 1960′s and WLS Radio station in Chicago was king and so was my favorite radio disc jockey, Dick Biondi. I really NEEDED this radio so I could listen to a radio station that was more in-tune with my top 10 favorites (played over and over every hour) and much less of my parents favorites like news and talk radio (thanks mom and dad, I eventually went into the news business). This radio was yellow with a leather carrying case and shoulder strap. It was a Westinghouse and the size of a medium size purse. I didn’t need a dog, this radio was my faithful companion.
3. STADIUM CHECKERS
I have no idea why this game was called checkers because it was a plastic stadium contraption with marble-like pieces. I loved this game and since you couldn’t really play it alone it forced me to play with my sister. She was three years younger and could play the game well enough to assure my winning most of the time. Playing my folks however, was a losing situation for me. The stadium seats moved to advance the marbles to various levels. Okay, it was a much simpler time but we weren’t all zonked out on video games.
This book made me cry every stupid time I read it but I just kept re-reading it anyway. Yes, I knew Heidi was going to eventually find her grandfather but each time I read it and they would come so close to finding each other and miss, I would be yelling at the pages. This was during my sad books (Black Beauty) with happy endings era.
5. PINK ANGORA SWEATER
Only rich kids in my neighborhood had Angora sweaters, and rich kids in my predominantly working class/middle class neighborhood were few and far between. I never really asked for this sweater because I figured it was out of reach for my folks so I figured I would just settle for the scratchy mohair. When I opened that box I was never so shocked, it was just like–Christmas.
6. RED LEATHER BUCKET PURSE
These purses were very popular in the 1960′s and I had never really had a nice leather purse. I can remember this purse like it was yesterday. It was a pebbled grain red leather, a long shoulder strap and two small flaps folded inward on top of each other and it looked similar to what else? A bucket. I used this purse for many years. I suspect it was not made in China.
7. BLACK WOOL CHESTERFIELD COAT
It was all in the details. Double-breasted, velvet collar, sophisticated and perfection. I was 13 and it was my first black, grown-up coat. I remember that this coat was $50. because even though it was a Christmas gift my mom left the tags on in case in didn’t fit. This was a lot of money for a coat in the 60′s, and a huge amount for my parents to spend on a single item. But, my parents always felt quality clothing was more important that quantity. That coat lasted me all four years of high school and beyond.
8. GAS STATION
I was never into real girly type toys and thank God my parents didn’t buy me dolls I wouldn’t have played with or gender based toys that girls would have traditionally liked. My father owned a Standard Oil gas station and this was a sturdy, metal gas station with a bay for fixing cars, gas pumps etc. And of course, a Ford and a Chevy. Loved this gift.
9. HAWAIIAN UKULELE
I don’t actually know if it was from Hawaii, but I told everyone it was. It was the real deal and not a toy and had a nice carrying case. I wasn’t very “instrumental,” I usually took dancing lessons and acrobatics. But, after watching “The Parent Trap” movie (the original one) with Haley Mills (playing twins) singing the song “Let’s Get Together yeah, yeah, yeah…” I had to have a ukulele and learn to play and sing that song. I did. My youngest brother still has that ukulele. Why does he have it? Geez, my mom must have given it to him, I need to talk to him about that…
10. FIGURE SKATES AND OUTFIT
Even though frozen vacant lots is where I did most of my ice skating my parents would occasionally take me to Michael Kirby’s professional ice skating rink in Chicago. Kirby was a Canadian National champion ice skater who started the first ice skating schools in Chicago (now long gone). I couldn’t afford lessons but I could afford the small fee to free skate whenever I could talk my dad into taking me there. I decided since it was a professional atmosphere I needed to look the part. My Christmas gift that year was the most beautiful pair of figure skates, flesh-colored skaters tights and a black corduroy short skaters skirt with red satin lining (red again). The next time I went to that rink I felt like a million bucks. And, I swear, I skated way better than in my typical street garb.