Childhood Confusions II
Bill Long 11/11/08
With One Example of Inexplicable Immobility
If my confusion in 1960 related to the US Presidential election, and in 1961 related to the crisis in the Congo, in 1963 it centered around the death of Pope John XXIII. I was brought up as a Protestant in a CT suburb of NYC. My forebears were all Protestants, and I take some pride in the fact that my first American ancestor, one of the founding company of the town of Stratford, CT (1639), is listed as "Puritan" in geneaological records. So, Catholicism was something I really didn't understand, and the fact that a Pope died in 1963, when I had just turned 11, meant that I was right in the midst of big confusions. Here are my memories.
First, I recall news reports from the Evening News beginning with words: "The Vatican." I didn't know what "The Vatican" was but since I was an avid stamp collector, I decided to study up on the place and I learned it was the smallest country on earth (1000 acres) totally within the city limits of Rome. I was really interested in very small countries--like Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein, and Monaco, mostly because they had very colorful stamps--with lots of athletes--but I was baffled as to how something so small could be a country.
Also, I didn't know why this guy, the supposed leader of the Catholics, whom I thought was called "Hope John the 23rd," would wear the garb that he did. I saw his little cap and thought that the cap was missing its bill--I imagined that it was a sort of baseball cap. I wondered why he was called "Hope" John. I supposed that people looked at him in his little hat and had hope. So, that was the meaning of his name, I thought. But then the reports came every day, beginning in Spring 1963, that the "Hope" was seriously ill. It seemed to me that it took him an awfully long time to die, and I wondered what he was doing while he was about to die. Was he resting peacefully? In pain? Sort of just lying there? Finally, just about the time school was out from fourth grade (early June 1963), I heard a newscast that began with these words, "Hope is Dead." I guess it was for a number of people..
Going to Yankee Stadium
Each summer my dad would buy tickets for three of us (him, my older brother Rick and me) to go to Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees. It was by far the most anticipated event of the summer. It was especially gratifying because we always went to Sunday doubleheaders and, on those days, we got to skip church. But we went to doubleheaders because we could get two games for the price of one. Though I looked forward to these events from 1959 until the Mets moved into Shea Stadium in 1964 (which seemed to make us uncertain whom to see--my dad wanted to watch Warren Spahn in his last years--when he was playing with the Mets), I was confused by a number of things about the preparations and the games.
I recall spending the Saturday nights before the games standing outside craning my head and looking at the heavens to see if I could divine whether it might rain on Sunday. I don't think I could take the disappointment of a rainout. On one occasion I was so worried by dark clouds that appeared in the sky that I interrupted my parents at a party and asked my dad whether those were rain clouds. He said they weren't--but that they were dark because it was night. I, who was confused by almost everything, it seemed, heaved a huge sigh of relief, and was able to sleep that night.
My mother always packed lunches for the game. We took sandwiches and sodas, with some crackers or fruit. For all the years I went to Yankee Stadium as a kid, I never was permitted to buy anything at the park--except a program (I diligently kept score). I would watch the vendors shouting "Hot Dogs!" and "Beer!" and would watch them slather mustard on the hot dogs. The vendor didn't even ask if the person wanted mustard. It just came with the dog, like the bun. No little plastic containers of mustard or relish. I thought that the supply of mustard he had must be endless, because for each dog that he sold, he reached in and there was always more mustard. My mouth watered, and I ate my peanut butter and jelly.
There were no limits on the number of beers you could order, and several of the men around me seemed to be ordering lots of beer. One would take the plastic cups in which the beer came and, after finishing the beer, stomp them flat by his seat. I looked back to see a bunch of flattened cups; I wondered what beer must taste like...
The men were loud at the games. I don't know why they were loud (I suppose it was because they were rooting on the Yankees), but my dad told me on one occasion that it was because they were Italians, and Italians were louder than we Protestants. Indeed, this proved to be a sort of sore spot in our family history because my mother's only sibling married an Italian girl. We would go to her house for special occasions and would be welcomed by everyone, but my father was clearly uncomfortable with all the loudness, and we kids caught the message that this wasn't to be our world. It is funny (or maybe not funny, but a sad truth) that one's parents strong preferences often not only shape a child's early experience but change the way that the child relates to others and to the world. Though we always say that we can "overcome" our past or not be "bound" by our past, sometimes precious little buds are cauterized in our youth before they have the chance to blossom. I know that none of us four boys keeps in touch with any of the next generation of my mother's brother's family. Just the way things have turned out...
Thre are other confusions from my past, but these are enough for now..I will write one more essay--on a story about my immobility.