A Great Day In The City

 

I went into the city today, Paddy’s Day

It was a nice ride on the bus from Jersey into the PA Bus Terminal.

 

I was going to go to the school and church but I decided to take the 8th Avenue Line up to 103rd Street and walk around a little bit first. The subway is a little different than what I remembered. First I decided to buy one of the transit passes that they use now. A pretty woman showed me how to get the ticket out of the machine with the touch glass system. Well- she did the whole process for me. Four bucks and you can ride the subways and the buses all day long. A guy told me “you take the “C” train for the local stops”. It used to be the “CC”. The “A” train is still the express up to 125th Street. I enjoyed the familiar ride noticing that things haven’t changed that much. The train was pretty clean but the brakes squealed more than they should have.

 

Coming out at 103rd Street I remembered that I shined shoes there for a dime. My father was the best customer- he gave me 50 cents, come to think of it, he “helped” me to build the shoe shine box. A pleasant, familiar, walk along, on the park side, taking time to sit and just enjoy being there. There are some nice buildings to see, unique to the city.

 

At 106th- “my block”- a park bench beckoned me to sit and enjoy watching the cranes and the men working on the old hospital and a twenty story apartment building being built next to the hospital. I thought of the time when as kids we sneaked into the hospital and a guy let us see the rats that they used for experiments I guess.

 

What the heck- there’s the stairs that go up the hill- Peggy Griffith talks about them in her “memories letter” to us on the website. So I might as well go up and see what has changed through the years. Two at a time I’ll have you know. The hill and the rocks are just about the same but on top there used to be croquet courts and horse shoe pits that the “old guys” used- and they were good too- ringer after ringer. There is a path up there that used to be a track where we ran a class track meet maybe in the 6th or 7th grade. My team got beat bad. I had picked the small guys and the taller guys with their long legs ran away from us. We also had a softball team that played up there. There is no field there, just an open field that slopes down toward 108th. When we hit the ball good it would keep rollin’. The view from the top out toward “my block” is terrific. There they are building the $2,000,000 apartments and you can see all the way up the blocks. What a view! There used to be older guys who flew kites from up there and they would be up and out there, seemed like up to Columbus. A thought crossed my mind that maybe I could climb down the rocks but wisdom that comes with age won out. A little short cut to the stairs was enough of a challenge and back down.

 

“Duke Ellington Blvd.” has changed a lot really but looking at the numbers reminded me of people- friends- some of you who are reading this. 13- 19- 21- then 23, our home for 25 years. A look up and down Manhattan Avenue. Then continuing up the block to Columbus lookin’ at those numbers- names came through- Duffy, Scott, O’Shea, Stacum- Oh, some more too. A look up and down Columbus- Baylor’s Drug store? Nope. Wards? Nope. McShane's Happy Hour? Nope. The ice cream parlor? Nope. Still- a treat to take the time to see it all.

 

Columbus to Amsterdam is very different too. The Jewish home now takes up ¾ of the block on the south side. The Sisters of the poor home is now rebuilt and it looks like an apartment house. There’s Fitzimmon's house and Rogan's- Joe Lynch’s, Clem's- nope, Sunset- nope. Devaney, Felle’s, Paddy O’Donnel’s- nope. Oh well. Oh there’s still a funeral parlor on the corner of 107th and up the block to the church. What a nice block. Frenchy Van Slaars used to live there in 203 I think. Helen Montaign lived further up the block.

 

Peg McKiernan talked about how they are fixing up the “lower church”, senior center now, and I had seen it before the work being done. It looks like they are about 75%  finished with the work. It looks great, really and my first thought was, “What a great place for a party!” As a matter of fact it was set up for a St Patrick’s day party with balloons and green paper with shamrocks on the tables. The sign in lady told me to talk to the director who was going over some paper work at one of the tables. He was glad to talk about the place and told me that the work was being done under a federal grant for Elderly Centers. They have been in operation for, I think he said, 20 years.

 

Upstairs- I’ve been to the church a few times within the past few years but it is still a pleasure to kneel and be distracted by the memories.  There’s the baptismal font in the middle isle- the pedestal where the gospel is read- looks great- gold leaf and the tabernacle also looks great In it’s shining gold housing. The plain wooden, large black cross with the purple cloth over it for lent on the altar. Can you think of any memories of that holy place? I had some kneeling there.

 

“I’ll try the rectory, maybe Father Duffell is in.” “One of the Alumni would like to talk to you Father.”

“I’ll be right down.” “Sure enough- he was in. So we talked for a little while and then he wanted to take me over to the school.

“I can go myself father, you don’t have to bother”

“Oh, I’ll be glad to go I want to check up on a few things anyway.” He really didn’t want to check up.

We met a couple of guys doing some painting on the way, through the rectory and the sacristy and downstairs into the “lower church” which I had seen earlier set up for the party. He is excited about the work being done there. I said, “Maybe we could have an Alumni Party here”

“Oh that would be great!”

 

Then in through a hall into the school basement “The Lunch Room”  and up the stairs and into the “Auditorium” gym. The place looks great. “Mary Ann Helmrich, I want you to meet Ed, He’s one of the alumni.” Mary Ann is the principal and I had tried to reach her a few times but she is a busy person so now I finally got to meet her. She is a delight and the teachers were having a “Day off!!” work session in the gym. Mary Ann introduced me to all of them, thankfully not one at a time. There was a group of 8th graders- I think- there also and when I told them that I had graduated in 1945 they said Ohhh! I spoke to the coach who is responsible for the girls basketball team doing so well at 22-2 on the season but he said that they had lost the championship game. But the boys had won the championship in their league. They are all doing a great job. You should see the stage and the stage curtain.  I just now thought that they must have performed the sixth grade Opera, Opera that Peg had seen there on the stage. Father Duffell left to go take care of a couple of things and then get ready for the 12 o’clock mass.

 

Mary Ann showed me up to her office. Had I ever been in to the principal’s office before? Well not on the girls side. I told her of a time when I got a few raps on the hand outside of Brother Victor’s office on the other side. She wanted to show me up through the school but she was busy in the gym so I said I could find my way around OK.

 

Up the stairs- gee it’s so clean- the old oil painting holy pictures still on the walls, the paint is beginning to crack. The hallways are ablaze with the colorful pictures that the children have on display. Second graders have some of their work out there also.

“If you could have your best dream come true, what would it be?” “

‘I wish that people would stop fighting and get along and that kids would love their mom and dad and that people would stop saying bad words.” That’s good enough that I still remember it, maybe the message was for me.

 

In the class rooms the books are there with the names on them. How did 65 of us fit in these class rooms??? Up to the top floor and the 6th to 8th grader’s classes I think. Some of their work is on display out in the halls also.

 

Oh- there’s the library- there is a teacher in there doing some cataloging- I explain that I am an alumni and she is glad that I stopped by. The next room is the computer lab. “I guess it’s OK if I use a computer.” So I sit down and look at our website and send a message in the guestbook. They have cable access- pretty good.

 

Well it’s 10 to 12-  I’ll go over to mass. Back down stairs- through the gym- say goodbye to Mary Ann and the teachers- out to the back alley to the side alley- they are installing an elevator here that will let older folks or handicap access the senior center downstairs- out and up to the church. There are about 50 people there for mass. Father Duffell comes out singing “Faith Of Our Fathers” to start mass. Mass is a treat in itself but here in this church with father leading us in song as the mass progresses it is a special treat. He repeated his homily in Spanish and I wonder if he would have done more in Spanish if I was not there? He stands outside to greet the people as they are leaving. I say my goodbye to him.

 

Up to Broadway to catch the bus down to the 79th Street Cross-town. The driver had to show me how to put the pass into the machine on the bus. You put it in and it pops up again.  “What a country?”

 

The ride down Broadway is an experience too. The traffic is tough and a lot of double parked trucks making deliveries. About a half hour to get down to 79th street.- The bus goes through the park and the traffic is held up by the parade- about a half our to get past 5th and the parade to Madison Ave.

Out of the bus and walk back to 5th.  You gotta smile when you see everybody trying to be as Irish as they can- there is the excitement of the parade.

Cross 5th between bands and marchers to the other side. I want to get across the street from the Stanhope Hotel  so I can take some pictures of the throng of people in front. I know that there are a lot of Alumni there- some I know by name but many more that I don’t know- then there are- the other Irishmen too. Again- you gotta love it- the smiles- the kids- babies- the green- hats- sweaters- the marchers who have come back to their friends and families. It’s great! So I took some pictures. Then you have to go back to 79th to cross over. Back up to the Stanhope on 81st through the happy crowds- its tougher as you get closer to the hotel the crowd is heavier. There are some hellos to the Alumni that I know and a few kisses.

 

“Are you McClain?’ “Banjo’s brother?”

“Yeah that’s me. I’m Ed.”

A woman says “Eddie, do you remember me?”

“Well- what year did you graduate?”

“1960- can you believe that?”

“Wait a minute- you graduated with me didn’t you?”

“ No I’m not that old!”

“Who is she Ray?”

“Simpson- you remember from 108th  and Amsterdam!”

Well there was some of that too- trying to remember back 50 or so years ago.

 

Peg McKiernan said hello on my way through the crowded lobby. Up to  Flanagan’s retreat on the sixth floor from whence you can look out the window down on the parade. But before you do that there are a lot of Alumni to greet. Flanagan himself-and his kids- Keenan- Cleary- Zonenfeld- Sheahan- my brother Joe- his kids- women- There was a bunch of people there- a lot of ‘44ers. A can of beer- a sandwich- a piece of Irish soda bread- taking pictures. Just a lot of love in that room- Ascension being the common denominator. Some of them spend more time in the room than they do down with the common folks – the real parade goers. Some stayed to the end of the parade I hear. There were only 3 cans of beer and a few sandwiches left.

 

For me it was downstairs to say some more hellos and kisses- a few more pictures – I wish I had a few more exposures left in the camera but I got a picture of a guy who stepped out of the parade to propose to his sweetheart who was watching the parade in front of the Stanhope with some friends and family I think. She went nuts and then he went nuts, dancing as he rejoined the parade after she said yes to his proposal. The rest of the crowd cheered and laughed and clapped for them.

 

I stopped to watch a few bands on my way back to 79th for the bus. And again I got to use my Transit Pass- those things are great. It took about ten minutes for the buss to get through the parade and into the park the over to Columbus to get the bus down to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. When you’re not in a hurry you get to think of these rides as an experience than a tough ride. God bless the bus drivers. How about that- some of your fathers were bus drivers right?

 

Finding my way to the right gate for the ride home proved to be a daunting “experience”. Wouldn’t you know- I asked another pretty girl to help me figure out where I had to go. She spent about 5 minutes trying to figure it out and I felt guilty and said “That’s OK honey- I’ll figure it out.” I wandered around for a while thinking that I was headed in the right direction. Finally gave up and headed for an information booth- found the ticket window- got the bus schedule-

“Is this the gate number?”

“No That’s the bus number.”

Where is the gate?”

“It’s there by your thumb!”

“Oh! OK!”

 

Back up the escalator to find the gate. “Ah there it is.”

“Driver- do you go to Marlboro on route 9?”

“What road do you want?”

“Oh- 820!”

“There is no 820!”

“He means 520.”

“Yeah that’s right 520 not 820.”

“Yeah I stop there, come on in.”

“Thank God!”

 

And so on a sleepy ride home some of the “experiences” of Paddy’s day replayed themselves in my head.

What a great day.

Thank You Lord for St Patrick and Ascension.