Catholic Church: Albion, New York
(Not finalized, below is an abridged rough version from a childhood in the life, Motivated from my visit to my old hometown.)
...I spent my childhood often wishing to be Italian, Catholic, and or Black. Couldn’t really explain why; I would describe it as a calling. Albion is a small town predominately white, but with strong representation in numbers and customs to the Italian and African-American populations.
My older sister was often the audience I was looking for, as I would describe my plight. “I should have been born Italian”. “What am I doing in this white body?” “I am sure God made a mistake, I was supposed to be black. This was given more credence when occasionally I would be the only white person at a party or night club of 150+ people. Or having people not believe me when I would tell them I was “not” Italian…over and over and over (surely 1000s of times in my youth). Many of the community leaders and coaches were strong Italian men, who all seemed to be connected in friendship with laughter and caring for each. Many of the old-time Italian men would call the teenage boys names in Italian that we had no idea what they were saying. And no one, no one would break the code of silence and tell us what it meant. It would drive us crazy. We knew it wasn’t good though.
I was born into a Protestant home, yet I longed for the Catholic Church. Father Whetter must have known this, and regularly invited me to Church functions including the Annual Alter Boy Picnic. It might have been because the boys celebrating the Alter Boy Picnic got out of school for the day. Or perhaps, it was a combination of getting out of school and being with many of my best friends for the day. There were always so many people at these functions, sharing life and communion.
These are but a few random thoughts and memories about my desire, calling, or dream to be Black, Italian, and or Catholic. I would joke about it often, and tell all my friends and teachers. This mystery was not solved until my early 30s.
One of my best friends, Allen had 12 younger brothers and sisters and cousins and others living under one fairly small roof. On nights Allen couldn’t go out and be a teenager, he was often the older child in charge of dinner and getting the kids to bed. I remember the first time I helped him. It was overwhelming and fun. What struck me the most was what happened at 11:15 pm when I was getting ready to go home. All the kids were down and most were sleeping when the woman of the house came in. She was quiet, got the report from the day from Allen, and waited quietly for Allen’s Dad to come home. Both Mother and Father, also known to these kids as Aunt, Uncle, Grandma or Grandpa, or just Ma and Pa or friend worked two full time jobs.
11:15 pm 5 days a week was the time both husband and wife were home, together. The only time their schedule allowed. I watched as Allen went around the house, quietly, waking up one room after another as the kids took turns on Ma and Pa’s laps. No fighting, no arguments, just
lots of quiet screams of joy. Some spoke about their days, some just hugged. After about 30 minutes, it was bedtime again, and everyone, even the youngest, went back to his or her beds without a peep of discord.
Allen and his family were so human and full of love. They just happened to also be African-American. I wanted what they had. I wanted what many of the people going to the Catholic Church had. I wanted what the Italian men who I looked up to had.
A love, a sharing, a caring for each other that continually brought people together to share each others lives in community. Being important, giving meaning to each individual by being seen and valued every day.
My home as a child had great love. It also had a disconnect from a loving community or communities. I wanted what was so plain for me to see in others.
It is the same thing I want today. For me, my family, and especially, my daughter. And while it may be found more readily in certain groups or communities, I am drawn to it and need it. I must create it.
"Everybody's famous in a small town."