Category Archives: Memories

Punishment (Growing up Catholic)

I was raised Catholic in a Polish Neighborhood in Chicago. I also went to a parochial school of the Catholic variety. What occurred at the school was most of the major trauma that would shape the rest of my life. It was there that I developed a very personal definition of punishment.

I fell in love with reading from the minute I was exposed to the perils of Dick and Jane. That series soon lost its luster due to the thin plot lines and it was not long before I graduated to reading more sophisticated material. It was then I was introduced to the Great Books Club, a national program designed to foster reading excellence. The assigned reading material for the club was purposely beyond the grade level of its participants.

I achieved club membership in my first year of eligibility as a second grader and also the next year as a third grader. I was looking forward to making it my fourth year.

Sister Leonard Ann* had been teaching fourth grade at my school since forever. She had actually taught my father and his brothers. I am not sure I ever heard a good story about her.

     She was hateful from year one and by that I actually mean the first year after Christ died. She was that old. I think Jesus sensed she was on her way and feeling the futility of the future turned himself in.

I entered the fourth grade looking forward to the fifth grade. I just had to survive Sister Leonard Ann. It soon became apparent that for that to happen I had to have luck on my side. It also became apparent that I was not lucky.

I had heard about the sister’s teaching technique from my father and uncles. That did not prepare me for the actual experience. Nothing can really prepare you for the book throwing, knuckle smacking and ear pulling she employed outside of daily exposure to a 3 Stooges marathon in 3D. The one thing I had not heard about her was her degree in punishment of the psychological variety.

I soon became convinced she must have been used to interrogate prisoners during the wars. Yes, wars plural. I meant all wars.

It was after the first month of school that the Great Books Club members for the year would be announced. I expected this year to be no different. “.. Walter Praczek, Susan Shirzinski and Alan Vostek. Well congratulations children.”

My face matched the writing paper on my brand new big chief notebook, pale and blank. I had no idea why my name was not called and I was losing a battle to prevent tears from flowing. Glancing around the room the Sister’s shark like gaze fell upon me.

“So tell me Mr. Szybinski* . Why did you not make the club this year?”

“I, uh, I don’t know.”  Then the damn broke and I could see nothing through the refraction of the tears. A few moments but what seemed like hours later the Sister announced that I had indeed made the Club. I first felt relief but that quickly morphed into anger.

Why had the bitch humiliated me? Well, I would have thought, “bitch”, if I used the word.

The vocabulary of a nine-year-old Catholic schoolboy in 1970 Chicago generally did not consist of the word bitch.

The only word I had at my disposal was wench. A strange word for a nine year old boy but I read a lot. Maybe it was Nathaniel Hawthorne. The author did not matter; the point was she was a wench.

The nun I now refer to as The Bitch Who Shall Not Be Named had tried to take away the main element in my life that brought me joy. It was her cruel idea of punishing me for what I can only image to be the crime of existence.

The experience now is pretty much just a story to tell, although from time to time I find when something good happens I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I guess this experience is not done with me or I it. I am currently writing a story of fiction inspired by my time with the bitch who shall not be named.

*The names have been changed to protect the innocent (me).

This post was in response to the Daily Prompt. https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/punishment/, and my need to vent.

Sometimes, It’s Just Too Much

St. Peter was back at his podium before the gates.

 

 

 

He was just beginning to get back in to the swing of things when the days first shuttle announced its arrival.

Peter felt something he had not experienced in quite a long time, sadness.

The shuttle arrived bourn on the strains of a soliloquy by Professor Snape and supported by the melody of David Bowies “Heroes” leading into the Eagles “Best of My Love.”

Peters view of the shuttle became cloudy and he wiped a tear from his cheek.

“Sometimes , this job is just too much and vacations are way too few.”

 

 

 

 

The Fading Ghosts of ’69

The place had emptied. The last hot dog wrapper of 2015 had drifted across the infield and made its exit out into the parking lot. A few wisps of vapor had lingered in the right field bleachers. If one listened closely one could almost hear the vapor speak.

“Same time next year fellas?”

“Yea, the usual.”

“I think next year is the last, next year.”

“What are you giving up?”

“Never, but next year we’ll be satisfied and we’ll move on.”

“Yea, I think you’re right. It feels different this time.”

“I saw that goat leave during the season.”

“Oh really, when?”

“It was just after a walk off win.”

“Which one? We had a bunch.”

“September 28, 2015.”

“The last one, against the Royals?”

“Yea. We didn’t know it then but the goat knew.”

“Knew what?”

“That we just took 2 out of 3 from a team bound for the World Series.”

“Yea but that was before we made the playoffs, before we beat St Louis to move to the NLCS.”

“Yea but at that point the goat knew that was a foregone conclusion and that his time was up.”

“I’m not going to miss that goat.”

“Me either, he stunk.”

“When does spring training start?”

“It’s just around the corner.”

Note: The Author is a lifelong Cub fan and spent the summer of 1969 firmly entrenched in the friendly confines.  They have broken his heart more times than the women in his life. He is still a diehard fan….of both.

Cruising With The Top Down

Steel repetitively cutting through white foam. Upon occasion the appearance of a red streak breaks the surface and is soon blotted by fluffy white paper. I look at the glass and the man that I have become looks back. He looks a lot like my father at this point in his life. I am just four years short of his last year ever. I remember watching him shave. At some time he switched to electric and it wasn’t as interesting to watch. I expect that if I had mentioned that he would have switched back, despite the cuts.

My fathers life was full of joy and pain, mostly of the physical variety and knowing what I know now, some fear. He had lived most of his life with type 1 diabetes.

I do not know what he was told upon diagnosis as to any limits his life had. I do know that he lived his life as if he had none.

It wasn’t until I was older that I noticed that time was imposing physical limits. Limits that would make sense had he been 25 years older. His eyesight was going. His peripheral vision was the first to go. Laser surgery could only prolong the inevitable.

Through it all my Dad woke up every morning and lived. He woke up, injected himself and went to work. Sometimes he woke up , injected himself, went to work, came home, slept, woke up and went to his second job. My Dad worked a lot to support his family.

I remember coming home for lunch and eating in the basement so as to not wake him.

It would be just a couple hours before he went to his second job. He had four kids by the age of 28. In those days that is what you did, although I am not sure that the schedule wasn’t accelerated. Time was not an ally.

Although he worked a lot I have plenty of memories of time spent with him. My earliest memory was of cruising through the sunshine in my Dad’s red chevy convertible. My brother and I were sitting in the back seat and it started to rain.

I remember my dad laughing and saying,“Its just a sun shower, we won’t melt.”

He kept the top down and my brother and I laughed. His life was like that. It rained sometimes but he laughed, kept the top down and cruised on.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Fathers and those that love them.

Yes, there is some sadness in my heart. But I can still hear my Dad’s laughter.

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
Mark Twain

Do Not Go Quietly (Requiem for a King)

     Herbert was pulling pearly gate duty again, he volunteered this time. It was a chance to meet people at the end of their journey and witness all of their worries taking wing. It was an experience he could not forget and he had to share in it once more. 

The first time it occurred, he felt guilty that he took pleasure at being at the end of a person’s life. The guilt only lasted until the next person stepped off of the shuttle. A sufficient time for reality to settle in had past and most of the arrivals had a realized they were not heading to a much warmer climate. This stop at the pearly gates was final confirmation that all would be well.
The first shuttle of the day had arrived and unloaded its passengers and while it was sans knights on noble steeds*, the experience was satisfying and he found himself looking forward to the next arrival.

During the wait, Herbert was trying to read the latest issue of People but he was having a hard time concentrating.

The lobby’s muzak was covering the best of Kenny G. While the title may be just a small lie, the music itself belonged at the alternate end of the road.

Soon the sounds of a blues riff in E-Minor mercifully arrived on the wind.

Herbert was somewhat of guitar buff and he thought he recognized the fat sounds of a Gibson announcing the arrival of the next shuttle.

It’s about time we got some righteous tunes up here, he thought.

The notes reached a crescendo as the shuttle appeared and BB King jumped out and completed his riff to announce his arrival. Herbert was blown away.

“Wow,what an entrance,” he exclaimed.
“But why the blues Mr. King? Most people are actually happy upon reaching the pearly gates.”

“Young man you don’t always have to be sad to play the blues. It can be a celebration that sad times are in the past.”

Nice philosophy, thought Herbert.

“Besides,I’m B.B King. You expect me to play Kenny G?

“Oh heavens no,” replied Herbert”

“ I’m looking forward to playing to a new audience. You don’t have many critics up here do you?”

“Oh no, their final destination is much warmer.”

Thank you B.B. King for nourishing my soul.

*If you missed that reference see “Waiting For Dulcinea”

Lovable Winners (Go Cubs Go)

Sports teams are mostly remembered in the won-loss column. Whether it is fair or not is inconsequential. That is just how it is. Athletes are judged by similar guidelines. How good was the fielder? What was their batting average? How many yards from scrimmage did the running back accumulate? How many league rushing titles did they have? Unfortunately, the same kind of judgments made every day in the real world do not escape those of the sports arena.

Once in a while there is transcendence. Players of all qualities can win humanitarian awards. Sometimes when worlds collide, teams do the right thing.

The passing of Ernie Banks highlighted what he meant to the city and the neighborhoods of Chicago. The memories shared by friends and family highlighted his sunny disposition and revealed that yes he really was that happy.

His passing also highlighted the fact that he was human. In his twilight years he became estranged from his wife. When he passed, another women lay claim to his assets stating that Ernie gave them to her in a new will. The legal fight that ensued may or may not have threatened the last wishes of Mr. Cub.
In the skirmish, the funeral home that performed the burial services waited to get paid and in turn filed a claim against his estate. Many internet comments urged the Chicago Cubs to do the right thing. Perhaps I am foolhardy to believe otherwise but I do not believe some comments on the internet persuaded the Cubs to settle the matter. I think when the need presented itself they did not hesitate to settle the bill for the man who had given so much to the Cubs and the city of Chicago.

We all know the last time the Cubs won the world series was 1908 and most of us can calculate that it has been 106+ years since those games. We don’t need the math wizards behind the mikes to remind us of that every time there is a break in the action and the talk turns to the “lovable losers”. I for one do not put the Chicago Cubs in that category. Their recent play for Ernie in the game of life puts them in the all too lonely Lovable Winners category.

Go Cubs Go!

The Fading Echoes of ’69

Most of my memories of the summer of 1969 are composed of the sounds of the crack of a bat and the calls of the Wrigley Field venders. I was a seven year old living on the Northwest side of Chicago. Naturally, I was* a Cub fan.

1969 is remembered as the one that got away from the Cubs. They were 9 games up in their division going into September before going on a disastrous road trip.

Some say they should have just thrown away their return tickets and kept on going.

1969 never got away from me. The bus extravaganzas my friends and I took to Wrigley. The contests to see who could eat the most 50 cent pizzas. The beautiful ‘lets play two’ days spent in the bleachers of the friendly confines are events deeply embedded in the joyous memories of my youth.

One by one the heroes of my youth are passing from this world but the joyous memories from that magical summer only gain strength.

The voice of Ron Santo no longer echoes the joy and sorrow of the days game on the radio but my mind continues to replay the image of his heal click celebration of another win.

The gorgeous summer days in Wrigley that inspires ones thoughts to “lets play two” will still occur with regularity but Ernie Banks, the author of that sentiment, will no longer express that desire. My soul however will continue to do just that.

The authors of that wonderful summer in Chicago may pass but the chapter they wrote will continue to contain memories that live in my heart until I too fade into echoes.

My sincere thanks to Ernie and Ron for being a wonderful part of my childhood.

*I only use the term ‘was’ because of grammatical correctness. Outside the realm of grammar the past tense of ‘to be’ does not make sense when paired with any form of the term ‘Cub fan’.

Something Different for Father’s Day: Fathers Day Blues, Soon to be Brights.

It will be my eighteenth Fathers Day with out my father. I woke up feeling a bit sad. Yes, I still miss him. I always miss him. Feeling the need to express my self in a more mournful manner, I picked up my guitar and began to play some blues progressions. I usually begin too fast and slow down as the moment takes me. I was starting to reach the proper tempo where the feeling in my soul begins to resonate with the notes but before that happened I stopped and decided that I needed to look at his death with a different perspective.

I put down the guitar and thought about this. I thought about my sense of loss but more importantly my father’s sense of loss. My father was a type one diabetic almost his entire life. He was diagnosed at a time when the only self administered glucose test was a urine test. Use of the urine test is kind of like using a history book to predict today. It reflects the amount of blood sugar of the past not the present. It also does not reflect low blood sugar levels.  Because of this it was very hard for diabetics to be accurate when trying to maintain normal blood sugar levels. It’s the extreme rise and fall of blood sugar in a diabetic that causes major damage to many of their organs.

My father’s body was no exception. By the time he was in his mid 50’s, the blood circulation in his legs was poor and several procedures to increase blood flow showed minimal success.  It became very hard for him to walk and his vision was very poor.  This was difficult for me to witness, I can’t imagine how hard it was for him to live through. He had been very active his entire life and he was now unable to take part in many of the things he loved.

I look back at  the direction my dads body was headed, with blindness and amputations just around the corner, and I know that it was a blessing that he never got to that point. I have suspected this as truth for a while but I was hoping that full recognition of  this would help me become more at peace with his passing.

I went back and picked up my guitar, hoping I could now play a happier tune. I strummed a few chords to the Eagles “Take It Easy” but they just didn’t hold together. I thought that my soul was not ready for such an upbeat tempo so I then tried “Teach Your Children” by Crosby , Stills and Nash. Still it fell flat. I then went back to the blues and my soul hummed in harmony with my guitar as my fingers danced along a blues progression in E.

I guess I will be a bit selfish for a while longer but the good memories I have and the knowledge that he is at peace will help me to strum a less mournful tune someday.

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