In the fall of 1963, at the age of twelve, I started my first job. I was trying to follow Dad’s example of being responsible and hardworking. The job was in an old-fashioned mom-and-pop grocery, which wasn’t so old-fashioned in those days, a block from my grandparents’ house, two doors down from the barbershop, and next to the Rexall drug store. Continue reading
I made one great blunder when I was an altar boy, and I was afraid it would be the end of my altar boy career. One morning I was serving the children’s Mass, and it was during the distribution of Communion when I did the unthinkable.
To receive Communion, the congregation formed a line down the center aisle of the church, and then waited for their turn to go up to the communion railing and kneel. There, they waited for the priest to pass before them and place the Communion wafer (called the “host”) on their extended tongues. Continue reading
As the result of a recent Facebook post, which caused some controversy among my friends, I am forced to admit that I was a racist for the first half of my life. I had no clue that I was one. Like most people, I equated racism with bigotry, and I had certainly never been a bigot. However, I almost always gave preference to white people, Catholics, heavy drinkers, baseball players, funny people, and writers—people just like me. It was easy, comfortable, and predictable to have people like me around me. That took no effort. That took no risks. Continue reading
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My first powerful experience of the harsh differences between black and white people occurred in 1958 when I was seven years old. My father needed a pouch of Half & Half tobacco for his pipe, and I asked to go to the store with him, because I was sure I could talk him into buying me a Three Musketeers bar—my favorite treat. Five cents could buy a candy bar large enough for two to share, although I didn’t intend to share it with anyone. Continue reading
My grandfather, William (who was called Roger), sat on the edge of the bed running his hand through his graying hair. Between the fingers of his other hand rested the ever-present Camel cigarette, a fine wisp of smoke curling upward, his fingers stained yellow from years of smoking. When he stood, he pulled the suspenders that held up his gray trousers over his white tee shirt. His pants were always gray. Every pair of pants he owned was gray, I thought. Then he pulled on his blue shirt. Continue reading