Sunday, May 24, 2015

World War II Wings: An Ace

"Nice D.P.A.s neighbor! Impressive!" 

There he was.  Leaning over his side of the fence, he was watching us clear great thorny stands of underbrush in the backyard of the property. Dusk was creeping up and so were the mosquitoes.

"What's a D.P.A?" 

"Designated Pile Area. S'a military term. You all are welcome to come over and build some D.P.A.s in my yard if you like." 

He clinked the ice in his cocktail tumbler and smiled broadly.  The drink looked so unbelievably delicious and cold, he surely noticed our pathetic exhausted, bug-bitten, mud covered faces staring at it.

"Better yet, it's happy hour. Why don't you two come over for martinis?"

It seems so long ago we met Jim. He was our new neighbor on the lake where we had just bought an overgrown acre with a dilapidated house nestled in the oaks, Spanish moss and sky potato vines.  It was a shambles, but it was going to be home.

Jim's house, next door to us on the lake, was the opposite.  It was beautifully landscaped and well-tended in direct contrast to the seething  jungle we were attempting to tame.  Likewise, Jim was dapper at all times in his ever-present golf wear.  

Besides happy hour, golf was his passion. He and my husband would go out in the morning all ready to subdue the enemy links with a vengeance.  They would return in the evening, conquering heroes, leaning on each other in thick discussion of the economy or politics or any other topic where a little shouting, carousing and good-natured argument seemed sporting to make a point.

He was just a charmingly continental, mustachioed, gregarious, conservative retired guy of Scottish descent on his second marriage to a supernaturally patient Filipino beauty named Aida. 

And we loved him.

David, Aida, Jim and me at their nuptials.

Lt. Allen J. "Jim" Chalmers joined the U.S. Army when he was in his mid-teens, effectively lying about his age.  They bought the fib, he was tall and mature for his age, and he was off to training.

His goal:  Fly planes. 

Based in the United Kingdom, Jim flew sorties in and out of mainland Europe in his quick and maneuverable Mustang named "Daisy Mae III." He, and his squadron, escorted giant, slow and unwieldy B-17 bombers to their targeted drop zones, repelling enemy aces who buzzed around the bombers like flies.

Jim's squadron was known as "The Little Friends."

Thank you, Jim.  Raising a glass to you, our friend.  Ride the skies.

Capt. James D Smith, 376th Fighter Squadron. P-51D 44-14514 E9-Y "Daisy Mae III", being flown in this photo by Lt. Allen J "Jim" Chalmers. War weary P-51B behind is 42-106538 E9-A and at the rear is P-51D 44-14650 E9-V "Curiosity Betty II" of Lt. Kenneth J Scott Jr.
Photo: Ed Kozicki

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Priests, Lies and Boone's Farm Apple Wine

OCTOBER 19, 2010


Beth Anne leaned over and said to me in a big-eyed giggly whisper, ”Did you hear what happened to Father Dennehy at the basketball game Friday night?”

“No, what happened?”

 “Can you believe that one of the cheerleaders walked right up to him and…”

The classroom intercom crackled and a chipper efficient voice asked: “Will you please send Linda to the office, Sister?”

“Linda, go ahead and take your things with you.”

Slinging my shoulder bag over my arm and gathering my books, I could feel the laser beam eyeballs of my fellow classmates as they fantasized luridly. They all hoped, I am sure, that something juicy would be coming down. I just hoped it wasn’t really bad news.

It wasn’t.

It was just one of those strange Mondays when a steady stream of girls, all cheerleaders, was being called down to the office at intervals. I hardly noticed who went or when. I didn’t even notice the odd sort of attention they were giving me when they returned to class and whispered amongst themselves.
Cheerleader drama wasn’t my thing.

Beth Anne was dying to finish her sentence, but didn’t have a chance.

My eyes and nose both were producing enough snot to annihilate an entire forest of Kleenex. I had a mean cold and all I wanted to do is get through the day, walk home, and curl up with my cat and The Fellowship of the Ring on the big green corduroy couch where, magically, no one could last longer than five minutes before falling asleep. I was sick.

It was eerie walking the distance to the office down the loggias devoid of bustling kids. Everyone was in class and it was surreal, or I was woozy from my malady.

Standing outside of the office waiting for me was Father Thomas Dennehy, pacing, arms crossed, and face mottled red. I thought for one optimistic moment that  he might be waiting for one of the guys to show up for corporal punishment of one kind or another.

But, no, he was waiting for me.

Father Dennehy was an Irish priest, complete with a folksy sing-songy brogue.  He was highly valued as a “rainmaker” for the Archdiocese. He could squeeze every last penny out of a congregation to build a church, gymnasium or a school using every technique possible to extract pledges and cash short of holding us upside down by the heels and shaking it out of us.

Or offering penances. When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs and all that.

He begged, pleaded, scolded, guilted, coerced, blackmailed and even exerted mild forms of extortion.
He was aggressive. And the Church loved him for it.

He was also well known amongst the guys for his no-hostages-taken disciplinary practices of getting their attention in a loud and physical manner and making examples. The good Father was a pugilist and enjoyed boxing with the boys to toughen them up. Many times I would see him paired off with one of the guys, bare-fisted, hopping around on light feet, sparring and ducking and lunging for fun.
But when he was not having fun, watch out.

Once Father burst into a class, pulled a boy out into the loggia by the back of the shirt, and smacked him down to the ground for some transgression. Another time he plucked a misbehaving scamp out of the school bus dragging him down the middle aisle by the kid’s hair and down the steps to the outside where he cuffed him, hard. Another boy received a shove so powerful that his head smashed into a blackboard and cracked it.

In those days, the guys shrugged it off, if not in need of medical attention. Astonishingly, I heard that many of their Dads had given permission for the Father to deliver this testosterone rage of rough justice as their proxies. Even paddling.

T’was the way young men were broken and remolded in those days and the Dads and the Fathers were in cahoots. Just the guys though.

When Father had business with a girl, it was verbal, mean, and followed up by lengthy repetitive, almost begging for forgiveness, apologies.

And I apparently became the object of his attentions that morning.

 “Sit here.”

I sat in the chair in front of his big wooden desk. The open windows were behind him and he left the door open. I was relieved that the receptionist was within earshot.

 Jesus was there too. A giant crucifix towered over us on a stand behind his chair replete with a depiction of our pegged and painful Savior hanging from it, His eyes cast down in agony fixed precisely at the person being interviewed by the Father.

He sat in his leather chair and put his elbows on the desk, tenting his fingers and resting them against his lips.

“Ye took yer friends out onto the golf course behind yer house Friday night and you got ‘em all drunk on apple wine, din’t ye?”

“Uh, what?”

“Did ye get yer friends drunk out on the golf course Friday night, little missy?”


And I don’t know what possessed me, but I laughed.

His hands slammed down so hard on that desktop the telephone receiver hopped out of its cradle and skittered across the surface of his blotter.

“Yer LYIN'!” he bellowed, “Ye think I don't know a LIAR and a SNEAK when I put eyes on one?  I happen to have solid evidence and the testimony of WITNESSES pertainin’ to yer activities Friday night. I know what ye’ve been up to. Ye may get what ye want by lyin’ with everyone else who will excuse yer wanton dishonest and sneaky ways, but ye can’t lie yer way outta this!”

The receptionist’s fleeing footsteps and the slam of the outer door made me lose a little courage and some control of my bladder as well. My nose dripped unattended. I had to keep my wits about me here.

“Father, I was home Friday night with my Dad. I was sick. I didn’t go anywhere.”

“No. THIS is what ye did, girlie. Ye got that older guy ye date to buy wine for you and the girls on the cheerleadin’ squad and ye all sat out there on the fairway in the dark and got drunk! THEN ye all came to the game, those girls got to jumpin’ around like they do, and they got sick…”

Dennehy had information. How the hell did he know I was dating a college guy? How did he know the golf course was a great place, second only to the beach at Lauderdale by the Sea, to hang out and get wasted?

“Not true. I was home on the couch sick watching Star Trek with my Dad, Father.”

 “NO. YOU. WERE.NOT!” his voice was straining and I could see the cords standing out in his neck.
He picked up the phone receiver and waved it in my face.

 “We are callin’ yer Dad right now to get to the bottom of this and agree on a consequence. And I want ye to know, missy, ye’ve lied to a priest here; t’is like lyin’ in the confessional, y’know. Do ye t’ink yer goin’ to heaven when ye’re sich a liar? Ye better change yer ways, quit engagin’ in sinful behavior wit that delinquent boyfriend ‘o yers and get the drinkin’ under control. And especially quit yer lyin about it all! Hell is a consequence.”

“Jackson 33448”

 “Did ye hear a word I said?”

“Yes, Father, Jackson 33448 is his office number. His nurse assistant is Marty. She’ll put him on the phone.”

The color of his face changed drastically to a butter colored white. He scowled and spun the numbers on his rotary phone and put the earpiece to his ear. I could hear it engage.

“May I speak wit’ the Doctor please?”

Then puffing his chest and standing straight looking me square in the eye he announced into the mouthpiece, “This is Father Dennehy.”

I heard my Dad’s garbled greeting on the other end.

The good Father wasted no time and asked the big question.

“Doctor, may I ask if you know the whereabouts of your daughter this last Friday night?”
I could hear Dad’s polite even cheerful voice relay the news to the now shaken man of the cloth.
“Home with what I think is just a bad cold. We watched some TV together. Why do you ask Father?”
With that, Father Dennehy stuttered and  thanked my Dad in an awkward spray of non-connecting syllables, maybe even Gaelic was worked in there, and hung up.

He wiped his hand across his now perspiring brow and said to me, “You are dismissed. Please return to class.”

So I did.

 Classes had just begun to change and about five of the cheerleaders were eyeing me from the commons in an uncharacteristically curious display of interest.

I ran headlong into Beth Anne who, with big dramatic eyes, finished the sentence she had begun just before my interview with Father Dennehy.

“Yeah, ok, this is great. You’re gonna laugh your butt off. That cheerleader named Shelly walked right up and projectile barfed Boone’s Farm apple wine all over Father Dennehy on Friday night! Right in his face! In front of everybody in the gym! Boy was he mad!”

“Don’t I know it?” said I.

Don’t I know it.
Fast Forward - 2010. Father Dennehy, deceased in 1999, was accused just this last September of child abuse and pedophilia by a man who served as an altar boy at the parish within which the high school is located.  There is not much more to say about it until the lawsuit is at trial.

A Cradle Catholic's Priests


A Cradle Catholic's Priests

Father Mike
“Ack! Linda. Good to see you dear.”

“Ok, Mike, what in holy hell is going on?

I had waited until last. All the blue-haired ladies had lined up in front of Mike’s station self-consciously patting their hair and arranging their rosaries just right. They all had crushes on Mike, a bespectacled, gouty man with a Boston accent, because, I suspect, he delivered to all those dirty-souled little biddies that squeaky clean feeling that forgiveness brings.

I tried to control my decibels and failed. The whole church heard me anyway when I entered the confessional to exercise my sacramental privilege of Catholic penance. All the little old ladies hissed and sighed at the sound of my voice.

Skipping the prerequisite formalities, I plowed right in. Loudly.

It was the first time I was back in the jump-seat for maybe 30 years. God knew my peccadilloes already because I had installed direct trunk line to heaven’s mailroom without the intercession of a priest.

I cop to my own sins directly.

And, I am innately suspicious, no actually conditioned to be paranoid, of voluntarily coughing up my failings to a black-frocked human being. It gives him what he needs: Power over my life. And in the olden days, I am sure that it did. That was then. This is now, however.
Mike is a different kind of priest though.

And I needed answers.

“It’s like any family, Lin, and families have rotten apples. Just think about that. I am sure your family has black sheep who make everybody miserable with what they do. So do we. Pedophile priests are rotten apples and they must be cleaned out of the barrel. And they will be. Now let’s go have a beer at the Claddagh.”

That’s what I loved about Mike. He took one look at my face and knew what was on my mind. And over Harp beers we talked and talked…

He knew I was lapsing. No, my faith was losing me, and he still loved me.

  Monsignor O’Looney
“Come stand here next to me young lady. Let’s just see what we have here.”

We knew that Monsignor O’Looney was coming to class for “Report Card Day” because the nuns became all tiddly and excited dusting off shelves and spitting on their hands to smooth down cowlicks amongst the “young gentlemen.”

The monsignor was their celebrity crush, all-Catholic style.

We kids stood as he imperiously entered the room in full black cassocked Monsignor regalia. O’Looney would thoroughly embody his authority by sitting king-like in the front of the classroom, removing his bi-nodal Monsignor hat with the red pom-pom on top, and by going through up to twenty-five reports cards.

Out loud.

In front of everyone.

His Irish brogue was a buzzing drone as he called each of us up to stand by him in the front of the classroom while our grades were read off for the whole class to hear, including conduct. I made sure I had visited the bathroom before each of these events because I didn’t want any puddles forming under my knocking knees.

“Linda, Linda, Linda. Do ye t’ink you’ve been mindin’ Sister here properly?”

“Yes, Monsignor. I do t’ink I have.”

Shining a big smart ass grin out to my friends, they stared at me with fear in their eyes.

“Well, according to this, you’ve been a bit of a problem child. A “D” in conduct is nothing’ t’be smilin’ about! You’re going to stop that infernal whispering and fidgeting now, aren’t you? I want to see improvement in your behavior young lady. Your grades include a C here in Math as well. You’ll be bringin’ that up too before next time…”

And I always heard the “or else” lingering in the background like so much incense smoke. And never a mention of the A’s and B’s I earned.

Somehow I don’t think this kind of thing would fly in schools now.

 O’Looney was on the scene long before I was receiving his rough attention for my report cards. In fact, I was just an egg in my mom’s ovary. When my parents were engaged, it was this very man who would not allow them to marry in the church unless my Lutheran mother signed a document promising not to raise the children in any other faith except the Catholic faith.
“Luther was a heretic, y’know?” he snarled at her during the interview.

 Father Pete

“What should I do now?”

“Pete, just put your hands in that incubator and bless my daughter. Please.”

Pete peeled rubber to make it to the hospital the day my daughter was born.
He was the new/ old priest at our parish and all the others were attending to weddings and funerals the day I called for help.

Still not unpacked, he just got on his rental car horse and rode like the wind…

My daughter was born a little early but her heart and her lungs weren’t working on their own. We had to flick the soles of her feet and hope she would take a deep gasp and to coax her heart to beat and her lungs to expand.

When Pete arrived, she was lying on her stomach naked but for a tiny diaper and a pink visor attached to her eyes with velcro to protect them from the glaring bilirubin lights. She looked like a midget pink Power Ranger with bruised feet.

Pete’s hands were what I remember best. They were chubby and his gentle holy fingers sported a tuft of white hair on each knuckle. When he put his hands in through the incubator ports and placed them gently on Tori’s little body, the blessing just poured out of him like honey.

Tori wiggled and smiled.

Naturally, Pete became close friends with us in the English tradition of priests home visiting parishioners. His was always a knock on the door at dusk when he was winding up his neighborhood walk that day and wanted to undo all the good he had done with his exercise regime. After a scratchy kiss on the cheek, Pete would always make his signature demand.

“Where’s my ham sandwich and my gin and tonic?”

For the first time in my cradle Catholic life, we had a priest, a real live priest friend with spiritual benefits, at every one of our family events.

As is the practice in the Catholic Church, no priest really remains long enough in parish to put down roots, it gets too emotional, and Pete was transferred to Georgia after a while.

We made plans to visit him next time we headed north.

At Mass one Sunday, the new priest in a matter-of-fact tone, announced that Pete had died. It was a punch in the stomach. I gasped so loud the church went silent and all heads turned to me. I felt my knees buckle in grief. I had to leave.

Father Manning

“Have you said your morning prayers?”

“My whole day is a prayer Father.”

“But have you said your morning prayers? No? You know you’re driving the nails into His hands yourself! Kneel down here now and say them!”

“But Father…”

“The bus will wait!”

Every morning Fr. Manning would stalk the bus stop interrogating us about our prayer life or obscure Baltimore Catechism questions. It was an art form to avoid him by arriving at just the right second to board the bus before he could sneak up and pin us down.

He scared us mostly with his graphic passion for the more violent aspects of crucifixion and martyrdom.  He always told the stories of the saints who were made so by becoming lion food or for enduring the untimely ripping out of one or more body parts while still consciously professing the faith...

When I went on to high school, I didn’t see much more of him. I assumed his senility had advanced and he was being kept under a tighter rein much to the relief, I am sure, of the grade schoolers who had been tormented by him at the bus stop.

After I achieved a successful run as the lead in the school play, Father F-, a young progressive priest fresh from seminary, proposed that I do a new thing during the Mass at church.
He invited me to be the first girl ever to present the scripture readings at a full-on Mass. This was even before girls were thought of to be altar servers.

This was going to break down some barriers…And I was thrilled.

For the first time in my life as a Catholic, I thought , “I can do this!”

It makes the whole Mass thing something in which I can really participate rather than passively sitting- standing-kneeling. No more hokey-pokey rigamarole through every dreary service…This was getting interesting.

So young Fr. F- and I rehearsed and rehearsed and studied and delved deeply into the theological interpretations of each piece until I felt like I knew exactly what I was sharing with the congregation perfectly.

And my father was so proud. Bonus!

The Sunday of my groundbreaking came and Fr. F- and my father proudly escorted me up to the church entrance.

Suddenly, a figure in black blocked out the sun and my way in.

 Looking up, the butterflies in my stomach turned to vampire bats.

Father Manning.

He was in full black cassock and hat, literally shaking in anger with a look of pure disgust on his face. Looking closely, he had not remembered his dentures that morning so his face was all sharpness and angles. He spit a little when he spoke.

“This girl will not enter this church until we get something straight. She will not be allowed at the pulpit if I have anything to do with it.”

Fr. F- tried to intercede. “Alright Michael, it's ok.  Maybe she can do the readings in front of it.”
“Absolutely NOT!” His voice was booming. “She is PROHIBITED from even approaching the sacristy by church law! It would be an abomination.”

My father, now so conflicted between his pride in me and the authority of the priest confronting us, blurted the central question, “Why?”

“Don’t you know? What kind of Catholic are you? She is female. She bleeds.”


I was moved to write about these priests, both good and bad, so that I might discover some way of reconciling my profound sadness and, yes deep anger, with the Roman Catholic Church.
I feel mortally wounded on a spiritual level by the Vatican’s recent misogynistic rulings. Although as a cradle Catholic with obvious past healed-over flesh wounds from which I have recovered, I cannot reconcile the obvious categorization by the Church of women as potential egregious violating wounds on the body of the faith any more.

To borrow from Someone who would’ve found all this so very wrong:  It is finished.

“Here's what the Vatican's internal prosecutor, Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, said from the news conference in Rome, when asked to explain why ordination of women was included alongside of rulings concerning sexual exploitation of children and the disabled by male… priests: ‘Sexual abuse and pornography are more grave dealings, they are an egregious violation of moral law. Attempted ordination of women is grave, but on another level; it is a wound that is an attempt against the Catholic faith on the sacramental orders.’

In a report from the AP, reporter Nicole Winfield explained that "The rules...list the attempted ordination of a woman as a ‘grave crime' to be handled according to the same set of procedures as sex abuse -- despite arguments that grouping the two in the same document would imply equating them.... Scicluna defended the inclusion of both sex abuse and ordination of women in the same document as a way of codifying two of the most serious canonical crimes against sacraments and morals that the congregation deals with. “ -From Psychology Today by Regina Barreca, Ph.d