Thursday, March 28, 2013

On Growing Older – Group School Photo - 1966

The photo above kind of got sprung on me. It appeared on a Facebook friend’s page. Had not purchased the photo from the photographer originally. Had never seen it until about three weeks ago.

My first honest reaction to it was how white it was. That I have since lived most of the past thirty five years since leaving Philly in or around the diverse city of New York. That because of economics that means one of the less expensive outer boroughs other than Manhattan.

Oh I did live in Manhattan decades ago in a studio dormitory room and shared an apartment near campus.

Manhattan in the late seventies was still a largely American city. Now it is an International City with international prices like Hong Kong or London.

That the mind does wander and getting back to Philly and youth and the memory of it all, perhaps could be the subject of a book.

The Neighborhood in which I grew up in is no longer 99 and 44/100 percent white, ethnic western European white. The neighborhood was predominately Irish with a smaller percentage of Italian and Polish.  

The German ethnic label thing had faded into the background with two world wars and it was not thought of as an ethnic thing even though some of the names of my classmates in retrospect were definitely German sounding.

The school is still there as a building. It is no longer a Catholic school but a public charter school in the now 50% black and Hispanic neighborhood as per official government stats.

The front doors in the photo were plate glass. The present ones are steel. The parish complex is chopped up with the school a city owned public school, the convent with its many cell like bedrooms is a half-way house for Catholic pregnant teens and the Church is on life support with two weekend masses and two weekday masses being said by one priest shared with another parish about a mile away, the Italian parish, with that priest in that rectory.

There is or was the grave of the Monsignor who founded the parish in 1919 somewhere in the church yard next to the closed up old rectory.

Lots of stats and not lots of feelings.

The real feelings have to do with growing older and with word of mouth knowing that at least eight of the faces in the photo are no longer with us on this earthy plane.

In fact, my being on Facebook had to do with one friend seeking me out after the death of my neighbor classmate of two doors down from where I grew up. The social network thing is the present day family dinner or town square of virtual reality.

I never really thought much about it. The classes were not co-ed. It was an all-boys class, separate and not equal next to an all-girls class. The boys classes got the better qualified teaching nuns imho. Then all off to an all-boys High School, now also a Public School charter high school. 

The inner city has no appeal to the RC church. The money is in the burbs.

And indeed in another age of segregated by sex schools, a mighty school system was built as separate but superior to the public school system that rejected Irish and German Catholic immigrants in the 1840’s, riots and the determination to build that separate but superior Catholic School System in spite of the Protestants and the Protestant Banks having all the money.

That many a Catholic parish in inner city America got built on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters of immigrants looking positively to a better life in America. That is something that carpetbagger bishops now cannot understand regarding the history of the place in which they now mismanage or "govern" by modern global Harvard / Brown / Wharton spreadsheet style management.

As I try to reconcile a lot of things, I realize that the factories surrounding that school above are either empty, torn down and turned into parking lots or on a small scale supporting many small businesses in one building or gentrified into living lofts etc.

That the coded talk of my youth, with the adults wanting to escape Philly and get over to Jersey or to Montgomery County was code talk to fantasize a non-racial paradise outside of racially changing, economic changing Philly in the post WWI and post WWII changing world of demographics along with rights for minorities – civil rights that extend to the future, the now, and regarding issues like marriage equality etc.

That I catch an occasional fragmented sentence from old friends, perhaps coded phrase of now living in Jersey or Montgomery County of really meaning having achieved their parents dreams of family harmony in a safe enclave place outside the origins of the family within the old city proper.

The Europeans spent decades rebuilding their inner cities after war and love to live, eat and entertain there.

American spared the destruction of war and with a vastness of land into which to expand, made the loop thing of the American civilization being turned into a grassy fortress suburbia supported by the combustion engine etc.

Someone took the time to label the photo with names. I remember and recognize 90% of the names and faces there.

Cannot quite still figure what happened to a lot of the years from there to here.


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