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No Time To Say Goodbye: A Memoir of Life in Foster Care: I used to be Irish Catholic.

No Time To Say Goodbye: A Memoir of Life in Foster Care: I used to be Irish Catholic.: I used to be Irish Catholic. Now I’m an American—you grow.                                                                        ...

A sample chapter from my new book "No Time to Say Goodbye: memoirs of a Life in Foster Care" now on Amazon


                                           FIRST DANCE, FIRST KISS, SORT OF

Summer came and went and autumn arrived. That September, the Catholic Youth Organization sponsored a Harvest Moon Dance in the basement of the Assumption church and everybody who was anybody in my universe was going.
  Around the block from us lived a cute little girl named Susie Barton, and I asked her if she wanted to go to the dance with me. “But not as a date,” I said, although I have no idea why I said that. To my surprise she said yes, but I was reluctant to be happy about it because at that point in my life every silver lining seemed to have a cloud.
  On the big night, I showered, shaved the end of my chin—the only place where I was beginning to sprout a beard, a matter of grave concern to me—and laved myself in Old Spice cologne. I had at least four full bottles ofOld Spice stored away from Christmas gifts past. I didn’t know that Old Spice was a cologne and not an aftershave, and when I splashed it on my freshly shaven face, I felt as if my cheeks were on fire and I cried out, “Jesus God in Heaven!”
 Cologne and fair-skinned people don’t work well together, and my cheeks and chin turned apple red. When I left the house I looked like a tomato in a tie and sports coat, albeit a well-dressed tomato.
  Aside from the abnormal bright red glow on my face, I thought I looked spiffy and Mod—a short-lived ’60s fashion—in my then-stylish paisley-patterned vegetable motif tie that stood out brilliantly against my white Oxford-collared shirt, the only type of buttoned-down shirt I and most other Catholic school boys owned.
  I topped that off with a double-breasted blue jacket that I thought made me look swinging-London-ish in a working-class American way, but actually probably made me look like a member of the Gambino crime family in training. Under my tan peg-leg pants was the pièce de résistance, a new pair of shiny oxblood penny loafers. I left the house hearing wolf calls from Denny.
  A hardworking kid with a profitable paper route and a burgeoning weekend yard-maintenance business, I had a healthy pile of cash built up from shoveling snow and collecting returnable bottles. That day I bought Susie a dozen roses for twelve dollars, a staggering amount, I thought, and a box of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates, the middle-sized box. I was a romantic but also incredibly frugal.
 I collected the roses and chocolates from under the trash can where I had hidden them, because if I had brought them into the house the ribbing from Denny would never have ended. It would have been the best thing that ever happened in his life.
  At Susie’s house on Winter Street I rang the doorbell and her mother, father, younger brothers, sister, and dog came to answer it. They just stood there, smiling and staring at me, except for the little brother, who was embarrassed by it all and covered his eyes and giggled.
  After a while, I said, “Hi.”
  And they all said “Hi” back at one time and stared at me some more.
  “Oh doesn’t he look so cute?” Mrs. Barton said, as though I weren’t there to hear it, and then, without warning, she took a flash photo of me, blinding me. Finally, the little brother called out, “Susie! That stupid guy is here for you!”
  And I thought, “Oh, God, please kill me now.”
  Her mother and father greeted me, and I mumbled  “Hello.”
  “You seem tense,” Susie’s father said.
  “Yes, sir,” I answered, but I wasn’t tense, I was just being me. In the parlor Susie was standing by the fireplace, wearing a Mod polka-dot miniskirt, or what passed for a miniskirt in those days; tons of department-store-bought jewelry, and her hair was up in curls on one side, which I’m pretty sure was the fashion that year. She was slightly taller than I but wore new black shoes that didn’t seem to have any heels. She had that makeup stuff all over her face. She looked nice.
  Her still-smiling parents and brothers and sisters were standing between us but the dog had moved. He was now standing in front of me with his head in my crotch. Susie smiled and said, “What happened to your face?”
  “I don’t know,” I shrugged, and thought to myself, “God, I don’t ask you for much, but please kill me now.”
  Her mother kept saying, “Oh, this is so precious.”     
   “Should we go?” I asked, and Susie draped a white homemade shawl over her shoulders and walked with me to the front door, her family walking in step less than six inches behind us. When I turned and shook her father’s hand, he lit up and beamed to his wife. “Look at that, honey; he shakes hands, isn’t that nice?” as if I was a dog who had learned to give paw.
   “Oh, this is so precious,” the mother answered.     
   One of her brothers said, “You look like a dork,” and I thought, “God, why don’t you ever kill people like that? Simple bolt of lightning—”
   When I stepped out into the cool October night, I sighed an enormous breath of relief and lifted my eyes to look at the stars that were shining brilliantly. Mrs. Barton released her last “Oh, this is so precious” as we walked off into that beautiful night.
  Susie and I had what can best be described as a “clipped” conversation on the short walk to the school. She said something polite and then lowered her head and pulled her lips together tightly and I could tell she was thinking, “Oh what a stupid thing to say.” I knew because I was pretty much an expert at saying stupid things.
  I had planned to display what the French call sang-froid, or urbane cool, but so far that wasn’t working out, so I gave up on it. That wasn’t me. Not then and not now. I was, and remain, a talkative, mostly happy and uncool kid with nervous tics, and all I was doing with that stupid cool thing was making a nice girl nervous.
  I stopped in mid-step, looked myself up and down and said “John, you look fantastic!” and then I turned to her and said, “Well, that’s enough about what I think of me. What do you think of me?”
  It broke the ice. She had a fine sense of humor and when she laughed, she pulled her head backwards and closed her eyes and then looked at me. It was pretty good. Relaxed and acting like teenagers again, we enjoyed the rest of the night. I wowed her with my breathtaking dance steps and mastery over the Watusi, the Hitchhiker, the Frug, the Monkey and a little step I invented in the privacy of the shower called the Limbo Twister, which, to my amazement, never really caught on.
  When the dance ended, we walked home. By then the temperature had dropped to about forty degrees. The moon was out in full bloom and lit up the streets. We walked along in silence, both happy about a wonderful evening and sad that it was ending. She shivered and, without a word, I removed my sports coat and draped it over her shoulders. She looked at me and smiled and it surprised me, because I had been certain she would shove me away.
  We kicked the leaves as we walked along and looking down, she said, “My feet are as big as boats,” although she seemed to be talking to herself more than to me. I didn’t know how to answer that so I looked up at the moon, but there was no script hidden there for me to read. My stupid lips went dry and stuck to my buck teeth and for a moment I looked like Humphrey Bogart. So I stared at her feet and said, “Yeah, I dunno, I guess.”
  After another second had passed I added, “But you’re pretty, pretty,” and as soon as I said it I thought, “Pretty, pretty? John, you’re an idiot.” But she squeezed my hand and when I looked at her I saw her entire lovely face was aglow with a wonderful smile, the kind of smile you get when you have won something.
  “Why do you rub your fingers together all the time?” she asked me, and I felt the breath leave my body and gasped for air. She had seen me do my crazy finger thing, my affliction. I clenched my teeth while I searched for a long, exaggerated lie to tell her about why I did what I did. I didn’t want to be the crazy kid with tics, I wanted to be James Bond 007, so slick ice avoided me.
  “It’s okay,” she said. “I bite my nails, see?” and she showed me the backs of her hands. Her finger nails were painted a color I later learned was puce.
  “My Dad, he blinks all the time, he doesn’t know why either,” she continued. She looked down her feet and said, “I shouldn’t have asked you that. I’m really nervous and I say stupid things when I’m nervous. I’m a girl and this is my first date, and for girls this really is a very big deal.”
  I understood completely. I was so nervous I couldn’t feel my toes, so I started moving them up and down to make sure they were still there.
   “It’s all right,” I said. “I don’t know why I do that with my fingers; it’s a thing I do.”
   “Well, you’re really cute when you do it,” she said.
   “I know,” I said, and I don’t know why I said it, but I did.
   Near her home, there was an old abandoned carriage house on the Renahan estate and the wide driveway that led to it was lined by tall pine trees whose branches reached out across the drive and touched each other like old, dear friends.
  We stopped walking and looked at her house, whose lights seemed to intrude on the calm night. Instinctively we clasped hands and walked down the drive and sat on the large marble doorstep of the carriage house. Thin slivers of moonbeams sparkled through the protective covering of the pines and we drank in the beauty of it all, she looking off into the nearby woods and me looking at her.
  Without a word, I leaned forward to kiss her, at the exact moment that she turned to say something and her forehead crashed into my rather long nose. I recoiled, and she reached out to touch me at the exact moment I leaned forward again and her fingernail went in my eye. When I brought my hand up protectively my finger got caught in her loop earring and I thought, “You know, God, I really don’t deserve this.”
  The moment passed. Her ear was bleeding slightly, I had a welt on my nose and water was pouring out of my left eye  When we got to her house, we talked about the dance for a second and then a curtain moved. The porch light went on.
  “Goodnight, and thank you,” she said. I nodded and smiled and said, “Yeah, and God thank you.” I walked away a few feet, turned, and said, “That was supposed to be ‘Yeah and goodnight and thank you’.” And then I prayed for death, yelling at God from inside my head, “What? You can’t spare a bolt of lightning?”
   Then she touched my hand and laughed and I relaxed and she whispered, “Come here.” I came forward a few feet and she kissed me and turned and ran slowly into the house wearing my sports coat. When I walked home the dark the cold was gone and all I felt was warmth and happiness. And I said to God, “You know there, God, sometimes life is pretty good and this is one of those times.”

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IRELAND OF THE ANCIENTS (From "The history of the Irish Race")

Stuff you should know because you own it.


This map was first produced in Pacata Hibernia (London, 1633) but is thought to date from circa 1600. Pacata Hibernia deals with the Elizabethan wars in Ireland

Scotia (a name transferred to Alba about ten centuries after Christ) was one of the earliest names of Ireland — so named, it  was said, from Scota, the daughter of Pharaoh, one of the ancient female ancestors of the Milesians — and the people were com-
monly called Scotti or Scots — both terms being frequently used  by early Latin historians and poets.

Ireland was often referred to — by various names — by ancient writers both Latin and Greek. Plutarch testifies to the nation's antiquity by calling it Ogygia, meaning the most ancient.

One of its ancient titles was Hibernia (used by Caesar) — which some trace from Ivernia, the name, it is said, of a people located in the south of the Island; but most trace it from Eber or Heber, the first Milesian king of the southern half; just as the much later
name, Ireland, is by some traced from Ir, whose family were in the northeastern corner of the Island.

Though it seems much more likely that this latter name was derived from the most common title given to the Island by its own inhabitants, Eire — hence Eire-land,
Ireland, It was first the Northmen and then the Saxons, who, in the ninth and tenth century began calling it Ir-land or Ir-landa …Ireland

In the oldest-known foreign reference to Ireland, it was called lerna. This was the title used by the poet Orpheus in the time of Cyrus of Persia, in the sixth century before Christ. Aristotle, in his Book of the World, also called it lerna. In the first half of
the first century Pomponius Mela refers to it as luvernia.

It was usually called either Hibernia or Scotia by the Latin writers. Tacitus, Caesar, and Pliny call it Hibernia. Egesippus calls it Scotia — and several later Latin writers did likewise. MacNeill thinks the term Scot (and then Scotia) was derived from an old Irish word which signified a raider. He thinks they earned the title from their frequent raiding in Alba and in Britain in pre-Christian times.

A Roman, Rufus Festus Avienus, who wrote about the beginning of the fourth century of this era called it "Insula Sacra" — which leads  us to suppose that in the very early ages, it was, considered by the pagans an esteemed a holy isle.

The Latin writer, Pomponius Mela (above who was a Spaniard and flourished near the
middle of the first century of the Christian Era), says in his cosmography books: "Beyond Britain lies luvernia, an island of nearly equal size, but oblong, and a coast on each side of equal extent, having a climate unfavourable for ripening grain, but so
luxuriant in grasses, not merely palatable but even sweet, that the cattle in very short time take sufficient food for the whole day —and if fed too long, would burst. Its inhabitants are wanting in every virtue, totally destitute of piety."

The latter sentence is quite characteristic of the Latin writers of that day, to whom the world was always divided into two parts, the Roman Empire with which exactly coincided Civilization and the realm of all the Virtues, and the outer world which lay under the black cloud of barbarism.

But Strabo, who wrote in the first century of this era, does even better than Pomponius Mela. Quoting Poseidonios (who flourished still two centuries earlier), he informs us that the inhabitants of lerne were wild cannibals who considered it honourable to eat
the bodies of their dead parents

 An English clergyman with the Cromwells troops in Ireland vouched for the fact that every man in a garrison which they captured was found to have a tail six inches long.

Solinus (about 200 A. D.), wrote that the inhabitants of Juvcrna (as he names the Island) "inhuman beings who drink the blood of their enemies, and besmear their
faces with it. At its birth the male child's foot is placed upon its father's sword, and from the point of the sword it receives its first nourishment

 St. Jerome accused the Irish of cannibalism. And a reason suggested for his making tiie wild accusation was because he smarted under the scathing criticism of the Irish Celcstius

The careful Ptolemy, in the second century, gives a map of Ireland which (from a foreigner in that age of the world) is remarkable for the general correctness of the outline, and more note-worthy features. He names sixteen "peoples" (tribes) inhabiting
it (the names of half of them being now recognised), and he mentions several "cities" — probably royal residences.

With the exception of Ptolemy who, in all likelihood, derived his knowledge from the trading Phoenicians, the early Greek and Latin writers only knew of Ireland that it was an island sitting in the Western ocean, and remarkable for its verdure. Yet the Phoe-
nicians were probably well acquainted with its ports. Tacitus says, "The Irish ports in the first century were well known to commerce and merchants."

John F. Kennedy 1917-November 22, 1963

 Pointing at a nearby fertilizer plant he told them that had his great grandfather not left Wexford, I myself could be working at the plant today. He then turned to his aide Dave Powers and whispered  “Shoveling shit” 

“We will do no such thing. If its brass and copper he wants, let him stay on Wall Street” The Mayor of Dunganstown, New Ross, Co. Wexford after he was directed by the national government to remove piles of manure from the nearby road side. When Kennedy was told what the Mayor said, he threw back his head and laughed. “God damn right” he said. 
The supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and the common vulnerability of this planet. Speech to a joint session of the Dail and the Seanad, Dublin, Ireland June 28, 1963

 Little Boy: Mr. President, how did you become a war hero?
President Kennedy: It was absolutely involuntary. They sank my boat.

“I leaned across the asparagus and asked her for a date. “ On meeting Jackie

“I have just received the following wire from my generous Daddy. It says, Dear Jack: Don't buy a single vote more than is necessary. I'll be damned if I am going to pay for a landslide.”

The White House was designed by Hoban, a noted Irish-American architect, and I have no doubt that he believed by incorporating several features of the Dublin style he would make it more homelike for any President of Irish descent. It was a long wait, but I appreciate his efforts. JFK

I do not think it altogether inappropriate to introduce myself to this audience. I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.  

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Address at a White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners April 29, 1962 

I never know when I press these whether I am going to blow up Massachusetts or start a work project. (On the many buttons on his telephone)

Now I understand why Henry VIII started his own church.  Comment after the Vatican scolded him for supporting separation between church and state during his campaign

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage - and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
Now the trumpet summons us again - not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need - not as a call to battle, though embattled we are - but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation- a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself. And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country . My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

You never know what's hit you.  A gunshot is the perfect way to go out. John F. Kennedy, on assassination 
“...there is always inequity in life. Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed in the Antarctic and some are stationed in San Francisco. It's very hard in the military or personal life to assure complete equality. Life is unfair.” John F. Kennedy