Mount Loretta - Friendship Club Jack Williams Invictus firstname.lastname@example.org
A wise man once made the observation that "Perception is reality."
When I first heard this expression, it did not really make much of an impression on me. But, as I grew older "(i.e. - "sadder, but wiser"), I began to appreciate the deep significance of what, on first impression, appears to be an off-hand phrase.
I was at Mount Loretto on two separate occasions: a relatively short stay during the latter part of the 1945 - early 1946 period; and then for a long stay (1946-1952).
I was one of seven children. Both parents were alcoholics -- and both emotionally and intellectually "immature." They were (even for their time) not too well educated, and possessed limited skills (both those of a familial nature, as well as those which could be utilized to obtain a secure, steady job).
Life, far, far from being "just a bowl of cherries," was one drunken brawl after another.
There were numerous forced evictions, where we and all of our meager belongings were tossed out on to the street for all the world to see (and sneer at!). Even during those periods of time when we had the "luxury" of having a roof over our heads, we were without elec-tricity to "light up the darkness" (or fuel -- or other means of heat -- to add a bit of warmth to our "Spartan quarters."
More often than not, our meals were little more than cereal and water.
I don't know how many different schools I attended during the early years of my life. (From time-to-time, I have attempted to piece the trail together, but I am certain that there are parts which are so deeply embedded in my memory that they will never again "see the light of day"). There were, of course, long periods of time when we just didn't go to any school at all, be-cause the old school didn't know where we were any longer.
We ran the streets.
We stole fruit and vegetables from fruit-stands, bottles of milk from the delivery trucks, papers (which we later sold in the local bars to the boozy fathers of our friends) from the news stands, etc.
Despite all of this, I was a rather happy-go-lucky 10 year old. In fact, more than one adult had remarked that I was "a boy with a million dollar smile."
As might be expected, our family eventually came to the attention of "the powers that be," and we were all hauled into (what I believe was) Family Court.
Applying what most certainly the presiding judge believed to be the judicial wisdom of the Court, it was decreed that "...in the interests of the childrens' welfare ..." (or some other such pompous pro-nouncement), we children would be taken away from our parents and sent to "Mount Loretto, Mission of the Immaculate Virgin, Staten Island 10 New York."
Even after all of this time, I am unable to determine if the decision of the Court helped -- or grievously harmed -- us. (I will tell you one thing: it has been a long, long time since anyone has seen my "million dollar smile").
Mount Loretto was all about discipline; about toeing the line; about kowtowing (to the priests, to the nuns, to the counselors; to the older, bigger, stronger residents).
And (as you might have come to suspect by now), I just didn't fit in. I could never, ever, keep my mouth shut (with the result being that I was constantly being slapped, punched, pummelled and/or belted with a strap. It seemed like everybody just beat up on me -- sometimes -- I swear -- for no good reason whatsoever.
A comment in one of the earlier posts made reference to the fact that they believed that life there was something like being in the Army. This is somewhat true, because you would march to and from church; to and from the dining hall; to and from school, etc. Someone else commented on the fact that we often seemed sad. (What an understatement!!).
I was separated from my brothers and sisters.
The girls were all housed on the other side of the road, in a big old monstrous building called "St. Elizabeth's Hall."
My brothers and I were all (in accordance with our ages) housed in separate dorms or cottages. As a consequence, we grew up somewhat like strangers (or, at best, distant cousins, visiting only briefly on weekends, rarely experiencing any of those wondrous events that shape a family.
Not too long ago, my youngest sister began to cry when we were out having dinner. When asked why, she said it was "because I feel guilty."
She felt guilty because she felt that she did not possess the same sort of love and affection for us that she saw being shared by her own children. She felt that we were all sort of "too formal and stiff with each other"; that we acted more like we were having dinner with our boss and his spouse, rather than with than with one's "own flesh and blood." One by one, we all "fessed up" to sharing somewhat in this rather strange and sad feeling. While this helped to bring her outward tears to an end, I suspect that the crying will continue to go on inside.
My recollection is that I was the smallest kid in the eighth grade, and the biggest (or one of the biggest) kids in the junior class at high school. During that rather short two-three year period, I don't think that there was a male -- either at Mount Loretto or at Tottenville High School -- that I did not get into a fight with (at least once!). I would often find myself involved in a fist fight two or three times a day. If I was unlucky enough to lose the first bout, that individual would have to undertake the task of having to do battle with me again and again. Having developed a great capacity for taking punishment (an acquired trait, incidentally) -- as well as progressively acquiring some pretty good "street fighter" skills along the way -- I eventually began to win these fights on a regular basis.
I began to lay awake at night -- sort of like my own "fight promoter -- setting out a "pecking order" that I would use to move from where I was to the "King of the Hill" spot.
Eventually, I began to strike back at my real tormentors for all of those years -- the lay counselors and the priests. This eventually led to a new petition being filed with yet another of the learned jurists of the Court to have me "expelled."
I believe that I might very well be the only kid who was ever asked to leave. Most others just simply ran away! (I never knew where I could run to, so that's why my departure was somewhat unique).
So with this, I fled -- like so many of my former "Bros" who were there during the same time period that I was -- "from the bosom of the Mount, to the bosom of the Marine Corps." ("Life," as the saying so aptly puts it, "goes on"). I could be wrong, but I would be willing to place a large wager on the belief that no single community sent as many of its sons -- and incurred as high a casualty rate--during the so-called "Korean Conflict" as did dear old Mount Loretto! We were, truly, "a boot camp for Boot Camp!".
When I was there, the boys all attended St. Aloysius Parochial School. If you were somewhat of a "slow learner," you were shuttled off the St. Joseph's Trade School (which was located on the grounds). Those who were not painted with this rather broad brush, had the "privilege" of being sent to Tottenville High School.
In an earlier post, someone made reference to the fact that he (or she) and his/her classmates treated us kindly (or words to that effect).
We were treated as if we were pariahs. (Which, in retrospect, is what we were!). We all wore blue jeans and ugly flannel shirts. We all had terrible haircuts and black, lumpy looking clodhoppers for shoes. (This was, keep in mind, when being "grungy" was not perceived as "being cool!" In retrospect, it would appear that our manner of dress would not be favorably looked upon for some time to come). It was, addition-ally, a rare occasion, indeed, when you would be able to scrimp together a quarter from any six of us.
Although I am not black (or a member of a minority group), I am certain that their feelings relative to discrimination are not totally unlike those I feelings I experienced while at Tottenville High School. Our presence must have done wonders for the poorest, the ugliest, the dumbest, (etc., etc.) in the community, because good fortune delivered up unto them a "sub-class" that diverted attention from their own miserable short-comings. They must have truly thought that God was in His heaven, and all is well with the world!
I think that in all the time there, only one person attempted to be my friend. Even my less belligerent "Bros" did not fare much better than this on the "acceptance scale". (So much for the self-serving "Home of the Heart!" bull that you will occasionally see trotted out here).
My life has changed a whole lot since those days, and from time to time, I find myself coming back to the same old question:
Would I have been better off -- in the long run -- if they had just left me alone to run those damn streets!!
I don't know. After all of this time, I truly don't know.
I will tell you one thing: I am certain that it was not God's plan to have children "brought up" in places such as Mount Loretto!!
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