Tucked away on the west side of the small town of Broad Channel in the middle of Jamiaca Bay is a narrow, dead end, street that goes by the name of West 12th Road. Those of us who live there know that the nice part about living in a small town is that when you are not quite sure what is going on, someone else always does!
[Peter J. Mahon West 12th Road, Broad Channel]
Being born in the predominantly Irish enclave of Woodside, Queens back in 1950 it was preordained that I would be packed off to St. Sebastian Grammar School on 58th street to receive a Catholic education at the hands of a secret society of women known as the Sisters of Charity.
Back in the 1950’s there was no such thing as Pre-K or kindergarten offered by St. Sebastian Parish, so school was kind of a “let’s throw the kid in the deep end of the pool” kind of thing. One morning my parents simply appeared in the bedroom, tossed me out of bed, dressed me in black shoes, dark slacks, a white shirt replete with a clip-on tie and after combing my hair with a liberal amount of Vitalis hair tonic, dragged me kicking and screaming out of the house to be deposited at the school’s entrance where an elderly woman wearing what appeared to be a penguin costume marched me away to my first grade classroom to start my eight year sentence.
As good little Catholic students we were all expected to attend Mass and receive communion each Sunday at 9 am where attendance would be taken by a designated member of the Secret Society of the Sisters of Charity. We could only receive Holy Communion if we were in what the good nuns referred to as a “state of grace” and in order to ensure we all remained in a “state of grace,” all students were required to go to confession each week. Each Friday we would be ushered into the school chapel and herded into a pew (a medieval torture device still found in Catholic churches) and kneel while awaiting our turn in the “box,” also known as the confessional. To pass the time we amused ourselves by timing how many minutes a student would spend inside the “box” confessing his or her sins. In our minds the longer one spent in the “box,” the more sinful the student, although we did make allowances for Tommy Maloney who had a really bad speech impediment. Average time in and out of the box was somewhere around two minutes. The fastest time in and out of the box was held by Gerald Cutler, but I think that had to do more with his hygiene issues than sinful acts.
When your turn came, you would walk over to the “box,” step inside the tiny, dark, compartment closing the door behind you and, once again, kneel until the priest announced his presence by sliding open the grate separating his compartment from yours. When the grate opened it was your cue to begin your confession which always started with “Bless me Father, it has been seven days since my last confession….” at which point you would then regale the priest with a litany of all the sins you managed to commit in the past week. It did not take long for me to get this whole confession thing down to a science making my average time in and out of the box under a minute and a half. I always opened with “several impure thoughts,” which I knew would make the nuns happy because that’s all they ever harped about. I would follow up with a little “parental disrespect” and close with “several lies told to my family and friends.” (Note: I always kept my admitted transgressions somewhat tame unlike Tommy Costello who uttered something about coveting his neighbor’s wife, which resulted in a parent/principal conference which was talked about for years afterward!) Inevitably the priest would nod approvingly and then tell me that my penance would be to recite several prayers and then dismiss me to walk to the front of the church where I would have to kneel at the altar (yeah…lots of kneeling at St. Sebastian) and recite the required number of prayers, which would guarantee me a clean slate (aka “state of grace”) for the next Sunday Mass.
Broad Channel – why would anyone want to live anywhere else?