by Peter Freyne
A cloudy, damp and dark day in Vermont’s Queen City it is, too.
And very, very quiet!
But then there is the Big World out there, a world we all got an earful of yesterday. Some objected. Others loved it.
In fact, about 7 o’clock Saturday evening, long after the crowds had cleared out, I was biking around Perkins Pier. Not a soul in sight, except for a distinguished older gentleman I recognized - a retired UVM prof. I figured he had been checking on his boat.
I mentioned to him how I’d gotten an earful from a few citizens about the earlier Vermont Air Guard's air-show-spectacular over the smallest largest city of any state in America.
He looked at me like I was nuts! Spread his hands about a foot-and-a-half apart and wiggled and waved them through the air while making a big air-rushing sound with his mouth. All the while, he’s saying something about “Did you see those afterburners spitting flame out the back? Oh, my God. That was fantastic!”
Yes, indeed, thought I, remembering personal experience of the fighter-jet's inspirational feeling. The rush of the power! The Va-r-o-o-o-o-m-m-m!!!
At the time, I was a high-school freshman (1962-63) and dreamed of going to Annapolis. I wanted to fly off aircraft-carrier decks. Nuclear submarine duty was my close second choice.
I wasn’t a journalist at the time, so I don’t have notes, but I remember the “understanding” in my house that killed those career plans early.
My Irish-Catholic parents (which makes me Irish-Catholic too, eh?) were immigrants to New York suburbia from the Bronx in 1948. Blacks, called “Negroes” in the pre-Black Power days of the 1960s, and Puerto Ricans were the new arrivals in the Big Apple in Post World War II America. The whites, like my future Ps, were fleeing for the suburbs.
There’s a faint footprint way back there in my early 1960s memory of the moment mom and dad communicated that “understanding” to me. It was a “you-can’t always-get-what-you-want” moment, i.e. a Freyne appointment to the United States Naval Academy required Freyne political connections. And since dear old mom and dad were registered Democrats in what was then solidly Republican-controlled WASP Westchester County, fuggehedaboudit, kiddo! Lower your sights to Iona College in New Rochelle, run by the Irish Christian Brothers (where dad taught night school parttime and could get a 50 percent tuition cut).
Yuck. This little birdie was not staying in the nest.
How about a seminary outside Chicago? Can you say "vocation to the priesthood?"
It was August of 1966, exactly 40 years ago, and a time when things really started changing. And I mean really. And there’s no place I’d rather have been than the great city of Chicago. And no better place to be to handle all the cultural and political incoming that went with the experience we now remember as “The Sixties.”
Unlike most seminaries of the day, the faculty at Maryknoll, the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, urged its future missionaries to get involved in the “real world” of the streets of Chicago from tutoring in the Cabrini Green project (way before it became famous), to starting up a draft-counseling center and organizing protests on everything from open-housing, to helping Cesar Chavez’s grape boycott, to going door-to-door in Republican (at the time) Dupage County for an antiwar Democratic congressional hopeful, a college professor who didn’t have a chance.
Yes, indeed. 1000 miles from mom and dad and the seminary's connections got us into the thick of things quickly. There were the civil rights marches with Dr. King in the summer of 1966, the April 1968 riots on the West Side, the August 1968 Democratic Convention, later officially dubbed a “Police Riot,” catching Phil Ochs, Dave Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman in action, the 1969 “police murder” of Fred Hampton. The nights driving that cab and the characters who slid in and spilled out. Mike Royko's column five times a week in the Chicago Daily News. And then there was Saul Alinsky. Never met anyone who opened my eyes wider or faster, than Saul.
Whew! A little Memory Lane swing for this Sixties teenager. Been having a Sixities flashback kind of feeling for the last two weeks.
Life is full of surprises.
By 1969, the Maryknoll seminarian had become an atheist. A sociology of religion class knocked a couple of us off our sacred intellectual/theological pedestals. Looking at our world from the outside - without the rose-colored glasses of faith and Almighty God and Jesus, Mary and Joseph and sin and hell/heaven/purgatory - was something none of us had experienced before.
But that’s a whole other story for another day....
All the same, God bless Maryknoll!
A very valuable three years it was.
P.S. Remember our retired UVM prof friend who loved the jets roaring over the Waterfront? Through a little subsequent googling we learned Professor X served four-years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force way, way back when.
Even put in a little Air-Guard duty in the Midwest.
Now it all makes sense!