Monday, December 29, 2014

A Memory of Christmas 1960--Euclid, Ohio

Christmas Eve of 1960--I was 12 years old, in 7th grade at St. William's School in Euclid, Ohio. In my mind, that year, plus or minus a year or two, was the end of the Medieval Era. I know history books wouldn't give such a late date for that, but in my life, the life of my family and Church, that is around the time the Medieval Era ended. Catholic masses were still in Latin; all Catholics went to church every Sunday; all Catholics abstained from meat on Fridays; we were deathly afraid of mortal sin and the possibility of spending eternity in hell. So there were many, many negative things in the atmosphere.

On the positive side, for us Irish-Catholics at least, John F. Kennedy had been elected president, Pope John XXIII was pope, and had convened the Second Vatican Council, which threw open the windows of the Church and began a desperately needed reform.

Though we didn't know it at the time, we in the United States, and the whole world, were on the cusp of change, a very new and different world--in some ways better and in some ways worse.

On Christmas Eve, around 9:30 PM, I walked from my home on East 266 Street to St. William's for Midnight Mass. As a choir boy, I had to arrive early, in Sr. Muriel's classroom on the first floor of the old building. There we did our last practice and received instructions from Sister. She was a bit tense that night, anticipating the big moment.

Shortly before midnight we lined up in the hallway and processed, in the dark, into St. William's old church (which is now a gym and bingo hall). The church was packed to the rafters, and many people stood in the aisles and in the back. Fr. John Fleming and his con-celebrants processed in, led by altar boys holding up the processional cross. We moved to the choir loft, packed in there like sardines, along with the organist and the smaller men's choir. Then, for the next hour or so, we sang gorgeous songs, in English and in Latin, music that would make the angels weep. Gloria in Excelsis Deo! "When blossoms flowered 'mid the snow" (Gesu Bambino); Venite adoremus! O come let us adore him!

And then it was over. The boys processed, very tired by now, back to the classroom; we put on our coats, and headed for home. It was snowing, and I walked the mile home by myself, in the quiet snow, at 1:30 in the morning. It was peaceful and beautiful.

The next morning, I woke about 7:30 and we opened our presents. That year I got a pair of baseball spikes as my main present. We didn't get many presents--there were five kids, and very little money to go around. Right around 8:30 AM I arrived back at Church to sing the 9:30 high mass. There was less mystery than at midnight, but the mass and songs were beautiful.

Around 11 AM I was back home. With my brothers, Denny, Kevin, and Jimmy, and my sister Mary Ellen, we played with our Christmas presents. Later Dad took us to the North Chagrin Metro Park at Squires Castle, where we went sled riding (even one-year-old Jimmy went).

The world was about to change. Around the corner was JFK's assassination, the Vietnam War, the age of transistors and then computers. On the positive side, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, the Anti-War movement. The Church would change significantly, then slip back into old ways. The Great Mandela of Time.

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