Thursday, November 17, 2011

Crime and Communion

Speaking of old stomping grounds, my favorite crossing-guard is a black woman who hails from my old neck of the woods. She was born and raised in Yonkers, and later lived in Newburgh in upstate New York, a very tough town which, from what I gather, was the site of her near-total destruction from drug addiction. She got clean, found God, and moved here years ago to start a new life. In addition to being a well-loved school crossing-guard, she has a night job as the female warden at the county jail, and occasionally as we stand at the corner chatting after school drop-off she tells me about the women who are brought to jail in the middle of the night and their crimes (which are mainly robberies and drug offenses). She has a bad hip and a shunt in her heart, but she says she'll be standing on the corner with her stop sign in her hand as long as she "can still hop along."

Though I don't remember it all that well, I'm told that I was almost barred from receiving my first Holy Communion, so poorly did I acquit myself in the pre-sacrament interview with the priest. I apparently didn't know any of the answers to the catechetical questions. And yet I loved CCD, and I especially loved my First Communion prep class teacher, Mrs. B. I used to stay after class to help her clean the classroom. I remember being very excited the day that she took us into the church and showed us how to bless ourselves with holy water, and I wondered, as I erased the blackboard after class, if the proximity to the blackboard of my hand dipped in holy water would somehow bless it and all the words that would be written upon it in times to come.

Mrs. B. had ten children, and, though I didn't know this at the time, she was married to a bookie. Evidently there were as many telephone lines in her apartment as there were children, and her husband was in and out of jail. I found this out only recently, when my father mentioned seeing his name in the paper now and then on the occasions of his arrests.

I had occasion this fall to attend Mass at the parish in which I grew up, and, when I went up to receive Communion, there was Mrs. B., proffering the Most Precious Blood. I couldn't help smiling broadly when I saw her. It seemed truly good and right that we were both there together.

11 comments:

JMB said...

Beautiful read. We just never know how or when we are a conduit for grace, and I think Mrs. B was with you. God bless her. Saints and sinners are all welcome in the Church.
Newburgh is really crappy and dangerous.

Pentimento said...

Thanks, JMB.

I've never been to Newburgh, but I've heard that it's like the South Bronx used to be, though that article makes it sound even worse.

ex-new yorker said...

Newburgh is where that young mother drove herself and her kids into the river and her one little boy survived (haven't read the link yet, may be mentioned in there). It seems to make sense that a more isolated place that falls into disrepair of some kind would end up worse than a place within NYC. Not very familiar with the Bronx though so not sure what the geography of the South Bronx meant for accessibility of the larger area's resources.

Pentimento said...

Ex-New Yorker, you raise very important issues about access to resources being influenced by geography.

I'm no expert on Newburgh. My understanding (possibly wrong or incomplete) is that there was an exodus of blacks from NYC in the 1950s (?), when it was touted by urban planners as some sort of model community. But, historically, when manufacturing jobs go, everything goes, and the working class becomes the underclass.

The South Bronx thing was a little different. The Bronx entered its urban crisis (still ongoing in some parts) with the perfect storm of misguided urban planning (Robert Moses' Cross-Bronx Expressway plus his exhortation to middle-class Jews to move to Co-op City), massive immigration from Puerto Rico, and the resulting white flight. And other things too. (Just for you, Ex-New Yorker: I'm about 99% sure that the possessive of Moses is just an apostrophe, not an apostrophe-s, because that's how you do it for the actual biblical Moses!)

Anyway, I'm no urban planner. But sometimes I wish I'd become some sort of guerrilla-librarian-slash-urban-planner instead of an effete classical singer. : )

ex-new yorker said...

I think how you do the possessive of a word that ends in s is handled differently in different manuals of style. Did I ever mention that I saw "till" instead of until in one of the readings on the USCCB site?

How much of small town America is *not* depressed in some way, even compared to the general condition of the U.S. these days? I mean real small towns, not places that have become or were created as commuter suburbs. Where we are is sort of a small town, but it's really just another DC suburb now.

Pentimento said...

I thought that the set-in-stone rule with possessives with names ending in "s" is always apostrophe-s, except with Jesus, Moses, and names of Greek writers and philosophers ending in -es. So Brahms's, Marx's, Thomas's . . . but Jesus', Moses', Euripides'. Do some style manuals differ with that?

ex-new yorker said...

Well, I found this on a quick search (no, I really do have a good reason to be up at 3 a.m. and I'm studying in between frivolity): "In its 15th edition, CMOS allowed the style shown in your first example [Professor Davis'], but the new 16th edition (7.21) no longer recommends it, although it is not incorrect and other style guides might allow it."

Maureen said...

Come home

Pentimento said...

Ha ha! Thanks! I knew I could count on you. : )

Nevertheless, I'm still going to cringe when I see someone write "Thomas' birthday."

Pentimento said...

Well, Maureen, New York is the best place in the world and the people are the best people. I think that everyone in this combox can agree on that. But I'm here for now.

Tertium Quid said...

Nice post. You find graces in little beautiful things. "God has chosen weak things of the world to shame the strong and foolish things to shame the wise."