I don’t remember how I came upon this book; I was probably searching for some obscure information somewhere. Diagramming sentences! God, I was the queen of diagramming in fifth grade at St. Helena’s parochial school in Philadelphia. That wasn’t my parish school, which hadn’t even been built yet in our new suburban development in Cheltenham, PA. We occupied two 45-student classes of grades 5, 6, and 7 from 1952 to 1954, all us boomer babies taxing the nerves and emotions of the nuns who were overwhelmed by our numbers and our needs in this brand new post-war world. That was an era of enthusiastic recruitment by the convents, and the profession of vocation by so many of us young girls, who believed, really believed, everything the Church told us. We were so naive, and leaving the swaddling of parish and parents as we entered the world at large, we leapt into the mirage of freedom promised by the sixties. War, rock and roll, assassinations, overdoses, contraceptions, SIDs, protests. The realization that they lied. That we were lied to.
Of course, the convents and the seminaries began to empty, vocations dried up or disappeared, and today those huge Church properties are closing. I was the first four-year class to graduate at the spanking new Cardinal Dougherty High School, and today it is closed. The solid Irish and German neighborhoods from which it drew students now sustain many diverse populations, religions, and needs.
I couldn’t diagram anything in that paragraph if you paid me. Nor would I want to. I don’t regret my early education years, although I do disdain the control by unquestioned obedience to an authoritarian dogma unattached to any true spirit of humanitarian ethics. Throughout our long history, such nonsense of righteous domination has plagued every society and civilization at great cost. Let us hope that our children find a way beyond it.
And now, of course, a poem:
Boomer Brief “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.” [On the Waterfront (1954)] We did so much when energy flicked off our fingertips. We had the moves: Jim and Elvis, and Red Bone too. That dress I made with ballooned cuffs and macrame riffs for the march to the Pentagon, protest chants pounding down my head to my teeth; and all I wanted was a cup of water. We had friends who joined Seale or King, and one embraced Elijah. We wore black for Bobby and Martin in a mourning march; wailed as Janis and Jimi ripped pieces from our hearts. We ached when ratso Rizzo become Philly’s top cop. I scribble in memoir class of 50 years past, beyond the press of roofing costs and food and baby toes, my brain tacked to a bulletin board, along with growth charts and silver stars on third-grade essays. I shoulda been somebody. Maybe I was.