Updated: Apr 27
Traditionally, Sunday in an Italian Catholic household was pretty strict. It included fasting and committing to either sing in the choir, serve as an alter boy, play guitar and sing in a folk mass, attend mass, or all of the above. Once the religious quota was fulfilled, spaghetti and family time with the grandparents breaking bread was always on the agenda. Not much going on outside in the neighborhood as it was Sunday, and Sunday was lockdown day. My how times have changed and now, stayed the same (Lockdown).
Had I grown up in a less black and white era, I might not be so guilt ridden and "prude" in my behavior. I may have even had a little more fun with girls, but since I had to attend catholic school during the 50's I was pretty much cut off from the real world of public school. The big thrill of my life in those pre-teen years was playing little league baseball, because I got to socialize with all of the "other" kids who went to public school, and be normal for a few hours. But, once I returned home, lockdown was fully enforced. The severe catholic hand of my parents was always firm. Mom the Sargent, dad the enforcer, the grandparents as the patriarch and matriarchal monoliths of our link to the old country, Italia.
It's been a struggle to break out of these religious confines that haunted my youth. I may be the better man for it in some sense, but, I have often wondered how my life might have been shaped had it not been so dogmatically controlled by priests, nuns and the dogma of the catholic church. Seriously, by the time I hit high school, St. Francis Catholic all boys school, I was clueless. I had no idea what was going on. All I could cling to was my ability to carry a tune, sing in "Glee Club" and play baseball and basketball. I was 5'3" my freshman year, and with not a hint of pubic hair anywhere on my body, I felt like a cherub surrounded by grown men in the locker room. Scarred for life, as I look back, it. Made me a very angry and competitive little fucker. I competed on the baseball diamond, starting second base my freshman and sophomore years at St. Francis, and making the cut for the basketball team of white catholic boys, while singing in glee club was always a source of pride, remember, in an all boys school run by "brothers in robes", it was like lockdown with strict catholic overtones of guilt, layer upon layer of inadequacy, and manliness mantras. Basically, Sunday was every day in that school, only worse, it was all boys in lockdown.
But, what came out of this crazy, unfulfilling time in my life, a time of complete and total confusion and "what the fuck" moments? My introduction and interest in the guitar and popular music at the time. The Folk Music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Peter, Paul & Mary, and popular music of the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, The Surfaris, Outer Limits, Louie Louie and The Righteous Brothers, The Four Seasons, The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Motown, Muscle Shoals R&B. The biggest eye openers of all, The British invasion of the Beatles and The Stones, the Animals and local bands, the Grateful Dead Jefferson Airplane, Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield. Some blues influences but, "black Music" was not allowed on our house. The grandparents were old school Italians fresh off the boat. All of this was swirling all around us in that time period and a couple fellas in my class were aspiring guitar players, so I latched on to them and started my journey of learning to play guitar to find something to hold onto in those awkward years, to maybe help me fit in, feel cool, be cool, meet girls, have a life outside of catholicism and guilt. Still, Sundays never changed. The entire week culminated in lockdown Sundays. A childhood of confessions, bent knees, penance and atonement. Sunday in my America sucked!
Could my parents have been more strict? Maybe, but, damn, all of my other friends were having a hell of a lot more freedom and fun than I was. I could not go to the "Y" dances or out on a Friday night with the "Public School" kids, ever. I had to stay home behind locked doors. I was sheltered in place by my mothers fear of the unknown, the evil of drugs and alcohol and girls. Yeah, and all of this as my father owned and operated a liquor store. You can't imagine a more perfect storm of hypocrisy and guilt than the confluence of a mafia orchestrated business model and devotion to the catholic monolith of guilt and penance delivery. By the time I was 13 I had spent a lifetime on my knees praying for forgiveness, confessing my sins of being a kid and not the least of which, watching the world around me change from black and white to technicolor and not being able to explore without the feeling of breaking unwritten laws, taboo. My only solace, I was no alone. Some of my fellow alter boys were being buggered by priests, so, yeah, it could have been worse, but I really don't know how.
Which brings me back around to Sundays. Sunday in my America was always the same. Fasting before communion, mass, alter boy, choir, family afternoon dinner, relatives visiting, going to the relatives houses, watching the adults drink and play cards, not allowed to leave the house or go out and play with the other kids in the neighborhood, Sundays in lockdown because, "Jesus" and a tradition that stemmed from a religious belief. I guess it could have been a lot worse, but as I look back, I'm not sure how.