The LuLac Edition #2459, June 30th, 2013
(Photo: LuLac archives).
(Photo: LuLac archives).
A little known fact about the great beyond is this: once every fifty years you are allowed to take a road trip. It can be anywhere, a place you missed when you were walking the earth as a mortal or, if you prefer, a chance to revisit the place you left. Recently three guys, John, Mike and Joe checked with the big boss to see if they would be allowed to leave the premises and take a gander at the place each had left. Permission was granted and the journey began.
“Hey” called out Roncalli, “Where are you guys going?”
“Back for a visit to our old stomping grounds in Pittston, Pennsylvania. Want to come?” replied Joe, the last one of the three to depart Pittston.
“No thanks, Montini over there was in America and gave me the lowdown. I’m good but you enjoy yourselves,” said the jovial, chubby gentleman in white.
As the three made ready for their journey, the one thing they had in common was their memories of Pittston.
Mike whispered to John motioning toward Joe, “He’s not going to make us stop at the cemetery to see his tombstone with his picture on it, is he?”
“Not if I have anything to say about it” replied the eldest of the trio. You know” continued John, “I was the first to leave. It was my time but it was so sudden’.
“Indeed it was” replied Joe. “I was there with you on that hot September Saturday afternoon in Doctor Horvath’s office when you got sick. I was saying something to you and then you just up and left. Never had a rude bone in your body and then boom, gone”
“Sometimes it’s better to leave that way instead of lingering” said Mike dragging on a cigarette with great satisfaction.
“Hey” said Joe with both alarm and disgust, “you get permission to smoke those things again?”
“I got my permission, don’t you worry, haven’t had one of these in nearly 50 years. They tell me they cost about 8 bucks a pack now!”
“Hey guys,” said John snapping his fingers at the other two. “I’m the senior guy here, I left first. Let’s put the attention back here on me”.
“Sorry” both replied.
“I left after thirty years. I saw the very best and worst times of Pittston. There was that awful depression. The good people I knew helped those in need with food, shoes, even medicine. And the ones that sometimes needed the most were always the first to help others. If anyone was rich, it certainly wasn’t revealed to me. And that school, those parents, some without formal schooling themselves poured money into it so that their kids had a better life. Then the war came and I remember praying to Our Lady for the safe return of those Pittston boys and girls fighting those devils. And they were devils I tell you. But then those young people came home, blessed be to God, got married and had kids. I’m so glad we refinished that basement so they could have their dances there, heavily chaperoned mind you to listen to that bebop music they played in the 50s” remembered John.
“Rock and Roll” said Joe.
“Pardon?” replied John.
“It was called Rock and Roll, not bebop” countered Joe.
“Well whatever it was, I remember it being very loud,” said the oldest of the three.
Mike looked thoughtfully and said, “Oh those children. I remember them well. When I took over for you, I’ll never forget the way I was welcomed. I came from a little town, Mocanaqua, and wasn’t prepared for the big ceremony. They put me in the front row and they had my family behind me. Then all 8 grades of the school came marching in singing a version of the Army “Caisson Song” that was tailored to St. Michael’s Day. They sang, “So it’s hi hi hum…St. Michael’s Day has come” in my honor. It was very moving I’ll tell you. I’d make visits to each classroom. The good sisters let me sit in but I fear I made the kids too jittery so I never stayed long. But my God those nuns drilled math and reading into those children like there was no tomorrow. And the kids were good kids. Exuberant. They knew what was happening. Once when I was lingering, I came back and said a Mass. As I walked out, thin and weak, I heard a couple of the older boys cheer and say out loud, “He’s back again”. They got slapped good and paid for it but I can’t tell you what that meant to me. Then I left on Christmas Day. I remember it raining all day, the temperature was an unusual 60 degrees in December and it was like the water was cleansing me from the pain. By the way Joe, thank you for that homily the next day. It was very nice, that part about how it was easy to say I was a good man. But I’m afraid I left you too soon and left you much to do.
“No problem,” said Joe, “It wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle”.
“He always was a cocky one” John said to Mike. “That’s why you got the job after I left, not him”.
“But sometimes you need that in what we did as a vocation. Like only Joe could’ve pulled off that deal with the Pittston Electric building” said Mike.
“Well thank you. It’s nice to be appreciated. I wanted our school to have everything to compete with the others. Pittston deserved that. The gym was something I never thought would happen but it did. Along with the other property annexations, we made our project something to behold. We had a thriving school, a good little church with loyal people and I made sure we tried to keep up the properties as well as we could. You know I had other opportunities to leave. They kept waving that Monsignor’s sash in front of me for years if I just left but I was blooming where I was planted. I took my leave in 1998, right in the middle of that nasty scandal with the President. I can’t wait to see how it all looks today” noted Joe.
As the three approached Main Street, a little dog started running toward John. Scooping up the pup in his arms, he exclaimed, “My, my, you look like a little dog I had named Troubles” as the canine licked his face.
“The streets are in better condition and the buildings are a curious mix of old and new. But they are clean. And it looks like a lot of people seem to like to eat outside these days” observed Mike.
As the trio turned onto William Street they looked to the right to see the majestic St. John the Evangelist Church. “Ahh, we should have asked Monsignors Langan and Knight to come along. The big church still stands so tall” said Joe.
Turning to the left, the three halted in the middle of the street. John was so shaken he dropped the little black dog. The dog, wagging his tail, led the men onto the smoothly paved parking lot. “Where’s my church?” asked John.
“Where’s my school?” inquired Mike.
“Where’s my Athletic Center?” exclaimed Joe.
“Where’s our house?” shouted all three together.
Shaken, the three men walked the parking lot.
“Here’s where the altar was” said Mike.
“And over here were those fire escapes that increased our insurance premiums” said Joe.
“This is where we used to park our cars, why did we always have black cars?” asked Mike, “Who cares” said Joe in anguish as despair cascaded on the trio.
An hour passed and the men wandered around in shocked silence until Joe spoke.
“It’s all gone. It’s as if it never existed. Everything we worked for…..” continued Joe.
John interrupted him and said, “It wasn’t about us, it was about the people and their faith”. “Yes I know” said Joe, “But we were the shepherds of that faith, and now the remnants of what that meant are gone. The ruins of Rome survived centuries but our little church and school couldn’t survive fifty years after the three of us left?"
By this time Mike had found his way to a parking space that used to be the small walkway between the church and the rectory where he used to sneak a smoke. Taking a long drag out of his cigarette he said, “Boys, maybe the lesson to be learned here is that in our time here, we as well as the people who came here had heaven on earth….but never realized it”.
As John bid adieu to his canine friend, the three made their way back down William Street. Passing the solitary pizza joint on the street Joe asked, “You guys want to get a slice for the road? Hey wait, that’s Roncalli in there. He’s asking us to come in and he means business because he’s wearing ermine!”
The three tentatively entered the little shop. The elderly man asked them to sit down.
“Boys” he said, “I knew you’d be disappointed to see everything you worked for gone. But as I said in ‘62, the Church is a living body, things must change. But what you mourn is not really gone”.
“But your Holiness, there is no evidence of what our faith was!” said Mike.
“You should know that the Church is where our faith is, where are heart is. The early Christians never needed a building to hear the word of God” continued the elderly priest. Reaching into his side pocket, he pulled out a device foreign to John, Mike and Joe.
“What’s that thing?” muttered Mike to Joe, “It looks like a little TV”.
“I think they call them tablets, you can view pictures on them” replied Joe.
“You guys are crazy, tablets are those things from Hoban’s in Scranton we used to buy for the kids and they had lines in them” proclaimed John.
“Guys, focus. I don’t do this often but I’m going to make an exception” he said.
“Can he do that”? asked John. “Hey” shot back Joe, “They’re making him a Saint, he can do pretty much anything he wants.”
Roncalli instructed them to look at the small screen. Suddenly a huge 8 foot cross appeared along with two drawings depicting the Catholic School and Church of St. John the Baptist. “See, it’s a monument to what you and those good people of faith did through the years. You are fortunate to have served in a town that will honor that history” said the jovial old man beaming at his trusty device.
The three welled up with emotion as they realized the good people of Pittston would never forget the work and faith of their parishioners.
As the three headed home, led by the intrepid Roncalli, Joe reached out to the elderly prelate and exclaimed, “We are so sorry we doubted the goodwill of the people of Pittston and faith in God’s plan”.
“Don’t worry my friends” said Roncalli, “Both Pittston and the good Lord have been used to that for years!”