I suppose that I have known, since a very early age, of the inevitably of my eventual death. When I was first born I was very sick, with a life-threatening problem, and after effects that lingered all throughout my childhood, so I was constantly reminded of the risk of my early death. The earliest death that really stands out in my mind, in a concrete way, is my Uncle Gino’s when I was a twelve year old kid. As far as I know, there wasn’t any feeling of total awe at my having realized that I would, sooner, or later, be required, by definition, to die. Having always gone to Catholic schools, I was always reminded of it, but it must have inevitably struck me as just some entirely abstract factual reality. Unlike many people I simply don’t have a profoundly cathartic story to tell about how some ultimate moment of truth profoundly changed my life and perception of that specific aspect of reality. Sooner or later, each of us shall be in either Heaven (usually by way of Purgatory), or Hell. That’s the ultimate inevitable eschatological reality of the four last things. Death carries with it at least two main fears for each of us: the fear of all the physical and emotional torment that goes with the end of his life, and the fear of eternal damnation for those who go to hell. I really have to wise up and to start dealing with it in a more first hand manner very soon.
If a stranger comes knocking and wants to know how he can get to the Long Beach station of the Long Island Railroad, I should ask him if perchance he may enjoy an ice cream cone. If so then he could start his trip by going for a few miles into the opposite direction on Park Avenue, to Marvel. It’s pronounced to rhyme with Carvel. He’ll be headed toward the Loop Parkway, somewhat past there, in case he really wants to go far away. After that he may want to go down past Beech Street to see the several miles of beaches we have around here. Who could possibly even try to resist our enchanting boardwalk? While there he could either rest or exercise. I’ve been there several times since I first got here. On his way back in this direction he may stop at the Lido Kosher Deli, as well as the liquor store, Italian restaurant and pizzeria right next door to the Key Food on Park Avenue. Across the street from them is Associated too. Except for the kosher deli’s French fries I really like all the stuff they have there. Perhaps he could go down to the West End where they have a nice business district with several restaurants, as well as a CVS, and bagel shops. Maybe he could even stop at Swingbelly’s Restaurant, where my niece works. If he happens to show up on either a Wednesday or a Saturday he can go to the Farmer’s Market at Kennedy Plaza. That’s very close to the train station. Of course for good coffee he could go to the Coffee Nut Cafe and Gentle Brew. Depending on his religion he may want to visit either Young Israel or the Knights of Columbus Council 2626. For clothes he could go slightly over the bridge onto Long Beach Road in Island Park and shop at Kohl’s and Marshall’s. By the time he even remembers that all he wanted to catch a train he will have seen much of what really keeps life interesting around here.
I can’t remember anything of any significance regarding my very earliest interaction with someone else, but my first meeting with Sister Rose Eugene, my first grade teacher at St. Gabriel’s Elementary School in East Elmhurst, has always struck me as quite distinctive. When I first started school, the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton were in charge of the kids in the younger grades. Back then each Sister still wore an old fashioned traditional
black habit, ankle-length, with a gigantic black bonnet, and and enormous Rosary for a belt. When I first met Sister Rose Eugene, immediately before I was to start the first grade, she must have scared me out of at least fifteen years worth of growth. To this very day I can still remember my not having been able to come up with an answer when she asked me my name. She was still only a young adult so she may not have been professed for a very long time. I assume she was only trying to be friendly with her new young charge. From her point of view it may already have been quite a reasonably familiar experience. That’s all I can remember of what appeared to have been a relatively brief episode. I assume she handled it quite tactfully. I have no memory of her having been stern. She was friendly and humored me. As a teacher and a professed Religious, she must have been very well educated in child psychology. My first year of school went well and I was so happy there.
Over the course of my lifetime I’ve always been a bit of a square, never trusting the new and unknown. I usually tell people that it all started around my twelfth birthday when I was forced to move to Lindenhurst from Jackson Heights. That was my first confrontation with significant change. I’ve always been resistant to change though. The Beatles have been my favorite band for as long as I can even remember. I have always astonished people with my lack of interest in new pop cultural milestones. Politics, of course, is entirely too important a priority to allow novelty to become a significant factor. I’ve always seriously suspected that the most controlling people use the supposed need for change-always, conveniently, change of their choosing-as a way of winning people over to their side. I’m quite happy the way I am and see no need to be on the vanguard of a new experience. It doesn’t pay to bother to go too crazy for new experiences. Everything new and fresh inevitably soon becomes old and stale anyway. If someone becomes too attached to the new for its own sake, he then goes through his lifetime perpetually frustrated.
“Wow, isn’t that Linda Brown, the prettiest girl in school?!” Jim gasped.
“Five feet, four inches tall, black hair, gigantic blue eyes, and what a sweetheart!” Mike stammered.
The salesman behind the counter wanted to chase them away but seeing how lovely the source of their distraction was, he understood, so he humored them.
“Get a load of that,” Jim mumbled. “She’s so enchanting she’s made the numbers on that clock fall down.”