If St. Benedict’s Parish in the Bronx were a person, the year 1967 would be remembered as its salad days. It was midcentury America. Babies boomed. The economy hummed. Historians would describe the era as a time when the proletariat became the bourgeoisie, when union-paid construction workers, cops, and firemen could own their own homes and put their children through college. For the church, all of this meant that its coffers were flush.
And that was lucky for the parish. With funds raised from the few extra bucks that housewives scraped together and sealed into specially printed envelopes, the parish was in the midst of rebuilding. A few years earlier, a three-story concrete building with modern, vertical windows had replaced its 1912 all-girls high school. The parish had just renovated its elementary school of the same vintage and had pulled down a crumbling tenement next door. The resulting empty lot, paved over with asphalt, served as a place to line up the children in the morning and a playground of sorts at lunchtime. Boys threw pink rubber balls that bulged from the pockets of their grey woolen blazers, while girls leaned into each other, gossiped, and held hands in circles, playing games and singing. When a sister rang a large golden bell, the children lined up silently and disappeared into their renovated school.
It wasn’t unusual for the parish’s Irish families to have six or more children. As a result, many families had at least two children in the same grade as those from another family, usually with a two-year age difference. The Cardullos, who lived on the next block, had a son my sister’s age and a daughter, Pat, my age. Pat and I were in Mrs. Romano’s second-grade class, 2-A. I liked Pat. A tall, sturdy girl with coffee-colored hair and a perpetually tan complexion, Pat laughed at my jokes and her own. Sometimes we walked home from school together. At such times, our older siblings walked ahead of us, separately, as if they didn’t know each other or us.
These were exciting times for Saint Bene