Some of My Best Friends are Roman Catholic – Part I

My first best friend, Tim Leonard, a boy wedged in the middle of a pack of ten siblings, grew up in a Roman Catholic household in a big, rambling house that teemed with the scurrying bodies of children and densely populated like a scene in a Bruegel painting. My parents, then youthful and aspirational white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs!), moved in across the street into what would become my first home, the home they brought me to straight from the maternity ward of the hospital.

I was born with at least two—nobody counted; there were probably more—silver spoons in my mouth. The Leonard kids had to share the spoon, a spoon not made of silver but of some other dubious ore.

Mrs. Leonard and Carolyn Poplett too were best friends. Mrs. Leonard, a devout, mass-attending Catholic of Irish descent, Carolyn, a migrant rebel from North Carolina, from a family of hillbillies, of Scotch-Irish descent, who by an abundance of natural grace, grew into her full promise, a great Southern lady dwelling comfortably among Yankees.

Carolyn Poplett

While rearing two sons[1], Carolyn also wrote books about the formative years of feminism, before feminism got its name. She wrote a book about the early 20th century suffragist Grace Wilbur Trout. She wrote another book about the women of the Nineteenth Century Club[2], women who pioneered America’s first social safety net when men of station were too busy trying to invent new businesses and finding ways to screw anybody and everybody[3] except possibly people who attended the same church or were members of the same country club.

Carolyn was and—at ninety years of age today—still is an exemplary model of femininity who also happens to be a second-wave feminist, albeit a feminist who never once dreamed of burning her brassiere.

As a young child growing up, my mother endured poverty which is unimaginable to a great many people in America today, at least, any family or individual blessed to have a home and to live outside of poverty or suffering from the trauma of sudden or extreme,  intimate losses of life or dignity.

Bluetick Hound

Carolyn came of age in the great depression. She and her surviving siblings moved from home to home, forced to move most likely because my grandfather was perpetually broke or out of work. My grandfather—I imagine only out of sheer necessity—inadvertently embittered his eldest son, almost for life, when he took my uncle Bob’s pet dog, Jake, a bluetick hound, a breed prized for its fearlessness (mountain men used them to hunt black bears), to sell it for cash. Uncle Bob and my mother and most of my aunts and uncles, then children, were living in the mountains or likely a “holler”, in a cabin, when two of their siblings starved to death for lack of food.

She reached her maturity as did all of her siblings with the burden of survivor’s guilt. I am sure it was very much intact by the time Carolyn and Mrs. Leonard bonded. I am sure it is an essential fact for the tightness of that bond.

For, you see, Mrs. Leonard herself birthed two children, her two eldest boys, who died from the complications of multiple sclerosis by the time they were twenty[4].

That explains why Carolyn would sometimes cross the street to the Leonard’s to wash dishes after the family assembled together and had their meal. The Leonard’s had it rough. It resonated so deeply with my mother that of her the neighbors said:

Even the nuns gave up on the Leonards.

Meaning, pointedly, that my mother never gave up on her friend.

From Mrs. Leonard I learned one of the most abiding lessons in my life. As the bratty Wasp kid with the two spoons, I complained to her one day that her entire brood had decided to pick on me on that particular lazy, hot summer day, probably out of boredom and for the sheer sport of it. We were out of school; we had all day to play and get into mischief; there was no reason to have a single concern. Mrs. Leonard was lugging bag after bag of groceries out of the back of a station wagon into the house with indifferent help from a few of her kids.

I uttered my complaint while she crossed over the front porch to enter the house through the front screen door. Without breaking stride, she answered my complaint, “That’s too bad.”

That was it. Many years later, decades later, when I remembered that incident, I had to smile. Fundamentally, it is hilarious. Mrs. Leonard with a passel of her own challenges could hardly feign concern. I doubt she had even a fleeting impulse to console me. I am now quite convinced she did not. And now, I promise to never forget that’s all a parent should sometimes tell a child, whether their own kids or the child of their best friend, whether their spouse, another adult, or a co-worker:

That’s too bad.

God bless, Mrs. Leonard.

[1] According to mom, “you rear children and you raise cattle”.

[2] The 19th Century Club is a short block and a half walk from my current residence here in Oak Park, Illinois

[3] Cast your mind back to the age of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and JP Morgan.

[4] An outstanding fact of their bond was that neither my grandparents or Mr. and Mrs. Leonard practiced birth-control.

Why I Don’t Pack Heat (a Love Story)

To the confusion of a few of my friends, whom other friends of mine might crassly dub “libtards”, I took my adult-age daughter to a shooting range a couple of times earlier this year. It’s not like I keep up on my NRA membership dues. It’s not that I want her to be a gun-toter. It’s only that I want her to make choices for herself. And if she enjoyed it, maybe we would bond by taking self-defense or concealed carry courses together. I want her to know that her father doesn’t pull favorites when it comes to the Bill of Rights.

We had fun. She shot better groups than I did with a 22 long-rifle revolver. I got the better groups with 9mm Glock, a pretty important result for my frail male ego. As far as I know right now, she’ll never go back to a range. At least, she had the experience.

Earlier this same afternoon, a driver came within a fraction of an inch of running over my toes. I had flatted on my bicycle and decided I would rather hoof it—two miles from a dry apartment—rather than try to inflate the tire adequately with a minuscule 6″ long emergency pump.

As I was passing by a hospital, walking across an apron connecting one of its many parking lots to the street, a man in a car pulled in front of me. I was traveling all of 2 MPH. Feeling no immediate sense of danger, I continued—assuming, albeit warily—he would see me in my bright yellow rain parka, apply his brakes, and yield to the pedestrian wheeling his bike across the village.

Well, nope! He only brought his car to a stop when it was directly in front of me about six inches from my body. If he had rolled straight through, his tires would have rolled way too close to my toes. I did the prudent thing and stopped my forward advance. Actually, I had no choice.

Then, for the sake of all cyclists on the road now and all cyclists who might venture out on the road in the future, who someday might encounter this same guy on any given day for as long as he legally holds a driver’s license, I barked out, with hearty vigor, “HEY!”.

His face was not that far from mine. It was only separated by a plane of glass, the driver’s side window. I succeeded in exciting him from an evident stupor and for a brief moment I watched as he turned his head and expressed unrehearsed shock to find me there. He had (obviously) not looked both ways. He had no idea how close he came to hitting me. I mean, what if I was going 3 MPH? It could have been all over (for my toes, at least).

On another day, if I was feeling particularly icky, I might have reasoned—as I have done many times in the past—that this guy was assaulting me with a deadly weapon. This is, in fact, a fact. I could have also reasoned that he would do it again (another fact). This is the reason why I don’t pack heat. It’s a short jump in logic, distorted by the heat of outrage, to want to plug that guy in self-defense. Worst case, I’m sure my attorney could have gotten me off on temporary insanity. It’s not like this hasn’t happened to me roughly three hundred times before in a long career of city and suburban cycling. It’s not like I’m not reasonably cautious and don’t try to ratchet up my caution year-after-year. It’s not like I wasn’t exceedingly visible in my bright yellow, reflectorized cycling costume. It’s not like I want to die pointlessly at the hands of a booger-eating moron (sorry, sir, at least I didn’t shoot you).

For the time being, I’m going to leave the guns at the range. If I was married, I would put a gun in a locker and hand the key to my betrothed. As a bachelor, no way.

Or, I might join the Quakers so I could be like that old Quaker, who padded down to the kitchen, found a robber already on the inside of his backdoor, and lowered his blunderbuss in the direction of the intruder.

Friend, he said, I would not harm thee for all the world, but thou standeth where I would shooteth.

Choice. That’s a good motto for any parent. Let them choose. Or risk, as Mark Twain once observed, they’ll go for forbidden fruit.