Posted by: johnhourihan | March 27, 2015

Voting against our own best interests

I’m confused.
I have looked up a lot of things that have been said by Republican politicians and I am asking why anyone would vote for these people. It is astounding.
Republican politicians and candidates have said there is no reason to stop a criminally insane person from getting an automatic weapon, children on food stamps shouldn’t be allowed to get cookies, snow in the northeast means there is no global warming, there is no such thing as evolution, oil pipelines filled with the dirtiest oil on the planet could not possibly hurt the environment, Fighting the unions is good practice to take on ISIS, vaccinations are a bad thing, minimum wage jobs are mostly for teenagers (only 24 percent of those jobs are filled by teens) we can support our troops by cutting VA benefits, Medicare recipients are just not being responsible for their own health care, women should not get equal pay for equal work, minimum wage should be eliminated because it would create jobs, some rape is legitimate some is not, people who help uninsured people get Obamacare should be put in jail, corporations who receive government money should be allowed to renounce their citizenship so as to not pay taxes, since we haven’t been attacked domestically since 9/11 we should do away with the department that has been keeping us from getting attacked, just because we have ended two wars doesn’t mean we should cut how much money we spend on war, we can make our environment better by doing away wiht the only organized group trying to make it better, siding with foreign leaders against our own president is a good thing, the best way to help the middle class the poor and the elderly is to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, Veterans benefits and any money that goes to education, nutrition and any other benefit going to the middle class the poor or the elderly.
Now that is what the Republican party is saying, so I guess that I am confused because some poor and middle class people still vote for them, and that is just a special kind of stupid.

Posted by: johnhourihan | January 27, 2015

The poor today have it easy

I would like to try to explain something to all those friends who say they are tired of the poor people of this country getting fat off government programs without having to work for it, that the poor have easy lives. Somehow those who are poor in this country are seen as the scum of the earth. That is probably because in this country we measure a man’s worth by how much money he has.
Having been poor back in the 1950s, that mythical time when fruit still had seeds and there was hardly any divorce or welfare, it is disheartening that more than three quarters of conservatives in this country say the poor, “have it easy” according to a new poll.
The poll was done by the renowned and pretty much unbiased Pew Research Center. (The poll is about a year old.)
A great column covers this issue well. It was written for The Washington Post by Christopher Ingraham who is “a data journalist focusing primarily on issues of politics, policy and economics. He previously worked at the Brookings  Institution and the Pew Research Center,” according to the Post column.
Toward the end of the piece, Ingraham cites what he calls a “wildly incomplete” list of ways life is “easy” for poor people.
Here is his list:
• Compared to middle and upper-income Americans, the poor are three times less likely to have health insurance coverage, and more likely to put off or skip necessary medical treatment as a result (This fact has changed a bit with the beginnings of Obamacare);
• They are three times more likely to be victimized by crime;
• The daily stresses of living under poverty impose a cognitive burden equivalent to losing 13 IQ points;
• Poor children are three times more likely to be affected by food scarcity and obesity;
• Poor children receive a lower quality education in public school, and the ones who make it to college are more likely to drop out;
• Poorer Americans breathe dirtier air, they sleep less, and the even have less sex;
• And in the end all this “easy living” literally shaves decades off their lives.
“The notion that poor people have it easy is at odds with the data,” says Ingraham.
I would like to add that, while these poor children are trying to compete, many people have far lower expectations of them ever succeeding at anything, so teachers, parents, police, employers and nearly every other official person in their lives expect them to fail in all their attempts to climb out of poverty, and guide them into continued poverty while, at the same time, these same officials let them know it is believed that they are a drain on society who have it easy.
Please stop telling me how easy it is to be poor. I’ve been poor, and if you believe it is easy you are fooling yourself. So, to my friends who say the poor have it easy, please stop saying that. It makes you sound stupid.

Posted by: johnhourihan | January 23, 2015

Drug-testing welfare recipients

If you want to drug-test welfare recipients, and you feel we should live by our constitution please read the following.

You can’t do both.

Constitutional challenges to suspicionless governmental drug testing most often focus on issues of personal privacy and Fourth Amendment protections against “unreasonable searches.”
For searches to be reasonable, they generally must be based on individualized suspicion unless the government can show a “special need” warranting a deviation from the norm.
However, governmental benefit programs like TANF, SNAP, unemployment compensation, and housing assistance do not naturally evoke special needs grounded in public safety that the Supreme Court has recognized in the past. Thus, if lawmakers wish to pursue the objective of reducing the likelihood of taxpayer funds going to individuals who abuse drugs through drug testing, legislation that only requires individuals to submit to a drug test based on an individualized suspicion of drug use is less likely to run afoul of the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, governmental drug testing procedures that restrict the sharing of test results and limit the negative consequences of failed tests to the assistance program in question would be on firmer constitutional ground.


Posted by: johnhourihan | January 14, 2015

Which Bible?

OK, I’m tired of the righteous wrath that keeps surfacing in the mouths of Republican politicians and their blind followers. They have used “The Bible” to try to discredit, gay and lesbian marriages, global warming, illegal immigrants, people on welfare, women’s rights and anything the Democratic president proposes about anything.
They all say the same thing. “I believe in what it says in The Bible.” Then they smile smugly because they know a certain number of millions of Christians will agree with them if “it is in the Bible.”
Which Bible?
While there are hundreds of versions of the Bible, there are eight primary versions found in history:
Septuagint – 250 C.E. Written in Greek
Vulgate- 400 C.E. First version of the Bible which is canonized at the Council of Carthage in 400 C.E. Written in Latin
Luther’s German Bible- 1534 C.E.
King James Version- 1611 C.E. This is the most widely used versions however it has large number of errors given that none of the writers had a decent understanding of Hebrew.
Revised Standard Version- 1952 C.E. Liberal translation into American English which used the earliest possible text
Jerusalem Bible- 1966 C.E. This is the first version of the Bible to be commissioned by the Catholic Church since the .400’s.
New Revised Standard Version- 1990 C.E. This is the most academic and scholarly
version with the most accurately possible translations of the original text
There are literally hundreds of translations of each.

Why is it that all you need to say is “Jesus is my savior,” and everything is OK even if you have no idea what Jesus said you should do to be a righteous person.
How do you say, “I am a Christian,” and follow it up with “The economy is the most important thing in our country?”
You say “I believe in Jesus,” and you add, “Why should I bust my ass and then have people take part of it to feed their kids? Tell them to get jobs.”
“I believe in Jesus,” and “We have to kill those Muslims.”
“I believe in Jesus,” and “We should be allowed to legislate who will love whom.”
How do you say I believe what is in the Bible when there are eight versions of the Bible found in history. Each one saying different things. Then each of these eight are translated into English….several times by different people with different philosophies and different axes to grind.
Many of the books included in each of the versions were first written in Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek, then translated several times.
The Jerome Bible that most people are quoting from currently was translated from one of the original languages into Latin then translated into French then to English. The words were changed, the nuances were changed in each translation.
Each version of the Bible went through this multiple translation process leaving hundreds of versions in English, all saying something different, all having lost something in the multiple translations.
You can say it was all done with divine inspiration, and I say then why are they all different?
Then politicians misquote what is in one of the translations, or just lie about what is in the Bible, and, like sheep, people who call themselves followers of “The Bible” believe the nonsense spouted by men who we know are using it mainly to get votes.
I believe in God. I believe Jesus was his son, I believe what Jesus told us to do is the right thing to do. I am tired of this “Christian right” nonsense. If you want to call yourself Christian follow the lead of your religious leader, Jesus
But if you think you can do that by following the platform the Republican Party itself espouses, that says cut assistance for the poor, cut health care for the poor, turn your back on hungry children, continue to destroy our planet with chemical food and fossil fuels, foster a world in which the rich get preference, build up our capability to kill people who don’t think like we do, I believe you are in for a surprise in the end. The bibles say a lot of good things, but these aren’t any of them.
It is time for all Real Christians to stand up and say, “Enough.”

Posted by: johnhourihan | January 4, 2015

1984 is deeper and more true than you thought

There are little-known and seldom-quoted passages from George Orwell’s 1984 that we choose not to remember because they are too close to reality, and getting closer. They have become even closer and more frightening since the lies and half-truths that big money PACs dominate social media. They are even closer to current reality and more unsettling than:


The first passage tells of how, in the book, an ultimate outcome was achieved by the Party, or in our case could be achieved, and the second tells of what that outcome was, or in our case what is coming dangerously close to what the outcome could be.
The first part:
“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.”
That was how the world in 1984 was manufactured, according to Orwell, with doublethink. That was what he expected to happen in his future. It may have taken longer, but we have just witnessed the infancy of “doublethink” in the obvious lies mouthed as truth every day on behalf of the GOP.

The blatant lies spewed over and over by people who know that what they are saying are lies, but who seem to believe in them wholeheartedly, have so far covered our political and social landscape like a soothing balm for those who know they are wrong.

All you have to do to feel better to is believe what you know is false.

It is frightening because of where this could lead, according to Orwell. And since we have over the years adopted much of what he said as an honest forewarning, I think we should read the second part of this. The part that explains how our lives could end up if we do that.

The second part: (Please understand that the mainstream public are “the proles.” You are the proles)
“… according to the principles of doublethink, the Party taught that the proles were natural inferiors who must be kept in subjection, like animals, by the application of a few simple rules. In reality very little was known about the proles. It was not necessary to know much. So long as they continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina. … They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, they passed through  a brief blossoming period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at twenty, they were middle aged at thirty, they died, for the most part, at sixty. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer, and, above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them under control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumors and marking down and eliminating the few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous; but no attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party. It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations.”

There are hard times coming, says the Republican party, times that will need to administered to with “tough Love” (they will do the administrating and we will be administered to) and of course love of American might with anyone who defies our idea of how they should live.
God Bless America, they say
But I’m starting to hear whispers that sound more like:



Before, in 1963 when I first read this book, I identified with Winston, a party member who worked a tedious job changing history.
Now I am understanding that Orwell meant we were not that high up on the food chain, what he meant was we were to become the proles.
If we believe lies because it is easier than to understand the truth, we are well on our way.

Posted by: johnhourihan | December 20, 2014

The Three Wiseguys

Willy, Stretch and Dee-Joe Mammal were the unholiest trinity ever conceived.1950_Ford
For instance, we called Dave, Dee-Joe Mammal because we were pretty sure of his species, but little else was obvious, and he was the wisest of the three.
The past summer, they had planned to rob a bar in Woonsocket.
Skinny Willy cased it; Stretch drew diagrams of it because he had passed mechanical drawing; and the three of them drank there 14 nights in a row to see what the busiest night was and where the money was kept.
Then, on the day of the supposed payoff, they stepped from Willy’s body-rotted, ‘50 Ford and were nabbed on the curb for being “suspicious looking characters.”
The cop told them to “get out of town,” and they came back to the Tradesman Lounge, tails between their legs, to find out it’s not a good idea to tell everyone in the bar where you are going when you are going to rob a bar.
The young Portuguese couple who owned the Tradesman had tipped off the cops. They never figured it out.
So, ’twas the night before Christmas, and we sat at the quarries in the Ford, sharing a green plastic canteen of  Old Turkey ( a combination of remnant bottles of Old Grandad and Wild Turkey), and after a few lies about women, Stretch asked me to tell “That  Christmas story” again.
No, this is true, in their mid-twenties, they still had soft spots in their hearts for this time of year – matching of course some of the more obvious soft spots elsewhere the rest of the year.
I made the family in the story Marchigiano just to make the whole thing more understandable to them. And what the heck, it was from the same general area of the world, so no harm – no foul.
There was a family, I started.
The father was a shoe worker and the mother was blessed with seven children, I told them, as Willy fired up the car again to get some heat.
They looked out the windshield at the icy black water that filled the granite quarry in front of us.
Christmas was never over the top for any of us, a carton of cigarettes or some socks or something, but they liked this story I had told them first several years before.
One Christmas, I continued, the old man spent his paycheck on the way home and there was nothing left for presents except the food money.
“Sounds like my family,” the mammal said squinting down a swig.
“If you’re going to interrupt me, I‘m not going to tell it.”
“No, tell it,” Willy said, “Shut up, Dee-Joe.”
So the mother calls Ted’s Taxi, ‘cause she can charge a ride with Beanie, and piles all the kids inside for the ride downtown.
And into Woolworth’s five and dime they march.
In the window of the store is a dining room set for, I don’t know, about six hundred bucks.
“I remember that.”
“Shut up Dee-Joe.”
“But I remember it. It was like leather or something.”
“What’s that come from?”
It’s the hide from a Nauga. Anyways, the mother goes to the manager carrying the sign from the dining room set that says if you buy it you get a hundred bucks worth of toys free.
She tells him, “I would like to buy this.”
He says OK, and she turns to the kids. “Go pick out $14 worth of toys each,” she says and gives them assigned siblings to buy for.
“Brothers and sister,” Willy explains, having heard the story before.
So the siblings all come back with a carriage each of toys, and 14 bucks bought a lot of toys back then.
Then she turns to the manager and says, “here,” handing him the $10 grocery money. The evil manager glares at her.
“Booo,. Hisss.”
She says, “Put it on lay-away.”
Lay-away was a new concept at a time just before credit cards. You plunked down some modest amount and paid the rest over a period of time.
“No, lady, You have to buy it outright,” he says.
“That’s not on the sign,” she answers and stands her ground.
After a staring contest the evil manager says ”No,” and starts to walk away.
“Then you tell them to put the toys back,” says the mother, and begins to walk out the door as lips quiver and noses start automatically to run.
“You can’t do it lay-away,” he says, “but I’ll let you buy it, take it and give me $10 a week,” he says. “You have to pay it,” he says, weakening at the idea of being left with seven screaming kids in his store at Christmas-shopping time.
The mother gives him the $10, and the family has the best Christmas ever, including The Great Garloo robot and dolls that closed their eyes and everything..
“Then what happened?” Dee-Joe asks, knowing full-well what happened.
“Then, after a month, the guy comes in a truck to pick up the dining room set, and Christmas 1952 cost the mother ten bucks total.”
“So John,” says Stretch, passing Willy the canteen, “You really going in the Army?”
“Looks that way,” I answer.
“Do you have to take a test or something for that?”
“Not a hard one.”
“So you must have passed it, huh?”
“I guess so.”
“You must be smart, then.”
“No,” I said looking out the windshield, “just not suspicious.”
“Let’s go buy some presents for everyone,” Willy says, “Some fool company sent Dee-Joe a credit card.”
And that, children, was how the three wise guys, and the rest of America, learned to spend beyond their means and go deep into debt every year in December.

Posted by: johnhourihan | December 20, 2014

The Real Santa

The following is a bit of fiction based on a real story and some real friends.

Knowing Santa Doesn’t Mean He Ain’t Realfake santa
I was a jaded child by the time I met the real Santa Claus.
Until then, I had a few years of total belief, then a few of total disbelief, thanks to Spike Warren who said, “You don’t even have a damn chimney, fool.”
But then my old man came home from work early on a winter’s Thursday. He didn’t usually come home at all on paydays so I figured 8 p.m. was early.
“Hey Jocko,” he says as he comes in the front door,
“Grab a coat, you’re going with me and Biff.”
“Where?” my mother asks.
“Salvation Army. They got a big party tonight, cake, candy, Santa Claus and everything.”
Then to me he says, “Jocko, this isn’t some department store guy. This is the real thing. . . the whole shooting match.”
“Why just him?” my mother asks.
“He don’t believe.”
He was right. How could anyone believe in a fat elf who can make a sleigh and reindeer fly and go to every house in one night, and go down chimneys that don’t exist?
But I had to go.
I wanted a Fanner 50 gun set this year and he was the only chance I had. I was groggy in the DeSoto on the way to town. It was hot and had the sweet smell of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The captain met us at the door in the snow.
I pushed on by the clutch of adult legs while he talked in very stern tones to Scrapper Jack and Big Fat Biff.
In the open and well-lighted entryway I met up with Lorenzo.
I am told Lorenzo would go on to get golden gloves almost 20 years later.
He got out-pointed for two rounds and then knocked the guy out in the third, anyway that’s what I heard.
But for now it was him and me in winter coats and wondering what the heck was going on.
We weren’t really bad kids, but we weren’t usually allowed into these things.
The old building down near Main Street had a big room with a stage, and row after row of chairs that were already half filled with kids. We knew most of them, and everyone knew and had a healthy fear of Lorenzo, so we got to go down the front and sit where we wanted.
We both knew that Christmas for boys like us was an impossibility. That whole thing of, “Have you been good all year?” threw us. Maybe Fridays or something, or even February we could be good since it was a short month, but all year? Fat chance.
The catch that nailed the thing shut was that if there really was a guy who could actually tell if a kid was naughty or nice, he wasn’t stopping at our houses.
The room filled, and adults ringed the wall like a smiling parental necklace.
First there were cartoons. Good ones too, Looney Tunes, not some stupid parade of bugs chanting along with classical music. It was the good stuff.
Then he came.
He was red and white and fat and jolly and he was beaming “Ho Ho Ho” as he came from the back of the room.
But then as he passed our row, something weird happened.
He stopped, just for a split second, and looked right in at us, me and Lorenzo.
Instinct told me to say, “Hey, I didn’t do it.” But then he was gone and up on the stage.
He emptied his bag of gifts on the floor. Most were the size of boxes of hard candy, but there were a few bigger ones and he stood next to the 15-foot Christmas tree on the stage with some fake presents under it and started calling out names.
I swear every kid in the place had been called by name except the two of us. It wasn’t surprising. We waited patiently for the end. If nothing else, we had seen some cake on the way in.
He called another name.
“Holy crap Lorenzo, you got one!”
He looked smaller and more like a kid as he climbed the stairs to the stage.
Santa Claus gave him one of the bigger ones and he beamed.
Then I heard it.
It was that familiar sound.
The sound that usually happened just before I got in trouble.
Then there it was again. “John Hourihan? Are you here Johnny?”
On the way to the stage I scanned the floor, there were none left. The bag lay crumpled and empty at the back of the stage. But he was dragging a fake one out from under the tree and smiling at me.
He knew my name and he had a present, but if he was the real Santa Claus the name would be on the present I figured. As he spoke, I searched the box the size of a Fanner 50 gun set, and there it was, my name written right on the side. How the heck did he do that?
I looked up at him, stunned.
He bent down, and a sweet familiar smell blew by me as he asked, “Still don’t believe in me, Johnny?”
We both knew the answer.
“Sure I do, Biff. Merry Christmas.”

Posted by: johnhourihan | December 16, 2014

The Christmas Frog – The Real Story of Christmas

I have heard it every years since I was first able to hear. holy family(2)
“Let’s remember the true meaning of Christmas.”
Then people usually follow this up with “It is the birthday of Jesus.”
Well, we all, including Christian scholars, know that is not true. December 25 is probably not when Jesus was born. He was probably born more like in August or September.
So what does it mean to “remember the true meaning of Christmas?” And would Jesus even approve?
Well, I know the true meaning of Christmas. I have known it for a long time.

We know the human spirit is different at Christmas time, but I know how it is different because of Lenny Loupier. (Everyone, of course, called him Froggy.)
The difference is not just happiness. It is, instead, an intensification of the entire spectrum of feelings.
It was mid-December, so the double-digit first snow from the night before was a wet, heavy fluff that built to a foot or so on the school lawn. But it melted on the still-warm asphalt creating a perfectly etched outline of the playing area.
The school driveway slipped off the road and immediately downhill between two granite-walled buildings, the high school and the grammar school, and then down further into a tarred expanse where we played, cradled by the other buildings, the St. Joseph’s Guild home where the mothers met at night.
It was a freezing, jacket-and-hat lunch time even in the sun, and we first-through-eighth-graders had huddled between the two big buildings for shelter from the wind and body heat.
Usually those of us in the seventh grade ran around, but today it was too wet and the janitors had sanded the night before, so the hard tarred yard was too slippery for worn smooth soled shoes to get traction on wet sand. So there we mulled – me and Eddy Cormier punching each other from time to time just to keep warm.
Froggy came running up Main Street, about 50 yards away. He crossed, sprinting through the parking lot of Zersky’s gas station and headed for the intersection with Winter Street.
The school faced Winter.
Instinctively everyone turned to see where Sister Miriam Patrice was. She was the toughest nun of the lot and said often of yard duty, “It is something to offer up for the souls in purgatory,” so we knew she didn’t think much of standing out here watching us.
It wouldn’t do for Loupier to get caught off school property where he shouldn’t be, especially not by her.
He darted across the road holding a foot-square brown paper bag. Half-way across the road, his Cub Scout hat blew off. He stopped, bent and retrieved it in one swoop.
If he hadn’t been such a dork we probably would have cheered as he made it to the sidewalk.
Patrice was on the other side of the building and couldn’t see him. He had reached safety when it happened. His feet started slipping, his arms flailed and then he rose and nose-dived, flat on his face in the driveway.
Lenny Loupier was a weird kid. He had a too-big head; too-big brown eyes encircled by too-big Coke-bottle glasses with a black patch over one lazy eye; a too big mouth and his teeth stuck straight out at you when he talked.
The only thing that wasn’t too big was his nose – and the rest of his body.
He looked like a frog with hair.
It was just like him to hang onto the hat and lose touch with the bag. It sailed up then crashed to the asphalt. The contents shattered and were regurgitated from the bag in a shotgun of pieces. And they skipped across the schoolyard like stones across water.
Some of the remnants slid right to my feet. It had been some kind of dinner plate, with a picture of the shattered Holy Family on it and something had been etched on the edge in gold paint. I read it. “To the bes. .” it said on the biggest piece.
The whole yard laughed at once to see Froggy, face down, his bagged prize at the feet of various clumps of recessers.
He looked up, glasses all crooked on his big head, tears rolling down his face and his nose running.
No human being could ever have been more vulnerable, not even naked in the middle of the gym in a dream.
He lay there flat, his head raised, eyes searching for a friendly face in a crowd of unfriendly faces.
At my feet, The Blessed Virgin Mary looked up at me, and I stopped laughing.
I looked at Froggy, and his eyes caught mine. He was only about 15 feet away, and he said, “I had it made special. It’s my mother’s Christmas present.” Then he returned to bawling.
I don’t know what made me pick him up. It wasn’t like me, and I sure don’t know who said “I’m sorry Lenny.”
As I walked away I saw him stumble the driveway gauntlet of laughing and heckling kids. I leaned back against the hard granite.
No one really saw what happened next, and wouldn’t have believed it of me if they had.
Cormier looked at me strangely and asked “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“It’s cold out here,” I said, “How long we got left?”
I couldn’t have choked out another syllable, or they would have known what was going on.

The difference at this time of year is not that we are inordinately happy, in and of itself. It isn’t that we are supposed to think religious thoughts. It is more that we empathize with one another. We feel what the other guy is feeling. And we care about each other.
This is as close as we get to what human beings are supposed to be – as close as we get to what Jesus tried to teach. That is the true meaning of Christmas.
It seems to be the only time of year that we realize that everyone, even Froggy, has a mother.

Posted by: johnhourihan | December 14, 2014

Christmas and Christianity Have Changed

People say the country has changed, that it has become more divisive and angry.
I agree and was wondering why, when I remembered that when I was young the Lucier boys had a monopoly sanctioned by the church.
I’m sure today there are those who would complain of its unfairness to all the others who plied the same trade.
In today’s anger-riddled world there are those who would stand and argue with the boys and tell them they had no right to be in their place of preference.
Eventually the arguments would win out and some sort of round-robin system would be instituted, some sort of capitalist conformity that would spread the wealth evenly among the rich and poor.
It was the Christmas of my eight grade. I had a paper route. It was a morning affair that began my daily trek through the blue early morning snow and finished in the stark white sunlight and slush.
As I finished my Sunday route and worked my way back toward my home on Winter Street, just a block or so away from St. Mary’s Church, I saw the early walkers trickling down Winter Street and the more affluent who drove to Sunday Mass were parking their big black cars along the roadside.
The bells would ring soon and people would come in droves to fill the pews and then filter in behind the back row and stand. The men who would later pass the basket for donations would stand in the foyer near the holy water, talk to each other and nod hello to those going in to actually attend the Mass.
I had to hurry. I had to change and get back here before the eight o’clock Mass.
As I passed the church the Luciers were setting up.
They pieced together the wooden box they had made from boards stacked beside their house up on the North Purchase, just south of us, closer to town.
Then from the trunk of a car that had just pulled up and was allowed to park right in the street blocking off one lane of traffic, they  unloaded the Sunday newspapers. As I walked by, they were loading them onto the top of the wooden box and putting the money box on the side. There was a folding chair that would be added later.
It made me wonder how they had been awarded this money-making singularity. But I didn’t care all that much. I knew the pastor must have had a reason ,and besides, their family was as large as mine and no more affluent. I was sure they could use the money, and, well, it wasn’t as if they weren’t working for it.
We all attended Mass and as we exited the church, there in front of us was the newspaper stand. The main walkway to the street led straight to the two boys, a few years ahead of me in school, hustling the Sunday paper. Everyone who could afford it bought one.
I think back on those days when people took care of each other, and when the older boys of a large family found a way to make a few extra bucks we didn’t fight to take it from them, we were happy for them. Sadly, I just know that if this happened today there would be a group of people who had children with paper routes who would complain. They would demand that everyone share evenly in the spoils of journalism. They are the same ones who now complain that socialism is bad if it helps only the poor and doesn‘t also help fill the coffers of the rich. Fair is fair.
They would complain that those people who have little are in their predicament only because they are lazy or stupid and should be left to their own devises.
These, of course would be the same people who have shucked off the heart of religion in favor of  conservative Christianity – who have clustered to those parts of the Bible that can be interpreted to say, “anyone unlike myself is not worthy.”
And  “I believe in Jesus, I just think He made some mistakes about this helping those in need.”
This Christmas I would rather see the Lucier boys selling Sunday papers outside the church to the emptying full house, than what I see today.
Now, there are so relatively few who even go to church, and no one could make a buck selling newspapers, even if they sold one to everyone who came out.
Maybe that is part of what has turned us all against each other.

Posted by: johnhourihan | December 13, 2014

An Unexpected Gift

To get a gift, we usually know we are getting it, and that it’s a gift. But not always.christmas1
The feelings of Christmas come and go too fast.
As an adult, I have a jaded song running though my head. It goes, “Oh, it’s over the rerouted aquifer, and through the industrial complex to grandmother’s condo we go. The horse knows the way, but we’re taking the car so we don’t have to step in the snow … with our Australian ostrich leather boots.”
Even Christmas has changed.
You know, “For-lease Navidad” and all that.
I was on my way out about a week before Christmas one year, to do some shopping… “jingle money, jingle money, jingle all the way…. silver dollars, silver dollars, it’s Christmas time in the city…” and I knew it was going to cost a ton of cash.
But I took a detour, at least in my mind, by what used to be DeBoer’s farm near where I lived through most of grammar school, and the real Christmas came back to me.
The DeBoers were an elderly couple who lived out my back door, between the cedar-shingled barns over the back hill, across the part of the barbed-wire fence that a tree had fallen on in the big storm a few years before I was born, and there, just down a snowy slope, beyond the skeletons of the raspberry patch, was the farm.
It wasn’t the light in the kitchen window that marked where they lived. It was the smell – Mrs. DeBoer’s egg shell-applesauce cookies mixed with the smell of the chicken coops. It was a warm, heavy, safe smell that I have never found again.
One winter, about a week before Christmas, I was to bring them a cake. My mother had made it and it was on the kitchen table. Placed strategically on top of it was a small piece of paper torn from some schoolwork. It said “For the DeBoers,” next to the one “For the Costigans,” and the one “For the Chalmers.”
It was cold outside the back door, even for December, and the snow crunched under my rubber boots as I made my way into the darkness.
I had to hold the cake sideways in its brown paper bag wrapping.
Butch, our black cat, followed me between the barns. I knew this path so well I could walk it even when it was hidden like this with the snow. At the top of the hill I smelled the coops.
The DeBoers were Dutch and a generation removed from my parents. They were old I guess.
I delivered the cake to the back door to the kitchen and rapped on the screen door. It seemed Mr. DeBoer usually had changed it to a storm door by now, but I liked it because it made a better sound.
I was ushered inside as Mrs. DeBoer fixed her grey bun of hair and smoothed her ruffled apron.
“Sit it over there,” she said nodding at the perfectly clean table while she collected a plate of cookies from the counter next to the kerosene stove.
“Here,” she said, “You eat some of these.” She pronounced it “Dese.”
And she put the cookies in front of me.
Raspberry, they were, and I felt immediately guilty.
She smiled. “You are surprised I have some left?”
I was, but I didn’t say.
“Where’s Mr. DeBoer?” I asked.
“He’s sleeping.”
She sat across the table and smiled at me. Then, when I thought I’d choke on the cookies from the guilt, she said something.
“He knows you steal the raspberries,” she said with a raise of her eyebrows.
Mrs. DeBoer’s talking was like singing, like Dutch people do.
“He does?” I managed.
“Of course he does. There aren’t enough rabbits to eat all those berries.”
“I guess I have to go,” I said stealing a glance at the door to the den where he was sleeping.
She walked me to the door, while I thought about the beautiful big cultivated black juicy raspberries of summer in Mr. DeBoer’s garden, and afternoons of hiding among the rows to fill my hands and mouth.
As she held the screen door open for me and I stepped into the night she said, “He grows them for you kids to steal.”
As I crunched home up the dark slope I thought that was the best Christmas present anyone had ever given me, and it usually came in summer.
That was the last year I had them, though. I guess Mr. DeBoer was older than I thought.
The feelings of Christmas come and go too fast.

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