Sunday, October 16, 2005
October 16, 1978
The weekend that His Holiness passed away, memories of long-ago thoughts, of people long-removed, yet omnipresent, flooded over me.
Dolores, this is for you.
IN MEMORY OF POPE JOHN PAUL II (1920 – 2005)
BY GEORGINA MARRERO
It’s raining outside.
Soft, at first:
Then soft, again:
The air is sweet.
Softly filled with the smell
Of the green grass
As it fills my nostrils
On this special day—
Vigor incarnate is leaving us.
Vigor as soft, sweet,
As the rain as it descends
Upon the green grass—
As the vigor that helped
Lead us to the green grass…
Saturday, April 2, 2005
OCTOBER 16, 1978
BY GEORGINA MARRERO
On October 16, 1978, I climbed into my little Miami blue Volkswagen Rabbit outside my apartment at 1675 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, and drove the nine or so miles to the Ezra C. Fitch School in Waltham. A bilingual teacher with all my credentials in place, I was, nonetheless, considered to be a tutor.
So was Mrs. Dolores O'Brien. In a warm, cozy, wood-paneled basement room congenially divided in the middle by bookcases, Dolores and I carried out our mission as Title VII tutors: she, as the English as a Second Language instructor; and I, as her Spanish Language and Culture equivalent.
No matter: we were two sides of the same coin, mixing, matching, and interchanging children over the course of the school day.
I'd arrived in the Boston area three years earlier. Although I had lived in New York for the three years prior to that, there's something about Boston that screams out, Irish. Perhaps it's the Kennedy legacy? Perhaps it's the Celtics… or now, more proudly than ever, the Red Sox?
Whatever it was, all I knew, back in 1978, was that a sea of Irish surrounded me, a little Cuban-American hybrid. Beginning, of course, with Mrs. O'Brien, her stories of her husband, Bob, and her daughters. I remember one was named Siobhan.
Dolores had been very warm and welcoming from the very beginning. We shared children, resources, funds-even an amused tolerance for our-as it turned out-less than scrupulous boss. She could always get a chuckle, a laugh, or even a hearty guffaw, out of me.
We decorated the room together, yet separately, in a happy style conducive to making our little Kindergartners through sixth graders feel at home. While I cluttered my side of the room with as many bilingual, bicultural visuals as I could get my hands on, I remember Dolores always had a calendar going. One with foliage, one with pumpkins, one with Santa Claus, one with flowers… and, of course, one with shamrocks.
For Mrs. O'Brien, of course, was Mrs. O'Brien. And, of course, there was also her good friend and co-conspirator, Mrs. Anna McMenimen. Mrs. McMenimen happened to be the school secretary, so Dolores was always in the know. Which meant that I was often privy to their flow of sometimes gentle, and sometimes picaresque, gossip.
Much of this gossip often centered on Miss Mary Furdon, our often exasperated, and much beleaguered principal. Exasperated is the operative word, here: if not Miss Furdon, then Anna. At least I knew how to approach Miss Furdon when I had to.
I have a super picture of the four of us and another teacher named Joyce, I think. Judging from the Santa Claus calendar in the background, one of the lovely, extremely artistic fraternal twins from Puerto Rico who graced our classroom as our student teachers during the fall of 1978 took that picture some time in December.
The Suarez twins might or might not have been there October 16, but Dolores and I were. It was a Monday.
News didn't travel as fast then, but I'm sure we heard while we were at school that day: Habemus Papam. We have a Pope: Karol Wojtyla.
A Polish Pope? I remember asking myself. Everyone was shocked-not just the Italians. I'm sure our little group at school discussed it.
Then I returned home to Cambridge and probably listened to the TV coverage. I may have been young - 24 at the time - but not that young that it didn't sink in.
A Polish Pope. What would it mean?
I hadn't really paid much attention to Popes, especially as a young child. After all, I was baptized at age four so that Castro wouldn't send me to Russia, along with other "unwashed" children. My equally hybrid parents didn't think of it, until then.
But they then rushed to include me as a little, yet significant, "aside" in the more "normal" baptism of my godparents' newborn daughter.
And, when we arrived in the States, I duly went to Catechism and celebrated my First Communion when I was eight. I still remember being terrified before my first - and only - Confession.
I also remember that the Pope at the time was a rotund man named John XXIII. Hard to forget, for me: XXIII. 23. My number.
The date was May 12, 1963. The Pope passed away just under four weeks later, on June 3, 1963. I'd been born during Pius The Twelfth's Papacy, but Pope John had been both my Baptism and First Communion Pope. So now, who?
I remember Paul VI as a slender, serious-looking, scholar. As I sporadically attended Mass, especially when I was directed to while I attended summer camp, I also, only sporadically, paid attention to him. But whenever I did, I gave him my full respect.
When he passed away and John Paul I ascended to the Throne of St. Peter, I was about to begin my second year as bilingual tutor at the Fitch School. Thirty-three days later - September 28 - was a Thursday. We must have heard the news of the new Pope's sudden demise while at school that day, too.
What was going on? I probably figured he had been infirm. Was the Vatican aware of his condition? I'm asking myself that, now, on the heels of learning about the conspiracy theories that surround his death.
The school was abuzz. I'm sure I sat in on many a discussion between, especially, Mrs. O'Brien and Mrs. McMenimen.
But here we were. The Conclave of Cardinals had reconvened, and a Pole named Karol Wojtyla had been named the new Pontiff. I remember the coverage about how to pronounce-let alone, spell-his name. John Paul II soon became much easier to handle.
What would it mean? We quickly found out. The new Pope visited his homeland. Solidarity. Lech Walesa. President Reagan: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." I visited my aunt and uncle in a free Romania.
I now paid attention, albeit at a respectful distance.
Pope John Paul II ascended to the Papacy when I had just turned twenty-four. Twenty-six plus years later, he's gone. He will have been the Pope of my youth to early middle age.
Although I have never formally confessed, nor taken Communion, since my First Communion, there is a bond I have never been able to loosen. I remember only The Lord's Prayer, so I have to mumble along whenever I attend Mass, mimicking others. And yet…
… I could not help not taking note of the date - October 16, 1978 - when Karol Wojtyla became Pope.
And I could not help remembering where - and with whom - I was. With some lovely Irish ladies who were probably providing this hybrid with nourishment I wasn't even aware I was imbibing.
Rest In Peace, Your Holiness.
For Dolores O’Brien. Sunday, April 3, 2005
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