Category Archives: St. Lawrence

The Show

Last January 6th, The Feast of the Magi, which is also known as Epiphany or Little Christmas, my wife and I are guests of some people in Coventry, Rhode Island who get together each year to celebrate the Feast Day, and the end of the Christmas season.

Little Christmas is the name we gave it when I was a kid growing up in Kingsbridge, a part of The Bronx, the only place I know aside from The British Isles which is distinguished by the definite article in its name.  I used to think Kingsbridge was a place filled with Catholics, Irish, Italians, a German or two and, even, maybe, someone not from one of those places.  I loved it for a lot of things, and remember them all.  But, my favorite memories were the smells from all the different kitchens, big ones, little ones, all kinds, ; which, I long believed, were all Catholic kitchens.  Because, even though St. John’s, which was the church and school I went to, was right next door to a Protestant Church, I never ever saw anyone enter or leave that place.  You are looking for a church to go to on a clear Sunday morning in Kingsbridge Fifty, sixty or so years ago, and you ask me or any of the guys I grew up with, and your will hear us all say, “St. John’s.” No one I knew knew of any others. Until I am about 14 I think the only kind of people there are are Catholics, and the only kind of food, no matter from where, is “Catholic” food.

Anyway, at the little thing in Coventry, a lovely name for a place, there were all kinds of folks.  We got there early because we came down from Nashua, and grabbed a hotel room nearby, so we could stay a bit longer than a half hour before having to drive home in a snowstorm.

Our host and hostess are really nice people.  She has her picture next to the word “homemaker” in the dictionary, even though she has a bunch of letters after her name, so the place was filled with lovely decorations in every room, more lights than Rockefeller Center and the smell of good old fashioned homemade, tried and true stuff wafting through the house from the kitchen and making me hungrier than a whale after a two thousand mile migration swim.

Thus it was that after the greetings and smiles and stuff, I grab a plate of good old food, pausing to let my nose enjoy itself, and wander into the room where the guys are sitting.  An old Jimmy Cagney movie, one with George Raft looking like he had his hair painted on, was playing background noise…more or less…for the conversation going on; a conversation about baseball.

We were at this place last year, so I probably sit in the same spot  where I sit now and listen to the baseball conversation; which conversation is probably the same one  as last year’s was I began to think.

I am not at all complaining, because I find such conversations fascinating; conversations which I have listened to and sometimes taken part in in places from The Kingsbridge Tavern and Toolan’s  in Marble Hill, to a place in Singapore called Raffle’s where I spent a few nights talking baseball with some cops from Australia a thousand years ago.  They are probably all the same, generally, guys talking about players and teams, averages and plays, managers and pitchers, and balls and strikes.  There’s a lot more of course, but that would fill a book.  And has.

I sat and listened for about a half hour, talking a bit with one of the wives who wandered in and probably felt like she was on Mars.  With her I do not talk about baseball,  because, frankly, I am a little afraid I might not measure up.  There are guys sitting beside me and standing around who can probably tell you the hand span of every manor league pitcher from 1898 until yesterday. My only claim to baseball history is I grew up in The City when Micky, Duke and Willy played there, and I saw Ted at bat.  What he did and when he did it, though is lost in King Solomon’s mind.

I forget what I talk to the nice lady about, but she tells me she remembers me from the year before, and I am scared, because I draw a blank, like one of those old maps filled with empty spaces and bad guesses. I practice smiling, and punctuating her conversation with eyebrow raises and smiles and “Uh, huhs” and big nods while she talks about stuff.  I get comfortable when she talks about the stuff on her plate, and what she likes about the spread.

Then she leaves and I go to the kitchen to fill my plate again.  The kitchen is a place I like.  It’s full of food.  I cook, and can ask food questions; things I know about, like herbs, and spices and sauces and stuff. There’s one or two guys there mining this or that dish and I go over to them to talk the”game”.  But, they know about what’s in front of them about as much as I know about pitching, or stealing a base.  They can use a serving spoon though.

The hostess is there too, making sure no one lacks for anything, and she gives me a short tour of the “field”.  I am happy for this, and try to ask a few questions about the things I see and how they got to be what they are.  She is happy to answer, and for a few minutes we go on about ingredients, and what was handed down from who, and  timing and staging.  I feel like myself again, warming to the topic.  But, then, the front door opens and another family tumbles in.  the Woman of the House goes off to welcome them. I am alone among the pots and bowls and dishes; alone but for those two guys from the other room, now talking batting averages.  They don’t even know I am there.

I look deep into the big bowl of mulled cider and see a darker mulled me looking back.  Then I nod and wander out.  You know, I think to myself as I wander into the parlor, which is nearly empty, and survey the Christmas Village spread across the top of the piano, I would love to have been a chef in a big deal place.  I look down at the little town and remember those times I fed a crowd; when I made it to The Show.

There were a couple of times like when we had about a hundred over for burgers, dogs and games at the Upper Biscayne Clubhouse.  They were great fun.  But I remember, back in the ’80s, when I cooked a meal for a couple of hundred people a couple of times.  It was a Seder celebration back when bunches of Catholics were getting in touch with their Jewish roots.  I am on the Parish Council then, and since I have such fun doing a couple of big deals at the house, I think it would be even more fun to throw open the doors at the parish.

I make a connection with the banquet manager at the Park Plaza in Boston, and he introduces me to the Executive Chef.  It is a highlight of my life when I meet him, and I regret I did not get his John Henry on a hambone or something.  What I do get is twelve boned legs of lamb that look like beach balls, and the fixins’.  All of this is gratis when I tell my friend upstairs in his banquet office it is for a church dinner.

It is from a top shelf hotel, so it is all top shelf stuff!  I do not think to ask him for the china, silver and glassware but I wonder what would have happened.  I mean they probably have freight cars full of that stuff.  On the way home, back to the parish with a trunk full of the goods I feel sorry for it because it’s going on plastic.

The first thing I find out is that we never cook all of that stuff in the one chicken oven at the Parish.  We need something on the order of a Bessemer furnace.  God rest her soul, my friend Barbara Keegan, who should have been, could have been, a D.I. at Quantico, orders up the kitchen at Bishop Guertin High school, and we are good to go.

The day, when it comes, goes off without a hitch; well without too many of them.  Barbra, now straightening out heaven’s kitchens, is on the lamb.  I am up at the parish polishing the plastic, setting the tables, preparing.  When the time comes I drive down there and remove six legs, place them in the back of the car and deliver them, like six pizzas, to the gathering wandering Israelites.

It is not too shabby, if memory serves.  Some folks even eat the bitter herbs.

But, I find out one thing.  Ham is a big deal in New England for Easter dinner.  There are quite a lot of folks who never eat Lamb.  This I cannot figure in a religion whose Savior is referred to as The Lamb of God.

My apple pie disappears, though.   And the Charoset which I make at home the night before.  I keep two of the beach balls and give four away.  Easter dinner is  big deal at our house that year.

I try the same thing once more, but, fewer people show up.  The next year someone suggests ham, or even turkey.

And, I ask to be traded.

The photo above is of my grandson, Joe, getting ready to steal second.  He’s twenty-one, soon, and a damned good cook.










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The Feast of St. Lucy was a few days ago on December 13th.  She was a young girl who was murdered by the Romans during the persecution of Christians under the reign of the god emperor Diocletian, who, as the saying might go, was a jealous god, etc.  Anyway, Lucy’s troubles began when her mother decided she should get married to some pagan fellow.  Lucy told her mother she wanted, instead, to stay unmarried, a virgin, and consecrate herself for life to Christ.  This didn’t go down well with her intended who denounced her to the authorities.  Eventually she was dragged off to be executed.  After boiling in oil failed they simply decided to put her to the sword.  It’s quicker and not as much fun as oil boiling, but it has the advantage of never failing.  Besides oil pollutes, I guess, and maybe the Roman Greenpeace would have picketed the execution.

Since her name is derivative of the Latin word for light, she became patroness of those who suffer diseases of the eye.  Sometimes she is portrayed holding a plate on which are two eyes, a rather gruesome and graphic depiction in no way connected with her death.  But that was then, back in the good old days when folks didn’t scruple to make a point if it needed to be made.

Some people I know got into a discussion on Facebook about St. Lucy and her plate of eyeballs.  While the exclamation “Eeewwwww!” did not appear in print that was the general tone of the remarks on such things as those which were rather common in the good old days.  Someone brought up the many paintings of St. Sebastian, and most of the reactions to those ranged from horror to a kind of air-sick queasiness about the way he’s always depicted; tied up and as full of arrows as a pincushion.

Truth is, though, that while he was filled with arrows, he didn’t die that way.  He was healed by another saint, Irene, but insisted on remaining a Christian.  So, he was simply clubbed to death; no swords being handy, I guess.  Or, since this was during Diocletian’s persecution, perhaps Lucy was being sliced up a few doors down with the sword used for Christians who just wouldn’t take a hint.

As I read the variously horrified and recoiling reactions to these distasteful displays of suffering I couldn’t help thinking about them myself.  I remembered being at the christening of my granddaughter Mary, now twenty.  Just before he poured the water over her, the priest held her up for all to see and said that what was going to happen to her was, in many cases, a dangerous thing.  It could, some day, lead to her death; in this world.  Also I remembered the story I had read only a while before this discussion which so paralleled St. Lucy’s that  it took my breath away.

In a small town in Pakistan recently a young Catholic girl’s home was invaded by some men.  They held her mother and her hostage demanding that the girl become a Muslim and marry one of them who wanted her for a bride.  She refused on both counts and was shot dead, no swords or oil being necessary, obviously.  Her mother was forced to flee, and the police aren’t really interested in doing much.  Yawn.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it but my favorite stained glass window is in the nave of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, my home town. You can see it above you on the right as you walk down the center aisle toward the altar . It is a vivid rendering of the death of St. Lawrence.

He is on the grill, his flesh beginning to roast, the flames beneath him turning the metal a deep red. I first saw it when I was a young fellow of about ten  at a Holy Name Society Mass with my father and about 3,000 other men from around the city. Today we avoid like the plague installing such bloody and gruesome things in our churches, preferring not to think of such things as burnings and worse some are forced to suffer for being Catholics, Christians.  In my own parish there is a nice sanitized window devoted to the North American Martyrs.  To look at it one would wonder whether or not they had all died peacefully in their sleep.  I’ve been to their shrine and read the account of their sufferings.  Peaceful death is as far from their actual deaths as is the east from the west.   (NOTE:  I wonder if we could gather even 300 Catholic men and boys anywhere for a Mass today.  I expect I will hear from the folks who will mention WYD in that vein, and the visits of pontiffs here and there, which only prove my point I’d say.)

What would be the case if some church were built today with one of its windows showing St. Maximilian Kolbe naked in the death cell surrounded by the corpses of his fellow prisoners as the Nazi guard injects him with cyanide? I do not think it would be quiet contemplation.  I have never seen any rendering of his actual martyrdom; nothing beyond a few photos of him long before that horrible act was committed.

But such things are done, and in some places the truth is told and the acts represented for one’s contemplation.  I was in a church in Gdansk several years ago and saw a statue of Fr. Jerzy Popiulsko. It was on the floor, he trussed in chains and beaten and bruised. They don’t pull punches over there.  Someday perhaps there will be another window in a church in Pakistan showing a young girl held by some men while another, face contorted with lust and rage shoots her brains out as her mother looks on in horror. It might be just the needed to remind us all of the real cost of the”Pearl of Great Price”.

I think I know the reason for those very graphic depictions of the saints’ and martyrs’ sufferings.  We should know, we need  to know “the wages of sin” and the “cost of discipleship”.  When we begin to value life too highly, to desire our ease and comfort here more than joy “ever after”, our real death begins.  How yucky can that get?  Maybe the first step to heaven is always down the path labelled martyrdom…of one kind or another.  It isn’t something to be shied from you know, if one is at all interested in the imitation of Christ.   And, there will certainly be an awful lot of company along the Way if recent events are any indication.