James Hannan is Commonweal's business manager.
By this author
Among Catholic high school alumni of a certain age with vivid, if not entirely reliable, memories of their athletic exploits, one sport is regarded with almost sacramental reverence: basketball.
Recovering TV addicts have no business pining after those shows that got them hooked in the first place.
Yet for more years than I care to admit, I would periodically burden my long-suffering wife with my memories of one series in particular: Route 66, which debuted in 1960. She’d listen patiently and nod as I waxed rhapsodic about the “breakthrough” program. Then one day recently, out of an abundance of love and understanding (and perhaps to test the efficacy of aversion therapy), she presented me with the complete DVD set of the show’s first two seasons.
In his post about the traditions surrounding St. Joseph’s eve, Dominic Preziosi recounts his Italian in-laws’ encounters with their Irish neighbors in a long-ago Jersey City. His descriptions of the feuds and the ethnic resentments—and ultimately the friendships and even a marriage—between these first- and second-generation families, brought back memories of my own experience growing up straddling the Irish-Italian cultural divide in the 50s and 60s.
I am, you see, the product of a mixed marriage.
My father, James Thomas Hannan, Jr. a first-generation Irish-American Catholic, met Josephine Judith Vitagliano, a first-generation Italian-American Catholic, while he was recovering from an appendectomy at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson, NJ. She was a nurse who cared for him and his roommate. Self-assured and outgoing, she made them an offer: the first one to leave the hospital could ask her on date. And if that weren’t cheeky enough, she gave them each a rose from a discarded vase in another room.
A week later, my father showed up at my grandparents’ house with a bouquet of 11 roses, a gesture at once so romantic and fraught (he had ventured into the “other” part of town), that I can’t imagine how the man I came to know had conceived of, let alone carried out, such a stunt. Yet, there he was with his brown wavy hair and light skin standing among his future in-laws curiously eyeing this Amerigan.
However awkward that initial encounter may have been for my father, I’m sure that my mother’s introduction to my Irish grandparents was just as uncomfortable—for my grandparents.
My wife and daughters and I were headed out to Saturday Vigil Mass on a dreary November evening some thirty years ago. The phone rang, and my wife and I exchanged worried glances as she picked up the receiver. Dr. John DeMaio from Pennsylvania Hospital’s neonatal intensive-care unit was on the other end of the line. His voice, a calming influence during the four weeks that our son had been in the NICU, was uncharacteristically subdued.
“Mrs. Hannan…you’d better get over here right away. James has taken a turn for the worse.”
One of the many benefits of working at Commonweal is our great location in Manhattans Morningside Heights. Here youre as likely to encounter a film or television crew as you are a Columbia professor.
In fact, crews are so commonplace in our neighborhood, I pay their equipment trucks and cast trailers little more notice than I do the tour buses at Grants Tomb or Riverside Church.That changed last week.