On my last night in Yonkers, N.Y., I probably drank too many beers. I was 21 years old and about to leave home. I figured that’s what you did.
Just a few months out of college, I had accepted a job at Our Sunday Visitor in Huntington, Ind.
I had done so because the Old Man had rather forcefully suggested that I take it.
I had an alternative plan: coaching tennis at a local Catholic girls’ school while bartending in the evening.
For some reason, the Old Man considered that a rather unformed plan for using my college degree.
The night before I left, I had packed up my worldly belongings into my very own Cadillac — a 1962 model with 125,000 miles on it. I had bought the car from a friend for $200. My friend got the better end of that deal.
When I was done packing, I headed off to a local tavern to watch “Monday Night Football,” then in its second season. A few goodbyes to old buddies and a few beers later, and I was back home.
The Old Man was heading to bed. He slipped me $20 and wished me good luck. The next morning he had left for work by the time I got up.
My mother was still there and about to head out the door herself. She told me to be good and to drive safely. It was like I was going out on a date, rather than driving 700-odd miles across four states. She kissed me on the cheek, and then she was gone.
That’s the way things were. It was 1971, and a guy wouldn’t expect much more. If we had understood how little we would really see each other from that day on, maybe our goodbyes would have been different. But maybe not.
I climbed in my bucket of bolts and took a quick spin through the old neighborhood. Creature of bad habits in addition to beer, I stopped and bought a pack of Luckies at the neighborhood soda shop where I used to hang around.
The guy behind the register was the same guy that my grandfather paid when he bought me a candy bar the first time I came in the store when I was about 5. I told the guy I was heading out to Indiana. He wished me luck, too. And shook my hand.
My last stop was the old parish church, Christ the King Church. I just about lived in the place from first grade through eighth grade, and I knew every corner of it.
I could point out the exact spot where Jimmy Reilly set his hair on fire while carrying a candle during the Stations of the Cross. And where I sat for first Communion. My sister’s wedding. And eighth-grade graduation.
My last prayer at Christ the King Church was a plea from a scared kid leaving the familiar for parts unknown: “God, what am I supposed to do now?” Then I got up and left New York for Indiana.
My first day at work at Our Sunday Visitor was All Saints Day 1971 — 40 years ago this month.
It rained hard that day. I didn’t know then that in Indiana, the clouds set in around Halloween and they don’t clear out until mid-April.
There was a roll call to greet a fresh-faced kid. They lived for Our Sunday Visitor — Dick Scheiber, Father Al Nevins, Bob Willems, Pat Moran, Paul Monaski, John Zierten and a whole bunch more. They are all gone now, and I speak their names like a litany.
I have been blessed to be associated with Our Sunday Visitor for 40 years this past All Saints Day.
And I have been blessed to be a part of the Catholic press for most of my life.
And I guess I know the answer to my last New York prayer.
Robert P. Lockwood, former OSV editor and publisher, writes from Pennsylvania.