January is a special month for me because both my parents died in that month. I can’t believe that my working-class Dad “kicked the bucket,” as he would say about others in his typically irreverent manner, 18 years ago. One minute he was shoveling snow outside his Ozone Park, New York duplex and the next he was lying dead on the basement floor. My Mom died five years in Chicago, after a long illness.
Two pieces came over the news wires this past week that brought back memories of my parents. The first was an article entitled, A Loving Mom Prevents Mid-Life Illnesses. “A new study finds that receiving plenty of nurturing, motherly love while young may prevent illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease well into middle age, even for those raised in severe poverty.”
Even though I wasn’t raised in severe poverty in my working-class family, I can relate to these findings. It wasn’t so much my mother’s “motherly love” that made all the difference in my life but her tough love. She was the one who sent me to the Ursuline nuns at Blessed Nativity elementary school. And she was the one who sent me to the Jesuits at Brooklyn Prep, the topic of a piece in the New York Times this week by Joseph Berger.
Looking back, I’m so thankful to my Mom for sending me to the Prep. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Prep made all the difference in my life. As Berger recounts:
“Those who went there remember a hulking stone and brick building that took in Irish and Italian boys from working-class and more upscale neighborhoods in Brooklyn and on Long Island. They were taught to write fluidly, read widely and deeply and think logically and subtly…
Graduates still idolize some of their teachers: many recall an English teacher, Charles Winans, and many even remember Father Engel as having a tender heart under his strict facade. During World War II he sent every Brooklyn Prep graduate in the armed forces personal letters.”