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It was my first time on the South Lawn of the White House, 1 A.M. on Tuesday, July 13, 1965. We had just landed in President Lyndon Johnson's helicopter. I was returning from my first weekend at the LBJ ranch, where the President had asked me to be his special assistant for domestic affairs. As the President said goodbye, he smiled. "They tell me you're pretty smart, way up in your class at Harvard. Well, let me tell you something. What you learned on the streets of Brooklyn will be a damn sight more helpful to your president than anything you learned at Harvard."
The Brooklyn where I was born and grew up was less a borough of some 2.5 million people than a collection of lively parishes and neighborhoods nourished by Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants and first-generation parents. German-Americans, Polish-Americans, Spanish-Americans, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and African-Americans migrating from the south and Harlem lived there too. But in the early years of my life, two religions, Catholic and Jewish, and three ethnic heritages-Italian, Irish, Jewish-made up the world. Whatever their heritage, parents wanted their kids to be Americans with a capital A.
My father, Joseph Anthony, was born on November 6, 1899, in Brooklyn and baptized at the same church where his parents had married fourteen years earlier. He graduated from Commercial High on the border of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
My mother, Katherine Eugenia Gill, was born on June 20, 1893, in Brooklyn. Fair skinned with blue eyes and blond hair, my mother graduated second in her class of eleven young Irish-American girls from St. Angela's Hall, a Brooklyn high school for Catholic girls. At her commencement on October 16, 1912, two essays received prizes: first prize went to "Emancipation of Woman," second to "Woman and Education." Eight years later, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution would give women the right to the vote.
Mother and Dad met taking a night course in Italian at Fordham University with Professor Alexander Ausilli, pronounced "Oh Silly" to the amusement of the Irish girls in the class. Italians and Irish rarely mixed at that time. My parents laughed for years about Mother and one of her Irish girlfriends using the word "gondola" to described a cannoli pastry the night they first dated.
When my father proposed, Mother's brothers and sisters, especially her older sister, May Gill Montague, were concerned that since Dad was a first-generation Italian-American, Mother would be marrying beneath herself. Mother's sister May, the matriarch of the family, nevertheless reluctantly approved the "mixed marriage" because Mother was already thirty-six. Five-foot-five Joe Califano and five-foot Kay Gill married late and for love on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1929, at St. Gregory's Church in Brooklyn.
I was born at 9:15 P.M. on May 15, 1931, at St. Mary's hospital in Brooklyn. Fifteen nights earlier, President Herbert Hoover had turned on the lights at the just-built Empire State Building, the world's tallest skyscraper. I was a blond, blue-eyed chubby baby, and though my hair was to turn to brown and my eyes hazel, that little fellow would never appear undernourished.
Despite trying, my parents were unable to have more children. Because of that and my mother's age-almost forty-at my birth, my father often said, "You are the only child God gave us and He gave us a good one." As far back as I remember, my parents and relatives treated me, as my cousin Jane Gill used to put it, like a "V.I.C."-very important child.
The first winter of my life was the worst of the Great Depression. Many people in Brooklyn slept with hot bricks at the end of their beds and stood on breadlines during the day. By the time I hit the terrible twos, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had succeeded Hoover as president and instituted the New Deal programs to combat the Depression, and Congress had repealed Prohibition, but my uncles continued to make their own red wine.
We lived in Crown Heights, just a few blocks from the border of Bedford-Stuyvesant, but we never thought of ourselves as living in Crown Heights. We thought of ourselves as living in St. Gregory's parish. My parents and relatives considered it a step above neighboring St. Teresa's parish, where, they said, the shanty Irish congregated.
Most of my aunts and uncles lived within walking distance of our apartment. Our building at 1030 Park Place, with the pretentious name "Brower Court" painted in Old English gold letters on the glass above the entrance doors, was six stories of red brick with several apartments on each floor. Our sixth-floor window looked out on Brower Park across the street, which housed the original Brooklyn Children's Museum in two converted mansions. On early winter mornings, we were often awakened to the sounds of coal dropping into barrels from chutes on the side of trucks and of hot-water water radiators banging and whistling in our apartment. Other neighborhood noises included the ice truck, which came to fill each icebox, and the milkman, who delivered bottles of unhomogenized milk (with the cream floating on top) to each front stoop or apartment door.
We patronized the stores on Kingston Avenue: a pharmacist, small grocer (where butter and sugar were spooned out of tubs), butcher, and candy store with comic books and penny seltzers. On Nostrand Avenue, a few blocks away, we bought clothes and shoes and went to the tailor and shoemaker. All the merchants were either Italian or Jewish.
* * *
My mother told me many stories on those walks to the stores, in our small kitchen as she fixed dinner, and at night in my bedroom. She loved to tell of the four Gill brothers who came from England to the United States in the early 1800s. Three stayed in the Carolinas; the fourth, from whom Mother was descended, returned to England. Mother always considered it a mark of status that her family had some English roots and had lived in America for more than a hundred years.
As Mother recounted it, the four brothers were part of a staunchly Protestant family that lived in Devon during the mid-seventeenth-century reign of Oliver Cromwell, when virulent anti-Catholicism swept across England and Ireland. One evening during a violent storm, the family of the brother who had returned to England heard a terrible pounding on the door. Opening it, the Gills saw a huddled, soaking wet, shivering man. They took him in, stirred the fire to dry his clothing, and gave him food and drink.
The next day, the man said he was an Irish Catholic priest who had secretly entered England to provide sacraments to Catholics, but now there was a price on his head. He needed to reach France so he could flee to America. The Gills dressed the priest in a woman's clothing to hide him in their home for about a week, when they placed him on a boat to the safety of Normandy's coast.
The night the priest left, he profusely thanked the Gills and said, "I have nothing to give you except some books."
"And what books might they be?"
"These are books about my faith. They explain my beliefs. I want you to have them."
As he was leaving, the priest placed the books on the table over the protests of the Gills, who did not want to accept something so dangerous to them and precious to their visitor. Eventually curiosity took over, and surprisingly the family found the books to their liking. The Gills emigrated to the Galway region of Ireland, embraced the Catholic faith, and established themselves as businessmen, running hotels and operating ferries.
Grandfather Thomas Peter Gill was born in Brooklyn in 1845, one of seven children of Irish immigrants John Gill, a dry-goods merchant from Ballinalee in Longford, and Mary Fahey, who had emigrated from Eyrecourt in Galway. Grandfather Gill was christened in St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street in Manhattan, the same church that in 1805 baptized a converted Catholic named Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, a friend of the Gill family who would become the first American-born saint.
In 1862, at age fifteen, Grandfather Gill ran away and, claiming to be eighteen, joined the 47th Regiment of the New York State Militia to fight in the Civil War as a private in the Union Army. My Mother would show me Grandfather Gill's letters to his mother. "Dear Mother," he wrote on June 4, 1862, "I tend to my prayers as well as I can and am going to church every Sunday I can. Dear Mother do not send the Metropolitan here [the Metropolitan Record was a New York diocesan paper that Archbishop John Hughes began in 1859]. It would be a laughing thing for the red-necked Protestants for I don't think there is a Catholic in the Company besides myself."
When the Civil War ended, in 1865, Grandfather Gill returned to Brooklyn, where he clerked in a law office, aspiring to be an attorney. Then doctors told him that he had tuberculosis and urged him to find work outdoors. He became a ship's carpenter and during the administration of President Grover Cleveland was chief clerk of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, responsible for handling mail, payroll, and invoices.
Grandfather Gill married Delia Veronica McQuade, also born in Brooklyn, and they had nine children, two of whom died in infancy. My Gill grandparents died before I was born, but my mother prayed for them every day.
For every one of those stories my mother told me about her English and Irish heritage and her father fighting in the civil war, she told me ten about "the Gill women."
My great aunt Marcella Gill at age eighteen entered the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph and became Sister Mary Celestine Gill. Sister Celestine was committed to provide a first-class education to Catholic girls who, because of their religion and economic status, were denied admission to the finest private schools. In 1906 in Brooklyn, she founded St. Angela's Hall, an elementary and secondary school for women. In 1916, Sister Celestine started St. Joseph's College for Women in Brooklyn and served as its first dean.
Mother was also proud of her father's cousins, Lucy and Elizabeth Gill, who were born in Galway, Ireland, and came to lower Manhattan in 1868. They entered the Ursuline convent, where Lucy became Mother Irene and Elizabeth became Mother Augustine. In 1886, they established "Board Classes" for women who wanted to become teachers, at the time the only Catholic teacher training for women in New York City. Mother Irene left New York City to start a college for Catholic girls in New Rochelle. Founded as the Ursuline Seminary for Girls in 1897 with ten boarders and sixty day students, it soon became the College of New Rochelle, the first Catholic college for women chartered by New York State. By 1929, with 157 graduates and 802 students, it was the largest Catholic women's college in the nation.
For my mother-who wanted to be called "Mother" not "Mom" or any other colloquial appellation-the journey to Brooklyn began in Devon, England, and Galway, Ireland. For Dad-who preferred the warm informality of that name to either Father or Pop-the story began in Sorrento, Italy.
My grandparents, Giovanni Califano and Candida DeGennaro, met in Brooklyn, but both had emigrated from Sorrento, a town on the Italian peninsula. My paternal great grandparents, Antonio Califano and Mariarosalina Martino, lived in a house that still stands on Via Casa Nicca, a cobblestone street in Meta di Sorrento. At age twenty-four, Giovanni sailed from Naples to America on the Caledonia with his brother and 340 other Italians, arriving in New York on February 27, 1882. Like his father, Antonio, Giovanni had been a sailor who, as he told it, traveled to many nations around the world through many life-threatening storms, before settling in Brooklyn.
Grandpa Califano turned down an offer to head the grocery department at Abraham and Strauss, a premier Brooklyn department store, because he wanted to be his own boss. Instead, he opened a produce store and lived on the floor above it. Grandpa always had a pencil behind his ear to tally customers' bills on the back of their brown paper bags; he never had a cash register.
Grandpa Califano met my grandmother in a local bakery when the two of them were buying bread early one morning. The seventh of seven sons, he asked Candida DeGennarro to marry him on the seventh day after they met. He was twenty-eight; she was eighteen. She immediately accepted his proposal, over the objections of the Sessas, a banking family from Sorrento that had brought my grandmother to the United States to be their children's nanny. Giovanni and Candida were married in 1885, in Sacred Hearts and St. Stephen's, a small wooden Roman Catholic Church in South Brooklyn. They had nine children, three of whom died in infancy.
After Grandma Califano died in July 1939, Grandpa would sit alone in his Morris chair, talk little, and weep often. That December, Grandpa Califano died of a heart attack. I was only eight when he died, but he drew so many simple pictures of boats for me as he recounted his adventures that I can draw them exactly as he taught me to this day.
* * *
Dad went to work in 1925 as secretary to the advertising manager at International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) at 50 Broad Street in Manhattan, one of 2,633 employees then. He was promoted to working on the IBM newspaper and became the Administrative Assistant of the IBM World Trade Corporation in 1949. When IBM World Trade moved in 1954 to the United Nations Plaza at 46th Street and First Avenue, my father relished having an office facing the UN and meeting Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, whose book, Markings, he insisted I read.
Dad had a loyalty to IBM that is incomprehensible in the twenty-first century. He never entertained the thought that he might work somewhere else. Ten years after his retirement, Dad wrote to Thomas J. Watson, Jr., "As for myself, after spending 39 years with IBM, it will always be a part of me."
Dad meticulously obeyed the dress code of IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr. For years he wore highly starched or stiff cardboard-collared white shirts, conservative neckties, and dark suits because "that's what TJ wants." My father even brought home and occasionally sang, as my mother played the piano, the IBM march, "March On With IBM," and the IBM rally song, "Ever Onward," which contained lyrics like:
March on with IBM. We lead the way! Onward we'll ever go, in strong array; Our thousands to the fore, nothing can stem Our march forever more, with IBM.]
Excerpted from INSIDE by Joseph A. Califano, Jr. Copyright © 2004 by Joseph A. Califano, Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|2||The Early Years||15|
|3||Born, Bred, and Branded Catholic||21|
|4||A Jesuit Education||32|
|5||A Harvard Law School Education||45|
|6||Landlubber in the Navy||52|
|7||A Bite of the Big Apple||57|
|9||Comfortable and Catholic in New York||67|
|10||Ringing Doorbells for Kennedy||74|
|11||A Whiz Kid in McNamara's Pentagon||86|
|12||In the Army on the Home Front||101|
|14||When Kennedy Was Shot||128|
|16||Troubleshooting for McNamara||137|
|17||The LBJ Years||151|
|19||Washington Lawyer: Arnold & Porter||191|
|20||Washington Lawyer: Williams, Connolly & Califano||216|
|21||The Democratic Party's Cultural Revolution||236|
|23||Putting the First Amendment First||309|
|25||The Last Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare||325|
|27||My Own Law Firm||379|
|28||Hilary Paley Byers||390|
|29||Lawyer in the House||400|
|30||From Washington to Wall Street||413|
|31||A New Life||450|
|A Final Reflection||491|