The Guys in the Gang: And Other Stories

The Guys in the Gang: And Other Stories

by James T. Joyce


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There was more to be learned on Chicago's Southside than the reading, writing, and religion taught in schools. In this memoir, authors James T. Joyce and James T. Joyce present a collection of stories about what they learned growing up in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood in the 1950s and '60s on Chicago's Southside.

The Guys in the Gang narrates how the neighborhood nurtured love, camaraderie, family values, and racial hatred. It tells of how religion shaped their lives; describes the frequently illegal (but mostly harmless) antics of teenaged boys; discusses the broadening experiences of college and the army; and recalls an assortment of jobs, from the brutally boring and noisy factory work to business in foreign embassies to fighting fires. It tells of people met and befriended, from the super-rich to inept Korean golfers who feared imaginary tigers, including poignant and entertaining snippets from their lives.

With humorous touches, The Guys in the Gang describes how this group forged bonds of friendship that endured monkeys and mortal losses, and how the guys supported each other through high times and dark valleys.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469777689
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/29/2012
Pages: 276
Sales rank: 806,729
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.58(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Guys in the Gang

and other stories
By James T. Joyce James T. Joyce

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 James T. Joyce and James T. Joyce
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4697-7768-9

Chapter One

Saint Sabina

I was eight years old when Monsignor William Gorey died. Moments after he exhaled his last breath a priest at his bedside gave the signal to ring the bells. I was asleep at home, two blocks from the rectory.

"Jimmy," my mom whispered, "Wake up and listen to the bells. Monsignor Gorey is on his way to heaven."

I sat up and saw the old, white haired man, in his long black cassock, slowly ascending – gong by solemn gong – into the sky. "Say a prayer for him, Jimmy."

St. Sabina had thousands of parishioners back then. In their bungalows and apartments, on the streets and in the taverns, they all listened to the bells. Heads were bowed, prayers were uttered, and glasses were raised to the soul of Monsignor Gorey. He'd been their pastor and they'd respected him as a man of God. Unlike some men of God at that time, Monsignor Gorey was a nice man. He would be missed.

Our St. Sabina (suh-Bye-nah) Church complex was (and still is) bordered by 78th Street on the north, 78th Place on the south, Throop Street on the west and Racine Avenue on the east. In this half square city block is the church; its size and grandeur would qualify it as a cathedral in most places. Here also is the grammar school, a convent for nuns, a rectory for priests and a gymnasium. The rectory is on two levels. Under one wing was a garage for the monsignor's car, a big, black Chrysler. Few parishioners owned cars in those days and none of the mere priests. Monsignors were like royalty, they thought they deserved big cars and no one thought otherwise.

St. Sabina was one of the largest parishes in the Chicago. Its neighbor to the east, St. Leo, was even bigger. It also had a monsignor as its pastor, one Patrick J. Molloy, who was not always a nice man. In fact he could be somewhat of a prick, but I'm getting ahead of myself and, in fairness, Molloy had a problem Gorey never thought of.

St. Sabina in the 1940s and 50s had three classes for each of the eight grades with over forty children per class. Only two of our teachers were laypersons, Mrs. Madigan and Mrs. Johnson. All the rest were Dominican nuns, twenty-two of them. There was also a full-time music teacher nun and another nun or two who performed domestic chores in the convent including washing, ironing and starching the elaborate habits that every sister wore.

The relatively few women who enter Catholic religious orders today keep their own names: Sister Sonya, Sister Karen, Sister Lynda and so on, but for centuries when nuns completed their final vows they took the names of holy people, usually saints, from the past. For instance, at Sabina we had Sisters Brendan, Brenda, Pius, Dominic, Imelda, Sarah and so on. The principal was a stern-faced nun, a humorless disciplinarian who had taken the name of a holy angel. I never saw the connection.

The massive, gray stone church was on two levels called "the upstairs church" and the "downstairs church." There were ten masses on Sundays, five on each level and all but the very early ones were packed. Half-dozen or so priests lived in the rectory with the pastor. They said the masses, baptized us, confirmed us, married us and buried us. Besides daily masses there were Novenas, Stations of the Cross, public recitations of the rosary and other services I can't recall.

You should have seen the upstairs church on Saturdays when we all lined up for Confession. There were four built-in confessionals and, prior to Christmas and Easter when even more sinners showed up, two temporary ones in the sanctuary were added. We told the priests our sins and he then, as God's emissary, forgave us after issuing a penance. This could be as light as "Three Hail Marys" or as daunting as fifteen decades of the rosary. The penance depended on the severity of our sins and the severity of the priests. We jockeyed for position to get in line where the lenient priests were hearing. You could tell by how fast the lines were moving.

Protestants accuse Catholics of cheating life with the concept of Confession. "They can do whatever they want then tell a priest and they're forgiven," they say. Not true. You not only have to confess your sins, but then agree to "never do them again." Without that promise a Confession is invalid. There's the rub.

Sins are the bedrock religions are built on but religions don't always agree on sin. For instance, the Mormons of old and some Muslims today think having multiple wives is just fine. The Pope and Billy Graham beg to differ. Following is an abbreviated list of some Catholic mortal sins, the kind that could send you straight to hell but can be wiped off your soul by Confession.

• Taking any role whatsoever in abortion.

• Practicing artificial birth control including condoms, IUD's, pills, tubal ligations, vasectomies and onanism (both kinds)

• Missing Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation

• Entertaining sexual thoughts about someone other than your spouse.

• Petting anyone other than your spouse.

• Fornication

• Pre-meditated murder.

• Calumny

• Stealing more than $100 (adjusted for inflation).

Note: Eating meat on Fridays used to be a mortal sin but Vatican II changed that. Now it's only Fridays in Lent plus Ash Wednesday that are meatless. Don't forget.

Our first Confessions were at age seven, the so-called "age of reason," and were held the day before our First Holy Communion. We were fully prepped by the nuns. Each Confession began with: "Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been (say how long) since my last Confession." Then our sins were enunciated in hushed tones so the people outside the confessional couldn't hear us. When we were done we said, "That's all I can remember, Father."

The priest then dispensed advice, if he was so inclined, and then gave us our penance. "Now make a good Act of Contrition," he'd say.

"Oh my God I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all of my sins, not because of your just punishments but because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to confess my sins, do penance and amend my life, Amen."

"Your sins are forgiven," the priest would say. "Go in peace and sin no more." And that was it.

You came out of there feeling like a million bucks.

Once a year traveling priests, who were particularly gifted public speakers, visited St. Sabina to conduct a two-week long "mission." The first week was for men and boys and the second for women and girls. Every night those missionary priests filled the church. We parishioners of St. Sabina were immersed in our Catholic faith.

In the mid-twentieth century the neighborhoods of the south side of Chicago were known by their parishes; to some extent it is true to this day. When asked where they lived, Southsiders didn't give street addresses; they just said they lived in Sabina, Leo, Ethelreda, Christ the King, etc. Everyone knew where the parishes were.

Parishes had individual characteristics, which were also telling: St. Sabina was on the upper end of blue collar. Visitation was a notch or two down. If you said you lived in Christ the King or St. Barnabas you probably had money. If you lived in St. Gabriel's, you probably worked for the city and were beholden to the mayor.

We Catholics of that era followed the rules under pain of sin. When entering the church we dipped the middle finger of our right hand into a holy water font, then made the sign of the cross: wet finger to our forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder. We did it again as we left the church. When going past a Catholic church – be it on foot, in a car, on a bicycle or a bus we also made the sign of the cross. (Hat-wearing men could get by with a tip of hat.) Whenever we heard Jesus' name we reverently bowed our heads.

Inside a church males had to remove their hats. Women, conversely, had to cover their heads with hats, scarves or "chapel veils," lace pieces found in every Catholic woman's purse. They looked like doilies. Some younger women fudged this rule by using bobby pins to attach hankies to their hair. This practice was frowned upon, but tolerated, by the nuns and priests.

The nuns' headdresses, called wimples, completely covered not only their hair but also their ears and necks. Once, in the fourth grade, I saw, to my horror, an errant tuft of a nun's hair sticking out from her wimple onto her cheek. I liked this nun (she was young, beautiful and nice) and thought I should tell her before others saw it, but I was too awed and just stared at the brown tuft. To a nine-year-old it was a fascinating, frightening and erotic sight. I can clearly picture it today.

The nuns were preoccupied with the salvation of our souls and encouraged us children to wear scapulars. These were cloth necklaces which carried "plenary indulgences," which meant if we died while wearing a scapular we would bypass Purgatory and go straight to heaven (assuming we had no current mortal sins on our souls).

Another way to get a plenary indulgence was to say the words, "My Lord and my God" at the moment of consecration of the bread and wine at mass. But this had to be done twenty days in a row. Plenary indulgences are not transferable, and nobody needs more than one, so I took the easier route to instant heaven, wearing the scapular. I wore one throughout my childhood, my tour of duty in Vietnam, and for a few years thereafter.

"Ejaculations" were a big part of our lives. The nuns encouraged us to make many of them throughout the day. Ejaculations are mini-prayers, not orgasms. I still say them in times of crisis: "Dear God, please let my child get well soon; Dear Lord, please help me make this sale because my company needs the business; Sweet Jesus, please don't let Bush get re-elected." Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.

We were taught that the devil, like God, is omnipresent. Fortunately we were all issued guardian angels to help keep the devil at bay. Early on I learned life was not fair. Some kids had better guardian angels than others.

Genuflect in the aisle before entering your pew. Say grace before all meals; don't eat meat on Friday; pray on your knees before going to bed. No food or water after midnight in order to receive Holy Communion the next day. Mortal sins not confessed to a priest were tickets to hell. Venial sins not confessed piled up time in Purgatory. (Purgatory was like hell but eventually you'd get out.) Praying for dead people, who you assumed were in Purgatory, could lighten their sentences. Nothing you could do to help those in hell. Unbaptized babies who died and would therefore be unable to sin their way to hell, or good their way to heaven, went to Limbo. Limbo was described as heaven without the "Beatific Vision," another way of describing God. So they'd be pretty happy but not perfectly happy. Not a bad deal.

To assure a safe journey recite this prayer nine times: "Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen." This is known as saying "The Nine Glory Be's." I still say them for my loved ones and myself when we travel. This prayer never fails.

With so much praying and religious practicing going on at St. Sabina you would think we were kind, loving, and tolerant people. Forget it. If someone was not Irish and Catholic, they were suspect. We had names for them: Dagos, Polacks, Slopes, Spics, Gricks, Nips, Frogs, Hebes, Krauts, Cans, Honkies, Lugans, Wooden Shoes, Chinks, Bohunks and so on. They would have to prove themselves on an individual basis before we accepted them. And who did we think we were? The center of the universe.

But we reserved most of our prejudice for Blacks and Protestants. First I'll tell you about the Protestants, who we really didn't like. We'll cover the Blacks later.

Just to set foot inside a Protestant church required a special dispensation from a priest. Even weddings and funerals of relatives required this dispensation and if it was not obtained you committed a sin. Anything smacking of Protestant was to be avoided. At 81st and Racine, in the middle of the parish, a YMCA was built. Although the YMCA was not a religion, we were told that because the "C" in YMCA stood for "Christian," a religious association was implied. We Catholics could have nothing to do with the place. Although Catholics are, of course, Christians, we were Catholics first. To simply call oneself a Christian implied grave theological error. Frankly, in St. Sabina, Christian was a bad word.

This rule was unfortunate for us kids because the YMCA had an outdoor basketball court available at any time. Our Catholic basketball courts were inside the gymnasium and were frequently unavailable. At a Sunday mass one of our parish priests devoted his entire sermon to the evils of playing basketball at the new "Y." He stated, in no uncertain terms, that to do so was committing a sin.

No youngster dared question his pronouncement, because priests spoke for God, but I do remember thinking – at the age of twelve and for the first time ever – that I disagreed with a priest's pronouncement. It was the first personal chink I experienced in my Catholic indoctrination and as I listened to Father Kelly* rant and rave about basketball and the "Y," I decided he was nuts. But I didn't tell a soul.

I was an altar boy and served hundreds of masses, but I only remember one. Fortunately it was a daily mass with few people in attendance. Immediately I noticed the priest wasn't right. He was staggering and had to put his hands on the altar to steady himself. Then he fell down. I helped him up and leaned him against the altar. Then I ran to the rectory as fast as I could with my surplus flying and my knees bumping against the cumbersome cassock. The rectory was connected to the church by a hallway. I saw a priest and told him there was something wrong with Father McGuire*. "I think he's sick," I said. The priest hustled with me to the sacristy and escorted McGuire, who was drunk, off the altar. The mass was ended, go in peace. (I only remember that one mass out of hundreds I served? Shame on my human mind and me.)

The depth of anti-Protestantism that was grilled into us was far reaching. After I graduated from college I had six months of nothing to do while waiting for my date to enter the Army. So I took a job driving a taxicab simply to kill time during the day and to earn a little spending money. I was living at home and didn't need much.

The first day on the job one of my fares was a Catholic priest. When we arrived at his destination I refused to take his money. He was delighted. A few days later I picked up a couple of nuns and did the same thing. They, too, were most pleased and called me, "A nice Catholic boy." A week or so later a Protestant minister, with his wife and two kids, got into my cab. They were going to O'Hare, a long and expensive ride from the south side of the city.

All the way to the airport I silently debated if I should treat him as equal clergy. It was a moral dilemma. On the one hand I wanted to be fair to all the clergy I carried. On the other hand I knew St. Sabina Catholic dogma would consider a free cab ride to a Protestant minister as aiding and abetting the enemy.

When they were departing the cab the minister asked what he owed me and I heard the words in my mind, "Father Kelly was nuts." I told the minister the ride was on me. He was overwhelmed and said, "God bless you." And I said, "God bless you, too, Reverend." All the way back to the south side I wondered how much Purgatory time I'd just racked up. Father Kelly made me nuts.

In retrospect I've found it interesting that Jews were spared the venom we directed toward Protestants. We were taught in church and school "the Jews killed Christ." This should have made them Enemy Number One, but it didn't.

Perhaps it's because when the Jews killed Christ, He was one of their own. His Church and new religion were formed after He died. The Protestants, on the other hand, abandoned the Catholic Church after 15 centuries and formed their own, competing, religions. When Luther, Calvin, Knox, Henry XIII and the rest told Rome to buzz off, the Catholics who remained loyal took this rejection personally. Let the hatred begin. In our case, at St. Sabina, four hundred years after the Reformation, we remained pissed at the Protestants.


Excerpted from The Guys in the Gang by James T. Joyce James T. Joyce Copyright © 2012 by James T. Joyce and James T. Joyce. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. 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.

Table of Contents


Section I Raised Catholic....................1
1. Saint Sabina....................3
2. Leo High School....................12
3. Mom and Dad....................17
Section II The Neighborhood....................25
4. 79th Street....................27
5. Jobs and Shopping....................37
6. Job Begets Boat....................42
Section III The Guys in the Gang....................47
7. The Guys in the Gang....................49
8. More Gang Activity....................65
9. The Haircut....................74
10. The Guys on Granny's Farm....................79
11. McDonough Practices Law....................88
12. All Gone....................94
13. All Gone (Another Take)....................101
Appendix 1 The Guys in the Gang with their eventual occupations....................105
Appendix 2 A Photo Gallery....................107
Section IV JCU and the US Army....................113
14. Of Monkey and Boys....................115
15. One Oh Five....................127
16. Another Car Caper Gone Wrong....................132
17. All Grown Up....................139
Section V Jobs....................147
18. Of Mouse and Salesman....................149
19. The Worst Job of All....................152
20. Best Job I Ever Had....................155
21. GDC....................161
22. Innisbrook....................168
23. The Glenrock Company....................175
24. Green Mountain International, Inc....................181
25. On Being A Fireman....................189
26. Foreign Travels....................192
Section VI People Along the Way....................199
27. Palmer....................201
28. TOM....................209
29. Uncle Bob....................216
30. Mr. B. C. Cho....................220
31. My Most Unforgettable Person....................224
32. It Could Happen to Anyone....................227
Section VII Snippets From Life....................235
33. The Wager....................237
34. Tastes Like Chicken....................239
35. The Gang's Still Going....................240
36. Finding Tula....................243
37. Pancakes....................246
38. It's all in How You Look At It....................249
39. Ronnie Saxon....................251
40. Don't Lose the Paddles!....................253
41. Republicans....................254
42. ELSA....................255
43. Last Call....................256

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