Back in the 1950’s, when my old man went house-hunting, he avoided the newspapers. What would a listing tell him anyway? Sure, it might =provide a price, an address, and the number of bedrooms but what good was that?
A listing said nothing about who your neighbors were or whether the corner store offered credit; these were the things that a guy had to worry about – and being Dad, he had to worry about one more thing – Mom.
Dad was practical. So was mom for that matter but when she set her mind to something, like a buying a house because it is more cute than practical – well, that had to be avoided at all costs. He figured he had one shot to get it right, so he talked it up at work and a fellow plumber recommended a Realtor.
When dad called him, the agent had only one question, which Dad relayed across the kitchen to mom.
“He wants to know what church we belong to.”
The answer would tell the agent everything he needed to know about us. It would say we were upper lower-class Catholics who needed a big house, a large bedroom for boys, a larger bedroom for girls, privacy for parents and couldn’t pay a lot.
“He says he has the perfect house,” my dad said, “it’s in…….” The recital stopped as a look of bewilderment crossed his face.
The pause almost killed mom. “Where is it?” she demanded.
Dad waved for her to hush. She would not be hushed.
“What parish is it in?” she asked. Her tone made it clear that an answer better be quickly forthcoming.
Dad shushed her again, then he cupped the phone and hissed across the room, “Who the hell was Saint Luke?”
Mom, an expert on all things religious, snapped back, “For crying out loud, Jack, he wrote the gospels.”
Again, dad waved her off. He was genuinely shocked she could suspect he didn’t know Luke wrote the gospels – but it wasn’t his question.
His voice rose with frustration. “I mean who does he belong to?”
For a moment Mom was stumped. Every Catholic knew from birth that Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Olaf belongs to the Norwegians and Saint Stanislaus is claimed by the Poles – even the Mexicans have Our Lady of Guadalupe, who though technically is not an ordinary saint is their anyway – but who the hell had Luke?
The realtor waited while they mulled it over.
It’s not that my parents were prejudice, far from it, nor was the realtor trying to wedge them among Lutherans or god-forbid, a gaggle of snooty Presbyterians. In those days, race wasn’t a big deal but religion was. I played with a black kid – until my parents found out he was baptist – but even among Catholics, you had to be careful. Despite a common faith, city neighborhoods in the 1950’s could be downright tribal and no one wanted to be an outsider.
The question hung in the kitchen air like haze from burnt bacon. Who the hell was Saint Luke?
I wanted so much to help that I blurted out, “He was Jewish.”
My old man shot me a look that said go play cowboys and indians in the yard but mom was more thoughtful, “I think he is right.”
Dad was not amused. Around our house, you had to keep an eye on the color of his neck – it was rapidly growing darker than beets.
“Jack, think about it,” mom said in her best husband soothing voice, “that means he doesn’t belong to anyone.”
“You mean he’s neutral?”
The Realtor confirmed it. Saint Luke’s was about as diverse a parish as you could get. It had every kind of Catholic: German, Irish and Italian and we all lived in harmony (even with the Poles) because with so many different groups, no one had the upper hand.
So we moved there and life was good – for about a decade until the Great American Melting Pot became a pressure cooker and the neighborhood was washed away, first by the tumultuous tide of the 1960’s and later by a flood of urban pioneers – but those are stories for another day.