Tag Archives: Bishop Alemany High School

Reading Your Own History

When do you think you read your own history? Or maybe it’s read history during your own time.

I think the first time it dawned on me was when I was reading a book about Twyla Tharp  and I realized that the days and dates she was discussing I had lived. And I could remember things I was doing.  Not anywhere near her circle, of course,  I was west coast, she was east, she’s about four/five years older than me. Then it happened again when I read Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters and I realized at a very visceral level that while those young men and women who were a scant one or two years older than me were sitting at the lunch counter in Greensboro North Carolina while I was maybe in class or eating lunch in the open Quad, or more likely, pranking one of the nuns at Bishop Alemany High.

Now I am reading Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and I am struck by how much is not history to me, but memory. Not of the personal issues of the Kennedy’s [those came out only much much later after Jackie had solidified the ideal-falsely I think-of the administration as Camelot] as closely told in the book. Mine was the view of a teenager watching the entire presidency and then assassination take place. Even then I was something of a political history wonk. Somehow I remember being in school, it was my senior year at Alemany, but as it was the Friday after Thanksgiving that’s doubtful. I do remember Sister Roseanne, SJC, our principal announcing something over the loud speaker and all of us being shocked. But again, I don’t think we went to school the Friday after the holiday.

What I do clearly remember is the hours of television over the weekend devoted news in Dallas, in DC. The video or was it pictures? of Johnson taking the oath of office. I remember the reporting about the feuding between the two families, the play, the name I can’t remember, that intimated that  Johnson was complicit in the assassination. I remember the naming of the Warren Commission, mainly because Earl Warren was from California. I even read parts of the Commission Report.

The funeral was on Monday. Nobody had school. We all sat and watched. The country stopped.  I have picture of the funeral cortege made just for me. A friend, Pete, a couple of years older and in the Defense Language Institute outside of DC was able to attend the funeral as part of the people on the street and sent me copies of the pictures. They are color, little, maybe 4X4 inch. But it was a clear, sunny day, not warm, as you can see people in the crowd wearing coats. There are pictures of  the riderless horse,  and the horse drawn caissson. And the crowds. Sigh.

Why am I blogging about all of this? Two reasons. I am writing a creative narrative non-fiction about a person in the twentieth century and as Rosenstock-Hussy wrote, “Memory is Tyrannical” and I believe that to be true. I need to sort what I know from what I remember.

The second is about how we remember–even days that are not part  of our own personal history. More on that later.

But for now, I am deep in the throes of having lived history. Daunting.


When I was in high school I was in an experimental history class, today it would be independent study. We were given those purple mimeographed pages of reading and assignments, there were six or eight section to complete. If you completed all of them then your grade was an A, thinking that you completed them well. It was a bit revolutionary for the early sixties at Alemany, staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the same nuns of Mount St. Mary’s in the hills above Hollywood. There’s a whole story that goes with this, but not the one I’m telling now.

The final section was to write a term paper. The class was on American History. If I had had the chance I would have preferred European History, 1066 to 1503 specifically, but no, it was American History or none.  I’m not a fan of colonial America. I don’t particularly care for studying The Civil War. I thought the late eighteen hundreds fascinating, but it was World War II that held my attention.

War is violent, with synonyms are clash, skirmish, bloodshed, no soft cuddles there. WWII was a violent time for most of the world, but it was also a time of heroism, of bravery, of selfless courage. It was the last time we as a country, for the most part, all agreed on war. It was the last time we felt we were involved in a just war. It was the last time we were willing to give up liberties and freedoms for something greater.

And, the heroes I thought the least likely to get their turn at fame was the spies. After all they were the ones who nobody was supposed to know.  I read everything I could get my hands on, those who worked with the resistance, those that really didn’t exist, those who were women and those who died saving thousands of people. I had this Trivial Pursuit knowledge of spies and war. And that was who I wrote about.

The passage of time has always been instructive for history. Rosenstock Hussy said ‘memory is tyrannical’.  We have to go past memory.  In the late 1990’s, television journalist Tom Brokaw called the WWII generation, the ‘greatest generation’. His thesis was that this was a generation who had suffered the deprivation of a great recession and were willing to put their lives in danger for an ideal––democracy and freedom, in a way that no other generation has done.  Fifteen years latter, a book recently reviewed in the WSJA Call to Arms is about mobilizing for the war, the issues of shortages, rationing, and the government versus free market, and in some ways calls into question the cohesion of that greatest generation, as well as the politics of the time.

Makes you think.





It’s been less than exciting recently, except, maybe, in my head. In my head there’s always something cool going on. I dream in technicolor, do they even talk about that anymore? No, it’s probably something digital now. I used to say, when I looked in the mirror, I see me at seventeen, but then, again, I’m not quite sure what age I am in my head these days, it keeps changing. Not that seventeen wasn’t good, it was. It was my senior year in high school. Started badly, what with Kennedy being shot just before Thanksgiving and the all the weeping and crying, the doomsaying, the loss of Camelot. Well. It wasn’t Camelot, it was politics.

There was the funeral procession down in DC, not there was much else on the seven or nine channels we had in LA at the time. I have pictures taken by a guy I thought was the most gorgeous boy in the world, he was at the Defense Language Institute in DC, pictures of the horseless rider, the flag draped casket.  Then there was all the nasty set ups about Lyndon. I felt sorry for LBJ, he had wanted to be president, and settled for second. ‘Course, even then, the historian in me thought Jack was more potential and promise, not an empty suit, and unfortunately we never really found out if he was as good as he said.

But there was good stuff, not that I was one of the cool kids, I was a watcher, sometimes a participant. No, that’s not right, not a watcher, I was more clueless, observed, participated but missed a lot. Not one of a clique, but one who moved in and out of cliques, passing through, getting information, moving on. And the information was scattered. Maybe that’s the reason I have had no interest in school reunions. You’d think a lover of history like me would want to return, but no. I like to, no love to, study the stuff, but returning, seems like a waste of time. I hardly ever re-read a book, mainly because once I’ve got the story, the characters and the plot, I’m done. I really don’t care about books, I mean I don’t care if they are on a tablet, oral or between hard or soft covers. What I care about is plot, how a character is getting from one part of the story to the other, who are they using, who is using them, what are they running from, and what are they running toward. Yep, that seventeen is still in my head.


At Bishop Alemany High School, the one from the 60’s, not the one that is in a new location and probably is the same, but not, study hall was in the middle of the campus. At that time, having no clue if it’s the same now, although I could probably check, there was a boy’s side and a girl’s side. I’m not even sure that’s what they called it, nevertheless that’s what it was. When you walked up the main steps you came to a breezeway, one side was the girl’s office, the other side the boy’s. Yeah, co-educational down to the administration. You walked on campus into an open quad. On the other side of the quad was the chapel, small, very small. Mass for the school being held in the gym. Behind the chapel and up one level was study hall. Then one more level up was the library, my personal favorite. We had an eight period day, and you could only take seven courses, or was it a seven period day and you could only take six courses? Not the point of the story.  If you weren’t in class, you ‘took” and I use the term very loosely, study hall. My Aunt Ann, aunt on my Dad’s side,  was the study hall moderator, and when I was a sophomore I received detention for eating carrots in study hall. Pretty stupid to eat something that crunched, shoulda stuck with raisins, but no, I liked carrots.

Now we said Ant Ann, not Aunt Ann. The Aunt always sounded a bit strange coming off the tongue, that ‘u’  or \ah\ sound almost creating an affectation, and I truly have an intense dislike for affectation which is the top of a slippery slope down to pseudo-elitism. Fast forward maybe twenty years, I was on the T in Boston, the redline actually, from Quincey Center to downtown. It was winter, everyone in their black coats, scarves, mittens or gloves. The T overheated, crowded, loud. I was surrounded by three people, younger than me, louder than me and most definitely very opinionated and very willing to share their views, whether anyone wanted to hear them or not. The girl, woman, female of the group was expounding on the stupidity of people who pronounce Aunt ant. Apparently someone in her office had the gall to talk about her Ant Betty. And this girl, woman, female spit out her pronouncement with little regard for any one else’s space. “An ant is a six-legged, hooked clawed, winged creature with two antennae and compound eyes. At least she could say it correctly, Ahnt.”

In Webster’s the pronunciation key uses \ˈant, ˈänt\ . In the OED  they suggest pronunciation of \ah-nt\. not pronouncing the u, but the \ah\ sound. Sigh. Two very respected research resources, two different views.  Personally, I wanted to send this girl to detention. But all I could think of was the 1937 Gershwin song, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off which had more to do with class differences than regional differences. “Hey,” I wanted to say, “we’re past that, aren’t we? We don’t mock speech patterns. We are tolerant and open, this after all is the 1980’s.” The two men, boys, males were far too affirming of the girl’s proclamation. I suspected the truth was they had lost to her many times in the past, her verbal style sharp, direct, cutting for them to even vaguely attempt to suggest she was anything but right. So, yeah! detention for her, loudly crunching in a public place, for being obnoxious and bullying and yes, because for her it was all about elitism.