The Culture of my Youth

As a young boy I grew up in a small town that had its own spirit and culture. The town was a blend of old-world traditions mixed with the current happenings of present society. This memory, barely twenty years old for me, now feels more like an indigenous culture in a world that has gone away.

My friends were either one hundred percent Italian or one hundred percent Irish. I was a 50/50 split, mutt blend of sorts. I would grow up to like beer with my spaghetti. I yearned for my last name to end with a vowel or to have the double constant of “cC” at the start of my last name. For me, my last name was stuck with five non-repeating letters with the vowels placed properly in the middle.

The ethnicity of our parents meant the customs of the old-world, “the mother land” as I would jokingly refer to it. Church, spaghetti dinners, team sports and yard work were the fundamentals of life. We were all Catholic with a large “C”. We listened to Springsteen, watched the Steelers and drank iced tea out of the cardboard box container, three for 97 cents from the corner store. This is when having a local economy and local store were a convenience of life. The 20 minute drive out of town to the Mall or the store was a waste of a good afternoon that could be better spent playing ball down at the field. The field was what we called the park that we would meet at everyday, I’m sure this field had a proper name but I never new it.

The seasons were marked by the change in the sports we played rather than the weather or the color of the leaves on the trees. Winter – football, spring – baseball, summer – basketball, autumn - more basketball and wiffle ball that was played on the basketball court after they took down the nets for the season. I never got good at basketball even though I have played more pick up games than most NBA players would dream of. I always thought if I ever wrote a book about my life I would title it, “Because I couldn’t make a jump shot”. Nonetheless poor basketball skills fueled my motivation for practicing guitar.

Sundays were blocked off for family dinners, watching football and sitting on the sofa. This was my town’s version of keeping the Sabbath. Commandments four and five were taken very seriously, sort of. Being of the large “C” Catholics that we were, keeping the remaining eight commandments were easy, no stealing, no murdering, no coveting all seems pretty simple not to break. Nobody was quite sure what “bearing false witness against your neighbor” was, so that one didn’t count if we broke it. Number three, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, was only a problem for the parents.

Grandparents lived within walking distance. Mine lived next door; great for getting an extra dish of late night ice cream, bad for sneaking girls into your house when your parents went away.

We were the sons of blue-collar fathers. We fixed our own cars, borrowed tools from our neighbors and mended fences. Truth be told, I never actually mended a fence but I am sure I painted one or two in my time. “Work with your back or work with your mind”, “bring the work to you instead of you going to the work”. That is what my Father ritually recited to me when working. Metaphors that turned out to be great advice for working in photography, blending your hands and mind worked out to be the perfect fit for me.

It is said that culture is watching the world construct itself before it goes, a gift from our imagination. My culture planted seeds.