I read a few stories from my memoir, told a few tales out of my head and sold half a dozen books. Afterwards, I decided to walk through Calvary Cemetery and visit my Irish relatives' graves. It had been a while. Strolling through Sunnyside towards Woodside put me in the mood. I miss Pop and Nan Ryan.
The administration office was deep inside in the cemetery. I marched forever in the humid heat to find out the exact location of my family's burial plot. What drove me crazy was inside this huge supposedly peaceful place I never experienced complete quiet because of the roar of vehicles on the major roads alongside side the property. Left me half in and half out of the experience. Not sure what I was hoping to feel but I had vivid memories about my fear of death as a boy (I remember the moment my mother told me that when you die it's forever and how I temporarily stopped breathing when I took that fact fully in) and how seeing the big crucifix on the hill at the front of the cemetery from a car window on Queens Boulevard scared the crap out of me and that made me think about my first confession when I was 7. Where I was sure if I said the wrong thing to the priest on the other side of the dark window in the confessional booth he had a lever he would pull down and send me straight to hell.
My great-grandmother, Mary Ryan, from 76 East 105th Street bought the plot on April 12, 1904. Thanks to Aunt Barbara, my one living relative from my mother's generation, I know who most of the people were buried there and how they relate to me. My mother's family were all from East Harlem. They were black Irish, most of their friends were Italians from the Pleasant Avenue area. Mary's oldest child, Patrick Leonard Ryan, my grandfather, moved his family from East River Houses (public housing) to 1616 York Avenue in 1942 where he became the superintendent of the building.
My interest in my family's past is compulsive and gives me pleasure. My only regret is I didn't ask more about the Pryors and Ryans before they all died. But I work hard trying to fill in the gaps. I'm hanging on a hope that one day my daughter will want to know where she is from.
Do you like old New York City photos and stories? Then check out my 1960s memoir,"I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood."Available at Logos Book Store and online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.