Monday, March 7, 2011

The Adventures of Bart Sweeney

At times, a review of your family history, and discussions with siblings and other family members, can help to explain why you are where you are now and how you got to be who you are.

I believe that while many set out to find out where ancestors came from, and to discover where they hid the gold and find unclaimed family land and treasures, people are on a path of self-discovery and look to take the cumulative information and say, "Got it!  That explains a lot. Now, if only Great-Grandpa So-and-So had only taken an earlier boat, who knows what we could have done!"

I had life changing events.  Happenings that I believe set me off on a career of service to others.

The first round gave me stamina.

Each school day, from 1st grade to 4th grade, I had to ensure that my younger brother made it to school on time.

By the time we set off to walk the mile plus trip to school each day, our mother was on her way to work and my grandmother was at our apartment, as she came down through the alley daily to get us breakfast and out the door, waiting for until the time that school would start before she returned to her home, thinking we might come back for some reason.

While she waited, she might, much to our mother's consternation, prepare to spend the day repainting the place.  My grandmother loved to paint more than clean...guess she figured painting accomplished many things...looked new, smelled new, cleaned!  Can't tell you how many times our mother came home to different colors on her living room wall.

Anywho, the one of us who made it back to the apartment almost daily, while trying to get to school, was my brother.

On the way to school, should I get two steps ahead of him, my brother would run back to the apartment to report, "He's not waiting for me!"  I'd have to chase him all the way back and start all over again.

Some days, we'd put in four miles just trying to go one way!

My grandmother would lecture me on why I had to wait for him and I had to be really, really careful that his stride was ahead of mine.

I guess I learned that I would succeed when I let others succeed.  Only thing is, to this day he thinks he's older than me.  I guess I let him get too far ahead.

The other adventure regards the choice of my confirmation name.  I had completely forgotten part of the story, but when visiting my brother recently he said, "Hey, what happened to Bartholomew?" 

The mention of that name brought out memories that were long buried.

We attended Catechism classes at the local Catholic school, as our mother couldn't afford the Catholic school tuition, going once a week for a very, very long time.  During that educational process, we were faced with Confirmation, a process where one finalizes the baptism process, committing to being a follower and picking up another name to place between your middle and last names.  I thought it was for better Catholic identification processes.

Turned out you chose the name of someone you wanted to emulate.  I did my research.

The events that transpired at that time had clouded the memory of my original choice, Bartholomew.  However, I really do remember the pain associated with his replacement.

First of all, we'll start with that particular Catholic school.

My mother was divorced.  Big problem.  She had attended the school where we had our weekly Catechism classes.  The nuns that ran the school when my mother was a student there were still there when we showed up all those years later.

They knew what happened to her marriage.  They knew us.

I arrived one day and, as usual, the nuns were lining the hallways greeting their once-a-week, yet to be saved, students.

We greeted them first, "Good afternoon Sister Immobilizia." (I don't remember their names, made that one up, most likely due to trauma).

"Good afternoon Mr. Sweeney."

I jumped back to confront the mistake, at age 8.  "Excuse me Sister, but my last name is Cunningham."  Her retort, "Not while you're in this school.  Here you're a Sweeney!"

I just move on.

Confirmation day is looming, choices to be made, and I had been reading and studying.  I wanted to succeed.  I had read about the exploits of St. Bartholomew and think that most likely Sister Immobilizia had "suggested" that someone choose that saint's name.

St. Bartholomew
I announced to my mother that I had chosen the name of Bartholomew.  "What," she shot back?  "You can't pick that name, it's too long.  You name is all ready long enough.  Pick something else."

Oh no!  I had one day to come up with another name!

Hundreds of thoughts ran through my head, mostly about forgetting all of the studying I did for my presentation, as we had to announce in front of the class what name we had chosen and why.  I settled in to a long night, as D-day was the next day.

Watching TV that night provided me with my out, as I saw and heard a name that fit with a respected saint and I quickly tried to come up with what to say.

That didn't go well.

I got the name right, and was on the right track, but honesty took over and I was more afraid of lying to a nun than I was presenting a made up answer.

"So, Mr. Sweeney, what name have you chosen," sounding almost cherubic, uncharacteristically, queried the nun?

Pat Garrett - Lawman
"Patrick," I stated.

Sister Immobilizia responds.  "Ah, Patrick.  Good choice.  Please tell us a little about Patrick and why you chose this name," the good Sister said almost lilting out the sentence.

"Umm...I picked the name Patrick for Pat Garrett.  He's a sheriff and he did good things and he shot Billy the Kid," I proudly announced.  Of course, I had to add, "He's on TV every week!"

I don't remember moving from my desk to the hall, but I was there in a flash.  The big pointy finger of the nun was in my face and I was dutifully instructed to go back into the class and tell all that I made a mistake and that I chose Patrick to honor St. Patrick of Ireland and I had better go home and study about St. Patrick and be prepared to come back to class with a full presentation next week, and confess this awful thing to the priest at Saturday's confession and be prepared to spend 1000 years in purgatory for having such thoughts.

At that point, I was just concerned about getting out of that school alive.

I did due diligence and studied up on the saint that ended up costing reptile zoos in Ireland a ton of money for serpents that they now had to import!

And, I learned stuff.  I learned that you are who others think you are, that you should go with your gut and generally stick with your first choice, especially when the boss (the nun) made the suggestion in the first place, that you need to study your material, write a script and stick to it, and when confronted with purgatory relax, it's not forever!

The genealogist in me wonders what I would be today had I stuck with Bartholomew.  As my brother wrote to me recently, "okay, so where art thou Bartholomew?"  I don't know.  As I told Sister Immobilizia, or whatever her name was, that's not my name!!!

But what if I was Bartholomew Sweeney?  Would I be in a different place?  Learned different things?  Don't know, but I still would have had to get that brother of mine to school every day for five years...there are some things that names don't change.  Did I mention that my brother used to jump in mud puddles all of the time, to and from school and that it was my fault!  More on that next time in "The Continuing Adventures of Bart Sweeney!"

Hmmm...maybe Bart is the writer in me...


  1. For some reason I can't get Sweeny Todd out of my mind.

  2. Ah, that comment brings back fond memories...Aunt Lib's holiday pies...less people came to family reunions each year, but she always seemed to make more pies year after year.

  3. I'm scared because I had the same thought as Phil!! And Bart Sweeney...BS....good pen name!

  4. Wendy...didn't see that one coming...did I tell you Bart was confirmed, too...he has a middle name, "Leo,"'s BLS!!!