1AT* The Courteous *4( Americans are Shocking me
Fr. Bernard Basset, S.J.
HERE I am in Boston and tasting for the first time that sense of security. complacency and isolation which Americans enjoy all their lives. The Monroe doctrine makes sense when two vast oceans divide you from the rest of the world. All television here is American television, all politics. local politics and Russia seems as far away :is the moon. It came as a .;iliitary shock to me that I have to say that I come from London (England) to distinguish the metropolitan city of so many millions from the London on the New England coast.
FIRST re-actions are often impudent and inaccurate but in my case they add up to a very happy surprise. Americans are badly served abroad. The noisy films and brash advertisements give a wholly wrong impression of a dignified and very courteous country. I was astonished by the homeliness even of New York. It had about it the unsophisticated air of Manchester (England) with no trace of the unhappy letter U. Within a minute and a half I knew that the waitress in a Broadway cafe came from Jugoslavia, that she was a Greek Catholic but with two little daughters in a Convent High School. Her feet have been hurting her for weeks.. The station master at Bridgeport told me all about the last meeting of his Holy Name confraternity; his main interest in life is St. Thomas of Canterbury and he is saving up to come to England to see the site of the martyrdom. At the Boston Convention of Catholic Colleges one of the men began to read out a report but interrupted it to say how pleased he was to have an English priest present and assured me publicly how much all admired England, the Queen. Princess Margaret and Winston Churchill, The American films and "Time" magazine seem to give a false picture of America; perhaps it is impossible to put this fundamental charity into print.
ON the same first afternoon in Boston I experienced two shocks. One was at the great Boston College High School when I saw the hundred parked cars belonging to the boys. Classes ended at 2.15 p.11-I. and the college boys, many of them of no great stature came out quietly from the school buildings, pressed the self starters and drove away. Serious academic and social problems follow this teen-age custom which may be ours before long. On the same afternoon on a visit of charity to a religious who had lost her father. I was taken to a funeral parlour. The dead man, embalmed, made up and dressed rested in an elaborate mahogany coffin while mourners and friends in great numbers gossiped in every corner of the room. In the next room another cadaver, duly made-up was having a farewell party. Of all
American customs this one alone has left me frightening cold; especially as I have since discovered that the coffin alone costs $LOW and that a funeral might easily run to $3,000. Often enough the whole life insurance of the deceased goes on the funeral. A priest, a waitress, a doctor speaking frankly about this custom admitted that the majority of mourners could not afford such a funeral and did not really want it but felt that they could not let their loved one have less honour than the neighbouring dead.
Book to read
ALLAN WINGATE has just published "Cloud over Arnhem" (8s. 6d.) by Kate Ter Fr. BERNARD BASSET, Si.
Horst. This charming account of the Arnhem campaign comes from the pen of the Dutch mother who suddenly found British soldiers in her garden and her house the centre of the heroic but doomed offensive. She tells her story gently with wonderful pen pictures of British soldiers whom we never saw again. Mourners will certainly appreciate this book and I would suggest that the teenagers would profit by it for it well sets out the courtesy to the Dutch family of ordinary soldiers in the last tragic days. She ends with this charming address to her lost visitors: "With death or imprisonment before your eyes you have found that pure comradeship and simple strength of mind which makes the life of this house which is bleeding to death rise to a mystery of human perfection . . . How easy it is now to be human".
RATHER different in style is this from an advertisement in the "New York Times". "A wad of Bazooka gum and a stack of Baseball cards are part of the heritage of American youth—the envy of the world".