How it was

I remember hearing journalist and author Alex Haley say that every time an old person dies, it’s as if a library had burned down.

He’s right. I had two grandfathers who left Ireland to come to the United States; one was escaping from military life, the other a failed attempt at the priesthood. One became a cop and then slumlord on New York’s rough West Side, the other a pressman and union organizer at the Daily News. Now there’s some stories. Unfortunately, they passed away before I could drain their libraries, but a few relatives do have chapters of their oral histories.

I would give all I own to sit down with both men in a room tonight and share a pint or two. But I crave neither the Guinness nor the guidance—I want the truth. There was a tax investigation of one after he returned to Ireland, the other died in a tragic subway accident. Many emotions and questions linger.

Beyond the cathartic, I need to understand the real immigrant history that is not in best-selling autobiographies. Their stories would provide a clear window into that time and have the unmistakable ring of authenticity, as does ‘Armando’s Last Ride’ on page 16. His story tells you volumes about a California culture and a people.

You won’t find this recent history in textbooks.