I was still working at St. Vito’s as a seventh and eighth-grade teacher. Eileen had just recently moved to New Rochelle.
We had made a tradition of going to see the tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center and had done so for several years. Back then, it was a simple ceremony that lasted less than a half-hour.
While carols were sung, it had not yet been the big production that you will see tonight. Nevertheless, a big crowd had always shown up for the lighting.
It was December 3, 1979, and Eileen and I were accompanied by our friend Bob with whom I worked at St.Vito’s.
We took the train to the city from Larchmont and got down to Rockefeller Center in plenty of time. The crowd seemed much bigger than in past years, and we had to struggle to stay close together.
As the time for the lighting approached, it got a little hairy being in such tight quarters with so many people. We were only a matter of feet apart from each other, but I felt a bit out of control. There was a mother with a child in a stroller right next to us, and the people around made sure not to get too close to her, but it was scary.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived, and the countdown began. The tree was lit, and it was a joyous moment we would always remember. (Bob and I would still laugh and wonder if we actually had seen it go from dark to lit or had we blinked at an inopportune time?)
So, with the tree lit, we started to make our way home…but it wasn’t easy to that.
As I mentioned, the three of us were no more than a foot apart from each other. Nevertheless, it took us a full hour to find each other afterward. We were stuck in a whirlpool of people and were taken hither and yon in many different directions.
It was frightening.
This was a time before cell phones, so being out of contact for so long during a frightening experience took the joy of the moment right out of us. Finally, we caught up with each other and made our way to Grand Central Station to ride back to Larchmont.
When we got home, we got ready for the next workday and then settled down to watch the 11 O’clock news.
The first story was about a rock concert by The Who in Cincinnati.
Evidently, general admission tickets were sold, and no one was assigned a seat. So, people just ran to get the best seats available.
A stampede resulted, and 11 people were killed.
Having just experienced an out of control situation where we were tossed around and unable to determine which way we would walk, this was a frightening thing to see. A time of joy turned into a time of tremendous tragedy.
I vowed I would never put myself or Eileen through something like that again.
In fact, a year later, in September 1980, we were on the train heading to the city to see Elton John in Central Park. No doubt, a large crowd would be in attendance.
As we approached the city, Eileen mentioned that she might be pregnant. After I got over my excitement and joy, I thought about where we were going and immediately decided against going to the concert.
Instead, we went down to the Village and walked around and had a burger at Mr. William Shakespeare’s, a lovely pub in the Village. On the way home, we stopped at a pharmacy, and Eileen got a pregnancy test.
Sean Patrick was born in May.
So, tonight we will be watching the tree lighting ceremony from the comfort of our home.
Merry Christmas, everyone.