Richard introduces Eunice to the Poethig clan at a raucous feast at his aunt and uncle’s apartment in Yorkville. Eunice introduces Richard to her mother and brother at Christmastime in Dayton, Ohio. They begin plans for a June wedding. All the time Richard is writing his senior thesis on “A Christian Doctrine of Work for a Modern Technological Society” and trying to tie down a job. An intriguing prospect is a new church development in a working-class, industrial suburb of Buffalo. Richard travels Upstate to meet with the organizing committee. The folks in the Town of Tonawanda invite him to organize their congregation, and Richard and Eunice agree. They finish up their studies, graduate, and head for Dayton to be married. The wedding on June 7, 1952, is a joyous assembly of people from Eunice’s and Richard’s lives. The couple returns to New York from a honeymoon camping trip in New England in time for Richard’s ordination at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church on June 27th. After saying goodbye to his father and sister, Richard and Eunice drive north out of New York City. As Richard watches the skyline change, he has a strong feeling that a new book is opening in his life.
Boarding the Broadway Limited at Penn Station in January 1945, Richard begins a new venture. Descending the train in the gloom of winter in Wooster, Ohio, is a sobering experience. Richard faces the uncertainty of college life and its requirements. There was housing and work to find and the intense pace of academic learning to tackle. Richard’s heavy New York accent marks him as an outsider among the (mostly female) student body at the College of Wooster. In the midst of his anxiety over his mother’s declining health at home, Richard breaks through on the academic frontier. At the same time, history was changing fast: President Franklin Roosevelt dies, the war in Europe comes to an end, and in the fall the campus spirit takes on a new vitality.
Richard’s attempt at working during the day and going to night college at the City College of New York fails. Restless in his effort to further his education, Richard determines to attend college full-time. But he is caught between two philosophies of life: his father’s hard work ethic which saw Richard’s responsibility to help meet the immediate expenses of the family, and his mother’s long view, which saw the need for Richard to prepare himself for the future. An uplifting experience at church points Richard in the direction of the ministry. With the help of mentors and friends at the church, he chooses an exclusive Presbyterian college in Ohio. At the same time, his mother’s health is failing and family tension mounts. Knowing the implications of his decision, Richard chooses to take the turn in the road that leads away from the past and into an unknown future.
Good Will Sunday School prepares working class children in the Yorkville neighborhood for future membership in Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. When the time comes for Good Will students to make the transition from their home neighborhood to the church on Madison Avenue and 73rd Street one mile away, many do not make it. The psychological distance is even greater than the walking distance. In Richard’s case, Horace Hollister, the devoted choirmaster and youth leader, helps Richard break through the wall of established social cliques at Madison Avenue. Richard makes friends and eventually takes on a leadership role among the young people.
Plagued by her tuberculosis, Richard’s mother yearns to raise her children outside the city. On special days, she takes Richard down to Penn Station in the early morning to board a train for Newark, New Jersey, where her Rehling cousins live. In downtown Newark they take the trolley ride to the outer suburbs. Then a short walk to the Rehling house. The warmth of the Rehling family lifts his mother’s spirit and opens Richard’s view to life outside of New York. On the return trip, Richard reflects on what life would be like for his mother to have a place like the Rehlings.
Richard’s family lives in a front apartment on the top floor of a five-story “old law” tenement. Shared toilets are in the hall, the kitchen is heated by a coal stove, and clothing is washed in the kitchen tub and dried on the roof. The front apartment windows look out onto First Avenue. The windowsill is the instrument of social interaction between neighbors and the social control of children on the street. On one occasion, Richard sees a delivery truck accident that exposes the presence of an illegal booze still in the neighborhood. A front window also opens onto a fire escape. One night, Richard’s mother wakes him in a panic. Richard is carried by a fireman through the window and over the fire escape to safety.
Richard’s first ten years on First Avenue lay the foundation for life ahead. Within a three block radius of his tenement is a whole world. Eightieth Street and the sidewalk are his playground—where he makes “hot mickeys” with a lump of coal and a purloined potato. The shops on the block provide everything his family needs: a bakery, a grocer, a fruit and vegetable market, an ice cream parlor, and his own optometrist. On 82nd Street there is an elementary school, on 80th Street and Second Avenue a Sunday School for religious education, on 79th Street a public library for exploring the world. For Richard, these were the essential building blocks for integrating life and preparing for the future.