Patrick Francis Rory Finnerty was born and raised in an Irish neighborhood on the south side of Detroit in Benson Heights. His father John O’Herlihy Finnerty rose at 5 every morning, ate three eggs with two slices of toast, filled his metal thermos with strong black coffee, walked to 6am mass then went to work at the Ford plant. Finn’s mother Mary Margaret (nee Rose) Finnerty stayed home and raised her two sons (Finn and his older brother Daniel McFarland Finnerty) and one daughter (Rose McGahee Finnerty, the middle child).
No one in Finn’s neighborhood had it materially better than anyone else. They all lived in house built for the men returning after the war. One house looked pretty much like the next house. One car carports, three beds, two bath brick homes with cellars. The streets were lined with sidewalks and hardwoods.
The children all attended the local public school together. Catholic school was an expense too dear for most. Nobody in the Heights had money for private school. It seemed like everybody’s dad worked cars, as it was said. Ford. Chevrolet. Plymouth. Saying the wrong thing about a Fairlane on the playground could get a good rhubarb going.
Wealth and car brands, however, really didn’t matter because the church was the center of the community. On any given day, in addition to mass, there was a reason to be at church. Ladies League. Men’s Club. Youth boxing, baseball and basketball. Pancake breakfasts and spaghetti suppers. Confession. Confirmation class. Catechism. Young Ladies Sewing. Who needed Catholic school?
But all the dads had jobs and all the families had plenty on the dinner table. No one ever said anything to another kid wearing hand-me-down clothes because everyone wore them. Finn’s closet was filled with shirts and pants that had been worn by Danny and other kids he knew. No one knew different. There was no need for a thrift store because by the time a garment was used up there was nothing left but the vague hint of what it used to be. Buttons and zippers were cut off for future use -- just in case.
All the churches were full Sunday morning, as well as other days of week depending on one’s faith. Though the area was predominantly Catholic there was a strong representation of Protestant faiths and a sprinkling of Jewish families.
There seemed to be one of everything. One hardware store. One shoe store, with a repair bench in the back. One barber shop. One deli. One dry cleaner. One drug store. One dentist. If the butcher had a special on pork chops word spread quickly and pretty much the whole neighborhood was eating chops for dinner that night.
Just about everyone had fish on Friday because the butcher knew the Catholics wanted it but if he ordered enough he could get a deal and in the Heights a penny pinched was a penny earned.
Kids from the Heights were not always angels but they understood consequences. You didn’t have to get caught by your own parents to get in trouble. Mouth off to the lady four blocks over and it may as well have happened at the dinner table. Crack wise with the teacher and that trip the principal’s office lead the 6 o’clock news. The rod was never spared.
No dad in the Heights played golf but their sons caddied. New cars were rare but any man worth his salt could bring a junker back to life. Mothers didn’t work but they were miracle workers at stretching a paycheck.
Life in the Heights was okay.