Sister Superior’s Thumb, the Pope’s Ring and the End of Childhood, by Robert McNally


Sister Superior’s Thumb, the Pope’s Ring and the End of Childhood by Robert McNally begins in 1946 when Robert is 14 years old. This is the second book of a trilogy by McNally that he calls The Memoir of a Boy on His Dangerous Journey. Life in the urban boroughs and neighborhoods of New York City just after the end of World War II was tough – boys and girls and even nuns had to be ready to fight, which is how the book gets part of its descriptive title. After years under the teaching of the nuns, non-conformist Robert was always seen as one of the ‘bad boys’ and ‘slow learners’ of Miraculous Medal Catholic School (called The Medal), Robert walks away one day. Done with that, he enters Public School PS 93, where he finally comes into his own. Always brilliant and imaginative, Robert finally gets an A in writing and excels in sports, writing “PS 93 gave me the feeling that I was bettering myself. For the very first time I felt like I was excelling at something.” By the time Robert begins his high school training by attending a two-year program at Queens Vocational High, he turns 18 in 1950, just in time to get his draft card with the possibility of going to Korea to fight. But as Robert writes: “The war I thought was my war ended 8/14/45 with the atom bomb.”

Sister Superior’s Thumb, the Pope’s Ring and the End of Childhood is an excellent read. Robert McNally has not only brought to life what the post war world of 1946 to 1950 was like, but also given himself and the characters in it – class mates, friends, enemies, gang members, priests, nuns and public school teachers, World War II veterans and “Commies” – immortality. We read about Robert’s training to box and the world of the famous boxers of the time, including his hero, Rocky Graziano. We read about the singers of the time – Teresa Brewer, Perry Como and Eddie Fisher – and we read about Robert delivering newspapers and the Saturday Evening Post. We read about Robert delivering fuel oil up six flights of stairs in the morning and going straight to school in the afternoon. We read about how he kept up his body building work during work and at school. The book ends with a great cliffhanger to set up the next book. Children born too late to fight in World War II and too early to be part of the Baby Boom generation are sometimes called the Silent Generation, but Robert McNally thoroughly disproves that description. He has brought a vanished world to life, and is not silent at all.

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