So far as I know, my Uncle Joe is the only Haley to have ever written a book. That would be the Rev. Joseph Haley’s Accent on Purity.
Yes, it’s a sex book. Pretty much without the sex. I learned that during long sessions in the bathroom when I was nine and studied the little paperback intently. That book sat in the bathroom for years, under a well-read sports section from the Daily News and the dirty towels. At some point though, and it was shockingly disrespectful to the family’s only author, Accent on Purity was used to even out the missing leg of the cedar chest in the upstairs hallway.
Uncle Joe came up over dinner with my siblings a couple of months ago. It was a rare occasion. Five of the six Haley siblings, three spouses and no kids. It was wonderful to linger over dinner and drinks at New Rebozo. We talked about my folks, now gone, about family pets, now gone, about aunts and uncles, now gone. Yes, it was one of those wonderful evenings.
We were deep into analyzing my dad’s brothers and sisters when someone said, “Do you remember Accent on Purity?” We all did. We all recalled trying to puzzle through it as it sat in the bathroom. The general recollection was that it seemed about as stodgy as Uncle Joe did in those years in the early 1960s. The further recollection was that it didn’t have much sex in it for a sex book. Clearly, the accent was on purity.
My wife Mary?#34;not to be confused with my mother Mary, my sister Mary or my aunt Mary?#34;had never seen the book, seeing as how it had already been converted into a coaster by the time of her arrival into the Haley clan lo these many years. So, bibliophile that she is, she went out on Amazon and found not one but two copies of Uncle Joe’s tome. A few days later, a mint copy of “Accent on Purity” arrived at our door.
Looking at it now through the eyes of adults who actually know a thing or two about sex, it is best to look at Accent on Purity as a historical document?#34;as perhaps the last, or one of the last, attempts to explain to adult Catholic children that they have already failed God’s primary test by not becoming a priest, or at least a nun. It suggests there is still great value in declaring oneself a celibate layperson.
But, says Accent on Purity, and here Uncle Joe must have been thinking clearly about my dad, the only one of five siblings not to become a priest, a nun, or a totally miserable celibate layperson, if you must marry, then you must have sex so you can make some more priests and nuns.
What I don’t recall, so I’m certain it must have been added in a later edition, were the instructive illustrations. Sure there was the drawing of God looking down smilingly on the priests and nuns. But I’m talking about the little guy who looks like Ziggy from the comics page, except with genitalia! Now there’s an image that would put you off sex for a lifetime.
For most all of his life, my Uncle Joe was an academic. He lived in his head. Smart and dull and untouched by people. And then in the early 1980s he left the university behind and went to work in a poor parish in Hayward, Calif. It changed him profoundly, and for the better. His brain and his heart came into mesh, and he changed lives. His own first. He got sick not long into his parish work and came back to Notre Dame to die. We spent a good bit of time together then, and looking back, I wish I had asked him what he’d make of Accent on Purity, 20 years later.
He might have suggested leaving it under the cedar chest.