Manger Stories

 Lucky for Mom, she has so many kids to get all the work done.  We had a regular chore rotation: Wash dishes, dry dishes, set and clear the table and sweep the floor, and do barn chores.  We could trade with each other; Deanna always traded out of doing barn chores.  She hated the barn.  Bonita and I would rather be outside anyways.

istockbarnEven in the freezing cold of winter.  Still and all, I felt sorry for Baby Jesus in the manger.  A mangers no place for a baby, that’s for darned sure.

For a long time, part of winter barn chores was cracking the ice Continue reading

The Frost is on the Thanksgiving

These 40+ year old sleds are completely origin...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a little girl, summer lasted an eternity. I thought school would never start again. Once school started, I looked for snow.

Before I went to bed, I knelt in front of Mom and her part-knitted mittens going round and round on four needles for the next kid who poked a thumb through last year’s.  Mom was a knitting maniac.

Way away in the spring I was gonna make my first communion, so I practiced the Act of Contrition. That’s the prayer I had to say after I confessed all my sins and had my soul scrubbed clean for Jesus. The Act of Contrition is how you say you’re really sorry for all the bad things you did or might be planning to do, and you promise with all your heart to keep away from sinning and not to even think about it. Prayers say things fancy for God. I had to say, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended thee,” instead of just “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, God.”  God liked fancy words.

My friend Beth got to pray with her own words.  She was Methodist. If I could do that, I’d pray for snow, that’s for sure. Anyways, I had to say fancy words like “I detest all my sins, because of Thy just punishment.” Being Catholic sure was good for the vocabulary.  Mom said God knows what everybody needs, so no sense of bothering him.  He’s different than Santa, who only knows Continue reading

Grown and Ready

I had three important milestones of faith when I was growing up:  Baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation.  For Baptism, I was just a baby, so I had no conscious decision.  First Holy Communion came at the same time as Penance; that was a big deal for a first grader with six years of sinning behind her.  Next came Confirmation.  After Confirmation, I was a warrior for Christ, a defender of the faith, ready to be martyred.  It was a conscious decision; I would be an adult in the Catholic Church.  That was scary even for someone in the sixth grade and half-way to being a grown-up.

There were so many questions and answers to memorize:  Who made you?  Why did God make you?  Who are the three persons in one God?  What are the seven deadly sins?  What are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit?  What are the Ten Commandments?  Which is the most important Commandment?  Name the twelve Apostles?  Mom drilled me on the Catechism every morning before school, while she brushes my hair into a tight, high pony-tail.  I knew I was old enough to brush my own hair, but Mom brushing my hair was better than chocolate chip cookies hot out of the oven.

The Bishop came all the way from the Cathedral in the City to our little church.  He asked all the questions.  He asked each kid as many questions as he wanted, in front of everyone. If I failed to answer Continue reading

Holy Holy Holy Communion

When I was a little girl, First Communion Day was in the spring, usually on, or very close to, Mother‘s Day.  First Confession and First Communion went hand in hand.  Back then this was a serious step in the lives of a first grader Catholics, and followed a year’s worth of catechism preparation, including stories about tasting blood if I bit into the host by mistake; Sister said I had to swallow the host whole.  I didn’t want to bite Jesus; he’d already been through enough.

To get my soul ready to receive the body of Christ, first I had to memorize a whole bunch catechism questions, and I had to answer Sister in the right way:  stand at attention, speak loud and clear, and always, always in complete sentences:

“Who made you?”

“God made me.” Sister says it’s a wrong answer if I just say, “God.”

“Why did God make you?”

“God made me to know, love, and serve him in this world and the next.”  I guessed this meant I should pray a lot, behave in church ’cause that’s God’s house, so I had to be polite; I had to clean the church, spiffy up the grave yard when it’s my families turn, and study the catechism, which meant getting all the questions right when Sisters asked me.   I guessed that also meant even after I got to heaven somebody like Sister would be telling me the rules up there, and what I had to do next to serve God.  Man-o-man, I was never going to get a chance to just goof off.

There were a whole lot more questions to know and answer, but I kind of forgot a lot of them.

Next was the first spring cleaning of my soul.  A Good Confession meant a sincere examination of conscience, confession of sins, and an act of contrition. That’s nun-talk for remember everything I did wrong throughout my entire life, be sorry for them, and promise to stop it.  That was a lot of work, ’cause I had to remember what I did wrong for seven whole years, and how many times, and then get it in the right category.  Sister said it would get easier after the first confession; then I only had to remember what I did wrong since the last time I went to confession. It wasn’t enough to say sorry, I had to say that in the exactly the right way:

Oh my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended Thee; and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment, but most of all because they offend Thee my God who art all good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.

Then Father mumbled bunch of Latin stuff and ended in English with, “Go and sin no more,” which everybody knew was next to impossible, that’s why Father heard confessions every Saturday after catechism and every single kid who made their first confession was back in line for their ump-teenth confession.  No one I knew could be good all the time, not even my sister Deanna, and she was next to perfect.

Every night, I knelt in front of Mom while she helped me memorize the Act of Contrition and the Hail Mary and the Our Father, and the Glory Be.  Those last three were for the rosary.  I found out after my first confession, that they are also priests’ favorite penances.  Oh, I forgot to tell you that part.

After confession I got a penance; that’s something I had to do to prove I’m sorry.  Penance was sort of like the glue, if I failed to do my penance, then the forgiveness came apart.  It seemed to me it would be a better penance to go fix some of those offenses, like go tell the truth after lying, instead of just kneeling down in church and saying a bunch of prayers. I didn’t bring that up to Sister ’cause for one thing, Sister said I asked too many questions.   Besides, I was a tinsy bit afraid of Sister’s pinched look, like she had a bad headache, every time I raised my hand; so I just kept my mouth shut. Let sleeping dogs lie, as Dad liked to say, and I kinda knew what that meant, ’cause I saw my cat Davey sink her claws into Nikki when Nikki was sleeping.  That was a really bad idea on Davey’s part.

On the day of my First Communion I had another step to getting my soul ready, no eating or drinking:  Nothing to eat after midnight, nothing to drink except water for three hours before Mass, and no water for one hour before mass.  That’s so Jesus didn’t have to swim around in Cherrios and Tang trying to find His way to my soul.  I got all dressed up in a brand new, white dress, with a white veil, almost like a bride’s veil.  My friends Connie and Annette had on the exact same things, with white shoes, and pretty lacy socks; we had a tiny white missalette, a rosary, and a scapula, which is kinda like a necklace but made of cloth that a Catholic wears so the whole world knows she’s Catholic.  My friends Frankie and Mike had all the same stuff, but all in black, I guessed ‘cause boys get dirty easy. Mom said I was a dirt magnet, so that was a one-time dress.

When I walked up to First Communion, Frankie’s mom was up in the choir-loft playing the organ singing just like she was singing a lullaby right to Frankie:

No more by sin to grieve thee,
Or fly thy sweet control,
And humbly I’ll receive thee,
The Bridegroom of my soul,

Father put that host on my tongue and I swallowed hard, with Frankie’s mom singing so sweet up there like an angel, seemed like those words just sank right into my soul and I felt as holy as I ever would feel.

Maybe if everyone, including those who preach and teach, would pay a little more attention to the words of the Act of Contrition and really commit to undoing their wrongs, and avoiding the very things that tempt them, just maybe the world could be a better place.  I’m not asking for perfection, just a major spring cleaning, and a true Act of Contrition.

My grandson receives his First Communion this weekend.  He and his dad worked hard for this special day.  I wonder if my grandson will remember it when he gets to be a grandpa.

Do you remember your First Communion?  How about another time when you felt close to God?  Please tell me what it was like for you.

Connie and I did everything together. We are blood-sisters.

Wise Men, Circumcision, and Good Advice

Christmas lasted at least two weeks when I was a little girl.  First came the parties and presents, then Baby Jesus and the shepherds, then the Feast of the Circumcision and the Wise Men, then a dream that takes the Holy Family into Egypt, so he didn’t get killed by a scaredy-cat king. What an exciting story.  Maybe Jesus got born in the middle of winter just to liven things up a bit, because after Christmas things got pretty darned dull.

Do you know that song that says, “Mother Mary, meek and mi-i-ild..”?   She was far from mild.  She stepped right into the temple and named her baby, even though that was the dad’s job and she was supposed to stay out, on account of just having a baby.  Plus her baby was a boy, which meant he got to be circumcised, which was a special thing only for boys on the day they’re named.  That happened eight days after birth, ’cause for one thing it took a long time for most people to pick out just the right name, and for another thing, those special circumcising guys were hard to come by.

Mom always said, “A smart woman let her husband think he’s in charge.”  Not Mary.  Continue reading

Give It Up

When I was a little girl, I always gave something up for Lent. I got to pick my “give-up” except for the one big thing Mom picked out for the whole family, that I had to do whether I liked it or not.

Me and my best-friend-at-school Connie, liked to sacrifice by walking to church at Noon Hour on Fridays and doing the Stations of the Cross.  We put on our snow-pants and boots, coats and mittens, and slap-footed out the big double doors; not the ones to the playground, the ones at the front of the school.  Our moms wrote notes giving us permission; still we felt like the high schoolers, who could go downtown every Noon Hour, without notes from home.  Me and Connie walked along with Daylene, who went home for lunch.  Daylene’s mom was Cherokee, something I found out after I was all grown up.  Nobody talked about where they were from, or who their ancestors were, that was as boring as History, we just talked about where our dads worked.  Most of the dads worked in The Shop making cars; my dad worked for Bell Telephone fixing lines and phones and doing installations.  He had all kinds of neat stories about strange people he met all day long and jams he got himself into.  I was proud of my dad ’cause he did something no other dads did.  Connie’s dad was a principal at a school that only had High School kids, not like ours that had high schoolers and grade schoolers and kindergarteners; he had loads of funny stories, too, and sometimes he told jokes that me and Connie didn’t understand, like the one about the Teddy Bear saying he had cotton balls.  Connie’s big brother thought that one was hilarious; we never did figure it out.  Our funniest joke was:  What happened when the Indian drank too much Red Rose Tea?  He drowned in his Tee-Pee.  I never stopped laughing about that one.

Anyways, after Daylene’s house, we walked to St. Joseph’s and did The Stations.  Sister said some people did all The Stations on their knees because they wanted to suffer like Jesus did; there was even a place overseas someplace where people walked on their knees four miles praying and saying the rosary.  Me and Connie didn’t want to suffer that much, and we had to get downtown to buy some Faygo to have with our peanut butter sandwiches, so we just said The Stations in the usual way, except we walked around reading the prayers and genuflecting, instead of sitting in the pew while the priest and the altar boys walked around.  There was no incense, like when the priest does The Stations, so I breathed in real deep to get some leftover smell from Sunday.   I felt a little bit holy when we push the door open and the bright sun hits us in the face.

One year I gave up all candy.  Every Sunday after church, Dad gave me a nickle to buy candy at Glebe’s, unless I was bad in church, then I got a scolding.  Once when I was talking, Mom made me kneel in the vestibule and think about how bad I was for the whole rest of Mass, I didn’t get any candy that week.  Most of the time I was good, though.  The year I gave up candy, Dad let me spend my nickle anyway, and I put my candy away in a paper sack until Easter came.  Every Sunday, I emptied the bag on my bed and counted up the loot. That was the keenest idea ever, ’cause when Easter came I added what was in my paper sack to what the Easter Bunny left, and I had three times the candy as all the other kids.  All that candy tasted three times as good too, since I hadn’t had any for 40 days and 40 nights.  I only did that one year, ’cause I had a bad cases of the runs the next day, and after that, even thinking about it gave me cramps.

Mom made the whole family give up television one Lent.  The first week was really hard, because we didn’t know where to eat our popcorn on Saturday night.  That’s the night we watched Ponderosa.  Deanna liked Adam the best ’cause he was the handsomest.  Bonita liked Little Joe; I liked Hoss the best, ’cause he just looked like he needed a hug and because most of the girls on the show were after Adam and Little Joe, so I figured Hoss needed someone to consider him the best.  Mom always made a big bowl of popcorn, and  put it in front of the TV so  Deanna, Bonita, Vickie, Loren, and I could eat until our bellies popped out and we looked like we were going to have babies.    That first week without TV, Mom just put the popcorn bowl on the floor in front of the TV anyway.  We just sat around in front of a blank screen, chowing down looking like we were watching something.  After that, Mom got Lad a Dog, from the Bookmobile and read it to us.  I liked that a whole lot better than TV; still after Easter, I was happy to see Hoss on the Ponderosa again.

Back then, Lent was a somber time of the year:  We fasted every day, abstained every Friday, prayed and sacrificed things that were important to us.  There was a real sense of community supporting our efforts.  It’s difficult to know how good it was for my soul, but I  know it was good for my spirit:  It taught me how to focus and it taught me self-control, it helped me try new things, and it taught me that anticipation can make life a little sweeter.