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

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.

Sometimes a Picture is Just a Picture

I loved to draw and color and play with clay, but I could never get the media to do what I wanted it to do.  When I was a little girl, Mom thought I might like a paint by number set; perhaps she thought some guidance would help me get the hang of things. That was a disaster.  Still, Janet, a daughter of one of Dad’s army buddies, did teach me a thing or two about drawing and I passed what I learned on to my little sister Vickie.

Shirley and Bob adopted Janet from Germany.  They adopted her brother, too, whose name I don’t remember, so I’ll just call him Gordon.  Dad and Mom knew Shirley and Bob from way back when they were alive, before they all got married.  I could call them by their first name with no Mrs., or Aunt tacked on or anything.  God forgot to give them babies of their own, so they adopted some from Germany.  That was Janet and Gordon.  Bob went to work every day in Sunday clothes.  Shirley smelled like lily of the valley; she was tall and so skinny her hip bones stuck out of her skirt like giant elbows.  She was a mother, same as every woman I knew, except teachers, who lived at the school and had enough of kids all day long, so were happy not having any of their own.

Janet was super-good at drawing things.  She showed me her lesson book that she got in the mail every month, same as I got books from the Weekly Reader Summer Reading program.  Janet said she could share her lessons with me next time I came over.  My mom learned everything from books, so I gave it a whirl, too. I learned how to draw a tree with branches and bark from Janet’s book.  I never did learn how to put the leaves on, though, ’cause that lesson came the next month, and by the time I saw Janet, she and I forgot all about the art lessons she promised me.  Anyways, I just drew bare-naked trees with terrific branches and bark, so all my pictures were either fall or winter pictures.  I knew how to draw a big pile of leaves on the ground, and anybody can draw snow:  You just have to color the ground white, or even leave that part blank.  Janet had a box of special charcoal pencils, which worked way better than the Number 2 pencils I had, but Number 2 was good enough for me, ’cause those charcoal pencils smudged around on the page, and on the heel of my hand and before I knew it, black smudges were on my face and blouse, and it seemed like they even got in my nose hairs so I smelled charcoal all day long, which was kinda a good smell and dirty smelling all at the same time.

I learned a bit about drawing people at school.  Teacher told me people’s eyes are about 1/3 the way down their face, and ears are about level with eyes, and elbows reach the waist, and hands are the same size as the face.  I got the face down alright, and the arms the right length, and I got the hand the right size, but I never did figure out how to get the fingers right.  Just like with the tree leaves, I figured out how to fix my picture so nobody knew about my drawing handicap:  I either made closed fists on the people I drew, or I put their hands behind their back.

Vickie was the littlest of the big kids, and she sorta looked up to me, even though lots of times she did stuff just as well as me.  Vickie had gigantic blue eyes that always looked like she was asking a question and lips that pouted out in a nice way; plus she had hair just like a guardian angel’s, all wispy and white. When Vickie was sad her face got all still and  her eyes filled up with tears, just sitting there like a little lake, until her eyelashes pushed them over the edge and the tears ran down her face in little rivers.  That face was just about impossible to say no to.  My face got all squinchy-pruney when I cried, which made people laugh and take pictures.

Vickie got interested in drawing ’cause she liked me and wanted to do stuff I did.   I taught her how to draw trees and people, the same way I learned how.  Vickie had a hard time with hands, just like me, so I taught her how to draw fists and hide hands behind the people’s backs, and I taught her how to draw leaves on the ground.  I liked teaching stuff to Vickie.  I already knew I was a pretty smart little girl; still, the way Vickie looked at me when I was showing her stuff I knew made me feel super-extra special. Continue reading

Clouds Get in My Eyes

When I was a little girl, my TV only got in three channels all kind of fuzzy and most of the programs were for grown-ups.  I never even heard of video games, and computers were as big as my whole downstairs.  I knew that ’cause I read about it in my Weekly Reader.  I spent most of my free time reading or outside.  That’s how I learned to like clouds so much.

Mom could see stuff in clouds.  She said when she was a little girl, she and her brothers flew kites and made up stories about the dogs, and cats, and dragons and snakes they saw in the clouds.  She said to me, “See the walrus up there?”

“Where?” I looked up at the sky, with enough blue to make a pair of britches. That’s what I cared about, ’cause that meant it was going to be nice all day.

“Right there.  See the grey body and the white head, and up near the top; see the giant tusks coming out of his face,”  she stooped down, her dress, parachuting out all around her, making her legs disappear.  She took my hand in hers and pointed it up at a big gray and white cloud.  Mom sure looked pretty with her head tipped back looking up at the sky.  I could almost imagine what she looked like out there flying kites with Uncle Ken and Uncle Gene.  She had a sister, too, but Aunt Annie was born way later than anyone else, so Mom was like an only daughter, so she had to do all the work that me and my five sister did.  Mom thought boys would be working all their grown-up life, so there Continue reading