Four weeks ago, on October 3, I shared with you the setting for my reception of First Holy Communion. If you didn’t get a chance to read that posting or if you’ve forgotten it, please reread it in preparation for today’s posting. Thank you.
In May 1944, the first graders and myself practiced daily for our First Holy Communion. After school on Friday, I lightheartedly played cowboys and cattle rustlers in the side yard by our house. Lying on the ground was an old telephone pole.
On top of the pole balanced a footlong wooden board. Into this two-by-four my little brother had pounded a three-inch nail. Its large flat head stuck up about two inches above the board’s surface.
Note that the nail in my 1944 board
was not on the head of the board
but on the flat long side.
Gleefully, I pretended to be Gene Autry riding Champion. My horse and I repeatedly leaped the telephone pole to catch those dastardly rustlers as they herded our stolen cows into the purple-shadowed canyons and across the sun-baked mesas.
While in the air during one mighty leap, Champion missed his footing and I fell hard onto the two-by-four and its stud.
The nail head punctured the skin right below my kneecap, splintering the crown of my shinbone. Tears trickled my face as I pushed myself upright. The dangling two-by-four armored my shinbone, hobbling me.
Unable to stand, I jerked the board away from my leg. The offending nail head brought with it a thick glob of fatty yellow tissue. Oily fluid drained from the hole in my knee and down my shin. Frightened, I stumbled to my feet, but could hardly walk.
Mom rushed me to the doctor’s office. He cut away the fatty tissue, explaining that my leg would stiffen so I couldn’t bend it for a few days, but otherwise I was fine. After giving me a tetanus shot, he sent us home.
Two days later, I told Barbara Ann, my chaperone and best friend, about my stiff knee. Then we processed into Saint Mary’s Catholic Church with the other communicants.
At the appropriate time, the first graders, our chaperons, and I entered the sanctuary. Row by row, we ascended the eight steps up to the altar. The first row of communicants then knelt on the top step. The middle row followed suit on its step. The third knelt. Moments later, the fourth row—my row—knelt on the bottom step.
And Barbara Ann?
She tugged the hem of my first communion dress and loudly whispered, “We’re supposed to kneel!”
I couldn’t. The knee was as stiff as that two-by-four it had been attached to.
Father Hennessey placed a communion wafer on the tongues of the kneeling children in the front row. They returned to their seats. The next three rows stood. Moved upward. Knelt.
Once again, Barbara Ann tugged. “Get down! Kneel!” Her words echoed down the nave. I heard tittering.
Father Hennessey frowned, then looked down at me benignly. I tried to brush away Barbara Ann’s hand. She tugged harder. “Down!”
The second row received communion and left the sanctuary. The next two rows rose and moved up two steps. The first row knelt as did my row.
Aware that everyone must be looking at me, I tried to get my knee to bend. It refused. Urgency threaded her voice as Barbara Ann shouted, “Kneel! Dolores! We’re supposed to kneel!”
The chalice shook in Father Hennessey’s hands and tilted. The communion wafers came close to spilling out. He jerked the chalice upright, frowned at Barbara Ann, and began to place a wafer on the tongue of each kneeling child in the top row.
They, too, returned to their pews.
Finally . . . FINALLY . . . my row rose, stepped upward, and knelt.
Laughter rolled like a wave down the nave and up into the sanctuary.
“Kneel! I’m telling you you’re supposed to kneel!” Barbara Ann’s shrill whisper shook the rafters. She tugged at my dress. Part of the skirt ripped from the waist. It dangled toward my ankles.
Father Hennessey placed the communion wafer on my tongue. The other children in my row stood. We returned to our seats. They knelt. I sat while in all innocence we gave thanksgiving for the gift we’d just received.
At the end of Mass, we filed out, stood on the front steps of Saint Mary’s, and had our photograph taken. Here it is. And there am I in the front row with the bandage on my knee.
I hope that if any of my classmates are reading this today they will not be annoyed that I posted our picture here . . . nor will the photographer from sixty-eight years ago. It surely represents a time and a place that is long gone but also long remembered. Peace.