Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First Holy Communion Mishaps

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.
            I stood.
            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.
            I stood.
            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.
            I stood.
            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.

The first photograph is from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Guest Posting for Dulcy and Me

This posting today will be brief as I need to clean and vacuum the house for the arrival tomorrow of a friend from Fridley, Minnesota. Yesterday, I did the laundry (sheets and bedding included) and shopped for groceries. In late afternoon, I prepared, trying out two new recipes, vegetarian chili and a tomato-lentil soup for the two of us to enjoy during her four-day stay.
         But today I have some news about Dulcy and me.
         In late September, Karen Jones Gowen asked me to guest post on her blog "Coming down the Mountain: A Writer's Blog." Given that her blog is about writing and being published, I wrote about how the feline memoir A Cat's Life: Dulcy's Story came to be. 
         You might enjoy reading thator you might feel you know enough about Dulcy! But if you're game for more then please click here to read our guest post.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Another Hiatus from Writing

Hello All,
Once again I need to take a month off from blogging—both posting once a week on my two blogs and commenting on yours. Three different friends—one from Minnesota, one from Kansas, and one from Wisconsin—are coming to visit, each for several days. For a variety of reasons, all of this needs to happen within one month.
         Besides that, the barometer is starting to be a little erratic and that always brings on problems with Meniere’s Disease—not the episodes any longer but lightheadedness and dizziness. This always tires me out.
         So the truth is that I just don’t feel equal to writing well.

         Unfortunately, my last posting primed you for what was to be my pièce de résistance!!! That is, the recounting of what happened on my First Communion Day.
         That will now have to wait until November 7th. I hope you’ll stick around for that posting. And I hope also that I can write it in such a way that the humor will emerge and you’ll guffaw at the incident. And . . . that when I finally do post the story it won't be anticlimactic or a letdown!
         Some of you have expressed your enjoyment at my recounting of these early grade-school memories. If you’d like to read two other ones, you might take a gander at  “Beginning with Prepositions” and “Building Bocks of Writing and Speaking” on my writing blog. Both recount how Sister Mary McCauley taught grammar to my fifth-grade class back in 1946. She was a creative and innovative teacher—or so I think.
         See you on November 7th

Photo from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Preparation for First Holy Communion

Last Wednesday, I shared with you the first of two memories of second grade. My second memory is of my First Holy Communion. Normally, children began receiving communion in first grade. However, I was a year behind because I’d attended first grade in a public school.
            In early May, Sister Mary Anne helped prepare the first graders and me—a second grader—for communion. Daily, she’d march us over to the church. There we’d stand, the first graders, myself, and our chaperones—the second graders who’d received their first communion the year before.
            This is a long story, so I’m going to establish only the setting in today’s posting. Then next Wednesday I’ll share with you what happened on the days preceding and the day receiving First Holy Communion. You’ll see why this memory has remained so vivid. It makes me laugh now, if not then.
            Here’s the setting: Saint Mary’s Church. This brick building with its tall steeple has stood on Liberty Street since 1865—the year the Civil War ended. When I attended its grade school in the 1940s, cannonballs from that war were found in an adjacent playground.

Photo by Salvatore Vuono for freedigitalphotos.

            Each day of our practice, the first graders and I and our chaperones processed into the church in two rows. We settled into several front pews on opposite sides of the aisle. Sister Mary Anne stood at the front and talked us through all the parts of the Mass until we got to the communion ritual.
            Each day at practice, she said the Latin words we’d hear that would announce communion. We then rose and processed out of the pews and up the aisle to the three steps that led up to the communion rail. Standing about two feet high, it extended the width of the church.
            Normally, Catholics wishing to receive communion would kneel on the wide top step in front of the linen-covered railing. The priest would pass on the other side of the railing and place a consecrated communion wafer on their tongues. Then they would return to their pews.

Contemporary photo of a child in Sicily
 receiving First Holy Communion while standing.
From Wikipedia.

            For our First Communion celebration, however, we passed through the sanctuary gate in the middle of the communion rail. In practice, we processed through the gate and across the sanctuary. There we stood in rows at the edge of the steps leading up to the altar.
            Row by row, we ascended the steps. A row of the first children who would receive communion stood on the top step. Behind them, on the second step from the top, stood another row of communicants. Behind them, on the third step, stood another row. Below this step stood the remaining rows, ready to ascend as an earlier row of first communicants received communion and returned to their seats in the nave.
            Those on the top row stood momentarily. Then they knelt. Simultaneously each row behind the first also knelt as Sister Mary Anne—taking the role of Father Hennessey—walked past and placed a pretend communion wafer on the tongue of each child in row one. 
            The communicants in that row then stood and reverently returned to their pews. As they stood to leave, all the rows behind them stood, stepped up, and then, in unison, knelt again.
            You get the picture: Row after row would stand, step up, kneel. Rise, step up, kneel, Rise, step up, kneel. This ritual proceeded until the final row knelt in front of Sister Mary Anne. The communicants, their mouths open like fledglings, modeled receiving communion and returned to their pews.

A 1949 group photo of children taken after Mass
on their First Holy Communion day.
From Wikipedia.

            The one thing I need to tell you so that you’ll understand next Wednesday’s posting is that our chaperones did all this with us. Each row consisted of eight children: four first communicants and four chaperones, kneeling, rising, and standing in pairs. My chaperone was my best friend—Barbara Ann—who remains my friend to this day. She and I together created a silent-movie slapstick scene on my first communion day.
            That’s the setting. I hope to see you here next Wednesday for the plot. I’m wondering again about your childhood. Is there some setting or ceremony practice you remember this vividly? 

PS: Yesterday, Melissa Ann Goodwin, who writes the adventurous blog "On the Road," posted her review of A Cat's Legacy: Dulcy's Story. This review had me giddy with delight. If you have time today, I encourage you to read it and also to note Melissa's enjoyable book The Christmas Village. I've read it and given it as a gift to friends. It's quite an adventure and would make a lovely Christmas gift for the children in your life.