angry purple

Visit Home Part 1

A recent convention trip to Florida provided me with the opportunity to visit my home town.

I had last been there 15 years ago to bury my mother, and had dropped all contact after that; and I had not been a regular visitor before. During those 15 years I maintained only the most cursory curiosity about what was happening, and I wasn’t particularly anxious or excited to see the town now. Nevertheless, I felt it would be foolish to waste the chance to see my boyhood home, again.

I drove in from the northern outskirts, rather than directly into town from the east. I wanted to see if there was any sprawl. If the town had grown. I found it comforting that there wasn’t any. Everything looked essentially the same, and I found this to be true throughout the day. It was an affirmation, and a source of satisfaction, that I had grown up and left childish things behind me. At the same time, places I had known were still there, and I savored the feeling of nostalgia.

There were the same pine trees, the same cypress. The ubiquitous grey Spanish Moss hanging everywhere. The winding back roads.

My first stop was the church my family had attended. Regularly, when my sister and I were children, intermittently as we passed through our tweens, and then not at all.

Church collage

I don’t have the pictures, but I remember those of my baptism; attended just by the godparents, the Schicks, Ray and his wife; and those of my first communion. There’s one of a whole herd of us little rug rats, the girls in white dresses, the boys wearing little bright scarlet clip-on neckties, all of us lined up on the front steps of the church, a nun in full penguin getup standing beside us. I still see the prim smile on the nun’s face, and a slight gleam of Nurse Ratched cruelty behind the oval glasses.

My parents tried to participate in the church community while I was young. I attended a religious school on Sundays, after mass I think. I remember one exercise required that I draw Jeebus H. Christ. In the end, my mother drew it for me and I just colored it in. I think my mother was a frustrated artist. Don’t let me forget to expand on that one of these days. As I got older the church staged social events for teenagers. Poorly attended and awkward affairs, all of them.

While I was still very young, my family would go out to eat breakfast at the Dutch Pantry restaurant, just down the road. Later, that became lunch at the Howard Johnson’s. I always had the fried clams. I can taste them now. God, they were good! Little skinny chewy things that they were, smothered in tartar sauce. At that time, my home town was the Spring training camp for the Boston Red Sox. Many of the players used to stay at the Howard Johnson. My father carried around a baseball so that he could get autographs. I still have the name Tony Conigliaro stuck in my head, I heard it so often. In later years money got tight and we didn’t eat out anymore.

As it does for so many, Holy Mother Church cured me of religion. I think I’ve told this story before, but it was Father Smith, in particular, who first confirmed for me what a good friend said much later. He said, “Religion is in the churches, God is in the bushes.” By which he meant that God is out in nature and not restricted to man’s puny interpretation, boxed in with rules and rites, sacrifices and sanctimony.

It was Easter Sunday. My parents required that we attend confession just two times a year. Christmas and Easter. This gave us plenty of time to work up some sins to confess, my sister and I not being delinquents of any sort. Not until later, anyway. I was a boring little shit and there is no doubt that my list of bad deeds would put anyone to sleep, but they must have been the pinnacle of tedium for our parish priest at that time, Father Smith. Father Smith was not a friendly fellow. He was short tempered and wanted everything strictly by the book. And I don’t mean the bible. I don’t think Father Smith read the bible. He read the Wall St. Journal. Father Smith’s god was an accountant god, a businessman god, a CEO god. Father Smith expected quarterly interest statements, not confession. Anyway, it’s no surprise that, because I wasn’t yammering about masturbation, bestiality, or murder, and because the Easter Mass was soon to start, that Father Smith cut me off mid-sin, gave me five Hail Mary’s and five Our Fathers, and was out of that confession booth lickety split. Father Smith was fast. Fast like a little badger. That presumed pederast had cut me off! I was outraged! I was mortified! I didn’t know whether I had been given dispensation or a pink slip! It was at that moment that I was utterly done with Catholicism, and that was my last confession.

Thinking about all these things, I sat inside my old church. It was Saturday and a mass was not far off, so it was open. No, the church and outbuildings had not changed. Sure, a new coat of paint, a new sound system, but still the same at its core.

I got up and walked out, genuflecting and splashing myself with holy water by habit, and just in case, and headed for the next little sign post on my memory tour.
Howdy, seaslug of DOOOOM! Good to see you on my monitor this day. I was forced to go to Sunday School for the first 10 years of my life and I hated it. I used to say but dad (who was the opposite of religious), YOU never go to church, why should I have to go? It wasn't till I was older, that I figured out it was because it got 4 annoying kids out of the house so that a hungover dad and his equally hungover woman of the moment could frolic about the house unobserved.
Morty sweetie DARLING!!!

It must have been the fact that I was MORTIFIED in this post that drew your eye, you delicious thing!
it is a hilarious confession story, and description of the priest. i didn't grow up catholic but rather methodist, known for being good little fund raisers even down to soliciting singles mothers like mine after the divorce from my father to commit not just to the traditional tithe but to a pledge of a tithe, you know, whatever she could spare so the pastor's kids could stay in private school and so the child molestor janitor could still have a job.

though it's probably bad form to mention facebook here, horror of horrors is seeing some of the people i went with to sunday school and on mission trips popping up around facebook. so not cool, that kind of blast from the past. i'm curious only to see if anyone else came out of it without religion but i don't think any of them did, they seem fervent and scary as all the adult church people seemed when i was growing up in the church.

hi! good to see you!
Oh Facebook. I know! I don't use Facebook a great deal but I do see faces from the past popping up now and again.

Because I haven't maintained contact with, well, ANYONE from childhood, when I see these faces appear I mostly just say, "Who the hell IS that?"

So glad to see you, too! :)