The Writer's Voice
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Going to church was the best part of the week. The dull, dark brown dailylife of the tenement could not compare with the pomp of the Catholic Mass.The Latin! The great belly rumbling organ, and the disembodied voices of the choir! The erotic scent of the censor, and the mysterious half understood snatches of liturgy, "Hail, Mary! Full of grace! Blessed be the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus!" What a vision for a ten-year-old to contemplate! I was torn between wanting to be a Priest or a circus ringmaster.
In the dark hushed entryway I remember the
smell of varnish, of wet woolen
overcoats and the unwashed ragged parishioners. A long blue banner hung between
the entrance doors to the nave, one word above the other, "OPEN WIDE
THE DOORS TO CHRIST"! .... I fully expected He would be waiting for me inside.
I stood flanked by my mother and father who would take turns nudging me --insisting that I face forward and pay attention. Mother carried the Gideon Bible her father stole from a hotel in Cleveland, Ohio, and a set of enormous rosary beads that rattled like gamblers dice when she fingered them.
Father, like all the other fathers, fiddled with his hat. He would mumble hisway through the responses, but my mother would call them out loud and clear.I remember looking for the difference between my mother and father and allthe other mothers and fathers in the congregation of St. Theresa -- and not seeing any. I could be the little boy of the couple behind us, and the little girl in the pew in front of us could be my sister. I was standing between my mother and father, an only son -- they were all I had for a family.
If the church did nothing else, it made us see ourselves and our neighbors as part of a larger family assembled under one roof .... it accomplished little else. During the week we hid from each other, each family hiding the few possessions they owned from the sight of envious eyes. The church offered us no miracles, no epiphanies. The blind remained blind, the hungry remained hungry and the poor stayed poor -- but I remembered the magic of the windows, it spurred me on and carried me through the Godless Depression.
Very few people today remember the Great Depression. I remember it as a child, and I remember the stain it left on my mother and father. The stain of debt, the fear of buying anything they couldn't pay for. The mistrust of banks, of the market, of checks and credit cards -- of any promise to pay in the future for something you needed today. I remember the scraping of mold from hard cheese, of making the milk stretch another day, I remember turnip greens and stew meat and bones for the dog we never had. What we all missed most, I think, was the lack of laughter in the house.
My mother and father couldn't laugh any more -- even after the Great Depression had passed, they didn't laugh. A generation of people had forgotten how to laugh. Even when they were old, they never laughed. Worst of all, they stopped going to church. Their "Hail Mary's" had fallen on deaf ears. I was profoundly disappointed, I missed the music, the incantations and the promise of miracles. Life to me from then on, lost much of the magic and color I remembered from "God's Light" in the stained glass windows of St. Theresa.
Then, the war came, and I remember the
windows of the churches of Coventry,
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