Back in Time

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My youngest sister, Amy, and her husband, Dennis, raised four beautiful daughters in their blended family.

Two of those girls are getting married this Fall.

I traveled last weekend back to my hometown for the first of these weddings.

Lapeer, Michigan.

Immaculate Conception Church.

It’s October. Of course there were ghosts.

Ghosts, in the form of memories and feelings and deja vu moments.

Immaculate Conception Church sits on the main street downtown, just a couple blocks from the business district, and next to Bishop Kelley Catholic School, where I attended first through eighth grade. Every school day started at the church, for morning Mass.

The church has changed over the years.

I’m old enough to remember when the Mass was said in Latin. I can still recite some of the prayers, and I still think “et cum spiri tu tuo” has a nicer ring to it than the modern, “and with your spirit”. The altar faced the back wall, then, and most of the Mass was said with the priest facing the altar, away from the congregation. A long communion rail divided the altar from the rest of the church. I made my First Communion kneeling on the velvet covered bench at that rail.

Though marbles were strictly forbidden at school, we brought them anyway. For secret games of “Odd, Even or Nothing” or for trading on the way to school, or elaborate games with the public school kids while we waited for the bus. Once, during the quietest, most solemn part of the Mass, the clasp on my clutch purse gave way, allowing one hundred and twenty marbles to spill out, bounce onto the bench and floor, and roll out in every direction. Every student turned to look. The peaceful expression of a nun at prayer changed to the scowl of a predatory bird. Even the priest turned to see what the noise was. Still, it may not have been completely clear that I was the cause of the ruckus…except for my best friend collapsing in giggles beside me, as I turned fifty shades of red.

Once, when Mom was indisposed, having just had a new baby, Dad brought us to church. We were a bit late in arriving, so stood in the side aisle. My sister, Brenda, and I – oblivious to our surroundings – were deep in whispered conversation when Dad poked us. Startled, we looked back at him. He was agitated, whispering angrily, gesturing wildly toward the front of the church. “Oh!” we thought – in unison – “Did we miss something? Were we supposed to go to the front?” And we proceeded to walk up the aisle to the front of the church…where we realized our mistake. The ride home that day was filled with my father’s loud voice accompanied by exasperated head shakes about how we talked as if nothing was going on and didn’t pay attention or help with the little kids and when he told us to look to the front, we walked to the front…

When President Kennedy was shot, we all left our classes and walked to the church to pray. It was there that we learned he had died.

Death was not a stranger to us. When a person died without family or friends to pray for them, the kids from Bishop Kelley School were gathered in the church – like paid mourners – to attend the funeral and pray for the deceased.

Our family has had its share of funerals there. I was twelve, I think, when my baby sister, Darla, died. I kept my eyes on my mother, one pew ahead. Though her back was bent, her head bowed and her shoulders quaked with her sobs, Mom was the best anchor I had in this strange new world of grief.

We’ve had a few weddings at Immaculate Conception.

My Dad walked me down the aisle there, dressed in his suit and tie, with a flask in his pocket as security against his nervousness. He pulled it out, on the church steps after the ceremony, to offer the priest a swig.

Of all my sisters married in that church, Sheila’s wedding was the most memorable. She wore the dress and veil I’d been married in. Dad walked her up the aisle. When Sheila let go of his arm to walk, with her future husband, up onto the high altar, Dad’s foot was on the end of the fabric train behind her. The entire church gasped. Sheila stepped up. The six hook and eyes that secured the train to the waistline at the back of the dress gave way. The train dropped to the floor. My father – I will never forget the look of near panic on his face – picked up the fabric, hung it over the pew in front of my mother…and went to sit on the groom’s side of the church. This was only one in a whole unbelievable string of unfortunate events that made Sheila’s wedding a legend in our family. We were still reminiscing – and giggling – about it last weekend!

My friend, Linda, was married there. I – eight months pregnant and dominating every picture with my large belly – stood up with her.

My daughter, Jennifer, was baptized there, with my parents acting as her godparents.

The church has had several remodels. The confessionals – there used to be two – are reduced to one, with a real door instead of the velvet curtain from my childhood. Cameras, facing the altar, perch on top of the small room. The stations of the cross have been given a bright new paint job; the pillars have the look of marble; gold and aqua patterns adorn the ceiling over the altar.

The stained glass windows remain the same. On the left, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove; on the right, the Lamb of God, both surrounded by sun rays and bordered with gray clouds. Leaf shapes and fleur-de-lis patterns in shades of gold and red and green fill the smaller surrounding panels. So many memories bask in the filtered light from those windows!

Last weekend, we added a few more.

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14 responses »

  1. Of course, I love this, Cindy — So many of our memories are the same. I so remember the day President Kennedy was shot. First, before we went to church, Sister (was it it Sr. Aloysius?) said that the President had been hurt. For some reason, I pictured him falling off a ladder. And then, hearing in church that he had died. I also think I remember the marbles, but I might be just mixing that up with the day my little clutch bag fell off my desk, popped open and spilled mine all over the classroom! Oh, you make me smile, my friend!

    • Yes! I think Sister Aloysius came and got us from Music Class in the gym. I can’t remember if it was Sister Josephine or Sister Mary Anne that came to tell us that he’d died. It was so scary seeing adults respond with tears that day.
      I think it’s kind of funny that marbles were strictly forbidden, yet we each had major issues with marbles in school!
      Thanks for reading, Kate!

  2. I will never, NEVER forget the marbles. The whole church stopped, including Father, turned around and stared at us. It was one of the best, if not THE best, laugh of my life. The day before, the nuns had absolutely FORBID us to bring marbles to school–EVER– again….because they were being used for “gambling”. Naturally, Cindy filled her purse to the rim the next morning…. A total classic….we were immediately thrown into the–what? First grade class room to be shamed and used as an example of what NOT to do….sigh….

    • I know! it’s one of those awful, wonderful, embarrassing but funny moments. I seem to have collected a lot of them in my life. I always remember the feeling of trying to act nonchalant, like “Who did that? Certainly not me!” while you were falling apart laughing!

  3. Change the name of your parochial school to Our Lady of Grace, and your state to Massachusetts and EVERY single thing you described happening to you in grammar school happened to me, there…every single thing….
    Wow!

    • See, I think people that share the experience of having attended a parochial school, already know each other well enough to practically talk in shorthand. It breaks down all kinds of barriers! We just know…
      Thanks for reading!

  4. an old church filled with memories, sitting in the pew, we sense our connection to all those who came before us, who knelt for communion, who struggled with their faith, who laughed at their shenanigans – a thread, through time, binding us together.

  5. What a fun story to read, filled with current new wedding joy mixed with nostalgia from yester-year. I still can’t believe we grew up so close to one another, me in Yale and you in Lapeer. Another interesting aside: we’re not Catholic, but Barry ended up going to mass today. He was covering a story about the children at a local church and ended up in the church and not able to get out in an inconspicuous manner. I laughed–it was probably good for him!

    • Thanks for reading, Kathy, and for your nice comments. Tell Barry that when people stand to walk up to receive communion, that is a good time to cut out of church fairly inconspicuously. That’s what we used to do when we wanted to get out of there!

  6. I, too, remember the days of altar rails and solomn Masses, as well as stern priests and nuns. I didn’t take marbles to church, though. What a great story! Returning to a place (especially a church) with so many memories is comforting and scary at the same time, I think. It’s all kind of creepy and mystical. You describe it so much better than I can. Thanks for sharing your memories and bringing some of my own to mind.

    • Thanks, Sara, for your kind words! You’re right, there is a definite scary element, as well as comfort, and a strange feeling of extreme familiarity in that church. Roughly 6 hours a week, through the school year, were spent there, over eight years time. So much has changed, but that filtered golden light brought back the memories…

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