Saturday, February 24, 2007

Weekends and Catholicism 1958

Weekends were a new thing for me. Before first grade every day was a weekend. Now the week was bracketed by Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was always the best because Sunday marked the long count down to Monday. A pattern that never ends until you retire. Weekends also marked my initiation into the mysteries of Faith. Yes, that’s right, First Holy Communion and the Catechism. Who Made Me. God Made Me.
Every Saturday morning until I was 15 I went to Mantua to learn the vagaries of the Catholic Faith. That first year I was educated so I could accept the body and blood of Christ. Remember, I was six going on seven. Who gave a fuck who made me. I wanted to run in the woods. I wanted to play with my little men. I wanted to annoy my little brother Ted but instead me and about six other little kids from Wenonah were trucked off to Mantua and the Church of the Incarnation so that we could receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
We spent about two hours every Saturday morning being tutored by either nuns or the laiety (shorthand for old Italian ladies from Mantua). We recited our Catechism and prepared to accept the Sacrament. It fucked up Saturday like nobody’s business. There were only about six Catholic families in Wenonah so this was an opportunity to learn about diversity. Or more appropriately about difference. Nobody else in my town knew what I was doing. They went to church school on Sunday, then church, then they went home and had fun.
Not me. Not my friends. We went to listen to dour, nasty, old women talk about topics that to a seven year old had almost no value. Pure, unadulterated torment. I know some people profess to love the trappings of the Mass. It’s rituals and robes. The incense. The mysteries. Fuck that shit. I used to gnaw on the back of the pew in front of me. I grew to love the taste of varnish. In summer I would faint. This was before air conditioning after all. The only time the church was nice was Christmas. The Church of the Incarnation was beautiful at Christmas. There was a holiday bazaar and we had a little party with gift giving. Everyone was kind and thoughtful till Christmas day when the priest told us we were assholes for only coming to church at Christmas. I never understood this because I was there every week. Come hell or high water. Sick, well, sad or happy, I was there to worship the Lord.
I should mention there were also no Jews in my town technically when I arrived in 1958. One family, the Parkers, were sort of Jewish. Their father had changed their name from Katz to Parker but they didn’t technically live within the towns borders and they were never brought up within the Jewish faith. For all I know they went to the Presbyterian church. I think this means they were assimilated.
Most people in town were either Methodist or Presbyterian. Wenonah was primarily Methodist. A dour little religion. No gambling, liquor, or cursing. No fun. Wenonah was a dry town because of Methodism. A lot of towns in South Jersey are Methodist, including one of the great shore towns, Ocean City. No liquor could be bought or sold in Ocean City but the largest liquor store I’ve ever seen was right across the bridge in Somers Point. Next to the Dunes till Dawn, one of the great roadhouses of the world. Fun, fun, fun, till your daddy takes the T Bird away.
It was a sin for Catholics to go to another church. At least that was what we were told. You could get dispensation for special circumstances, like camping trips or a funeral. I only went to a service held by another religion once in my young life. I was in Boy Scouts and we attended a Methodist service in the Pine Barrens. Dull as dishwater. Hard to believe but Methodism is kind of like Communism. It was a mass movement founded by urban activists in England and Europe in the 17 hundreds to fight the excesses of drink and gambling caused by the changes in lifestyle brought on by the Industrial Revolution. See George Eliot for more details.
There are also bunches of Quakers in South Jersey. Several of my friends were Quakers and their services sounded interesting. You just get up and talk once in awhile. No host, no wine, no God really. There is a strong pacifist presence in South Jersey and Philadelphia. My town sent lots of young men to war and our local draft board gave out no exemptions but several young men went to Canada in the 60’s because of their Quaker beliefs.
Anyway, that was the first two hours of my weekend. In two days we get the next 46. Ha ha.

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