This is a short story, not so much a blog, but I can do what I want on my page. I hope you like it.
St. Mary’s Church was, and still is, located at the corner of 4th Street and Maple in Greenville, Ohio. It sat directly across the street from the elementary school of the same name. As a child I attended both.
Early on, only my mother brought me to mass along with my brother and three sisters. My father usually saw us to the door while still in his pyjamas. This was the happiest I would see him all week. I remember always being very jealous of him and wishing there would be a fire at house while we were away, or at least some kind of smiting by Our Lord.
The coordinated effort of feeding and dressing five children to a standard acceptable to polite society was great. I only began to appreciate this effort later in life when I myself became a parent. The strain of doing this every Sunday for years on end turned my mom into a kind of shell-shocked, ex-POW, drill sergeant character who quite obviously doubted the ability of her troops to be able to help the Corps. However, we were seldom late for mass.
My mother always sat us on the right side, ground floor and near the front of the church, but absolutely never within the first four rows. We always attended the 11:30 mass and she always parked her white Plymouth minivan near the reading trailer of the school, since it allowed for a speedy exit after the service. It took awhile to understand my mother’s need to do even mundane things the exact same way day after day and week after week. I always thought she just lacked any sense of adventure, but continuity with five kids is not a preference but a necessity. That and five kids will kill anyone’s sense of adventure unless that adventure is flying away in a hot air balloon and leaving them all behind.
The parking lot sat across the street next to the school and served as our playground on school days. Our Sunday schedule would only deviate during the two major Catholic holidays, Christmas and Easter, when my dad would also be with us. However, my mother would still drive both the car and the coordination effort.
Mass for a child is an incredibly boring hour. I remember my Grandmother telling me a story about the relativity of time. How any section of time seems longer for a child since a child has less time to compare it to. She told me the an hour was almost ten times as long for a child. Which only made sense the true injustice of having to sit in church as long as the grey haired people in the back since they clearly weren’t sitting in the same hour I was.
I would have never, with a pistol to my head, at the threat of death, been able to tell you what Father Jacob’s sermons were about. I wouldn’t have even been able to tell you which book of the Bible he’d read from, or even if he was reading from the Bible or a motorcycle magazine. If his head caught on fire I may have noticed, but I’m not certain of that. My brain was, and is, fantastic at not listening to something I’m not immediately entertained by. My sisters and I fought relentlessly when we were kids, usually about nothing more than being in swinging distance of each other. A single look could have any of us locked into pitched combat for hours on end. It was a volatile climate. We were usually left to fight our battles until the end, so long as we did it outside or were just quiet about it. However, we never dared fight during mass, as the payment was too great. It did not matter who started the fight or whether or one of us was asking to have their shoe laces tied together, pocked in eye, knuckled in the ribs, or given a finger covered in spit directly to the ear, we just didn’t dare. We all understood the level pain that could be discreetly administered in a minivan. It was an unspoken peace treaty.
Having no access to entertainment, or the ability to poke my sisters in the eye for fun, I would almost always daydream. My thoughts normally turned immediately to some sort of martial arts scenario. Although the details varied, these daydreams almost always followed the same basic storyline:
The motives for the attacks are never made clear, but Master Shredder, the Devil, and an army of demonic foot soldiers ascend from the church basement while some crash through the stained glass and hold the entire congregation hostage. My sisters are immediately killed, upsetting my mother and subjecting her to a paralyzing fear and hysteria. When it seems all hope is lost an unexpected hero answers the call: the young boy in the faded, lime green, collared shirt with a cowlick of hair pointing to heaven on the back of his head and a set of front teeth that are yet to be housed in a proportionally sized mouth. No one ever expects it to be me who saves them, but it inevitably is.
Since I always know where we will be sitting I am never unprepared. I own several samurai swords and my best one is always tucked just below where I know my butt will be. I remove my shirt to expose a tattoo of a dragon on my back: the symbol of the secret order of ninjas I have been training with in the evenings while the world sleeps. I then pull the sword from below the pew and point it in the direction of Master Shredder and say (with a masculine voice I don’t yet have), “Get out of this church.” Master Shredder, the Devil, the foot clan, and the rest of the churchgoers begin to laugh. Especially Mrs Winston, who sat near “the Capasso” area of the church. Mrs Winston taught math and I did not like her very much. This is exactly what I want: to be underestimated. Shredder foolishly signals for one of his foot soldiers to handle me and as the solider approaches I expertly lower my blade through the goon without losing eye contact with Shredder. The goon’s blood goes everywhere.
A gasp of fear strikes everyone but me. As the soldiers, and everyone’s jaws hit the floor, the Devil frantically orders all the soldiers to attack. The battle is great, but one sided. The training no one knew I had is clearly to a depth never seen before. The foot soldiers drop by twos and threes and their bodies and limbs pepper the parishioners. As I stand over the last foot soldier who had died at my blade, I wipe the blood from my sword on Mrs. Winston’s purple coat. She is my math teacher and I have never liked her.
As I stand victorious at the back of the church with my eyes fixed on Shredder and that fiery-eyed Devil, the Devil laughs in his Satanie-way and signals me to attack him. I am always happy to oblige. I run straight forward with the scream of a champion only to be stopped by a devil-ray that glows red from his hands. As the Devil lifts me into the air the Shredder prepares to cut me down with his blade. In my moment of desperation I look to my friend Jesus on the cross and ask for strength. As Jesus is nailed to the wood he can’t get down to battle at my side, but does send beams of light from his eyes into my body giving me the power of the Chosen One. The same light that enters my body leaves my hands directly into the Shredder below me and the Devil near the altar. They scream before exploding all over the walls and ceilings of the massive space. It is a mighty victory.
My mother is sad about losing her daughters, but quickly forgets when faced with the joy of having a hero for a son. Her son has just faced down both the Devil himself and Master Shredder. She apologizes straight away for yelling at me that morning and for making me come to church in the first place. Since I saved her life and the family now have an increased disposable income after losing three daughters, she wants to take me to Disneyland. My father desperately wants to come with us but my only reply is, ”Since you like staying home so much why don’t you stay home now.” Then I laughed and said, ”Just kidding Pop, you can come.” He would be humbled by my generosity. I was now a national hero so we didn’t have to wait in any lines at Disney. It was a great day. However, trouble seemed to find me everywhere.
The Devil and Shredder are back and this time with Voltron. I need help. I send my mom and dad off to hide in the Epcot Center, “Keep each other safe, I must save everyone else” and press a button on the side of my watch. My friends in the X-men quickly surround me. All of them are there except Gambit, who I’ve always considered the lamest of all the X-men. Who throws playing cards? So lame.
Charles Xavier looks to me for guidance, which I am more than happy to provide. It is clear to everyone that I am a great ninja, now touched by the hand of God, but with his mind powers Xavier can clearly see better than anyone else that I am also a genius. Again, the battle is great but we naturally arise as the victors. Although I never expect to truly defeat evil, I can at least dedicate my life to being a force to keep it a bay.
The X-men surround me after the battle and beg that I join them. I thank them and express that I work alone, but will gladly assist them whenever evil needs to be defeated. Storm approaches me after the begging and puts her hand on my shoulder. I only then realise Strom is actually Ms. Sharp, the woman who comes into our class once a week to give recorder lessons. She is wearing the black nylons she sometimes wears at school. Since I haven’t yet reach puberty I’m not quite sure why I like those black nylon legs so much, but I know I do. If for some reason Ms Sharp had told me I could do whatever I wanted to her I would have probably touched her leg and then ran. Storm did not tell me to “do whatever I wanted,” she just asked if I would like to join her at the skating rink and if I would hold her hand during the moonlight skate. I said yes. I like a woman who knows what she wants and it was a very romantic night. We would slow skate to the Beach Boys classic Kokomo.
Just about the time things finally start getting good, the priest would say something about sacrifice and then tell us to put money in the wicker, silk lined basket. My mother would give us all some change and one of us an envelope. I later learned the envelopes contained checks which were already made out to the church and personalized to each parishioner. I imagined each check book was blessed and it made it much easier for the church to measure your love of the Lord with a number. Each week I had a thought about pocketing the change but never did. After they gathered all the baskets of money and church checks the priest broke bread. I did not mind this part of mass since I was able to stand up and it signalled that the service was nearly over. Also, I was only recently given first communion and the novelty of receiving the bread was yet to wear off.
Since we were close to the front I was able to take the Eucharist and return quickly to my seat. I liked to position myself at the end of the aisle. This gave me both an arm rest and the ability to watch everyone walk by after taking the bread and wine. When I would see a classmate we would try not to laugh upon making eye contact. For some reason it was hilarious to see a classmate outside of school. Now when I see a co-worker outside of work it is seldom funny. I occasionally got to see Ms. Sharp if she choose to go to the 11:30 mass. I would avoid eye contact as if I was starring at the sun. I would rub my eyebrows in a way that would shield her from seeing me looking at her black, nyloned legs. I was very clever.
After mass we would sometime enjoy doughnuts and milk in the school cafeteria. The parents would have coffee and talk. This was one the few times I would ever see my mother drink coffee; she normally drank tea.
Years later my father found his faith, or at least began to practice it regularly. He found his very near to the time I began to lose my own. I think it gave him guidance and purpose after the death of his father. I think it was healing for him; he seemed happier. In later years my mother would stop attending church with the Swiss clock regularity she’d had when we were kids, sometimes not going at all. However, there was nearly a year that my entire family attended service together prior to my older sister moving out, my discovery of alcohol and Ms. Sharps my own age, and my mom’s faith changing form. During that time, if my mother was there we would maintain our schedule, but if it was just my father we would go rogue and sit anywhere and everywhere. This was strange and exciting. I enjoyed very much the times we all went together. Not the church bit, but getting to go to Frisch’s Big Boy afterwards. As a teenager I would have rather just slept in and gone straight to the Big Boy, but in retrospect I think the relief of leaving church made it more fun.