I wasn’t a bad kid so much as a child that trouble found. My reasoning was guided by my lack of understanding of what the line drawn meant, the teachings of my grandparents and parents so desperately tried to instill in me.
“Joseph, go to the store for me” could have been anyone giving me guidance as much as: “Don’t do that or else!” It was the Old Italian spirit of discipline; Grandma could smack you around just as well and maybe with more experience than Mom or Dad. Usually it was Grandma who ran to my aid, just as the boom was being lowered, saving me from getting it.
It was a Sunday morning, bright and sunny and I was getting dressed for church. Mom was very fiscally responsible and Dad was her resource. Not being a churchgoer, Dad was still in bed and it was time to leave for church. Being it was summer, there were no requirements that I sit with my class during mass, so Mom made sure I got there by accompanying me there.
“Joseph, go get some money from your father for the collection.”
I wake up Dad and tell him: Mommy said, give me some money for church.” (I didn’t have to say please when Mom ordered it) Slowly he opens his eyes and rolls over and grabs his pants from the side of the bed, reaches in and gives me 2 shiny nickels.
As I head toward the kitchen from the bedroom, I pass Mom’s sewing basket, and an idea hits me. For a nickel I could buy a bottle of Pepsi, and for another nickel I could buy a package of 5 or 6 small powdered donuts. I given powdered donuts, you could get me to do anything, say anything or lie about anything! Yes, powdered donuts were my addiction!
So quietly I go into Moms sewing bow where she kept her buttons and reasoned that if I took 2 shiny metal buttons, I could confuse Mom when they came to collect money, then afterward, I could celebrate with a Pepsi and donuts! I couldn’t believe my genius had taken me so far!
Our Lady of Lourdes was a beautiful church, with marble floors and columns, stain windows and a large dome that sat over the front altar. There were three additional altars with the one in the back having La Pieta inside a gated enclosure.
Being a large church, with a school, and about 5 priests, the ushers always dressed to the nines, and when collecting, had these long handles collection baskets made of what looked like wicker.
Mom and I sat, she in deep meditation and prayer, and me deep into whether or not I could scale the grotto wall behind the main altar. Suddenly I noticed the ushers with the collection baskets and reached for my first button. As the basket slid under my nose, I slipped in the first of the shiny buttons. Mom deposited her money and went back into her prayers (probably for my soul) and said nothing. Ah, I rouse was working!!! Donuts for sure!
The second collection comes, and like the first, I slip in the other shiny metal button, Mom deposits her money, and once again goes into deep pray-filled pleading for my wicked soul. Oh! The joy of deep quiet celebration, knowing there were donuts soon on the horizon, glory is to God!
Mass is over and as we walk home I start to talk to Mom, but she is not answering me. I figured her mother instincts for survival have kicked in. This goes on for a few blocks, nothing being said by Mom. We climb the two flights of steps to our third floor apartment, when I announce to Mom that I am going down stairs for a while. (Donuts on my mind)
Suddenly, I feel this grip on my shoulder and the words: “Embarrass me in church?” Whack, dragging me into the apartment. “Hoe dare you embarrass me in church of all places?” Whack, whack and whack. If nothing else at this critical moment, she was certainly hitting the target!
This went on all the rest of Sunday morning, every time she saw me, “Embarrass me in church?” Whack, and more whacks. Dad kept a low profile; he didn’t want to get in the way of her fury, no need to interrupt. That whole morning and early afternoon, I started to pray myself for preservation and rescue, hoping for company to show up immediately, if not sooner.
Relief finally arrived when Aunt Philomena and Uncle Dominick arrived, with customary cheesecake and appetite.