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Sunday, May 29, 2016

A HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATIONS

In the center of my world in the 1950’s stood two institutions: the church and grandma. Both demanded unswerving devotion. One institution used God as a threat and one institution used good old fashion love.Every Sunday we were duty bound to meet our obligations, the priests, nuns and brothers patrolled the aisles of the Sunday morning 9:00 Children’s Mass to keep us in line, with a twitch they surveyed the sea pews populated by the children who sat in them. It was not enough to attend Mass, it was not enough that your hands had better be clasped together in prayer, but your butt had better not be resting on the edge of your seat while kneeling!
Being somewhat of a rebel in my soul, I would wait for the authorities to pass, check behind me and rest my butt, just to get away with it. But the constant ‘Thwak’ of the switch reminded me to be very vigilant and quick in my acts of protest less I am on the receiving end of one!
The homily along with the Latin prayers, all said so I couldn’t understand why I was there or what it really meant just confused me to no end. But like everything else in life, there was an end. “Saint Michael the Arch Angel defend us in battle” said the priest, with his long priestly garb adorned on his and his back to the congregation meant we were coming to the home stretch, soon I would have a bun with milk, starving since I awoke, following the rules and regulations of the Universal and Apostolic Roman Catholic Church that no eating before communion and no meat of Fridays’.
Then to fill out the day’s obligations, we would after breakfast, trek over to Grandma’s house, who lived a few short blocks away. Somehow, this visit made up for the confusion and boredom of the morning ritual, grandma would be the core of the rest of the day, the reason for being, the center of the universe.
There are smells and there are smells, but nothing beat entering the kitchen of Grandma Frances and the salutation of a brewing gravy on the stove, and the aroma overwhelming you to great delight! It was not the first time in the morning this would happen as we would stop at Aiello's Italian Bakery for desserts to bring to the dinner. The aroma can’t be explained, and shouldn’t, because it might be even better than sex! Fresh baked bread and pastries, supplemented with all kinds of cookies, it was the gastronomical equivalent of heaven
You found yourself in two dominating worlds, one of piety and strict devotion whether or not you understood it, and one of anticipated excitement and realization that the world was just fine, after all, Jesus loved me, he made me Italian, and as a bonus, here I am in grandma’s house ready to eat!
There was, of course, the joyful and soul filled sound of the Italian dialect, that rolled through the day like a tidal wave, the sounds, and furies of stories, conversations, and laughter, coupled with an argument on politics was always fun to watch. The beauty of ‘watching’ the Italian language being used was that it was two languages in one, the words and hands, a must follow to fully understand anything in Italian. You didn’t need to understand the words so much as long as you followed the hand gestures! So the stoicism of Latin was replaced by the rhythm and beat of Italian!
Where marble columns and religious icons stood out and greeted you as you entered the sea of people and pews church, the long table, laid out in white linen, and held down by plates and glasses, and tons of food with happy faces looking everywhere is what brought you back to life as it should be.
And if indeed St Michael was defending us in battle over the sneers and evils of the Devil, signifying the end of the Mass, the wine stained table cloth and the shells of broken nuts littering the tabletop after a cannoli or cookies with an empty demitasse signified that the sleepiness that was filling your eyes was signaling the end of the holiest of obligations, dinner with grandma!
Amen!

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