“Very well done, children,” angelic Sister Beatrice smiled at the gaggle of 9- and 10-year-old faces in the classroom. “We’ll see you next Saturday at 10.”
The sound of a rubber band snapping angrily caught our attention. Sister Mary Rambo, the pit bull of Christianity, waved her Missal menacingly.
“Be prompt!” she snarled.
Welcome to First Communion prep Catechism, just where 10-year-old me wanted to spend six early spring Saturday mornings.
Citywide, each Catholic church had only two or three pre-communicants each year.
Practical economics brought kids from churches I’d never heard of, many of which were rich and strict in customs and traditions.
Our St. Rochus boys wore suits and girls wore time-honored white dresses and veils.
Some gals had gown-like dresses that passed through generations. Every year, some loving granny stitched a new bow or embroidered a flower to mark the frock’s passage.
G Pa Mikesic died at least
15 year before my birth. He and his cousin emigrated to New York at 15, traveling light. No chance of an heirloom dress there.
Mom and I rode the Hystone bus downtown to Penney’s, Communion chic headquarters, and the site of the first of many fierce knee socks vs. hosiery battles.
Mom and I fought over every item I wore from the day I left the playpen. She, of course, selected my dress. I gave in pretty quickly about the dorky veil because secretly, I thought it was kinda cool. Then, she bought a new pair of white,
100 percent cotton knee socks.
Weeks before, I pedaled to the Ben Franklin and purchased nylons for 39 cents. Determined, I stashed them at home.
Every class has a wise guy. Ours, Freddie, mean as a snake, slithered to his desk weekly and plotted his disruptions. He had attitude and imagination, plus anger and probably undiagnosed ADHD. He spent enough time in the corner to caulk every stained glass window in the building.
I lost the sock battle and, on C Day, I grumbled the whole way down St. Clair Road, vowing never to speak to Mom again.
The service began, and I noticed twin boys who came from one of those mysterious, rigid churches new to me. “Notice” doesn’t TOUCH IT.
They wore white satin DRESSES! Lace ruffles adorned the high necks, and the skirts were balloon-style, yards of fabric gathered with elastic just below the knees.
Apparently, unisex ruled at groundbreaking “Our Lady of Unimaginable Misery.”
Oh, and did I mention the headgear? Adding insult to injury, both sported daisy garlands with white ribbon streamers.
They stoically endured the ceremony. Freddie nearly burst an artery trying to control himself, knowing that Sister Mary Rambo would gut him like a fish if he misbehaved.
But he made faces, and noises. The brothers ground their teeth while smoke billowed out their ears.
And, as the bells chimed, a miracle occurred. My J.C. Penney knee socks didn’t seem so bad. I prayed that when Mass ended, the twins would ditch their sacred garments, chase Freddie down the river wall and beat the wafer out of him.
We got into the car, and, wordlessly, I hugged my mother.
The next day, I Schwinned back to the Ben Franklin where I returned the hose, intact, still in the wrapper, and received my 39-cent refund.