When I was a child, most of my free time was spent with my brother Matthew, who was four years older than I, and our niece Jenny, who was six months younger. I was the youngest of 14 children and Matt was number 13. Jenny's mother, Rita, our sister, was number 2 and pregnant with Jenny when our mother died. She adopted Matt and I went to live with my aunt and uncle. I've told you all this before and I mention it again only so you don't wonder why my brother and I had a niece who was a contemporary.
The three if us played together all the time. When Matt played cowboys and Indians with his best friend, Dickie Laferriere, Jenny and I were always the unfortunate settlers. When they played space explorers, we were the aliens who had to be destroyed.
As Holy Week is upon us, I've been thinking about them a lot. We all went to Catholic school, and were off on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Because my adopted parents worked, I went to Rita's to be with Matt and Jenny. It was traditional if you were home on Good Friday, to observe three hours of silence from noon to 3:00 in honor of Christ's time on the cross. We'd been taught about Christ buying our redemption with His world-changing sacrifice all those years ago. We believed it, we felt it deeply, but as children, we found it hard to behave in a way appropriate to the enormity of that gift. And it's always been hard for me to be silent, but on that particular Good Friday, events conspired against me.
I remember the three of us sent to sit quietly in the parlor with our children's books about Holy Week. Jenny and I sat on the sofa and Matt settled on a chair with an ottoman. We were exemplary little silence keepers for about fifteen minutes then there was a terrible commotion. Jenny and I looked up to see that Matt had somehow fallen between the ottoman and the chair and all that was visible were his feet in PF Flyers, and one hand, holding aloft his Bible. Jenny and I laughed hysterically. Rita came in to investigate, doubted Matt's story that he had simply fallen, and suggested we settle down and try again to be still. It was about 12:20.
Matt suggested we play Mass. It wasn't exactly a game to us because we mimicked the beautiful ritual we saw enacted every Sunday and did our best to recreate it with the solemnity it deserved. But that day tried our good intentions. Matt, of course, was the priest, and since there weren't even female altar servers in those days, Jenny's and my sole purpose was to be communicants. We knelt dutifully side by side, eyes reverently closed, while Matt distributed Communion using the perfectly shaped and easily available to us Necco Wafers. All went well until Matt went to place a licorice wafer on Jenny's tongue and she opened her eyes long enough to see the color and protest with a shake of her head that she wanted cherry. Matt, who took if all very seriously, certain he would be a priest one day, was incensed and knocked her backwards for her lack of spiritual propriety. Rita was at her wit's end and it wasn't even 1:00 .
She took us to church for the Way of the Cross, a ritual of prayer and hymns performed as we follow Christ on his long walk to Golgotha. Our church had an old noisy heating system that went on and off several times during services in its attempt to keep parishioners warm without wasting fuel. In our parish was a pair of small and frail spinster sisters who were the backbone of the Altar Society and were always in the second pew from the front and at the end of the aisle - right near the heater. We were several pews back from them when the heater banged on without warning and both sisters screamed and flew several feet up, one losing her hat, the other her prayer book. I know Matt and Jenny and I weren't the only ones who laughed, so we'd have been forgiven, except that we couldn't stop. You know that terrible urge to laugh that strangles you and erupts despite all efforts to hold it back? The one that earns you grim looks from adults and that you still can't suppress, even when you know there'll be a terrible reckoning because of your insensitivity? The laugh that keeps recurring long after the event? When all you have to do is look at whoever shared that moment with you and you're off again, snorting and screaming with laughter? That's how it was even after we'd gotten home, had dinner, and been threatened with losing our Easter baskets if we didn't stop it. I think we found it so funny because the sisters were always arm in arm, and when they were started and jumped, they jumped together.
We all grew up to be reasonably decent human beings. Matt did not become a priest, but met a pretty Portuguese girl and had four children. He was CFO of United Way in New Bedford, Mass., and died far too young in 2003, leaving Jenny and I bereft. Jenny became a nurse, married her high school sweetheart, and had three great children. We can still get together today and laugh about that Good Friday all those years ago. I'm sure God isn't insulted. he knows how much we loved each other, how we enjoyed our lives together, and that among, healthy, happy children, it's impossible to break a funny bone.
Would you like to share your moments of inappropriate laughter?
Happy Easter to all of you!