Friday, March 25, 2016

Children and Holy Week



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!


25 comments:

  1. Oh, Muriel, I love your stories! I used to love the black Necco, so "Father Matt" would have liked me. Were you able to have contact with all your siblings as you grew up?

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    1. I was. Since my adopted parents were originally my aunt and uncle, they were connected to my other siblings, too. We went to the same weddings, baptisms, funerals. I went to all the children's birthday parties and stayed with them when my parents were out of town or just for a few days of fun. We're all still closely connected. And we have two half siblings from my father's later second marriage, and we're happy that they're part of our lives, too, now that the original 14 are down to 3.

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  2. Many, many years ago I went to a training class for executives in NYC. Another coworker was in the same class. He and I were good friends and we had the same sense of humor. While sitting around a huge conference table listening to the instructor, one burly attendee was leaning back in the office chair he was seated in. Suddenly the chair gave way and all anyone could see was the man's feet in the air. The room went silent and we had to wait for him to get up, right his chair and sit back down again. I glanced over at my coworker and we both had tears in our eyes from trying to hold back the laughter. The instructor called a break, we went into the hallway and laughed hysterically. The entire incident was pretty hilarious. I know that poor man was mortified. We were very young then, in our 20's and very silly. We knew the man was okay that's why we laughed. To this day I remember it like it was yesterday and chuckle every time.

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    1. Laurie, that is hilarious! I think somehow feeling guilty about the laugh somehow doubles the need to laugh. Poor guy. But it's now probably a story he tells to get a good laugh.

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  3. Hi, Muriel. I can't think of a story to share, but I certainly enjoyed reading yours. Happy Easter to you, too!

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  4. Thank you for those lovely memories of childhood. As children, we often laughed at inappropriate times. I remember our group, preparing for confirmation, had finished with the class, and we were anxious to leave. We began removing chairs. Our minister hadn’t notice his chair was gone and he sat on the floor. It was impossible for us to contain ourselves, and he didn’t see any humor in the situation. Have a Happy Easter.

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    1. I laughed just reading about the minister's mishap! I can't imagine being there and keeping a straight face. Too bad he couldn't see the humor.

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  5. Happy Easter everyone. Muriel, like the others I love the stories from your childhood. I can think of one right now that also occurred in church. My good, but irreverent friend attended the Baptist church. She and I had seen a movie where the kids from a large family flicked the bottom of the collection plate as it went by and it sounded as if they'd deposited coin. It was a holiday service and my friend and I were in the front row. She decided to flick the bottom of the collection plate and keep the coins her mom had told her to put in. Well, it didn't sound like coins dropping. It was a resounding thud. All the kids in our row knew what she'd done and we had one of those hysterical laughter moments. Our minister came to stand right in front of my friend and he wasn't happy. He actually held out his hand until she dropped in the money she hadn't put in the plate. I think the movie was a Ma and Pa Kettle movie.

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    1. That's a good one. Interesting how many of our uncontrolled-laughter moments involve church. I guess because it seems so irreverent, but I'll bet when God isn't crying over us, He gets a few good laughs. I loved those Ma and Pa Kettle movies.

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  6. Oh Muriel, I adore your stories, too! My sister and I laughed waaay, waaay too much in church. Our poor dad. Our mom didn't attend in those days, so it was usually my dad and five kids. My sister Tammy and I are the youngest and he would often sit between us to stave off our hysterics. One Sunday we had a new altar boy and it came time for the ringing of the bells during the Eucharist. Our priest at that time was very old-school and you could count on the chiming to be just so. Well, I'm not sure what happened this morning, either this poor boy didn't get properly instructed or he decided to mix it up, but the chiming went on and on. To us, it seemed like minutes. We LOST it. Laughter of the snorting and sputtering, and sweating kind. Sweating because we knew it was only a matter of time before Dad gave us the glare and wedged in between us. We still mimic that bell ringing to this day. My sister and I still laugh into hysterics, too. Good times and so much laughter!

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    1. Hi, Carol. Wasn't it usually three clear and separate rings? That's so funny. Maybe he was channeling some inner musician who had the stage and went with it. There again, laughter in church. Funnier because its just so not supposed to happen.

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  7. I didn't comment earlier because we had a terrible ice storm yesterday causing the power to go out. It finally came back on and it's a good thing because the indoor temperature had dropped to the point that our poor pups were snuggled together in an even tighter ball than they usually are!

    As everyone has already noted, Muriel, your stories are always so touching and lovely. I can't name a particular example, but my husband can and does make me laugh, and not always at the most opportune moments!

    Happy Easter, everyone!

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    1. Sorry about the ice storm, Kate! Apparently your neck of the woods hasn't been informed that it's SPRING. Good thing your puppies have their coats. I think it's wonderful when your husband makes you laugh. Nothing makes you feel as much like an insider as a laugh shared.

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  8. Muriel, I absolutely adore your stories. I felt like I was right there with you in the parlor, trying to be quiet and failing miserably! I have two younger brothers and I know there were many times we were caught laughing when we weren't supposed to be. My middle brother is famous for laughing inappropriately and it used to infuriate my dad. My youngest brother and I always ended up looking like the golden children in comparison when we could resist giggling at him giggling at who knows what! Happy Easter to you and yours xoxo

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    1. Every family needs a good-two-shoes who rises above the need to laugh - or, at least, gets away with laughing when no one is looking. Glad you have happy memories to laugh over, too.

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  9. Three hours of quiet is an eternity. What a great story. Happy Easter.

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    1. It certainly did feel like it at that age. (Frankly, it would feel like an eternity at my age now!) Thanks, Beth.

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  10. Love your stories! And three hours? Honestly? My laughing story happened one Sunday night when our pastor announced the coming of a real live missionary the next Sunday. I looked at my friend sitting next to me and said under my breath, "As opposed to a dead one?"
    Well, that set us off. Every time we looked at one another, the laughter came. I hope no one noticed us.

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    1. Isn't it great that there are people who innocently set us up with great one-liners? And, again - in church! Laughter is so restoring - so what a great place to share it.

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  11. Aw...I loved this, Muriel! Sorry I'm late...your post didn't arrive in my email on Friday. :( I hope you had a wonderful Easter!

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