Friday, September 2, 2011

Tales from a Catholic Childhood #1

My wife wrote a very long, dramatic, narrative account of her experience leaving Judaism. She recommended I write more about my own personal experiences, but I don’t know. I was much younger than her when I gave up religion. I certainly don’t remember a lot of things, and I don’t look at what happened to me as being particularly interesting in the context of an overarching story plot. Plus, my mind doesn’t think in terms of drama.

But I do have weird anecdotes, which I can periodically post as I remember them. I think most are funny, but I warn you: none of them will make you feel sorry for me. My problems with religion have largely been ideological, not circumstantial. I don’t so much feel like a victim of religion as… you know those two old guys in the balcony on “The Muppets?” Yeah, I feel like them.

So, for a first installment, I’ll focus on three stories revolving around a women and sexuality.

The first story takes place sometime from 2nd to 5th grade. I know it was during one of those years, because that was when I attended Holy Family, a Catholic grade school in Rochester, Michigan, formerly St. Andrews, and the alma mater of Madonna. “Madonna” had been scratched into many wooden surfaces in the school and around the playground, none of which were probably done by her (I don’t even think she went by that name in grade school, come to think of it…).

Oh, and it was also probably after 3rd grade, because it was during a day when we went to Mass during school and I was kneeling after receiving communion (i.e. cannibalizing our Lord). I think I had first communion in 3rd grade, so I guess it was in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. I don’t know why I keep going on about age, because it’s not really that important.

What is important was I was kneeling in the front row of the church, where people who received communion walked by to return to their seats. I remember my mouth was particularly dry that day, so I took wine (non-alcoholic… I think) on that occasion. But the wine just made the dry wafer glue itself even more stubbornly to the roof of my mouth.

So, I was kneeling in the front row, trying to tongue the Christ-cement from my palate, and I became very aware of the fact that I was making labored faces. I think I saw someone respond to my faces, like with an eye roll or a smirk, but I can’t be sure on this detail. Somehow, I knew I was closing one eye and scrunching my face.

So, to make it look normal, I just kept doing it, even after I cleared the offending Eucharist. For ten minutes, I just sat there, winking and making faces as people got communion. This seemed like a brilliant way of covering my tracks for my little error earlier, like breaking into a jog after tripping on something, a sort of, “Yeah, I wanted to do that.” I really committed to it.

At some point, I was pulled aside later and questioned as to why I was winking at people coming back from communion. They assumed I was flirting, and in retrospect… that means they assumed I was hitting on both the boys and the girls. I wish I would remember the interrogation more, but I remember the “remedy” was for me to go to confession, and I told the whole story to the priest, who laughed and told me to say some Hail Mary’s and sit still in church.

The next story took place while playing basketball. Our youth league was co-ed, and the girl on our team had a crush on me, but I really didn’t go for her short hair and buckteeth. Plus, I think it was 6th or 7th grade, and I was largely asexual at that age. I liked looking at cleavage, but I had no idea why. That’s about how I would define that period of my sexual maturity.

I was sitting on the bench next to her, chatting about stuff, and I was looking at the scoreboard. Instead of “Quarter,” there was a label for “Period,” like hockey. I was a strict terminology nazi at that age, and if you didn’t know that football and basketball games have 4 quarters, hockey has 3 periods, and baseball has 9 innings… well, I assumed you were stupid. So, my mind began wandering as this girl was talking about who knows what.

I remembered that some stadiums can be multi-sport. So, I wondered if there was a hockey-rink under the basketball court. When the girl stopped talking, I off-handedly asked, “Why do you think they called it periods?” while staring at the scoreboard.

I think most of you see where this is going. I got a detailed account of the nature of the female menstrual cycle from this girl over the course of several minutes. That’s when I found out women bleed for a few days every month. I’m not sure I ever got a more thorough lecture on the topic, even after taking college level anatomy and physiology classes.

The last story is short but sweet. One day, while in high school and watching TV in the basement, I lost track of time and my mom came down to tell me we had to leave for a confirmation class, a requirement to be Confirmed in the local Catholic church as an adult. I told my mom I would meet her upstairs in a minute, and she insisted we leave right now. I got more firm, saying I would be up in 5 seconds. My mom does not respond well to hostility, so she became even more insistent. Finally, we were screaming at each other, and I said, “Fine,” stood up, pulled up my pants, and zipped them.

We didn’t make eye contact again for weeks, I believe, until after she and my father returned from a week-long cruise.


  1. Not sure what the link with Catholicism is supposed to be in the 2nd and 3rd story but all 3 were fun to read :)

  2. Well, the second one was through a Catholic youth sports league through the church, the third was a story about events leading up to having to go to a Catholic brainwashing session.

  3. Not that it has anything to do with the actual content of this post, but: the two old Muppets were named Statler and Waldorf. I was ashamed of being geeky enough to remember this, but then I Googled it to confirm the spelling and discovered via Wikipedia that (a) someone involved in the Muppet Show went so far to give them first names: Jerry Statler and Conrad Waldorf, and (b) someone knew this and put it in Wikipedia. So at least I'm not as bad as some.


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