Thursday, July 14, 2016

Accidental Catholic

When I was a very, very young kid (six or seven years old) my two best pals were Catholic brothers of roughly the same age. One day they talked me in to putting red mud on my hands to join them in smearing tacky hand prints all over the doors of the Protestant church next door to their house. Why? Apparently it was to signify "the blood of Saint Paul". I didn't know what a saint was, much less one named "Paul". Also, I didn't even know what a church was since my parents had never taken me to one or had ever so much as mentioned religion to me.

Billy and Ernie took the fall for this and were made to wash off the red mud hand prints (remember...this was in Georgia where red clay is everywhere). One thing that impressed me was that they had not ratted me out, and I was as guilty as they were. I was never mentioned and was not punished. Which is a good thing because, unlike Billy and Ernie, I was never indoctrinated into their religion (or any other) and had been totally ignorant of things like sacrilege. But they did tell me how they had to clean up the church doors with soap and water and apologize to the pastor.

For their parents...shit. It suppose it was hard enough to be Catholic in a small Georgia town dominated by Baptists and Methodists and other such denominations. They certainly did not need the added pressure of their kids vandalizing the Protestant church right next door to their home.

Some years later, I found myself with my mom in Savannah. We must have been visiting my sister and her husband who lived there. And it would have been June 6, 1968, so I was ten years old, about to turn eleven three weeks later. My mom was upset and she was taking me into a big Catholic church near Savannah's downtown. I'd never been into a Catholic church. In fact, I don't think I'd ever been to any kind of church at that point in my life.

She took us in and my mom seemed to know what she was doing and was comfortable in the place, whereas I was nervous and a bit afraid. Bobby Kennedy had just been shot. At that point I don't know if my mom had heard that he'd died, but we did know that he'd been shot, much the same as his brother had been gunned down less than five years before. Maybe around the time my pals and I had been spreading red-clay hand prints all over the Protestant church door.

But being there...I found it all confusing--both the political situation and this sudden turn of events with my mom taking me into a Catholic church.

My mom was, as she used to say, half-Jewish. I could not recall her ever expressing any kind of support for Christian doctrine. But there we were, in a Catholic place of worship. And while I was confused about it all, I was still impressed with the building. It was very quiet inside, but there were a lot of people there. They were all praying. I watched my mom as she knelt. I recall that her head was covered that day. She was wearing a scarf tied over her hair. She turned to me and asked me to bow my head and close my eyes. I did so.

After a while we left the church. My mom was crying. I asked her why she had taken us to the Catholic church to pray.

"Because the Kennedy family is Catholic. And I came here today out of respect for the Kennedy family."

And Bobby Kennedy was dead. And that was that.

St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Savannah GA.

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