Childhood Memories of a Prairie Catholic

I was a kid at St Francis, that downtown parish founded in the early 20th century

originally a mission church to the whole Indian Territory, though since upscaled and now very ornate and imposing with marble from Italy. And I’m young enough to remember, barely remember, when the altar used to face back but now faces front, which really means that the old altar is still there but shoved against the back wall, with big rectangle granite altar plopped down in front of that. And when I was a kid you still had to kneel at the rail to receive communion, and that’s how I received my first communion.

And I was an altar boy from third grade up through my last year of high school, and we used to have to hold those little round metal plates called patents under people's chins when they received communion on the tongue and catch any crumbs and hope they didn’t drop the host, and if they dropped it I caught it. Had to be fast.


So anyway I also remember when I was a little kid just starting school at Rosary Elementary I guess I was six, and they had confessional booths up against the side of the wall in the back of the church, three doors the priest in the middle and two confessionals on either side, and when someone was in the confessional and knelt down and was whispering their darkest secrets through a screen to a priest who smelled of burmashave, a little red light would go on above the door, activated by the pressure on the kneeler. Well I was so little that the little red lights would not go on, and someone tried to walk in on me once, and ever since then I was deathly afraid that someone would walk in and hear my darkest sins, so I tried to physically somehow metaphysically increase my weight by pushing down on a ledge or something to increase my pressure on the kneeler. Anyway I guess I outgrew that or gained weight or something.


And I remember that once a year between the building funds sermon and the Catholic charities sermon would come the dreaded tithing sermon. And this always consisted of a droning video sermon by the archbishop, followed by the living testimony of a married couple usually from Minnesota or someplace up in the cold North Midwest, testifying to the miracles that happened in their life after they opened their heart to the Lord and begin tithing. These were sturdy cold weather people who inevitably looks like they had been carved out of huge blocks of unsalted butter. Anyway, there were no flat screen TVs back then, so they would wheel over from the school the largest TV they had, pop in a cassette and there before your eyes would appear the archbishop citing some obscure Bible verse or another, well really not obscure but frequently ignored, about the duty and virtue of tithing. I say he was the archbishop because in Oklahoma the bishop of Oklahoma City is also the archbishop of an area consisting of Oklahoma City, Tulsa and some semi converted parts of Arkansas.


The pious couple - always a couple - testifying to the miraculous events in their lives once they started tithing always seemed to be converted Lutherans or maybe Presbyterians, but I think Lutherans. Anyway the husband and wife, whom you cannot imagine ever having sex and yet they had 10 kids, would tell you something like we spoke to the Lord and we kneeled and prayed together and searched our hearts on the matter and begin tithing. And back then you had to actually write a physical check every time you tithed so it was kind of a big deal, not a bank draft setup once that executed every month and you forgot about it until you remembered that you were tithing and had a chance to cancel it. Anyway they would tell you that they started tithing and all of a sudden their paralyzed child got up out of the wheelchair and danced, or they won the lottery, or their lost dog came home or something. It was as predictable and boring as hell, and I don’t know if anybody fell for it, but they seemed earnest.


I also remember when I was maybe six I know we had just moved to Oklahoma City from Massachusetts about which I remember almost nothing, and us four Hawkins boys wore the same white shirt and navy blue pants, well worn, to church as we did to school everyday of the week, because my folks weren’t rich and we didn’t have hardly any other clothes. And my elbows barely reached the ledge of the pew in front of me when I knelt, but I remember thinking, if one of those huge ass chandeliers above me ever fell, I could throw my body out into the middle of the aisle, concentrate with my mind hold up my hand, and pause the thing in midair before casting it aside and averting disaster. Of course I would have to cast it somewhere and someone was going to get hurt, so I would probably cast it over at the side pews where the late comers sat, because all things considered they probably had it coming.


All these events occurred long after Our Lady of Guadalupe but within the penumbra of Our Lady of Fatima and on the eve of the dubious apparitions of Medjugorje, which sent some Catholics into a tizzy of longing for validation of their faith beyond what droning Padre or the worn pages of the officially approved hymnal could conjure up.


Hopefully to be continued.


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