Chapter 13: More backstory • Chico ~ As she got older and her burning feet made it too far to walk, Roy drove his mother Nellie the mile and a half to 7:30 morning Mass. Cruising up in his black four-door Hudson Terraplane sedan, hopping from the car, offering her his arm and walking her up the thirteen red brick steps through the two arched front doors and down the long aisle past the imposing stained glass windows, he delivered his mother to her seat in the front pew. For thirty-seven years my grandmother attended daily Mass at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Chico. Even if she took seven years off for vacations, illness, or emergencies, that would still leave 30 years which amounts to 360 months or some 1,140 weeks or 10,950 days. That’s quite a spell for her to sustain and strengthen her moral superiority. She spent those 11,000 hours praying primarily for the salvation of her children.
If it is a habit of the righteous to believe one’s soul may be saved by going to church, if attendance on Sundays could make one virtuous, and if attendance on holy days could ensure one’s true holiness, then my grandmother reasoned that going every day would certainly earn her a seat at the right hand of her Lord and Savior… the best seat in the house from which to dispense her virtuous judgment. The Roaring twenties brought speakeasies, easy morals, and easy money; the Victorians, Catholics, and Puritans were rapidly losing ground to the Jazz age, flappers, political corruption, and organized crime. Times were changing, and Grandma, along with the Pope and J. Edgar Hoover, did her personal best to stem the tide.
In her later years, Grandma Nellie had a television set, and she never missed Bishop Sheen’s Holy Hour. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a writer, preacher, and teacher, was an evangelist of the airwaves. Every Sunday at 6:00 p.m. she watched his holy hour from her slide rocker. The show was not an hour of devotion, but rather of redemption, and with it he brought vast numbers of converts to the Catholic Church. He wrote, “Every human being at his birth has everything to learn. His mind is a kind of blank slate on which truths can be written. How much he will learn will depend on two things: how clean he keeps his slate and the wisdom of the teachers who write on it.” Grandma Nellie, who perceived herself as appointed warden and keeper of morals, thought he said it was her job to keep her eye on everyone else’s slate. With her rosary twisted, she was here to judge the world, not save it.
Nellie’s other Sunday ritual was tuning into the Ed Sullivan Show, a mix of vaudeville, comedy, and music. She adored his show, except when the Rockettes came on; she thought them scandalous, horrified by their skimpy skirts and bare legs kicked over their heads. She insisted they were sinful. Making the sign of the cross, she also insisted the small black and white television not be turned off so she could watch, leaning forward in her rocker, cleaning the dust specks from her wire-rimmed glasses.
To be continued…