Chapter 24: mid 1940s • Sonora ~ No Sunday or Holy Day passed without Dad taking the children to Mass. Some Sundays they attended St. Anne’s in Columbia, other Sundays they went to Mass in Jamestown. Sometimes they drove to Tuolumne, during summer camping trips they heard Mass sitting on the hard benches at the outdoor theatre in Pinecrest, but most often they went to St. Patrick’s in town. They traveled around because Dad passed the collection plate and served communion as there were not enough altar boys. Mom no longer attended church; forced to go as a child, she avoided it whenever she could.
The kids went to Saturday catechism, and every summer spent two weeks with the nuns in summer school. At seven years old they each made their First Holy Communion, the age regarded by the church as the age of reason, or the age at which a child can realize what things mean for themselves. Within a couple of years they made their sacrament of Confirmation. They went to confession and took communion. They did the Stations of the Cross. They lit holy candles at the foot of Mary. At dinner, with folded hands, they blessed their daily bread and at bedtime, with bowed heads, murmured their nightly prayers. In times of concern Dad gathered the girls and recited evening vespers. They’d kneel on the living room rug, repeating Our Father after Our Father and Hail Mary after Hail Mary, Dad’s smooth brown beads silently slipping through his fingers, praying mainly for Mom’s salvation. The family was sure she was going to hell. She didn’t give a hoot what they thought. She didn’t worry about breaking the rules, and if you were going to get in trouble, she felt it may as well be for something worthwhile, her favorite motto: “You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.”
Despite St. Patrick’s graceful spire soaring through ancient cypress trees, its classic beauty perched atop its lookout knoll, and its lovely altar and stained glass windows, to a child, sitting through Mass was an ordeal. Faint from kneeling until their circulation cut off, the stifling heat and pungent frankincense made the weekly ceremony torture. It was too much: the congregation sitting, standing, kneeling, up down, up down, up down—listening to Father Gilmartin’s sermons on hell and damnation or his rants on Christmas and Easter Catholics.
The year Carleen turned ten, the heat affected her so much she’d throw up during the service. Dad learned to sit by the back door. From the time St. Patrick’s was built in 1863, I imagine that all the children who were commanded, demanded, and reprimanded to sit quietly for that hour every Sunday prayed to escape. Except for Claudia. Church always had a humbling effect on her.
To be continued…
Catherine Sevenau is a writer, humorist, and storyteller living in Sonoma, California. The stories in this series are excerpts from her book, Through Any Given Door, a Family Memoir, available as a series at Sevenau.com. She is a longtime Broker/Realtor at CENTURY 21 Epic Wine Country. [email protected]