The Monsignor’s socks.

October 5, 2011 § 8 Comments

We already had two strikes against us. The week before we had missed mass and catechism class because I was sick.

Now we were in danger of repeating because the bug I’d brought home from school was making its way through the family. With three kids an illness could take a while to run out of potential victims.

Still, two Sundays of complete failure to worship seemed risky to my mother.

Bear in mind that this Sunday debate over our religious obligations occurred during an era of extreme accountability. Mothers sent detailed handwritten excuses to explain school absences. “Adrian missed school yesterday because she had a scratchy throat and a temperature of 99.5. She seems better today and is probably no longer contagious.”

Although I’m sure God knew what was going on at our house—the hacking, the wheezing–my mother always believed in what she called “giving it the old college try.”

Who to send in for team Fogelin?

Not my dad who attended faithfully twice a year on Christmas and Easter but was in no way personally Catholic.

Not my sister who was sick or my brother who was too young.

Not my mother. She was busy dispensing tea and toast and St. Joseph’s aspirin.

That left me.

Our church, as I remember it, was called St. Agnes, but memory is a walk across a stream on slippery rocks. When I  did an internet search of Catholic Churches in Pearl River, New York there was no church by that name (perhaps even the saint herself is my own invention), but I’ll go with it because that is the name I remember.

My mother didn’t make me go to mass. I was only about eight and an extremely shy girl. Enacting the rituals of the Latin mass solo was more than I could manage. But she thought God would appreciate my “college try” if I showed up for catechism class.

She dropped me off on the sidewalk in front of St. Agnes. This was where we lined up every Sunday, by grade, beside the stone wall that ringed the elevated churchyard. “We must be early,” she said. I was the only child there.

While waiting for the others I walked up and down the sidewalk, stamping my feet because they were getting cold.

Who is God? God is the supreme being who made heaven and earth.

I climbed up on the stone wall and sat. Who made me? God made me.

My butt got cold. I stomped up and down the sidewalk some more. Why did God make me? God made me to show forth his goodness and to make me happy with him in heaven.

Questions from the Baltimore Catechism rattled inside my head as my body got colder and colder.

I waited for what felt like days, but no other kids came and no nuns appeared to lead the procession from sidewalk to classroom. Catechism must have been canceled the week before but, busy breathing Vicks VapoRub fumes, I’d missed the announcement.

As the minutes passed I became more and more embarrassed.

It was terrible being the only kid to show up for a cancelled catechism class, and then it began to rain, which made the situation even more shameful. I climbed back up onto the wall and hid behind a leafless bush, no longer able to feel my fingers or toes.

Finally, two nuns, sheltered by big black umbrellas, came down the sidewalk laughing. This in itself was a surprise. In my experience nuns never laughed.

You could perhaps elicit a thin smile if you won the weekly catechism smack-down by reciting your rote answers correctly.

Along with the elusive smile they gave you religious trading cards (I’ll give you one St. Francis for two St. Chrisophers), scapulars, and holy medals.

I had garnered a few—more than my sister anyway.

I cowered behind my bush. Although they were laughing I really didn’t want to be caught by the nuns.They saw me immediately, and behaved just like real women would upon finding a soaked and shivering child. They hurried me indoors, in this case into the parish house.

I remember that interior as dark and warm with a fire burning in the fireplace. They sat me in the Monsigor’s stuffed recliner and pushed me closer to the fire.

They made hot chocolate, they popped corn.

Monsignor was probably celebrating the 11 o’clock mass; he wasn’t in residence. Giggling, the nuns raided his sock drawer and came back with a pair of those thin black old man socks which they put on my feet.

When my mother arrived to pick me up we were having a good old time sipping hot chocolate and laughing.  It was her turn to be mortified. What kind of  mother drops a child off and leaves her all by herself? I’m sure she gave them a complete explanation, along with a half-dozen mea culpas.

When we got home we had a serious debate over whether the Monsignor’s socks were too holy to wash along with ours—I think that in the end my mother washed them by hand in the sink.

The next Sunday, although some of us were still wheezing, we were all at mass (except, of course, my father).

The socks were prayerfully returned to Monsignor’s sock drawer.

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§ 8 Responses to The Monsignor’s socks.

  • craig reeder says:

    that sure reminded me of some of my childhood experiences in Miami at our Episcopal church. i mostly remember the whole experience as dismal. and as i sat in the pew, or kneeled on those incredibly uncomfortable little cushion things, i remember contemplating the hypocrisy of all the holier-than-thou mumbo jumbo. i don’t doubt religion has powerful value to some people, but it just never took with me.


    • I don’t think of it as mumbo-jumbo, but as ritual, the key being that the ritual must have meaning to those performing it. There have been times when the ritual of the Catholic church has been very calming to me, but in the end the hierarchical nature of the church has turned me toward more individual rituals, like watching spiders or growing vegetables. Both have an inherent holiness about them.

      But I’m with you on those kneelers. Hard to believe that the way to get to heaven is by morifying your knees.


  • craig reeder says:

    PS: regarding the Monsignor’s socks: LOL!


  • Being a Baptist, we never knelt for anything. Instead of Catechism we went to Sunday School and learned Bible verses and how David slew Goliath and wrote psalms and killed the lion that tried to eat his sheep. I don’t ever remember getting a medal or a religious trading card – how sad. In worship service I loved the hymn singing best. Still do!

    Dad loved to sing – he was a good tenor. He seemed to know all the hymns and I once asked how come. He said that the rule in his house growing up was that at Sunday dinner he and his brothers and sisters had to tell one thing they learned from the sermon or sing a hymn – he could still sing every hymn in the book at 80!



  • Richard D. says:

    Adrian. this is pure gold. I’m afraid I missed out on those moments of childhood religious experience, and I envy yours. But what I most envy is your brilliant writing. Wonderful! Richard D.


  • There is something to be said for being exposed to the majesty of religion as a child–and to the certainty that right and wrong are absolute. Although I have adopted my father’s more personal form of religion I gained a great deal of moral ballast from being raised Catholic.


  • Tgumster says:

    The memories have been rolling in ever since I read your post, although I am remiss in responding.

    My early elementary school years were Catholic educated, which included attending Mass every weekday morning before breakfast. Even now, every Saturday has a touch of freedom about it.

    I, too, carry Catholicism with me but in these later years, it’s the universe that holds my heart.



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