If you hear the expression, “It’s Lent,” and you wonder to yourself, “To whom and for how long?” then you just might not be Catholic. You see, as kids, we had to observe a series of ritualistic religious customs and ceremonies during the forty-day period known as lent, in order to secure a basket filled with candy on Easter Sunday.
It was the same principle as that of finding yourself on a list of naughty children, prior to Santa’s arrival on Christmas morning, and being in danger of getting coal in your stocking. For Easter it meant getting what the Easter Bunny left behind, and we’re not talking jelly beans.
We knew because we raised rabbits.
As a big family, we embraced the concept of Lent in a big way, each of us selecting something to give up, that would genuinely impact us in a, well, big way. I can remember giving up candy, an act of such monumental sacrifice as to defy reason, and one that must have made Mama giddy with anticipation.
You can’t buy that kind of devotion, which is one reason I eventually parted ways with the Church. Nothing personal, mind you, I just could not handle the guilt-tripping. Being a nice guy by nature, I do my best to go through life in as accommodating a fashion as possible, so when I found myself having to figure out why I constantly felt guilty, when I did nothing wrong, it was time to vacate the premises.
[Editor’s note: “…nothing wrong…” Ohhhhh Kaaaaaay]
I was more than willing to go beyond what was asked; I just got tired of being told how to be a good Catholic boy. I gave up soda pop one year, I gave up Gilligan’s Island one year and I would have given up liver too, except that I couldn’t say the words with a straight face.
|Sunset in the background...This could be one of mine...|
I remember the custom of remaining silent during the three-hour period from noon until three o’clock, on Good Friday. If ever there were a tougher assignment, I don’t know what it could have been. Of course, we all bought into it and who benefited?
Nap time, said Mama.
We got the two days before Easter off from school, and the two days right afterwards. The public school kids got the week before Easter off. It was one way of identifying who the neighborhood kids were who were Catholic, and it also must have worked out well for the nuns, who had leverage before the great day, with minimal reverberations afterwards. What kid still has Easter candy four days after the event?
Probably a few hard-boiled eggs, as squeamish as that makes me feel now, but not candy. I don’t know about the rest of my siblings, but I never refrigerated those what? four? five? Six boiled eggs? Amidst all of the jelly beans, chocolate and fake grass?
Nonetheless, I always ate those eggs, as gruesome as the idea sounds today, because after a few days of being hauled around in that basket, they began to get pretty unsavory. Put enough salt and black pepper on them, though, and you could go a long way to achieving success!
I remember having to attend evening services on Holy Saturday, as Papa would take the four oldest of us boys, one of those times when I ended up on the wrong end of the stick. If it was a proposed trip to the canyon, or to go fishing, as low man on the totem pole, I often got left behind.
When it came to church, unfortunately, I always “got” to go. I’m going to be frightfully frank here, possibly risking my tenuous relationship with some of my devoted readers, but I did not like going to church when I was growing up.
I did not like it on Sunday, and I did not like it Monday through Friday, either, as we started EVERY school day I spent from third through eighth grade, by attending mass. This was NOT something I could confide in to Mama.
When I was small, there was no meat eaten on Fridays in our household. When the Church did away with this regulation, we still observed it during Lent. Tuna casserole, possibly the worst concoction to ever emerge from Mama’s kitchen, besides liver, of course, was one distinct possibility.
If we were lucky, it would be mac and cheese. Now this will sound peculiar, but one unique delicacy that was somehow made available upon occasion on Fridays, was sourdough bread. Oh the pure, unadulterated joy, of eating real bread after consuming nothing but air bread.
There was no way Mama could have provided enough sourdough bread, not with air bread being available at five loaves for a dollar. Sourdough was at least double in price and ten times tastier, and therefore, only available, I guess, when the rest of the meal was questionable.
This comes under the category of things I knew would crop up, that I would never be able to find the answer to, now that Mama has passed. I had plenty of time during those sixteen years after Papa was gone, to ask a million questions, but this one did not make the list.
Easter morning itself, followed the same course as Christmas, with early mass for the boys and Papa, a mammoth breakfast to try and offset the incoming barrage of sugar, and then on to the search for the hidden baskets.
I remember little things, like walking into the church and seeing that the crucifix and all of the statues were uncovered from the black cloth that was draped over them. I remember the lilies arrayed behind the altar, matching the ones growing directly in front of our front porch down on Fellowship Street, and how cool I thought that was.
From the ashes on our foreheads to start Lent off, until Easter Sunday itself, our family got involved in Lent in a big time way. I suspect that it was during Lent that we also used to say the rosary as a family. I managed to repress this memory for better than fifty years, before it surfaced during my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, knocking me for the proverbial loop.
So when I joked yesterday morning that I was giving up liver for Lent, I got a surprising response. I must say that I am gratified that so many people feel as strongly about Lent, as I used to.
It seems we are all willing to give up liver for Lent.