Like I said, I am not religious. For my daughter’s sake I go through all the necessary steps to ensure that she believes the everyday stuff that my wife believes. She is a born and raised Methodist and I can swing with them because they aren’t as stuffy as my upbringing, Byzantine Catholics, or what we usually called Greek Catholic. Now, Byz. Caths. are not as strict as your garden variety Roman ones. Our priests could marry, for one, and we didn’t have to do that whole Confirmation and CCD classes thing. I did attend Catechism classes and made my first Holy Communion when I was five. It wasn’t too bad and was kind of fun. It helped that our priest was pretty cool. My earliest memories of Father Marco was that of a man walking around in the floor length black priest attire, with black, horn rimmed glasses, a cup of coffee in one hand, and a cigarette, dangling out of his mouth. I loved that guy. He was a total trip.
Making my First Holy Communion
Apart from Catechism classes, I did regularly attend church on Sundays, with my family. For a five year old, it was rather boring. Even if the service was done with some tonal inflection [read: sing-songy], an hour can seem like days. We attended Sunday morning mass which was either something like 10:00AM and 11:00AM. God help me if I would have had to attend the masses that were done in all Slovak. As it was, I spent a lot of that hour in church, thumbing through the books, trying to read the Slovak pages instead of paying attention to the English side. Basically, all you really needed to remember was when to kneel, sit, stand, and FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
This usually occurred when I was not sitting directly next to or between my brother and sister. If I was, then there were usually snickers and suppressed chortles sneaking out of us as we screwed around in the pews. The smartest kid would always sit furthest away from our parents, out of striking distance. I imagine that the “Let us pray” request, coming from the priest, should not be followed by the muffled snorts of a ill behaved child in a very acoustically endowed room.
Hallelujah hi-jinks, aside, all was well with our experience. Eventually, however, Father Marco died and my parents were a bit put off by his successor, Father Mike. He was a bit of an old school priest with a lot to say for members of the church who didn’t believe in tithing, in any amount. We began to attend in less frequency, going only on Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve, before completely leaving the church, all together. Of course, as a child, I didn’t mind. I was getting to sleep in on Sundays. I took my weekend sleeping very seriously, as you can tell. Something I don’t get to enjoy at all anymore with a three year old. A three year old who gets up at 8:30AM, on the weekends, in great regularity, that is.
Now, I have said, with the utmost certainty, that the reason my parents decided to stop going to church was based solely on the attitude and actions of the newer priest, Father Mike. But, what I’ve come to realize, as I get older, is that parents answer one question in a certain way to avoid the issue cascading into 300 other questions. I’ve learned this as a parent. I always want to give the truthful explanation to any question my child has, because I am a neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie who likes to have the answer. Yet, the answer I give is usually the predecessor to more questions which always end up in redundancy on my part. So, I give a short answer of “yes” or “no” or “ask your mother” to avoid such inquisitions. So, when I asked my parents why they stopped going to church they gave me the universally accepted answer of “Father Mike did ‘this’” or “We felt Father Mike was being ‘this.’” However, I have pieced together, from experiencing my own line of questioning, as a parent, that a deeper conspiracy may have resulted in our expulsion from the church. In all likelihood, it was my fault.
I have not done all the required research and could be speculating, A LOT, but I think my parents were forced to stop attending church because of something I did. If you were hoping I would elaborate into a three hour rant, you’re in luck. We’re already an hour in by this paragraph.
Like I said, I have fond memories of Father Marco, and scant memories of Father Mike. But, my last memory of going to church was on a snowy Christmas Eve. We had gone to an evening mass, probably so my mother could continue wrapping presents from “Santa.” She was not Catholic, so her excusing herself from certain church related activities was not suspicious in the least to me. I mean, there could not possibly be any mythical holiday figure related activities in place of another, in other words. So, my father loaded us kids into our Jeep Cherokee, with optional snow plow, and headed up the road a bit to church.
I had made the classic blunder like all kids that night. Even my kid makes it all the time, now. When parents ask you if you have to go to the bathroom, before leaving, you should say yes. The same goes for adults in their late 30s and up. You always go before you leave. That's the rule. I don't care if you think you are fine. You go. We are forever having to take our daughter to the bathroom whenever it is the least convenient to everyone. Well, I was just as bad as a child. I had just eaten dinner, accompanied by two glasses of iced tea, and then informed my father, with the upmost certainty that “I did not have to go.” He accepted my third repetition of that answer and off we went.
I felt the urge to pee about five minutes into our drive but kept my mouth shut. Upon reaching the church, I informed my father that I had to go and he gave me that “I thought you didn’t have to go” speech followed by my response of, “I didn’t have to go, THEN.” He told me to hold it and we went into the service which was beginning to start. The last half hour was pretty unbearable as I repeatedly said, in a whisper, “I have to go.” Of course, the church being rather on the empty side elevated that whisper into a mild roar. I guess it could have been worse. My child will inform an entire restaurant that she “Has to go poop.” And, just in case anyone didn’t hear her, she will repeat that statement again in five seconds at a louder volume.
After the service, my eyes were literally watering. I was ready to burst. In a totally related context, I don’t think the Spanish Inquisition employed such torture as my father, continually telling me to hold it. By the time we made it back to the Jeep, which was parked on the street next to the wall that ran along the front of the Rectory, I was in dire straits. Home was only a five minute drive, at most, but I wasn’t going to make it out of the parking lot.
I pleaded with my father, one last time, and he caved. “Fine. Come here.” I expected him to locate a bathroom, somewhere inside the church, out of the cold darkness that was Christmas Eve in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Instead, he directed me around the driver’s side of the Jeep and said to go there.
“But, I’m outside.” I said.
“Just go.” He said.
“Someone will see me.” I said.
“No one will see you.” He said.
“Dad?” I asked.
“Do you have to go or not?” He said.
Tucked away along the side of the big honking Jeep Cherokee, with optional snow plow, I let out a pee that could have put out the fires of Rome. Moses could have parted it and led his people to freedom. It was the most relief I had ever felt in my short time on this Earth. My father, brother and sister stood watch, on either side of the Jeep, shivering as I continued to pee for what seemed like hours. I stood there, in a church parking lot, reaffirming myself that “No one could see me,” over and over. I did this and then looked up to the sky, as most men do when they relieve themselves with great elation. I looked up into the night sky, with all its wonder. The twinkling of the stars were the only source of light that cold night. I stood there and looked to the… heavens. “Uh, oh.” I thought.
The Scene of the Crime
circa today via Google Street View
The following events are of my own speculation. I have no proof other than a gut feeling that serves to bring this story to some kind of conclusion as you are probably ready to collect social security, by now.
That night while I slept, anxiously awaiting Christmas morning and lots of Star Wars action figure type presents, I believe that some ethereal communication network informed Father Mike of my desecration of church property. Perhaps even God, himself, got on the horn and rang up Father Mike through some kind of sophisticated communication system, hidden behind a book case, in his office. I imagine him moving a statue of the Virgin Mary, triggering a switch that opened the wall revealing an ornate device with lots of blinking lights and buttons, along with a big microphone and headphones. A flashing light, indicating an incoming message, catches his attention and he sits down and dons the holy headphones, answering the call.
“My son. That boy has peed on my land. Banish his family. It is Christmas and I am trying not to smite too many people.”
"It shall be done, O Holy Father."
I imagine that a few days go by and Father Mike has a lengthy conference with my parents, informing them that I was seen, writing my name in pee on the Rectory wall. We were to be excommunicated and possibly barred from entering heaven at the time of our death no matter how many good deeds we may have done byt then.
I could be WAY OFF in this assessment of what really happened. What my parents told me, as a child, could be totally true. But, if you expect me to believe that there is a deity that can be everywhere and see everything, then how can I expect there not to be some form of punishment for whizzing on a wall outside of church. In any case, I guess I won’t know whether or not my theory is true until I die and go up to heaven. Whereupon, when I reach the Pearly Gates and find myself barred from entering I’ll know I was right. In that case, I will totally take a leak on the gate and gladly go to hell. It's a long trip and I've learned to go before leaving.