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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Bells of Saint Mary's

All Souls' Day--drove to a Mass tonight at Saint Mary's Parish in Dumont to honor those who died this year. Since Dad's funeral was there [he also belonged to the parish for 50! years], he was included. After each name the lector read, a bell chimed once. John J. Garbarini. Chime.

I went alone. H. was traveling back from Michigan; Figgy had a lot of homework; and Sis and Don are all the way in Connecticut, a tough ride on a weeknight. I was composed at first--daydreaming, even, and fidgeting, like I did as a kid in church. But by the time I went to Communion, I had to hold back the tears to say Amen when the priest presented the wafer.

It was good to be back in my old childhood church, surrounded by things I still know so well even though I've belonged to my Montclair parish for 20 years now. I was home in some sense of the word--with the suspended lighting fixtures, the all-white statues of Mary and Joseph, the polished pews, the gilded Holy Water receptacles, the Stations of the Cross, the altar. I spent many a girlhood Sunday taking in every detail. So many memories. It occurred to me tonight that in a plain childhood, a young girl craving glamour and pageantry could find more than a little under the church's steeple. Imagine: Priests and nuns in dark, mysterious robes that grazed the floor; rosary beads; rimless eyeglasses on Father M. and Sister A.; altar boys in black and white; brides, with veils; Sunday dresses and hats; frothy white Communion dresses and little dark suits; the May Procession; voluptuous bouquets; older widows in coal-black clothing and sturdy laced shoes; gleaming, golden chalices; plain wicker baskets passed hand to hand for collection; ushers; crowns of fresh flowers on the Mary statue in the grotto outside.

I loved it when my Mom put on a pretty silver or black dress and pearls and her gold charm bracelet for a night out. I liked her brown suede jacket, her mink stole, her My Sin perfume. I watched Sis set her hair on orange juice cans and put on pantyhose and fashionable clothes she sewed herself. But church offered a chance, every Sunday, to drink in another, very different kind of glitz.

After Mass tonight, everyone was invited over to the parish hall for light refreshments. I went briefly and had some frittata, a little brownie and some baby carrrots with dip. Noreen, someone I ran track with in high school, was also there. [Sadly, her Dad just died a month ago--in his 70s.] She told me that the room we were in used to be the bowling alley in Saint Mary's School [the school closed recently, after decades]. She showed me those little arrowlike markers underfoot, the ones you look at when you are about to release your ball on the shiny floor, aiming for the pins. My mother bowled every Thursday night for years at Saint Mary's, but until now this was a secret space I'd never seen. My classmates and I didn't get to bowl.

You didn't? Sis said when I called her after Mass. We did. We had a bowling league. I think it met on Saturdays.

That's my big sister for you. Ahead of the curve. Good night.

P.S. Not sure quite how to word this, but I am aware that many people do not have happy memories of the pageantry of Catholic Church. I sat and watched from a safe perch. I am so sorry that some people have suffered unfairly, and so much.

  1. Boot camp in the park. The fresh air felt great. Really hard workout, though--running up stadium steps and around track.
  2. Was a little late for boot camp due to complication, so stayed after and walked 3 track laps with my friend Heidi.
  3. Walked Sug with Barbara and Benz.
  4. Turkey on rye.
  5. Nap.
  6. Decaf latte.


  1. Lovely, evocative post, Alice. I went to so many Catholic masses with my childhood friend, Mary, and I, too, remember the grandeur and mystery, esp compared to my consciously plain Lutheran church.

  2. This is a beautiful post, Alice. You know that I was raised just as Catholic as you were so I can relate to so many of your observations and connections. I am so glad that you went in honor of your dad, my uncle.

    Re the PS: Many people have left the Catholic Church because of the horrible issues that you alluded to. And they have every right. But I feel that those heinous crimes were committed by weak and fallible humans, who possibly even entered the clergy initially seeking some kind of divine intervention in dealing with their problems. To me, the entity and the doctrine of the Catholic Church remain separate and stand as an institution of 2,000 years. The perpetrators, those who covered it over and shuffled those priests around… shame, shame. Hope there is a special place in hell reserved for them.

    Just my humble opinion. You can remove this if you think it's best to.

    Love, Lin

  3. Hi Kim....thanks. I don't think I have ever been in a Lutheran church, but my close friend growing up was Lutheran. I'm not sure if her family went to church. Lin: I hear you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's hard not to feel conflicted with all going on in Catholic church now. H. feels very troubled by it. love, alice

  4. Many are quite pretty in a modern, Scandinavian way (check out the one in the Citicorp building at 53rd and Lex; it's embedded in the building in a really interesting way with beautiful windows/skylights reaching up and Louise Nevelson embroidered cushions. Many are just humble and simple, like the one I grew up in

  5. Oh, Kim, I will try and check out the one in Citicorp! thanks