When I was a little girl, I planned to grow up to become a nun.
I’ll wait. Let me know when the laughing stops.
I was in love with God, and loved going to church. For a while, I even voluntarily attended an extra mass on Sundays: a six o’clock service, in addition to the regular nine o’clock family service.
I loved the music, I loved taking Communion, and I really loved saying my rosary. There was such a feeling of peace with each repeated prayer. I still feel this way when I say the Our Father.
Even when I was home, I sometimes thought about church. I made my own little church out of a corrugated cardboard box. It had no top, so that you could see inside. I made little cardboard pews and a cardboard altar. I remember that the altar cloth was just a carefully-draped white Kleenex.
I even made vestments for my one boy troll doll (don’t ask me how I knew it was a boy—troll dolls are rather featureless down there). I’d play church with him and my girl trolls.
After some thought, I’d figured out how to make troll-sized communion wafers by squishing flat a piece of Wonder Bread and cutting tiny circles out of it with cuticle scissors (the hole punch hadn’t worked out). I bet the Wonder Bread people never imagined their wonderful bread could be used for troll communion wafers!
Another great thing about growing up Catholic was that all of our rosaries and holy statues glowed in the dark. How cool is that? Whenever I felt the need of a little lift, I’d withdraw into the closet, stick a towel under the door crack, and sit surrounded by my ghostly glowing treasures. The Jewish kids may have had their eight days of gifts, but we Catholics had our glowing saints and crosses. It all evened out.
One of the really special things about Christmas back then was going to see the outdoor Nativity displays. Often, they were very solemn and beautiful. All of the Catholic families had small tabletop nativities at home, too. Back then, Jesus wasn’t stuck to the manger. He wouldn’t even be in the manger. It was empty. Every day, we children would take a short little piece of straw—the kind like hay, not the kind you drink with—say a prayer for someone, and put the straw into the empty manger. After 24 days of doing this, the manger would be nice and soft with straw, and full of prayers, ready for the baby Jesus.
Christmas morning, when you woke up, you first looked to find Jesus in the manger, and you felt really happy he was there. Then, you’d go to your stockings! We were allowed to pour out our stockings before our parents woke up. We weren’t allowed to open any gifts until after we waited for the sun to finish rising, and then we could pester our parents until we got them to rise, too.
The gift part was pretty much the same as now. And we’d whine about stopping to go to church. But afterward, we felt really happy to be there to celebrate that special, very holy day.