I was raised, nominally, catholic, which just goes to show you that environment is not completely responsible for how someone turns out. But for a while in my early years, I not only attended church, but also “Sunday school,” which gives you the right idea even though it was held on a Saturday, probably somebody’s sadistic idea of keeping kids from cartoons. The armchair religio-psychotherapists reading this can have a field day with speculating if they like, since I did indeed resent being kept from the Pink Panther every week.
Anyway, one particular Saturday, I was dropped off by my dad in the usual spot, only to find that nobody was around – school for that day appeared to have been canceled. Bear in mind I was only five or six at this point, and now all alone a good distance away from where I lived. My dad also had to drop off my sister at a different location just down the road, so I hurried out to the main road to see if I could catch him on the way back past.
This was before it was determined that I needed glasses, and my distance eyesight was pretty bad. Mind you, this had led to some issues at real school (you know, where one learns useful things) as well, because parents sometimes just can’t see things through their child’s eyes, or more specifically, the way a child does. When asked if I could see the chalkboard, my answer was always, “Of course” – it was that big black fuzzy rectangular shape at the front of the class. Eventually, they got around to asking if I could read what was on it, and I got to make my first visit to the ophthalmologist. This was all later than the event I’m relating – stop sidetracking me.
Anyway, I saw a car pull out of the parking lot of the distant church annex where my sister attended her own Saturday school, and figuring it was my dad, I cheekily stuck out my thumb like a hitchhiker. As the car drew close, however, I determined this was not at all my father, and put my hand down, but too late. The
windowless unmarked white van car drew up alongside and the driver inquired if I was okay, as if he’d never seen a six-year-old hitching a ride before (hey, some people lead sheltered lives.)
I explained the situation, and he was pretty insistent that he take me someplace safe so we could contact my parents, but even in those ancient times, parents cautioned their children about getting in cars (maybe it was chariots) with strangers. There wasn’t a hell of a lot else I could do, though, and we ended up only around the block at the house of the priest who led Sunday mass every week, father Whosenameescapesme.
Now, due to the marvelous reliance on euphemisms within religion, and the various things my parents and the Saturday school proctors had told me, and confusion about the various ways “father” is used, at this point in my life I was convinced that father Whosenameescapesme was, literally, god. He could be everywhere, couldn’t he? So of course he led mass each week, in our church and everyone else’s. It will interest you to know that god is tall, slender, with very short blond hair – pretty young-looking, despite Michelangelo’s and Monty Python’s misleading portrayals. I thought it was fairly cool that my dad could stop and chat with him after the service (god, I mean, not Monty Python, which would have been much cooler,) as if they were good friends. I know lots of people say they do this all the time, but my dad got answers!
It is, of course, another thing to a six-year-old. Here I was, waiting in god’s own house for my dad to come pick me up. I was raised pretty easy on the whole eternal-torment-in-fire thing (this was New Jersey, not the deep south,) but there was still a very distinct upbringing of “right” and “wrong,” and believe me, you start trying to remember every item on that list when you’re standing around in god’s living room. I touched nothing – I didn’t even sit down. I didn’t quite stand at attention, but I radiated innocence, as well as a jigger of fear, I’m sure. So father Whosenameescapesme, astutely sensing my unease, left me to my own devices until my dad showed, though if he’d possessed (heh!) even a faintly impish sense of humor he could have had a blast. Everyone but me ultimately thought it was amusing, especially when I made it clear the hitchhiking thing was a joke, not intended for anyone but my dad, so the only punishment I received was forty minutes of trauma not touching god’s stuff and hoping my shoes were clean enough. Of course, I remember this more than any chewing out that I ever received.
You’ll be interested to know that god’s living room is not terribly modern, dark and wood-paneled with anemic lighting (yeah, go figure) and his taste seems to run towards antiques. Actually, I think he lives with his mother.
Later, after being freed from this weekend onus (of which you’ve just heard my most distinct memory,) I established that Saturday morning cartoons are truly the bad influence that we’ve all been told.