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The eight year old girl sat cross-legged on the carpet. She hadn't bothered to change her clothes when she returned from school and still wore her navy blue uniform with its pleated skirt, button-down sweater, white collared blouse, and red snap-on bow tie. She hated the tie. All the girls at school did. 

 
 
Patricia Walkow
Memoir - Revelation
 
 
 

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Revelation


The eight year old girl sat cross-legged on the carpet. She hadn't bothered to change her clothes when she returned from school and still wore her navy blue uniform with its pleated skirt, button-down sweater, white collared blouse, and red snap-on bow tie. She hated the tie. All the girls at school did.

            A television program was about to begin, and she didn't want to waste even a minute of it by removing and storing the tie in her bedroom dresser, which was on the second floor of the house, up a long flight of stairs. Instead, she planted herself on a perfect smidgen of floor for watching television, in front of the dark wood Dumont television console. The few square feet of brown tweed carpet she claimed for herself were warmed from below by the basement's oversized oil-burning dragon of a furnace.

            The girl had seen the movie that was about to start at least five times, and she was still mesmerized by the great story enfolding on the small television screen. It was a story told in Italian, with grainy, black and white film. The subtitles were in English, but the dark-haired girl with short bangs dusting her forehead lived in an Italian household, and she understood quite a bit of the film's language. Reading was easy for her, and if she needed them, she could glance at the subtitles. But the story she was watching was easy to follow without subtitles.  

 

            The Miracle of Marcellino was about a six year old boy who was orphaned as an infant and placed on the doorstep of a monastery. The monks tried to find a home for him, but being unsuccessful, the infant stayed with them and grew to be a lively little boy. He charmed everyone with his dark curly hair and effervescent personality. He livened up the monastery with all kinds of boyish antics. The little boy had everything he needed. But more than anything, little Marcellino wanted his own parents.

 

            The monks understood his longing, and being unsuccessful in finding a family for him, they indulged him and gave him free reign of the monastery, except for one room–the large attic used for storage. It had many items the monks used, and quite a few of them were very heavy and stored haphazardly. It was not a safe place for a child to play.

 

            Since it was forbidden, gaining entry to this mysterious space became Marcellino's obsession.

 

            He managed a sneak visit to the attic by snatching the key to its door when no one was looking. Once there, he found furniture piled on top of furniture, dinner plates and cups, a large wooden table partially covered with cooking utensils, religious statues along a wall, extra monks' habits marching in a row on hooks attached to the wall, a regiment of sandals, dusty books, and one life-sized crucifix, fully adorned with the bloodied image of crucified Christ.

 

            He gasped when he first saw it, and was frightened by being so close to this realistic sculpture of a body that had been tortured and hung with nails on a wooden cross. 

 

            But when he saw a ray of dust particles that floated in the light coming from a high, dirty window, he felt more at ease. Dust was familiar, and so was the shaft of bright sunlight it rode to the uneven, wooden floor with wide, weathered planks. Sunlight and dust were his only companions in this eerie room of stark, rough, white plaster walls.

 

            The crucifix, though, dominated everything. It seemed so much more real than the one that hung over the altar in the chapel where he attended church services with the monks.

 

            During mass, he was a safe distance from the gruesome shape on the cross. But here in the attic, with the crucifix leaning against a wall, he could touch not only the figure of Christ but also the large splintered wooden cross. He was repulsed by the figure on the cross, yet strangely attracted to it. Marcellino lightly ran his fingers over the spot where the nails pierced Christ's palms and feet, and where the crown of thorns penetrated Christ's skull.

 

            "I hope you don't mind," he said to the plaster likeness of Christ.

 

            After his first visit to the attic, he had doubts about ever returning to it, but his inquisitiveness prevailed. Within a few weeks, his visits became his own clandestine adventure, despite the crucifix. He had become a master at sneakily removing the attic key from its hook on the kitchen wall.

 

            The monks frequently shifted monastery items around in the attic, removing some, and adding newer ones from time to time. Marcellino always found something to play with for a little while. He tried on a monk's habit and sandals, leafed through some old books, and set the table with plates and cups for an imaginary meal.

 

            As the weeks passed, he grew less fearful of Christ on the crucifix, and frequently talked to him so no one would hear. He didn't quite whisper. But he didn't talk loudly, either. Marcellino told the image of Christ which foods he didn't like, which brothers were funny, which were stern, which were kind, that his woolen shorts were sometimes itchy, and he didn't like what the monks called "periods of silence."

 

            Sometimes he looked right into Christ's face and asked questions like:  "What happened to you? Did you do something wrong? Did you make somebody angry? How long did it take for you to die? Did it hurt a lot? Are you in heaven now? What is heaven like? Do you know my parents? What happened to them? Are they in heaven too? Will I ever see them?"

 

            Every time he asked the man a question, he paused for an answer.

 

            But there was none.

 

            And each time there was no answer, he was a little bit disappointed, even though he knew he wasn't talking to a real person.

 

            During his visits, he would often tell the crucified Christ that he wanted to know about his father and mother, that he felt lonely, even though the monks gave him a good home.

 

            There came a time, though, when the monks began to notice that Marcellino was not underfoot around the monastery as he had been in the past. They wondered what Marcellino was doing. Where was the little boy who used small rocks to trace words and draw pictures in the garden soil at the precise moment when the monks were trying to plant?

 

            Where was the lad who used sticks to duel with low lying branches on trees? Where was the child who ran around the grounds at breakneck speed, asking endless streams of questions, most of them during "periods of silence?" Why wasn't the boy pestering a monk to read stories to him?

 

            He was no longer doing any of these things, and one of the monks who worked in the kitchen decided to find out what was occupying Marcellino's time. The monk hid in a food pantry while he waited for Marcellino to come into the kitchen. As he groused to himself that he would have to work extra hard to get food on the table in time for supper, the monk saw Marcellino march into the kitchen from the garden. The boy looked around, as though trying to determine he was alone, and removed the attic key from its hook. The monk was going to reveal himself, but when he saw the child cut a slice of bread and pour wine into a cup, he stopped.

 

            Laden with a tray that held the bread and wine, Marcellino unlocked the attic door and headed up the stairs, trying to make his footsteps inaudible. But his oversized shoes made muffled clomps on the stairs. A few minutes later, the monk followed, tiptoeing up the stairs just far enough for his eyes to be level with the attic floor. Marcellino had not latched the door, and the monk gingerly opened it a few more inches.

            His jaw fell open and his eyes nearly popped at the sight before him. In a panic, he crossed himself and hastily ran down the stairs, as quietly as he could. He summoned two monks who were nearby.

 

            As quietly as their haste would allow, the three monks ran up the stairway, just to the point where they could see the large dining table stored in the room.  

 

            Christ was no longer nailed to the cross.

 

            He was sitting in a large chair at the head of the table, talking to Marcellino. The bread and wine were on a tray on the table, waiting for Christ to eat and drink. Marcellino was sitting on Christ's lap; his head nestled into Christ's left shoulder. He was looking up at Christ, talking softly to him, with Christ gently responding. The monks could not decipher the words of the conversation and after a few minutes, the young boy fell asleep, embraced by Christ.

 

            Within the length of time it took to blink, Christ disappeared from the chair and was once again inanimate on the cross.

 

            The monks pushed the door open and rushed into the room, never diverting their eyes from the crucifix until they reached Marcellino. They approached him carefully and tried to wake him. They could not. The boy had died.

 

            As one of the monks cradled Marcellino in his arms, the others gathered 'round the child's lifeless body, desperately wanting to touch the little boy that Christ had just held. Two of them humbly knelt before the crucifix, trembling, with their heads bowed. Somehow, the monks knew that Marcellino was with his parents.

 

            When he was buried in the monastery's crypt, Marcellino was given a flat headstone with the name "Marcellino Pane e Vino" and finally, the little orphan had a last name, Bread and Wine.

 

            And so Marcellino's story ended. The little girl who watched the movie recited Marcellino's last name, along with the monks.

            She, too, sometimes felt unhappy, lost in a large family that paid so much attention to everyone else. She wondered what it was like for Marcellino when he died. From the movie, it didn't appear so bad. It seemed a person just fell asleep.

 

            The girl resolved to try what Marcellino tried, and planned to offer Christ some bread and wine when no one was looking. The church was adjacent to her school, and children could go in at recess or lunchtime, or early in the morning if they wished, and pray.  But the wine was a problem. How would she bring wine to school? 

 

            She knew that wine was made from grapes, and decided to bring Christ a Wonder Bread sandwich filled with Welch's grape jelly, hoping this would qualify as "bread and wine."

 

            She planned her offering a few days ahead, and, on the night before she was going to offer the meal to Christ, she asked her mother to make her just a bread and jelly sandwich for lunch.

 

            "Just jelly?" her mother asked.

 

            "Yes, Mommy, just jelly."

 

            "No peanut butter or cream cheese?"

 

            "No, just grape jelly."

 

            "Alright, but just once. You need to have more than just jelly on your sandwich next time." 

 

            The girl didn't think Jesus knew about cream cheese or peanut butter and wanted the sandwich to be as close to bread and wine as possible.

            The next day, during lunchtime, the girl entered the church. She was the only one there. She walked up the long aisle, approached the altar rail, and knelt on the red, padded kneeler. In a whisper, she addressed Christ by his first name.

 

            "Jesus, I have some bread and wine for you. It's grape jelly. Can you visit me the way you visited Marcellino? It's okay if I don't die, though."

            There was no answer. She looked around to see if anyone had entered the church. She was still alone.

 

            She opened her Dale Evans lunchbox and took out her jelly sandwich, securely sealed in waxed paper. Unwrapping it to show Jesus, she thought the crinkling sound of waxed paper was loud enough to shatter the stained glass windows. She looked around again, just to be sure no one heard or saw what she did. Convinced she was alone, she returned her gaze to the crucifix.

 

            More loudly now, she said, "Here, Jesus, this is for you." There was no answer.

 

            She stood up, and held the sandwich out to Jesus. "This is for you."

 

            Still, there was no answer. She silently prayed, "Why aren't you answering me?" Once again, there was no answer.

 

            Painfully disappointed, she re-wrapped the sandwich and returned it to her lunch box. The church was so quiet that the click of the lid sounded like a hammer. "I'll come back tomorrow," she told Jesus.

 

            That night, she hid the sandwich in her book bag, being careful not to squash it, so it would look presentable on the following day.

 

            In the school bus the following morning, the girl thought about the similarities between herself and Marcellino. "I have dark hair, just like Marcellino," she thought. "I think I'm as cute as Marcellino and we are both Catholic."

 

            Before the school bus arrived at the curb outside her school, she removed the jelly sandwich she had stowed in her book bag and placed it next to her ham sandwich in her lunch box. At lunchtime, she quickly ate the ham sandwich, and then went to the church.

 

            She took the same precaution as the first time she offered Christ the sandwich. She ogled every corner of the church to be sure she was alone. And again, the click of the lunch box's latch and the sound of waxed paper being unwrapped stabbed the silence of the Gothic style church.

 

            She repeated the same offerings to Jesus as she had the previous day. And again, there was no answer. Perplexed, she sat on the kneeler at the altar rail, her back to the altar and crucifix. She knew she wasn't supposed to do this. But she was mad, and hurt.

 

            One last time, she turned around, and offered Jesus the jelly sandwich. One last time, Jesus did not respond to her offering. She rewrapped the sandwich and returned it to her lunch box, got up, and sat in the first pew, facing the altar. "I'm just like Marcellino," she thought. "Except, I'm a girl."

 

            She thought about how only boys could be priests in the church, how everyone was supposed to obey priests. Only men were allowed to read from the scriptures or collect the coin offerings in church. Women were only allowed beyond the altar rail, close to the tabernacle, to clean the area. She thought about the Catholic summer camp she attended. It was a girls' camp. There was no warm water. The boys' camp had hot water. The girls had hamburgers; the boys ate steak. The girls' camp had no car; a sick girl had to be rowed across the lake to the boys' camp to be taken to a hospital. The boys' camp had several cars. She knew this because the counselors at the girls' camp were always complaining about it.

 

            When she was in kindergarten, she recalled the day she innocently walked to the side of the room where the boys were playing with building blocks and wooden trucks and cars. She had building blocks and Lincoln Logs at home and wanted to build something. Her teacher saw her approach the place where the boys were playing, and harshly reprimanded her. "That's for boys only!" The teacher took her hand and firmly led her to the where she could do finger painting or play house.

 

            Her arms folded across her body, her lower lip pouting, her right foot tapping on the kneeler in her pew, she angrily, and loudly said, "It's that, isn't it, Jesus? I'm a girl!" Again there was no answer.

 

            In an angry rush, she felt outraged at Jesus and at the Catholic Church. She opened her lunchbox, not caring what noise it made, reached in, took out the jelly sandwich and crushed it. The jelly formed a pattern on the inside of the waxed paper, and she ran her fingers along the paper to move the jelly into different shapes, wondering what to do next. Finally, she exited the pew and dropped the crushed, wrapped sandwich on the floor. She stomped on it. Hard and loud. She did not care if anyone saw what she did. Then she picked it up, marched down the aisle to the exit, and threw it in the waste basket in the church's vestibule.

 

            She did not look back at Christ on the cross, and exited the Church through its stately, ornate and heavy brass double doors.    In her child's logic, Jesus was being unfair. And the church that represented him – the Catholic Church – was being unfair. At that time, she didn't have a word in her vocabulary for the way she felt.

            Years later, she would realize that her revelation on that day ignited a feeling called "indignation." She would understand that when she was just eight years old, in a quiet church at lunchtime, a seminal realization of what injustice really meant violated her soul. Rather than a sting, it was more a heavy blow to her innards, followed by a feeling of dread. It was her first experience being considered "less than" the opposite sex.

            As she grew up, the girl went through all the Catholic rituals her classmates did – Sunday mass, praying the rosary, receiving Confirmation, getting ashes on her forehead on Ash Wednesdays, celebrating Easters and Christmases and going to Confession. But they had become just customs and rituals, and seemed remote from Jesus.

            Before going on to a secular college, the girl completed twelve years of Catholic School. During those years, she occasionally enjoyed the rituals of the faith, if not the dogma; she could not forget the anger and grief she felt the day she realized she was not considered as valuable as boys. It was etched within her.

 

            She outwardly rebelled. As a teenager, she resented having to cover her head in church. She was told it was a sign of respect, and that nice hair distracted the boys and men. Was it not their problem they were distracted? Why had the Church made it hers? One Sunday during mass, she let her black lace veil slip off her head, onto her shoulders.

 

            A lady in the pew behind her tapped her on the shoulder and whispered, "Honey, your veil fell off."

 

            "Yes," she replied, "I know. It's staying off." The lady looked a little shocked at first, but then the girl saw a small smile on the lady's face.

 

            The girl stopped attending Sunday mass, and she ate meat on Fridays. When it was time to get married, she did get married in the Church, with her father's Jesuit-priest friend officiating. By that time, women were allowed beyond the altar rail. However, she refused to be married within the Church if the phrase "I promise to love, honor and obey" her husband was required during the matrimonial rite. Fortunately, the word "obey" was dropped and replaced with "cherish." She was an adult woman; she was not a child.

 

            As the years went by, the Catholic Church made many changes, and even acknowledged its second-class treatment of women; women were allowed to read the scriptures at mass, and bring the offerings to the priest. But still, the Church continued its sin against women, as it still does, by barring them from the sacred position of the priesthood.

 

            Eventually, she joined the Episcopal Church, which she called "Catholic Lite." Many of the beautiful and sacred rituals were the same as the Catholic Church. A glaring difference, though, was the existence of ordained priests who just happened to be female. Apparently, this religion understood that priesthood is a calling, and that it is not a calling exclusive to men.

 

            When her parents and brother died, when her father-in-law died, she gave their eulogies in Catholic churches. She remembered looking at the mourners, talking about the life that was lost. At the same time, she felt triumphant in the pulpit, in a very visible, but token tableau of "equality." But as long as women were not allowed to be priests, there was no true equality.

 

             Eventually, the girl who tried to mimic Marcellino forgave Jesus. She knew that nothing ever written about Christ indicated he believed females were inferior. And she also knew that the Church had done much good in the world. But she never forgave the Church its blinds spot - its historical treatment of women, for its refusal to see them as the equals of men, and for their hollow apologies to women for deliberate discrimination.  After all, apology without corrective is meaningless and the only meaningful apology from the Church is equality. After all the years of Catholic education and ritual, the girl, now a mature woman, learned never to let religion come between her and God. 

 
 
 
 

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