I dutifully said my prayers (Our Father) before bed every night with my father standing by to supervise the proceedings. I don’t know why my dad posed me the way he did. The photo shown is not even a true re-enactment of the event. I did it on my knees on the floor, hands clasped to my forehead, pressed against the blanket while I hunched over my bedside. I was never atop the mattress all straight and tight in my full-footed pj’s looking like an aspiring angel.
I attended the ridiculous and frightening confessional with knobby knees knocking prior to and after, my first communion only a handful of times. I dutifully, followed up with the requisite Hail Mary’s on my knees for penance when told to do so. I wondered if the Holy Mother Mary noticed if I fumbled the words. I worried that I may get punished for losing count or praying the wrong prayer in the order I was supposed to. My Father, curiously enough never took communion because he had divorced my mother and so his feet never entered the confessional that I ever saw. He even refused to annul the marriage because he was told I would become a bastard child.
Church was a dreary, boring and uncomfortable series of Sunday late morning services often delivered by an old grumpy, mumbling or yelling always finger wagging Polish priest. I was often overheated to the point of nausea and in pain from arriving late and having to press those knobby knees on hard stone flooring during too long portions of the hour long Mass. I remember it was most often delivered in Polish and if I got lucky enough, in English on occasion. I’m grateful I didn’t have to suffer it in Latin. If we were on time and lucky enough to land a pew seat, Dad would often fall asleep so entranced was he in the sermon that I would have to nudge him should he start snoring too loudly.
My maternal grandmother had been brought up in the Pentecostal belief system but Poland is Catholic in the majority and she raised my mother as a Catholic. Unfortunately my mother was a troubled war child and became a committed alcoholic. After a very turbulent marriage, on a day seared into my memory, she left my dad and me. I had just turned 7. As a result dad often had to shunt me off to friends during summer vacations and weekends so he could go to work or go on a date.
That’s when the real religious fun began.