East Orange Life - Church  © 2000 Pete Smith

     We went to church every Sunday. I don't know how my mom did it; making 7 boys presentable for 9 o'clock mass. I mean suit jackets and ties; shoes; the works. Just trying to ties laces was a major project. I remember mine always seemed to have 2 or 3 knots jammed-up between the holes (multiply that times 7). And we were all between the ages of say...10 and 3. Dirty faces. Everyone seemed to have a dirty face. Especially Vin. He was the youngest and always had dirt or snot or something around his mouth and nose. He'd rub it, and it would just get worse. "Vain" or "Vainy" we used to call him, because you could always see his little blue veins under his white skin.
     We had nicknames for everyone: Joe was "Bucky" or "Bucky-Weber" (Miss Weber was a small, hunchbacked teacher at Holy Name and she had bucked-teeth); Bob was "Big-Butt" (although his butt was not exceptionally large, the name stuck); Rich was "Lunk" (this name may have been invented a bit later in his life; he held his own ground when he was young, being quite tough and cool, and seemed to have avoided any real nicknames); Steve was "Stella", (named after some lady from church or school named "Stella Valecci...?"); I was "Donny" (referring to my large ego and desire to become a star like "Donny Osmond"). Gene was "Dweena" or "Edweena" or "Betty" (named after Betty Crocker because he (we) liked to bake cakes), and sometimes "Big-Head" (he did have a rather large head). I now feel sorry to say, Gene took by far the most ball-busting back then. He was very intelligent and rather frail looking and would just kinda stand there and bravely take-it. Happy to say that Gene has really made good for himself these days.
     The nicknames did not stop with our family. We had nicknames for lots of people, especially those adults in the neighborhood we did not like. For example the "crab-apple" was a scary lady who would steal kids and drag them into her basement if caught in her yard (this actually happened to Steven Herman).
     So anyway, off to church we would go. I can't remember if we'd walk or mom would take the station wagon. (We always had a station wagon, and by the way, people were not real big on "buckling-up" back then, after all there were no buckles in the "back-well" of our station wagon where 2 or 3 of us might be bouncing around). And we'd get to church which was really right around the corner. There would be some waves and smiles as we walked through parking lot, but mostly we'd just snicker. We'd see this family or that one and go, "Look, there's the "so-and-so's". Look how goofy they look! Ha, ha, ha! He's a real goon!" or "Wow, look at that real tall guy, with that funny hat and the glasses! What a DOOF!" Then someone would start imitating him, and we'd all start cracking-up, and we'd start making stuff up about him like who he was, and how many people he killed in Vietnam, and we'd go on and on, while my mother would be trying to keep us together and make it into the church without a major embarrassment. And sometimes Sister (I forget her name; Mary Claire?) would see us and say stuff like, "Oh, the seven angels" or "the seven gifts" or something like that, and we'd all smile and look angelic. But this would kind of make me feel good and special; like we were a family that no one could touch.
     So we'd get into church; and what a magnificent church it was. I would sometimes glance at the life-size crucifix of Jesus Christ mounted in the foyer...it was so real looking; the wounds with blood and crying eyes and everything. And we'd do all the proper things like dip our fingers in the holy water and bless ourselves; after all, we all went to catholic school so this stuff was kinda like second nature. And mom would lead us to a pew, and we'd all genuflect and slide across the pew; jockeying for elbow-room.
     Then, just for fun, someone would click one of the buttons mounted on the pew in front of us. I'm not sure why they were there; maybe to hang your hat or something; but they had really strong springs on them and if you pushed and slid your thumb off, they would go, "Crack!", really loud. Then one of the younger ones would look in amazement like, "How'd you do that?", and then they'd start trying to do it. Mom would be going, "shhh", a word she would have to use regularly for the next 35 minutes.
      So we'd sit there waiting for mass to begin. Some looking around at all the different people; others fighting over misselettes; and one brother would be pointing-out stains on another's tie or making fun of his shoes. And the whole time, the laughing and snickering and squirming WOULD NOT stop.
     Finally the mass would begin, and 9 o'clock mass had the guitar-choir, so they'd start playing. I don't remember them sounding bad, but we'd hear some lady in the pew in front of us start singing and we'd all start cracking-up. Holding-in a laugh is a difficult thing to do. It causes great pressure on the nose and face. And what comes out is a sort of "oinking sound"...bursts of "oinks" and "sneeze-sounds". So someone would start laughing like this...trying to control it. But the more you tried to control it, the harder and louder it got. Occasionally you could force yourself to relax, take a slow breath, and over-come it, but more often than not in a few seconds you were right back to square one; ready to burst..."oinking" and making weird sounds. And it was contagious. Just watching someone else holding-in a laugh would make YOU start laughing. And on and on it would go.
     Joe, the oldest, who had sort of been designated as the boss after our dad died (not an easy task for an 7 year old), would give us mean looks and say "quiet", as sternly as he could. For a while we started calling him "Mom-Says", because he would say, "Look guys, mom says (this)", or "Mom says (that)."
     So anyway, Joe would start saying "quiet", and then others would chime-in "shhhhh", "quiet", "Stop it!", and pretty soon things were out of hand with some people trying not to laugh and others saying "quiet" and "shut-up".
     Then some lady would turn around in the pew in front of us and give us a real dirty look. Oooooooooo. We'd all be quiet. When she turned back, someone like Bob, who had just been telling us to be quiet, would put his hand low, between his legs where only we could see it, and start giving her the finger and making faces at her. We'd all start cracking-up again! Then we'd all try it; making faces and giving her the finger. And on and on.
     Then the mass would be quiet again for a few minutes, like after receiving communion. Ok. People are praying or whatever. Everyone's being real good. Shhhhhhh. Thank God. No one laughing. Quiet. Then some old guy would blow his nose into a white hanky. "HOOOOOOOOOOOOONKKKKKKKKKKKK, squibbble-squabble,
snort, snort, squeak, squeak!" And we'd start cracking-up again. It was too much. The pressure had been building with each held-in laugh. The sinuses began failing. I, or Gene, or someone, would desperately try to hold it in, but the human head was not designed for this. The result: A large, heaping of bright green snot would come flying out of the nostrils and onto the hand, or where ever; if it was a good one it would still be somehow connected to the nose. Now THIS was FUNNY. "Ha, Ha"! What do you do with all that snot! Wipe it on your pants! "UUhhhlll! Ha, Ha"! We'd be laughing for the next 10 minutes.
     Man, church was fun! I mean, it didn't seem like it at the time, but the idea of not being able to laugh made it 100 times funnier.
Then we'd all leave the church, running and dancing to our car, just being so happy to get out of there. I sort of remember getting buns or something. Mom didn't really yell at us or anything. I think she was just as relieved to be out of there as we were. All was forgotten. Our sins were forgiven. And that was church on Sunday.
 

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