Memories in the Church on the Hill

It is impossible to sit in my childhood church and not be transported back in time. Unfortunately, most of the time now it is for a funeral.


As I sat in the pew not far from Grandma, I looked around and saw a dwindling pool of relatives. There were no uncles, because we were saying goodbye to the last one, but four of the six aunts still remain with us. My youngest cousin who was in attendance is now fifty-one, and now some of the children  of a few cousins are married and are parents. And look how old the three of you are— Oy! Time is moving too quickly!

You are not supposed to laugh in church, particularly at a somber occasion, but invariably something sets off a fit of laughter which I then must suppress. I remember the time I got the giggles after the priest said something which reminded me of the scene in Notting Hill—the one where when the guy was eating mayonnaise and thought it was bad yogurt. Once he learned it was mayonnaise, he continued to eat it. It doesn’t sound that funny, but you know it is, and when you are not supposed to laugh, things are just funnier.

Grandma told me a story about a lady who wearing an exceptionally ugly hat in church one Sunday, and when Aunt Marian pointed it out to her, the two of them started to laugh. It got worse when they made eye contact, so the laughter just continued.

When the priest started burning the incense at church during the funeral, Aunt Ar tapped me on the shoulder and asked if it smelled like carrots to me. (Church Back in the Day) It didn’t, but this barely funny comment made me laugh, and this occasion was clearly a time for tears, not laughter. But somehow, I don’t think Uncle Bob would have minded.

So I sat in my old church and thought of three-year old me smelling the carrots. During the “sign of peace,” I gave my cousin Jimmy the two-fingered peace sign that I remember giving his brother Billy so many years ago—my very last memory of Billy.

My eyes wandered to the statue of Mary draped in purple cloth for Lent, and I thought of my cousin Nancy’s wedding, when she laid a bouquet of flowers at that same statue while someone sang Ave Marie.

I glanced at the stained-glass windows and recalled the first time I saw them, which was after the church underwent a huge renovation. For two years, mass was said in the school auditorium (By the way, I don’t think that was hallowed ground, just saying!), and when the work was completed, I remember going to an open house to view the new church. One of the windows was inscribed in memory of Grandma’s best friend and maid of honor, Louise Martone.

I looked at the chandeliers and remember how my new engagement ring sparkled and cast a myriad of colors  on the walls from the combination of those lights and the stained glass windows. Wow! That was almost forty years ago.

I recalled my communion wearing my white bride-like dress; my confirmation, where I wore a white robe with a red collar and  a matching red hat which resembled a Jewish skullcap; and my wedding, when Dad broke a lightbulb wrapped in cloth and Aunt Linda explained the significance of this act in a Jewish wedding.

Cousin Alan and Me
Cousin Alan and Me

As the organist played, I thought of our Christmas Eve masses there with Grandma, when the man who resembled Lurch led us in song. I would glance around during communion to see which aunts, uncles, and cousins were sitting there among us.

There are just so many memories in that church. No other church, with the exception of our church in Montville, evokes those feelings. It’s filled with so many ghosts of my past.

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