The name of the church was Mt. Calvary. Everything about it was a reminder and memorial to what took place at Calvary, a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls where Jesus was said to be crucified. Also known as Golgotha in early writings, it was a hill resembling a skullcap and called the place of skull. A public place of execution. Some traditions say that the skull of Adam is there and also the serpent’s head which had been crushed there after the fall of man.
This recently built house of Catholic worship sat between the priest’s rectory, and the grade school. Beside the school was the brick convent for the nuns. The large parking lot, capable of holding a carnival and amusement rides at the beginning of the summer, twisted around to the back of these buildings to a dirt field that was left undeveloped for some future ball games and playground.
Marlboro Pike ran long lengths in both directions in front of these buildings, bending westward to places in District Heights like The Shady Oak Inn, where many fathers stopped for a drink before coming home after work. The Mighty Mo car hop restaurant where an Orange Freeze and a Teen Twist sandwich were served on a tray that hooked to a car’s window. A small shopping center with stores like Drug Fair where you could get a fountain cherry Coke and a Superman comic book, Giant Grocery store, a beauty parlor, or across the street to a shopping strip like Clark’s music store, Eddie Leonard’s sandwich shop and a gas station, and further along the Pike a firehouse, and a Tasty Freeze.
Eastward from the church, Marlboro Pike went into Forestville to places in the Penn Mar Shopping Center like the Horn and Horn restaurant, Peoples Drug Store, Thom McCan shoes and Woolworths.
Along both routes small medical services of all kinds.
No train tracks, just houses and houses in the suburbs of Washington D.C. taking shape in this new era of development and flight from the City. The paper boys worked many hours delivering The Washington Evening Star, The Washington Post, and The Washington Daily News. Television Stations were growing from four, to five, and if the antenna on the roof was pointed correctly, a Baltimore channel was possible.
Mount Calvary was meant to grow with the Catholic community that lived in the look-a-like houses coming out of the fifties and into the early sixties. The families began to attend funerals, baptisms, weddings, Sunday services, communions and confessions in the new church while their children were attending the Catholic grade school.
Teenagers hung out and some created gangs in their rebellion of a place that was full of rules, rituals, and boredom. Some joined The Catholic Teen Club, joined bowling leagues, and played sports.
At that time, making your first confession as a Catholic was a requirement before making your first communion. Since my first day of Catholic school at the age of six, I was told what was right or wrong by a brutal gang of nuns in black habits who referred to me as; “The saloon keeper’s son.” I was smacked the first day of school for putting my lunch bag in the wrong place. These were the days before air conditioning or cold packs, and these nuns did everything possible to keep the smell of four hour old tuna fish sandwiches from permeating the air in the hot, humid, beginning of the school year. But I had till the “age of reason,” (eight years old) before I had to worry about confessing my new understanding of sins and salmonella poisoning.
During the ages of six and seven, the nun’s power would enter my mind. Sometimes while playing in my parent’s tavern, I would use the miniature bottles of alcohol as toy soldiers. Jim Beam would crush the onslaught of Seagram’s 7, Seagram’s Gin, and Seagram’s VO every time, until a nun’s voice would enter my mind that alcohol is evil. So in the next battle I would let the mighty giant Ketchup win against Jim Beam with the help of salt and pepper shakers. The cost was high on the battle field of the table when the cap of Ketchup loosened, leaving a bloody mess. War is ugly.
Concepts of right or wrong in playing war was easy, but sex and the feelings I was having was not as easy. Yes, Mighty Mouse’s girlfriend turned me on. Even when Bugs Bunny went drag in a few cartoons I got a tingle and touched myself. I was sure it was a sin because of the reaction the nuns had when dragging poor Cecil Honda out of the boy’s bathroom for touching himself while looking at Veronica in an Archie comic book.
Cecil had figured out during our coming “age of reason” that it was a sin to touch yourself, so he moved on to devising ways to get girls to touch him. He had cut a hole in his pant’s pocket and then asked a girl to get his milk money while acting like his hands were too busy holding papers and school books. Her scream brought the attention of the nuns and poor Cecil was whipped, and sent packing to public school.
Easter was approaching. It was time for my first confession. The entire class was led into that big church next door, no talking, and none of us were joking around. I felt like James Cagney in the movie “Angels With Dirty Faces” being escorted to the electric chair. Each nun had a metal clicker in their hand, directing us without speaking. We took our places in the pews, and I was glad I was not in the front row so I had time to think what to say before entering one of the boxes lining the sides of the church.
Old Monsignor Pete sat in a chair at the Alter. A double click echoed in that silent church and the first group of kids were being directed to make their confession to him, in full view of others in the church. He was hard of hearing, so his voice was echoing the punishments he was dealing out. Behind him, that enormous, life-like crucifixion scene was a horror to view by a little boy in a pew trying to think what I had done and what will be my punishment. I began wishing I was the Roman soldier holding that long spear. I wanted to lance the nuns, swing it wildly to avoid capture and make my escape out the church.
I didn’t want the nun to point our pew toward Monsignor Pete, but the dark boxes wasn’t much of an option either. The clicks kept sounding and time was running out for me.
I had been in so much fear of this day that I had nightmares a week earlier. In my dream, I awakened from my sleep to see it was twilight, the brief moment between light and darkness, hope and despair. Hearing a noise at the front door, I got out of bed to answer it. Approaching the door, a shadowy head with the faint twilight behind it was looking into our darkened house through a window pane decorating the door. Twice the size of an adult head, it was still too dark to see distinguishing features, but I knew I did not like it. I should have screamed and ran to wake my parents, but I proceeded to open the door.
The body of this large head was dressed in the black cassock and white vestment of a priest. Standing beside him were two Alter boys in their black cassock and white vestments. One boy held an aspergillum or bucket of water and the left hand of the horror headed priest held a stick with a sponge on the end of it. They immediately turned and ran away upon seeing me.
I went on the porch, standing barefoot on the thick, Sunday newspaper that had been delivered, and watched them running away in the middle of the street. I looked to my left and right and across the street to all the porches of these homes, new enough that the shrubs and bushes had yet to grow to block my view. The same scene was taking place at every porch, except I was the only one who came to the door and chased them away.
When I awoke, I was not in my bed, but lying across the foot of my parent’s bed. They were up and I heard them talking, wondering why the front door was open and the newspaper was scattered over the porch.
“Click, click.” The nun stood at our pew and pointed out what place we were to go. I got a box, and waited behind a couple of boys. The small light atop the box turned green and the boy in front of me entered, and then a light turned to red. How did that happen? Who knew that half of the box was taken? On the other side of the box the light went green and out came a kid and another went in. I knew my time had come.
The red light went off and the green light went on. Jeff Will came out and held the curtain open for me so that he could whisper something to me.
“You are going to hell Brookman!”
Not what I wanted to hear.
I walked in and could hardly see, but knelt on a loose, hard cushioned stoop in front of the darkened window pane with small squares and a tiny hole in each center to not allow you to see through, but your voice could be heard by the priest. I quickly figured out the pressure of my kneeling on the loose board was causing the light to change from green to red. I was sure of my words I had to memorize for this, and had come up with a sin that I lied to my mother about brushing my teeth. I should get off easy.
A panel was pulled opened and a slight twilight in his area made the priest a shadow. The small squares distorted any recognizing of his face and doubled the size of his head. It was the image I saw looking at me through the window pane of my house door. I had trouble speaking, but no trouble shaking. I’m sure that light was flickering red and green outside the box.
“Are you ready to confess your sins?”
I took a breath and once I began talking I couldn’t stop. I was like a criminal trying to tell everything I know to plea bargain a better sentence.
“Bless me father for I have sinned, this is my first confession. I played with myself while looking at Bugs Bunny dressed like a girl. I played with myself while looking at Veronica in an Archie comic book. I never really liked Betty. I was the one who gave the Archie comic book to Cecil, it wasn’t even his. I too cut a whole in my pocket and got Debbie Butler to put her hand in my pocket and she touched me. But she didn’t scream. She didn’t let go and kept smiling. I didn’t know what to do next and Cecil was already sent away and he wasn’t there to tell me what to do next and I didn’t want to be sent away. I never let Ketchup win any war. It was Ketchup blood on the table. Jim Beam won every war. I even took a few sips. I got an Eddie Leonards’ Steak and Cheese sub with extra onions and ate it on a Friday. I hate nuns and the clickers they carry. I try to fart in church and flick holy water in Jeff Will’s face. I’m sorry I sent you and your Alter boys away from my house.”
The confessional went silent. I was sure that priest was waiting for his big head to stop spinning. Then the verdict was rendered. “Say three Hail Mary’s and make a good act of contrition.”