Recently, a friend and former schoolmate of mine posted our 8th grade photo on Face Book. I remember thinking how cool I thought I was back then for having such bad-ass feathered hair, super-glossed lips courtesy of Bonne Bell’s/Lip Smackers and getting ready to graduate Junior High. After a while the photo started me thinking about my years at DACS (yes, I know it’s been renamed now, but it’ll always be DACS to me) and I realized something—I’m probably going to hell.
Along with tuition parents also had the privilege of volunteering their time in whatever capacity the school deemed necessary. My family’s particular job was setting up for mass at the Immaculate Conception Church a stone’s throw from our house. This also included dusting off pews, wrangling hymnals back into their holders and clearing up any detritus (Cheerios, action figures, gum and wrappers) left behind by people who, were unwilling and or unable to exert the minimal amount of parental authority over their hyper, under-disciplined, bestial off-spring long enough to sit still for 45 minutes. Although back then a priest had little compunction about stopping mass to ‘suggest’ a parent take their screaming toddler to the vestibule and preferably keep going until they were in the parking lot.
Ahh, the good old days.
Anyway, one of our main responsibilities involved ironing ridiculously wrinkled alter linens (no doubt the Nuns balled them up right out of the dryer) that took more time and muscle than I was willing to give. Thankfully my sister took on this tedious chore, albeit with a long-suffering expression. She did a good job of it too. At least by my standards if not by those of Sister Mary-Martyr. Besides Mary-Martyr’s lousy attitude she also brought over the communion wafer allotment, which she stored in a cupboard in the sacristy. Another of our tasks included pouring wine and water into crystal cruets then placing them on the credence table. Lucky for me, this duty was closely monitored by Father M., the parish priest at the time.
Now, when I say 'closely monitored’ it’s not that Father M. didn’t trust me to do my job, it’s that he knew Sister M-M. had given strict instructions to water-down the wine, as in a thimbleful of red to a liter of water. So, when Sister M-M. went about her other duties Father M. would materialize by my side just as I began to pour, peer at me over half-glasses until he held me in thrall (not unlike a vampire). He stared me down until I poured out five fingers of wine into the alter chalice. As far as I was concerned if the man wanted to float away on a sea of Chianti more power to him. Besides, who was I, an 12-year-old girl, to stop an adult, as well as a man of the cloth from doing anything?
Since, I hadn’t practiced my due diligence this gave rise to Father M.’s often-slurred Sunday sermons. Needless to say, Sister M-M always blamed me. Nonetheless, the old bat assigned me this task twice a month and my continued failure to stop the drunken antics of a 60-something priest, as directed by an equally old nun might have been what finally drove me to sneak into the sacristy, abscond with the communion wafers and gobble them up like I was downing a bag of Frito Lays potato chips.
All right, before any Catholics reading this post have a coronary, I’m making it clear right now, they were un-consecrated communion wafers swiped from the tabernacle’s ciborium, so let’s all calm down, shall we? If your sense of justice needs righting, Sister M-M finally caught me and dragged my ass to the vestry where Father M. was prepping for mass. She left me in his hands, and I was forced to confess my sins face to face waaay before such practice became the norm. I couldn’t lie so I spilled my guts and no, I didn’t feel better. Although, as it turned out I never received a tough penance since Father M. confessed, he ate them too.
One of the things about old friendships is shared history. No matter where you may land in life history is something you can’t change.
During the latest trip to my hometown, I drove past an old friend’s house. Despite a few cosmetic changes by current owners the two-story brick home looked much the same—especially the large front porch. Instantly, I was transported back to those warm Michigan summers of my youth when Boca II and I sat out on her pillared front porch starring into the dark sky searching for UFOs. We never did experience any close encounters—well, at least none of the extraterrestrial sort.
Ours was a neighborhood teeming with more than its share of eccentrics, a by-product of the large Italian community we lived in, and Boca II’s big ol’ front porch gave us a front row view to a lot of the quirky neighborhood goings-on. Aside from the red wagon pulled by the Pekinese Lady (so called because of her penchant for Pekinese dogs—not to mention the various wigs she wore like hats) there was also the old Italian gentleman who, when not burning anything that wasn’t nailed down had an unquenchable desire to serenade the street (as well as the campers at the lake, beach goers and the people picnicking in the lake pavilions) at all hours with his concertina. Although, it wouldn’t have been half bad if he knew more than two friggin’ songs.
One of the more entertaining aspects of Boca II’s street was the rampages of Mr. K., who lived across the street and stuck out for two reasons. He wasn’t Italian and he drove a big rig kept parked in front of his house. To our youthful delight, if not the rest of the neighborhood, he’d spend his Saturday morning getting drunked-up. In the evening he’d stumble out the front door climb up into the rig (in his tighty-whitey’s no less) and roar up and down the street. Oftentimes he’d pop up on the curb across from where we perched and we'd wait for him to roll down the window and scream obscenities. By that time, Boca II’s mom would usher us back inside the house to keep us out of the line of fire, cuz no one was calling the cops. Dear me, how lawless! Imagine, riding bikes without helmets, boating without life-preservers and tearing around in a car loaded to capacity with your friends AND no one wearing seat belts. It was the late 70’s and we were living on the edge...
Of course, having to go inside didn’t put a damper on our fun only redirected our interests. Once we were back in Boca II’s pepto-bismol pink bedroom it was time for some Barry Manilow. Yes, Manilow, and before you judge look up the man’s stats, he was a HUGE popstar at the time. After a few sing-alongs, writing fan letters and practicing our signatures as Mrs. K. Cassidy and Mrs. L. Garrett it was bedtime. The next morning, we’d awaken to the aroma of the one thing guaranteed to lure us out of our comfy beds... Pancakes. Eager to dig in, we’d plop down at the table and ooh and ahh over the super-cool bunny-shaped pancakes slathered in blueberry pie filling. To this day when I spy a can of Wilderness Blueberry Pie Filling, I’m transported back to Mrs. B’s kitchen and to a time in my life where the only thing to worry over was keeping my summer tan until school began.
I have made a few more wonderful friends since Boca II and I met at Lake Antoine—although, she will tell you her first memory of our meeting was in Kindergarten. Still, Boca II remains one of the few, who knows what it means growing up Nort’ side.
*Origins of Our Nicknames:
Kris and I don’t get to see one another much anymore, but on the rare occasions we do, the wine flows like water. And the number of glasses we drink is a direct correlation to the escalating decibel level of our conversation. Such was the case years ago on a sunny Vegas afternoon. The menfolk decided to hit the links, while us gals grabbed the wine glasses, opened a lovely Italian red each and ensconced ourselves in opposite corners of the sofa eager to catch up. As the day turned into evening, wine glasses were tossed aside and we imbibed straight from the bottle as we laughed and reminisced for hours. Unbeknownst to us, the husbands arrived home and informed us we could be heard "talking" from the driveway. This wouldn't have been a notable observation except that we were lounging at the back of the house in the family room. After that, my husband bestowed the monikers Boca I and Boca II on us and of course, it stuck. Now, if you don’t understand Italian, ‘Boca’ means mouth.
all content & images property of L.Campbell
Until I made friends beyond my Italian neighborhood, I had no idea Crème de Cocoa liqueur wasn’t actually a topping for ice cream—Gnocchi never made it on the menu at the first Thanksgiving dinner—or that the end of a loaf of bread is only known as the 'Culo' in an Italian household. Intrigued? Then kick back with a glass of vino and take a glimpse into my life growing up Nort’ side.