It was a normal Sunday morning nine o’clock mass, and it was the time in the service for the congregation to receive communion…
I followed the priest out to the middle of the altar rail. Everything was going exactly as it was supposed to, and we were moving right along as usual, when suddenly with a loud crash the middle vestibule doors of the Church burst open, and a completely naked young and beautiful woman with long red hair shot through, running straight towards the altar down the middle aisle shouting some unintelligible gibberish!
The commotion that ensued exploded almost immediately. As this woman reached the front of the altar rail, the priest was pushing me out of the way trying to shield my eyes, and of course I was trying to see as much as I could! The ushers had surrounded her quickly and one of them tore off his jacket and threw it around her, as the others wrested her away towards the side doors as she flailed and kicked.
Afterwards people surmised that this woman must have been in a drug induced state and that this particular proclivity was almost certainly due to the Church’s close proximity to Haight street, being only steps away. That was the first time I’d ever seen a completely naked woman that wasn’t in a picture, and I’ll never forget it. What had started out as a routine Sunday morning mass turned into a great memory.
“Church was more than religion, it was duty, we were like the little soldiers following the line as our older brothers did,” wrote George. And so it was for us, mainly at Mom’s behest, and yes it was duty, and as much as filial respect for her wishes also. So we all served as Altar Boys, and in those days we were just a small part of the Parish Family’s boy’s required “obligations”.
Serving in the Altar Boys had a few certain perks aside from the regular normal weekend commitments, such as getting out of class in some situations on weekdays, or receiving a money tip after doing a large wedding. After serving at the Cloistered Nun’s convent next door to the school, refreshments would suddenly appear silently and mysteriously via the dumbwaiter in the small side room…spooky.
The experience certainly was not without some levity though; one day, a visiting guest Priest kicked Ralph off of the Altar, right in front of everybody in the middle of the mass because we couldn’t stop laughing when the clapper flew out of the bell when he started to ring it! I had to finish out the mass by myself with that priest, who wasn’t a very nice man. He had taps on his shoes that went clickty-click.
On the other hand, there were also some very gut wrenching moments too. I still vividly recall the man with an ashen face leading the funeral procession carrying a tiny white casket in his arms as they walked slowly down the aisle. The poor family’s grief was so palpable that it seemed to permeate throughout the entire church, affecting everyone. We were taught not to get emotional, but that day was hard.
Behind the scenes we were not as pious as we could have been, for those were the days when I found out that I did not care at all for the taste of wine, if you know what I mean.
The smells of the incense and the candle wax live on in the realm of the senses, and the fragrances of the crisp linens and cassocks are still there in my nose, reminding me of the times we spent as Altar Boys.
And once a year they’d take us all on a picnic.