Over the past month or so, I have felt a compulsion to attend Christmas Mass at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Cleveland, Ohio – a church I have not even seen since 1958 when we moved away from the neighborhood. Which is why I headed out driving North from Columbus really early yesterday morning. This had an unintended benefit. NOBODY was on the roads between here and there! In fact, to avoid speeding I put the car in cruise control. This was after I noticed that I was inadvertently going 85 on a very straight stretch of I-71! Speeding tickets are not the kind of way I want to remember Christmas!
When I arrived on the west side of Cleveland, the first thing that struck me was that there was very little recognizable of the old neighborhood, although I drove by the house on Joan Avenue where I grew up and it seemed to be in reasonable condition, as indeed was the entire street. A bit shabby around the edges perhaps and certainly smaller than I remembered, but then, it IS winter. I drove west up Lorain Avenue (thanks to the lack of traffic, I had about 45 minutes to mosey around before Mass) and spotted a couple of well loved landmarks. The branch of the Cleveland Public Library where I spent an inordinate amount of time as a child, particularly during the summer months (they had air conditioning long before many homes were so blessed AND I love to read) and the old Variety theater was still standing. Mind you, it was closed, but at least it was still THERE. It was the only time and place I ever indulged in rock candy – which probably explains the state of my teeth!
I hate to recall how many times my father had to come drag me out of the Variety when I was a kid. I’d go up there for the Saturday matinees with my friends. My companions would go home on time. I would always want to see the movies that showed AFTER 6 p.m. which seemed a LOT more interesting than the kid’s fare in the afternoons!
Finally, I drove over to the still-beautiful church at the corner of Lorain Avenue and West Boulevard. The "neighborhood" used to be comprised of mostly Irish families and it has changed, perhaps for the better. I saw a lovely patchwork quilt congregation of devout Asian, Hispanic, African-American as well as the expected Irish families (and a scattering of surprisingly well behaved and truly adorable babies - a good sign and so appropriate for the season). The pastor is a boy with whom I attended grammar school. And he has snow white hair! (sigh)
The beautiful marble interior seemed so much smaller than I remembered, yet so safe and familiar. When the carillon in the very tall spire of that still magnificent church started to herald the beginning of Mass, I was absolutely slammed with memories. I wept quietly throughout most of the service, so filled with the mostly joyous (and sometimes painful) remembrances of my childhood. When I left, I was somehow lighter for the experience. Clearly, my subconscious knew I needed to unload a burden, and unload I did!
Incidentally, if you do happen to live in the Cleveland area, I highly recommend a visit to St. Ignatius of Antioch for a Sunday mass. It’s an extraordinary experience.
After Mass, carefully following my Yahoo! map, I drove to my cousin Ernie’s house – arriving about 2 hours earlier than intended, again due to light traffic! But they were up and doing and I was able to have a good visit with Ernie that I might not have been able to enjoy had I arrived at the intended hour.
The whole family was there and we had a lovely, loving day filled with good companionship and great food. There are NO bad cooks in my family. The ham and turkey were stupendous. The cheesy potatoes were superb. The yams were great and the bread and biscuits absolutely luscious. The stuffed tomatoes were outrageously good. I kind of lost track of all the yummy food on the table, but I made it my business to taste at least a little of everything and enjoyed every savory morsel. I have never had curried fruit. Wow! I have been missing something.
As I drove home, far more slowly due to far heavier traffic AND some very annoying rain showers, it occurred to me that there really is nothing to compare with being with those you love on a holiday. Gifts aren’t the reason we gather together (although I LOVED mine) – we gather together to feel that connection to one another and our past lives while sharing laughter and, sometimes, a few tears. We gather to watch the progress of the young ones growing up. We gather to share the love that binds us as a family and to make note of the fact that, at least in my family, my cousins are still a doggone good looking bunch of people, even though most of us have got a bit of mileage on us these days!
I wish for all of you who read this that your Christmas was filled with the same happiness and love that I enjoyed. I further pray for all of you that 2007 is a year of health, love and safety.
And finally – showing my opinion of the ACLU – God bless us, every one!