Monday, December 2, 2013

how you know you're getting older / discovering i was cath'lick

If you're lucky, you keep getting older. Well, sure, it's lucky. Otherwise you're dead.

Luck aside, our vanity often resists the notion of getting older, even though each year we have a year to prepare ourselves for the next number.

The round numbers--the ones that end in zero--are always a jolt because you flip from one decade to the next.

But even as you're getting older, your own age feels like a pair of jeans you've been wearing for a while already. They might have a spot where the denim is wearing through but that's okay, because they're still so comfortable. You might even think you still look sexy in these jeans.

But then all of sudden your youngest sibling turns 50!!!

Ouch. That's when you know.

For me, the day my youngest brother was born heralded another revelation. As my mother was rushed off to the hospital, my siblings and I were divvied up among the neighbours. Was this arranged ahead of time or did my parents go knocking on doors in the middle of the night? No idea.
In the morning, before school, the neighbour lady informed me that I had a new brother. After school when I returned to the neighbour's house, where my 18-month-old brother had spent the day doing whatever 18-month-olds do, I was intrigued and delighted by the lovely smell of bacon frying. I had never had bacon for supper. Perhaps never at all. I don't recall that we ate bacon in our house. It smelled so good!
But when we all sat at the table, my brother and I were given mashed potato and salmon patties. I didn't understand. The patties were bland and mushy. I felt my brother and I were being punished because we were unwelcome. I didn't dare ask.
But the neighbour's children did. Their mom said, Because we were Cath'lick. Her kids didn't know what that meant. Nor did I. I'd always thought that my parents had me bussed to a different school from the one all the other kids in the neighbourhood went to for their own perverse reasons. Religion wasn't explained to me. Our family didn't go to church or do anything else that I recognized as religious. (Not until one of my grandfathers from Europe came to visit and then we all had to dress nicely on Sunday and go to church.)
The other kids asked what Cath'lick meant. Their mom said it meant my brother and I had to eat fish on Friday.
Of course, at school I'd learned about the Pope and priests and nuns, but I assumed everyone had to learn about those things at school. I didn't know it had anything to do with being Cath'lick. I'd never heard of this fish rule. I didn't like being Cath'lick. I couldn't understand how and why the neighbour had decided that my brother and I weren't like her kids--that we were Cath'lick.
In retrospect, it was very kind of her to accommodate our differences--which we didn't even know about--but at the time it was confusing.

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