I can almost hear the exclamations and perhaps even outrage at the title of my offering today. However, remember, the purpose of my prose is to enlighten those of you who were not fortunate enough to be raised radical catholic in the era 1950 – 1959 in the hope that some light can be shed on why it was we did the things we did. Trust me, I will not scandalise you ( or my upbringing ) too much I hope!
Catholics in the 1950s were, generally speaking, not real well off. There were a number of reasons for this of course but to me, as a kid it was because we weren’t liked very much and we did not like anyone who wasn’t a catholic very much either! This was a quandary for me. I knew that if I behaved myself, did all the right things, did not commit mortal sin and die before I went to confession to have it expunged from my “soul” I would get my “treasure in heaven”. In year 2 this meant as much ice cream as I wanted accessible 24/7 for the rest of all eternity. If however, I died in the state of mortal sin – perhaps having missed Mass on a Sunday ( snowballs chance in hell in my family ) or eaten meat on Friday then it was the highway to Hell at the speed of light and Hell was pretty terrible. “Imagine” on Irish imported PP told us in our First Communion Class “ all day long in fire without water, without food for ALL ETERNITY! GOOD GOD it was enough to make you behave yourself!
I had no non-Catholic friends but I had a truckload of non catholic relatives! Both my maternal Grandmother and my Father were “converts”. I used to worry about my Nanna and my Uncles, Aunties and cousins who were good Presbyterians but I was comforted in the knowledge that all good people, who had the misfortune NOT to be members of the one true faith would be nearly as happy Catholics in eternity in a lovely place call Limbo which was just like Heaven but God wasn’t there. The other “hereafter place” that I learned about was Purgatory “ a place or state of punishment where some souls suffer for a time before they go to heaven.”
I can just remember having an advertisement shown to me by my Mum at the end of which was “Catholics need not apply”! Of course the other reason why tykes tended to hover just above the bread line was the size of their families! I felt almost apologetic my entire childhood because our family – Mum,Dad and 6 children only filled one pew in the Church on Sunday!
So, the point of all of that recollection is to set the scene for birthday gift giving. My own children were spoilt rotten on their birthdays in comparison to the meagre pickings of my own childhood! I have four children which is a bit of an embarrassing total considering my heritage and I was a “working outside the family home” mother so we always had money for birthday presents…oooopppssss- a very necessary side comment here otherwise my second daughter will cry fowl. I NEVER had money for her birthday because it is in the first week of January which coincided with school holidays and the Christmas overspend fallout. I was a teacher and my employer used to pay a lump sum payment at the end of the school year which included the holiday loading and the first pay in January, so she used to get promissory notes. She would have been much more happy if the practice of Spiritual Bouquets had not died out I think!
A Spiritual Bouquet was something that Nuns were particularly good at crafting. On the back of a “Holy Card” would be written, using exquisite penmanship sometimes coming close to the illuminated manuscript of The Book of Kells, a list of “things” the giver was giving you in honour of your birthday, your First Communion, your marriage, your graduation – whatever.
“To Dear Little Louie.
In honour of your birthday I will offer
10 Holy Communions
God bless you sweetheart. Your loving Cousin, Uncle, Friend, Brother, Sister etc etc etc
Hallmark had nothing on the holy card industry!
Explanations – and aspiration could be “St Joseph…” indeed any saint “pray for us” An ejaculation was “a short, sharp prayer” “Jesus help me”. Indeed it was not until I was in year 7 and Sr Agnes pulled down the blinds in the classroom after lunch one day to tell us about the mystery of reproduction – circa 1962 – that I was introduced to another definition of the word!