Many of us are familiar with having to spend time with cousins who played tricks on us. Yolanda Adele’s visit with relatives when she was a little girl ended unexpectedly, in part due to some outrageous suggestions by a cousin. Yolanda assures us that this humorous and poignant story is grounded in fact. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritwwww11os College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns. The summer I was eight years old my mother was starting a new job at Owens Illinois, a glass business in the city of Vernon which operated 24/7. Mom worked rotating shifts. For those reasons I was sent to El Paso, Tex., to stay with my paternal aunt and uncle, Tia Hortencia and Tio Juan. They had three kids.
One of their sons, Richard, was closest to my age. He didn’t like me much, especially when his parents told him he had to share his toys with me. They had a nice backyard with strong old trees.
Whenever Richard and I were sent outside to play he’d climb up one of the trees and stare at me until I left the yard. Not that I cared to climb the trees because I wore dresses. I was never a so-called “Tom-boy” type. It was a lonely summer for me, not unlike being a latch-key kid at home in California in that respect.
When summer ended my aunt used her influence to enroll me into The Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Elementary School. It was a beautiful building with grand architectural columns.
I walked with my cousin to school. He didn’t talk to me, except to taunt me by singing loudly, “Yoli Pollie, full of frijolie.” He walked far ahead making it difficult for me to catch up. I couldn’t wait to make new friends at my new school so I could walk with them.
My parents weren’t churchgoers so the religious structure was foreign to me, and I think that was something that my aunt and the new school didn’t know. I very much wanted to fit in. But soon it was apparent that there wasn’t going to be a “welcome wagon” for me, the “new kid.” In fact, everyone seemed to have his or her own little tight circle of friends.
To make matters worse, I found myself a little spooked by the Nun teachers who looked like penguins, with puffy cheeks that protruded from their white, bandage-like habit garb around their faces, called a wimple.
In my English class we spent a lot of time drawing circles between the lines of our notebook paper. This was to teach us “good penmanship.” I thought that was weird! In California we wrote whole words, not just “o” and “e.”
On Fridays our class went to chapel. The intricate carved wood doors of the confessional fascinated me. I had never been in or seen the inside of one.
I saw my cousin Richard go inside the confessional. It was not long before he came out of those mysterious doors. After school I asked him to tell me about it. To my surprise he seemed happy to talk to me. He even gave me helpful hints that I could use when it was my turn to visit inside the confessional. First he said, “Tell Sister Teresa that you have made your First Holy Communion in California.”
“But I haven’t!”
“That is the only way they will let you inside. Now listen, when you go inside there will be a bench. Kneel on it and face straight into the small, barred, draped window. Father will be on the other side of the window. Say, ‘Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It’s been a week since my last confession.’ It will be dark in there. He will not be able to see you and you won’t be able to see him.”
“Then what will I tell him, Richard?” I asked. “I’m not too sure what things I have done that are sins.”
“Hummm. Well, be creative if you have to. Do you know some really, really bad things other people have done?”
“Yes. My uncle got drunk and got in a fist fight once, breaking a guy’s jaw. And my friend’s sister had a baby before she got married. Oh, and our neighbor likes to use really nasty curse words. Why?”
“Priests don’t like wasting their time on small boring sins. So just say that you got drunk and got in a fist fight and you like to use nasty curse words, and you want to have a baby before you get married! The priest will forgive their sins through you! And you would have done a good deed for them and the priest will be satisfied with a good, interesting confession, see?”
“But Richard, won’t I get in big trouble?”
“No! Remember, it’s dark inside the confessional, the priest can’t see you. C’mon, don’t be chicken!”
I thought for a moment. Maybe Richard will like me if I do it and I do want to go inside the confessional like everyone else in my new school. Most importantly, I will probably be saving my Uncle, my friend’s sister, and our neighbor from the fires of Hell when I get their sins forgiven.
“O.K, I will do it!” I said.
The following Friday at chapel I raised my hand. Sister Teresa walked over to me and asked if I’d made my First Communion. I nodded, and then she said I was next.
I walked into the confessional and knelt down. The voice on the other side instructed me to recite the act of contrition. Huh??? Richard did not tell me that! To my horror I realized that I had never learned it. So, I tried to talk my way out of it by saying. “Father, I may not have long to live so just let me tell you my sins.”
When I finished with my creative rendition of my sins, the door to the confessional was pulled open, and I was pulled out. A red-faced, bug-eyed, tall priest lifted me up by my elbow all the way to the Holy Mother’s office. I remember that my feet came in contact with the ground sporadically.
As the bug-eyed priest repeated my confession to the Holy Mother, a purple vain was visible on his throat. I remember thinking it was a sign that he needed an exorcism. I had learned about exorcism from a couple of girls at school. They said that an exorcism can drive out “The Evil Madness” from a person, even a priest, if the evil resides in his soul.
Yet, the Holy Mother only glared at me from where she sat on her oversized red chair before she asked me the reason for my “creative confession.” I said that I wanted to save the souls of some sinners I knew from the fires of Hell.
I could tell by the narrowing of her eyes and the tightening of her jaw that she didn’t believe me. Then she wanted to know if I were sorry for what I said in the confessional. I said, “No, not really.”
I guess that was the wrong answer because no time was wasted before the Holy Mother got on the phone to my aunt and told her about my “shocking confession” (so much for privacy)! My aunt was also told to promptly pick me up.
When we got home, my aunt called my mother in California and told her that things weren’t working out as she had hoped. She didn’t say why.
The next day my maternal abuelo (grandfather), Jesus, came for me. We went to the train station and boarded the Santa Fe Railroad Train to Los Angeles. I enjoyed riding the train. One of our relatives worked for the Santa Fe Railroad and gave our family passes on occasion. This was an occasion.
On the long ride to California I told my abuelo what had happened in school. He was a quiet man by nature but he had a good laugh over my creative confession. I didn’t mind, really, because it was the first time that I had ever seen him laugh out loud.
When he finally stopped laughing he said, “Let that be a lesson to you. Don’t take on other peoples sins.”
“Yes sir!” I answered. My abuelo didn’t tell my mother what I had told him on the train.
I eventually did make my First Holy Communion a few years later in California, but I made sure that my confessions were never too creative.
Published: April 9, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 52