My dad was a member of The Serra Club. It got its name from Fr. Junipero Serra and its mission was to promote the vocations of priests and nuns in the Catholic church. Once a month on a Thursday night he would attend their meetings, and on occasion he and Mom would go to the yearly convention. You don't hear much about them any more, but back in those days it was a very active group.
Shortly after Easter each year the club would host a family breakfast at a private country country club that some of the members attended. The group was predominately upper income - lots of doctors and dentists living in big houses.
And then there was us.
Mom would be a nervous wreck prior to this event, making sure we had nice outfits and that we knew to mind our manners. "And you boys better not try any funny business," she'd sternly tell my brothers. "I'll be watching you the whole time."
On a Saturday night prior to our annual pilgrimage, Mom wanted us girls to try on the dresses she had sewn for us one more time. She got one whiff of Jean and said, "What in the world...........?" Jean had a fondness for garlic salt and had been pouring it into the palm of her hand and licking it over and over.
I thought Mom was going to cry. Her sure bet - The Girls - had just thrown her for a loop. "Look at me," she said to Jean. "Don't you get to close to anybody tomorrow, do you hear? You and that garlic need to stay next to your brothers and sisters and nobody else. You're going to reek for days."
Mom was right. Jean smelled like a garlic farm, but we scarfed down the hash browns we only ate once a year at the swanky, members only club while The Boys crammed their pockets with dessert mints.
In the group's promotion of this line of work, they would put on pageants at local churches which my dad was in charge of for years. Stacked in our utility room were boxes of the miniature habits of priests and nuns that kids would get chosen to wear for The Parade of Vocations.
It was Toddlers and Tiaras for The Catholics.
When it was our church's turn to hold this event, my dad (who with my mom shlepped those boxes around the Chicagoland area for years) made sure I was picked to wear the habit of the nuns who taught at our school - The Congregation of Notre Dame.
At nine years old even I knew it was an honor.
I was dressed in the starchy, uncomfortable habit that made turning my head impossible. Being a nun required putting this on every day? Sheesh, no wonder The Serra Club had its work cut out for them.
I whined to Mom as she and the other helpers got the kids ready in a 4th grade classroom. She would have no part of it. "You get out there and smile and do your best."
"But Mom......" I cried. "My butt really hurts."
"My butt. It hurts when I walk."
"Oh for God's sake........," Mom said as she marched me to the back of the line with the other miniature priests and nuns for the big clergy parade. "Act like a nun and pray."
When it was my turn I smiled and tried to look in the direction of the audience but that starch was stiff as a board. I couldn't see a thing on either side of my head, but the audience seemed to love the pint-size version of that familiar habit. Unbeknownst to them was the fact that I was miserable with a delicate problem underneath the heavy, black robe.
I followed Mom's advice and prayed to Mary to miraculously heal my burning butt, but with each step I took around the gym another revelation unfolded before me.
I knew that I was born into a family that had no business trying to get into the convent or the country club.