An Altar Boy Remembers

by Albert Altimari

I was raised in a Catholic environment with all of the traditions and rituals. While in the fifth grade I achieved the promised land. Yes, I was accepted as an altar boy. This was no minor feat because back in those days the Mass was said in Latin and I had to learn a completely different language.
Since I was a rookie, I was given the early assignments. This meant either the 5:30 or the 6:30 A.M. service. In case I forgot the words or made a mistake of some sort, there would be fewer people there to witness it.
It was Saturday morning and I had made plans to go fishing with my friends, but I had to serve early Mass first. My friends agreed to attend Mass and wait for me so I wouldn't have to catch up with them later.They voted on it, and it was a close vote but I pulled it out.
I promised Jimmy Caldwell that I would tell him who wrote that stuff about him having big feet on the gym wall in exchange for his vote. This turned out to be the swing vote that I needed. Of course, this meant that I would have to disguise my handwriting in the future, but what the heck. They agreed to attend Mass and hide the fishing gear in the bushes outside.
It was the end of July, and even though it was early in the morning it was already very hot and humid. Wearing that cassock made it even hotter. I glanced around and sitting in the second pew were my Mom and Dad. They were both very proud of me. Sitting directly in front of the were the Immaculate Heart Sisters.
I could not help noticing that everyone was sweating except the good Sisters. With those big bulky habits they wore I was sure they had to sweat sooner or later. But I never saw them sweat. Maybe that was why it took so long to become a Sister. You had to learn not to sweat first. Maybe that was why no students were allowed in the convent. The Sisters didn't want anyone to know how they did it. I had no proof of this; it was only the theory of a ten-year-old.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized the Sisters totally amazed me. They also had pockets you could never see. They could reach in there and pull out a pencil or a few books. Sometimes, if they felt like it, they could even pull out a small blackboard. What else was in there? Regular people would never find out because it was one of those unexplained things. Sort of like how a single blade of grass can grow right through solid cement.
At any rate, the Mass started and things were going really well. Before I knew it, Mass was half over and I would be heading for the fishing gear in about 15 minutes. It was almost time for me to get those little cruets that held the water and the wine. I thought it would be a good idea if I wiped my hands first. I was really sweating and I sure didn't want the cruets to slip out of my hands. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and then it happened.
All the nickels, dimes, and pennies I had in my pocket for busfare and lunch started making their way out of my pocket and down the shiny marble steps surrounding the altar. It sounded like each coin hit all six steps on the way down. The sounds were magnified because the church was so quiet.
I tried to reach doen and grab some of the bouncing coins, but in the process I somehow managed to kick those little gold bells I was supposed to ring later on. Those little gold bells didn't miss a step on the way down, either. I looked around, my eyes darting from face to face, and the Sisters were trying not to laugh, but some of them were unsuccessful.
My fishing buddies just sat there with a collective stare on their faces. My mom had a stunned look on her face. The only other time I remember seeing that look on her face was when I told my uncle George that his hair was on crooked. As I remember there were a few other chuckles around the church as the coins continued their escape.
Father Joseph, the priest saying the Mass, looked dazed. After Mass was over the gentle priest smiled and told me that everyone makes mistakes. I thought he might never allow me to serve Mass again, but he only patted me on the head and assured me it was okay.
I did go fishing, but of course I didn't catch anything. I figured it was God's way of telling me to watch myself next time. I guess it was better than getting hit by lightening or having my ears fall off. It's funny now, but it wasn't funny then. Every once in a while, I still hear about it from someone and I only smile. Of course, I still don't know why the Sisters never sweat. I'm working on it.