Faith vs. Flatulence

Mom Had a Pill for Everything

By: - Sep 17, 2012

In the basement of Mt. Alvernia Academy the Franciscan nuns served lunch to the boys.

It was a plain room crammed with tables and benches. The only decoration was a crucifix to remind us of the presence of Jesus during raucous daily meals.

The girls dined separately. That was how the nuns distinguished us.

In every conflict the nuns favored girls and punished boys. For an infraction that meant a brisk whack on the knuckles with a ruler. Or penance sitting facing the corner of the room.  

By the time we raced down to the dining room I was famished.

The serving nuns, in working habits with aprons, silently delivered covered tins of food to the tables. It was simple and nourishing fare. Passed about were meat balls, boiled or riced potatoes, and wonderful hot gravy. Always crisp fish balls on Fridays. Catholics ate fish on Fridays. During the early 1950s, Gorton’s of Gloucester had not yet invented fish sticks, thereby revolutionizing school lunch programs.

Once the food has been passed around, still warm on our plates, we joined in prayer.

Increments of the school day were bracketed by prayer with endless Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s.

The Holy Mother of Christ was particularly important according to the nuns. Anything we might need could be asked of Him through Her. It did not seem possible to ask God for anything directly. There was always an intermediary, first Mary, then the saints for specific issues and requests.

An important part of our education was learning the proper saint to appeal to in times of need.

The daily meal ended with prayer followed by a visit to the chapel. There we asked for spiritual guidance before bursting out to the playgrounds, in a mad dash, for the all too brief recess.

The chapel was small, but suitably imposing, with stained glass windows. An aisle divided the pews with boys on one side and girls on the other.

Prayer never went well for me. I was fidgety and pumped out the words in rote with little or no reflection on their meaning and consequences. It was just a disruption from an eventual release to run about pretending to fly like Superman leaping over tall buildings with a single bound. Or prancing and cantering like the great horse Silver to the imagined cadence of the William Tell Overture.

Mostly we just prayed alone. Occasionally, the nuns informed us during lunch that a priest would visit bringing the precious relic of a saint.

Now and then Arch Bishop Cushing, later Cardinal, would visit stepping out of his limousine. The nuns would be all a flutter lining us up to come forward and kiss the outstretched ring of the Arch Bishop. This, we were told, was a kind of living relic endowed with great spiritual power. It would keep us holy, pure of thought and deed, for at least the span of a day.

Kneeling in the pews we prayed and prepared ourselves to step out and approach the altar.

That’s when it happened. To my great embarrassment I farted. So quickly and furiously that there was no time to slam my cheeks shut and prevent its fragrant exit.

Sheepishly, I took my place in the queue stepping forward to kiss the outstretched relic. My prayers now in dead earnest to be spared another incident. When it came my turn a less than spiritual presence pervaded me.

Fear of farting had put me in another state of mind. Perhaps it was a sign from God and I must react accordingly. As the nuns would say I was being tested.

Pulling together my wits I looked long and hard at the priest in his robes and at the outthrust object. Clenched in his hand was a golden reliquary with a base and round glass above from which radiated simulations of beams of light.

The encounter happened in a flash. There were but precious seconds before it was the next boy’s chance to lean forward and kiss the relic.

With a momentary pause, I gave it a good hard look that I remember vividly to this day.

The circle of glass contained two splinters or slivers forming a tiny cross. They were said to be the bones of this or that saint or fragments of the True Cross. Because the fragments were so tiny, one assumes that there were hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of similar reliquaries. They are being kissed by school children all over the world at this very moment.

Once I had kissed the relic the priest wiped it clean with a holy cloth preparing it for the next young penitent. This was not the case, however, with the ring of the Arch Bishop.

Back in my pew I tried to feel the presence of the saint.

There would be a number of such special days during the school calendar. My favorite was February 3 the Feast Day of Saint Blaise. There were no relics, but instead, an intriguing device with a handle and two crossed candles. The priest touched its intersection to your throat. Saint Blaise, before martyrdom, saved a boy from certain death with a fish bone lodged in his throat.

Coming home in a terrible state from my disaster during chapel I appealed to my Mom.

Explaining my embarrassing incident with excess gas I pleaded for a cure.

My Mom was a doctor and had a pill for everything. She was always giving us shots for this and that and loading us up with vitamins. Or nasty tasting spoons of fish oil and medicinal syrups.

It was wonderful to get sick and stay home from school. That meant, in severe cases, an excess of doctoring and mothering with new comic books and ice cream.

Quite intently I asked Mom if there was a cure for farting?

Of course, no problem, she replied producing a small bottle of anti flatulence pills. They were to be taken before and after meals. Actually, they tasted quite like sugar but, for a time, worked miraculously.

It caused a crisis of faith. Mom’s medical science was more potent and direct than appeals to the saints.

From an early age I learned that pills work better than prayers.