Friday, March 20, 2009

In the land of the rosary
I was raised Catholic. A strong Catholic family. Eight years of Catholic school. First Communion. Confirmation. Confession. Holy days. I received ashes on Ash Wednesday, got my throat blessed on St. Blaise Day, took palms on Palm Sunday and said the rosary when anybody died.

I stopped going to church in high school and honestly don't think I ever believed. But one thing I did like was rosary beads.

I never liked saying the rosary. All those endless Our Fathers and Hail Mary's. Kneeling for half an hour on uncomfortable wood. And it was always some sort of depressing occasion. But I loved the beads. When I was little I thought they were so beautiful. All the different types of beads, the colors and textures. Like jewelry. I wanted to wear them around my neck but was forbidden. They were sacred. Special. Not to be played with in spite of their enticements. And it seemed everyone in my family had a set that was so fitting to who they were.

My grandmother, the ascetic, had strong black beads, no-frills. Almost masculine in their holy simplicity. She kept them hanging from the post of her bed. Her room was just this side of a medieval chapel anyway, with a solemn wooden crucifix on the wall and a holy water holder hanging by the door. Every so often, when we went to church, she'd fill a small glass bottle with blessed water from the font at the door and use it to replenish the supply in her room. She would say the rosary on long road trips and once a week or so, sitting bolt upright in bed. Not the warmest of women, my grandmother.

My mother's set was blue. Fake crystals that shone in the light, with a silver crucifix hanging below. Hers were kept in her jewelry box. A white leather case filled with costume necklaces and earrings. The only real jewelry my mother owned, and still owns, is her beautiful wedding and engagement ring. Her beads were in a little velvet bag that nestled nest to her "aurora borealis" necklace and the green plastic clip-on shamrock earrings she wore once a year to our church's corned beef and cabbage dinner on St. Patrick's Day.

I don't recall mine as a child. I do know I have a set still hanging around. Two sets, actually. One of tiny pinkish beads in a small silver case. I have no idea where it is, but I do know I still own it. The other set is plain and cheap. I have no idea where it came from but I do know it lives in my sock drawer.

The last time I said the rosary was with this last set of beads. Husband's grandmother was raised Catholic. When she died I couldn't attend her funeral, which was not a Catholic mass. While the family gathered back east, I walked down to the local church. The same church where I had been baptized all those years ago, and said the rosary in her honor. She would have wanted someone to do that for her. So there I knelt, the old familiar beads in hand, and said the ancient words while my knees, once again, ached.

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