Friday, December 03, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: Busing Tables for God

Our Lady of Angels, like most churches, was constantly having fundraisers. Monday night bingo was a staple and my dad was the caller for many years. The annual Fall Carnival. Selling Christmas seals. Selling candy bars. Selling Christmas trees. Car washes.

And, of course, food.

The St. Patrick’s Day corned beef & cabbage dinner.
The 4th of July pancake breakfast.
The Columbus Day spaghetti dinner.
The end of Fall Carnival bar-b-que.
The Easter brunch.

I swear I spent my entire childhood waiting tables. Because, of course, all the kids were free labor.

The parents did all the cooking, of course, but us kids got roped in for everything else. We swept and cleaned the cafeteria. We set up the tables. We made centerpieces and laid out silverware and glasses. We took tickets. And we schlepped food for hours. Delivering endless plates of food to people who were used to dealing with actual waiters and waitresses and expected us to behave in kind.

We cleared the dirties. Brought coffee and dessert. Fetched and carried. And hated every minute of it. We grumbled about child labor laws and wondered if this would cut our time in Purgatory. But we were not allowed to back out. For days before these events every Catholic kids all over Silver Creek would come down with mysterious illnesses. A combination of flu-like symptoms and scurvy. Perhaps gout. Maybe a touch of the plague.

But their heartless parents would accept nothing less than loss of limb as an excuse to get out of serving duty. In spite of our protestations and our no-doubt wildly contagious illness would infect the entire population of Silver Creek, mothers would deliver us to the cafeteria on time and tell us to behave ourselves.

We’d say goodbye our families with a note of “I’ll never see you again as I’m going off to be a Catholic martyr since serving spaghetti to the pious is just the same as being burnt at the stake” and off we’d go to do our duty. Sadly the parents never gave us the goodbyes our sad state deserved and we were left with the feeling that they didn’t actually care about us.

Sister Luke always seemed to be in charge of the children’s waiter corps and would check our names off on an ancient clipboard. Then she’d hand us aprons so big we’d have to fold them over three or four times so we wouldn’t trip on them. Then she’d give us a crash course in how to deliver food (“crash” being the operative word as someone always managed to drop an entire tray of whatever the night’s meal was) and set us loose.

The parental cooking staff always seemed to be made up of the bossiest people in the parish. Looking back I’m sure they were exhausted by the weeks of planning and days of cooking. But as a child they were something out of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and we lived in fear of being noticed. God forbid you should actually make eye contact with one, they’d take that as free reign to make you their personal child slave and you’d spend the rest of the night being ordered about by Mrs. Cruson or Mrs. Peterson.

Consequently the children of OLA were notorious for their bad posture as we all developed a habit of looking at the floor and not actually at anyone. Being repeatedly told to “stand up straight” was better than having Mr. Freire say “You! More garlic bread on the table by the Virgin Mary.” (Invariably your personal slave driver called you “you.” On the nights of fundraiser dinners, every child became “You.” We even had name badges on our aprons. But the cooks were too busy slicing and stirring to read.

I remember one night, I think it was the corned beef & cabbage dinner, when You McKay, You Carpenter, You Folsom and I were on salad duty. We’d walk around the drafty room with huge wooden bowls of salad. These things were the size of taiko drums and weighed a ton. And they were filled with a gourmet mix of iceberg lettuce and an oil and vinegar dressing that slopped over the rim and stained our aprons with a pink tinge. In the middle of serving one us hapless kids, I think it was Marty Carpenter (Sorry, “You” Carpenter) tripped over an untied shoelace and sprayed salad and dressing over half of the women’s club table. There were screams. There was iceberg in the bouffant. And there was Father Sheehey throwing napkins into the fray and muttering “Jesus, Mary, and all the saints!” repeatedly under his breath.

The background accompaniment to all this chaos was the song stylings of Tony Cavalerro and the Cavaliers.

How do I describe them?

Well, “bad” pretty much sums it up. But they really achieved impressive nuances of bad. First off Tony C (as he liked to be called) couldn’t sing. But he insisted on belting out “Volare” every single show. Followed by “That’s Amore” and, of course, “Volare.” No, that’s not a typo. He always sang it twice. Tony C always wanted to be Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Vic Damone. But he was more like the sound I’ve always pictured a cow made when stuck in them mud.

Adding to the merriment was the Cavaliers. I think the rule was if you owned an instrument you could be a Cavalier. Didn’t matter if you could play it. Mattered less if your instrument went with the rest of the band. So at any one time the Cavaliers included an accordion, drums, guitar, violin, trumpet, French horn, bagpipes, triangle, more drums, clarinet, cello, dulcimer, drums, another accordion, tuba, and marimba. We lived in fear of the Cavaliers.

The only good thing about them is that about the third rendition of “Volare,” people actually hope the child waiters spill salad dressing down their dresses so they’ll have an excuse to leave early.


Duke said...

Our school had fundraisers with local bands too. I remember one called Ed Coffee and the Ridgerunners. They played Bluegrass like a asmatic breathes - with lots of wheezing.

But I wouldn't trade those fall festivals for anything. Looking back, they were unique and much better than sitting home watching TV.

Kittie Howard said...

Hilarious, Decca, hilarious! (Oops, You Decca! Don't wanna go to purgatory!) I think a class action suit is in order, with interest gained, hey, you're loaded!

I taught in a Catholic school once. You truly hit the iceberg lettuce on the head. But, then, if you hadn't had the plague a few times, you wouldn't have this gorgeous story.