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Did Somebody Make All This?

Updated: May 6

I slipped the scapula that Grammy gave me over my neck and adjusted its little icons. It was made of two tiny religious pictures connected by ribbons so you could wear it with one image hanging in front and the other in back. The front showed Jesus’s sacred heart; the back displayed Mother Mary. 

Show me how to protect Mommy if it gets bad again. Help me be brave.

Despite the violence in our house, my parents claimed to believe in justice and freedom. In November of 1960, they were ecstatic because Jack Kennedy won the presidential election. They thought Black people should not have to wait in a separate line or sit in a separate part of the movie theater in Glencoe. Dad said the United States should bring the liberties of democracy to the world. He didn’t “fight the war for freedom” just to see Tricky Dick Nixon take over. 

But Dad was not for justice and freedom at home. At home we had to do everything his way so he could have his Coke or his coffee or his meal or his Scotch or his martini. Everything revolved around his moods. It was time for me, now a fifth grader, to stand up to my father.

My confirmation ceremony was coming up soon. For Catholics, this was a sacrament that affirmed our faith in the teachings. During the ritual, I would kneel at the railing around the altar, and the priest would mark the sign of the cross on my forehead with a special oil. He would say a prayer, then bless me “in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.” The sacrament would make me an adult in the eyes of the church. Would it give me adult courage?

To prepare for the rite of passage, I copied Linda and donned the sacred scapula. I wore it under my blouse to Mass and school. It was supposed to remind me to be good, but I forgot about it except when it scraped against my skin. Then I felt a thrill of blessedness, as if I were special—so special that God would surely choose my prayers to answer. 

My prayer was that the confirmation ritual would give me the grown-up bravery I needed at home. Because sometimes I knew I should knock my father out with a golf club. 


—From Chapter Five, The Empty Bowl

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