Janis Jaquith
738 words


The year is 1960. I'm eight years old, sitting on a hard pew, between my parents. It's a hot, sticky summer Sunday and the open windows on either side of the church let in a warm breeze that carries the thick scent of freedom. It's the same breeze that yesterday lifted my hair as I flew down the street on my bike, the breeze that dried the sweat on my forehead as I secretly climbed my father's ladder and sat on the roof of our house where the breeze was strong and the view expansive, thrilling.

I'm leaning against my father's broad arm, willing the breeze to blow harder and cool my face when, like a field of starlings responding to an unseen signal, the congregation rises in unison. I take my place among them, and standing up on top of the padded kneeler, I'm almost as tall as my parents' shoulders.

I am surrounded by grownups -- a solid wall of grownups all around me. There is comfort in this, even on a stifling hot day. The priest speaks the first two words, "Our Father..." and then they all join him. "...Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name..."

The low rumble of grownup voices surrounds me. I join them. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done..." The joining of my voice with theirs sets up a harmonic vibration that resounds inside my chest. This is a curious, physical sensation, a vibration of the sternum. I feel it and know that I am part of something bigger than myself, part of this great, rumbling US and now we're saying, "...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil..."

The Mass continues. We kneel, we line up and receive Communion, we kneel again and sit. And all through this my mind wanders: to the moon and back, to the warm sand at the beach, to the brittle pages of the book hidden under my bed.

Again we rise...But this is not part of the Mass. This is not when we usually stand. The priest has something to say to us. He is saying something about movies, about which movies we're allowed to go to. Am I hearing this right?

I whisper up to my father, "Is he talking about movies?"

But my father does not hear me, so intent is he to listen to what the priest is saying. I think, like me, he can't believe what he's hearing.

We are asked, all of us, to raise our right hands and say what the priest says. Obediently, I raise my hand, as the people in front of us have done. My parents are standing, but their hands remain defiantly at their sides. I pull my hand down and hide it behind my back.

And now there is a rumbling all around us, but it's not a part of me. My parents, and I with them, remain silent as the rest of the flock vows to attend only those movies that are approved by The Church's Legion of Decency. I have no idea what a legion of decency might be. I do know that my parents are staring solemnly straight ahead, and my father's chest -- right where his tie and lapels come together -- is going in and out faster than usual, as if he just climbed down the ladder and is standing still for a while to catch his breath. And I know that this is important, that my parents and I -- my family together -- have decided to separate ourselves, momentarily, from this flock.

It would be comforting to join in the mass recitation of these unexpected vows, to feel the low vibration resounding in our chests -- massaging our hearts -- to cooperate and be part of this US. Instead, we stand silent and resolute, having made our own decision, come to our own conclusion.

The breeze has stiffened. It cools my burning face as the rhythmic chant of unforeseen vows surrounds, but does not overtake us. And I am as proud as I will ever be in my life to be a member of this tiny, rebellious congregation.

Copyright ©2023, Janis Jaquith. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission prohibited.