The Sacrificial Pew

Church pews are always hard to come by during the holidays.  I hadn’t heard the term C and E’s until I was in my late teens.  These are individuals choosing to attend a Holy Ceremony only on Christmas and Easter.  Pews are reserved for C and E’s two days out of the year.   I have no problem with this.  Maybe that’s because I don’t go to church  anymore.  Perfectly understanding and supporting our 1st amendment, exercising Freedom of Religion, I believe some Christians took liberties with that constitutional right.  Christians attending mass only on Christmas and Easter conveniently interpreted  it by thinking it stated “Freedom of Timely Religion”, or perhaps, “Freedom of Intermittent Religion”.

Around the age of six or seven, I began noticing this sacrificial pew phenomenon, also known in the liturgical profession as SPP.  Personally, I didn’t really mind getting to church early.  I’d sit in a pew in the back row with Dad, Mom, and several brothers and sisters until being kindly forced minutes later by Dad to sacrifice our pew to some poor old bag who showed up late with her deadbeat nephew.  Looking at the bright side, I thought standing up was actually better than sitting, then standing, sitting then standing, and well, you know the Catholic drill.  Standing during the entire ceremony seemed to simplify mass.

Usually, during the non holiday season, I’d tend to drift off in the pew only to be gracefully awakened by brothers who understood when to stand and when to sleep.  Avoiding sitting next to my father, the bruises my brothers provided were well worth it.  If Dad caught you snoozing, it was Liturgy Lecture time after church, extending the mass an extra 15 minutes in the parking lot, thus cutting into my Sunday football.

By age eight or nine, I begin questioning the sacrificial pew, but I’d bite my tongue because I was not quite religiously educated enough to make a proper argument with my father.  Even if I had been, Dad’s glare was the only argument required for him to succeed.  To his benefit, after church, he would make his best attempt to explain why this is the right thing to do for these poor elderly C and E’s who needed the pew more than I did.  I thought, and again, only thought, these Q-Tips who needed this pew should learn the virtues of “punctuality.”


There were those random years when I’d be teased by the pews when the last two rows were empty.  We’d sit down blissfully, only to have our hopes crushed fifteen minutes into the church service when a bus full of cotton tops would bust open the doors, bingo blotters in tow, demanding to be seated.  The ushers would do their best, but we knew our row would be the first to go. (Our family did, on occasion, take up an entire row.)  It was like a hockey game when the players, right in the middle of action, are allowed to make substitutions by leaping over their bench railing.  Similarly, we’d have to jump over the back of the pews to avoid a walker cracking one of us in the shin.  Dad acted as our hockey coach.  “Greg, you and Tom are the first to go.  Ben, you’re next.”  Fruitlessly, Greg would argue.  “We’re not even the oldest!”  What about Patricia, Dorothy and Maggie?  They’re all older than us!”  Dad craftily explained to Greg why the AARP members, and other females, always come first, even if they show up last.

Attending Catholic classes at the age of ten and eleven, I began to learn about items such as The Ten Commandments.  One of the Commandments shouted, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”  Aha!  Now I have a piously educated argument with my father.  I tried to convince him that sacrificing pews was just allowing the untimely and unjust to steal from us.  Instead of kindly reinforcing the differences between right and wrong, or sacrificing and stealing, he told me to get in the car and stop questioning His Commandments or he would be forced to kick my ass up between my shoulder blades.

Between the ages of twelve and thirteen, I had matured and finally understood why we all have to make sacrifices.  No, it’s not just to avoid getting your ass kicked up between your shoulder blades, but rather, it can merely mean saving a dying art which was once called chivalry:  courtesy, generosity, and valor.  My father had his own misgivings, but he always reinforced, by example, the importance of courteousness, generosity and valor.  So easily these can be displayed by simply sacrificing a pew.


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Formula 409 and the Bi*ch who Stole Christmas (a bedtime story)

As most folks do, my late father used to tell me bedtime stories.  They were commonly dreadful.  Prince Gingersnap and the Three Rubber Bands was always his favorite. It wasn’t mine.  There were tactical problems: boring, weird and no conclusion.  It did put me to sleep, but I was always looking forward to a story having a proper conclusion.    That’s when he told me the story which he titled, “Formula 409 and the Bi*ch Who Stole Christmas”.

It was a story about a wife who wished to poison her husband on Christmas Eve.  This had me intrigued, and little did I know at the time, it was a prophetic story about my own life.  Here is the bedtime story.

Me: Tell me a different bedtime story!

Dad: Ok.

Dad:  Bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches were sacred in this family.  If they took the time to grow a tomato, and then proceed to use those tomatoes on white bread, the tomatoes should not be honored as jesters, but Kings.  (At a young age, my father taught me of the importance of a good BLT, especially a ripe tomato.)

Me: Proceed.

Dad: Well, one Christmas Evening, the husband took the time to provide a wonderful dinner of bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches for he and his wife.

Me: Sounds great!

Dad:  Not so fast.  His wife tried to poison him.

Me: With what?

Dad: Formula 409.  She sprayed it on his bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich.

Me: So far, this is a terrible story.  Why would she do that?

Dad: She had a bit of an evil streak in her.  He deserved some of it, but he didn’t deserved to be poisoned.

Me:  So far, unlike the bible, this is the worst story ever told.

Dad:  No, it gets better.

Me: You mean worse.

Dad:  No, they got a divorce.

Me: That’s the ending?!!  I will never get married, nor will I eat another bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich for fear of getting poisoned.  Thanks a lot.

Dad: Wait a minute.  It has a happy ending.

Me: You’re full of it, Dad.

Dad: He remarried.

Me: Why?  So, he could get poisoned  again and suffer an additional divorce?  I am going to have nightmares tonight.  I may as well become a rabbi.  (Since we were Catholic, I thought I could give him a taste of his own nightmare.)

Dad:  Benjamin, there is a happy ending.

Me: Do tell.  I think you are messing with me again.

Dad: He married the BLT Fairy.

Me: I’ve never heard of the BLT Fairy.

Dad:  With his new wife, she promised to never poison his BLT’s.  Additionally, she promised to block out, much like rebounding in basketball, anyone who could poison him … or ruin a precious tomato.  She gave him the safe gift of protection for Christmas.  It’s fun not to get poisoned…especially on Christmas.  Good night, my son.

Me: Now I want to eat BLT’s and get married.  Thanks, Dad.

Dad: You’re welcome.  Now get the hell out of here so I can go to sleep.  God Bless.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a very interesting night!



The Lighter Side of a Dad (Christmas Cheer)

Our father was a humble man.  He was an executive who would adorn a forty seven year old smoke stained jacket just after removing his powder blue suit.  Equally as humble, our mother would become embarrassed by the cigarette stains and burns on that dreadful jacket.  Our father did these things deliberately.   He wished to look like a bit of a bum after wearing a suit and tie ten hours a day, just to get a bit of a rise out of his children or wife.  It was his way of making himself laugh.  Our mother didn’t always love it.  Some of my siblings didn’t appreciate it.  At our ballgames, a few of my brothers wouldn’t acknowledge him as our father.  Here’s a brief example:  Teammate to one of my brothers: “Who is that bum in the stands?”  One of my embarrassed brothers:  “I have no idea.”

My father’s work ethic was impeccable, so his stress level could boil over sometimes.  Additionally, being the father of thirteen children wasn’t always easy.   Our mother was his saving grace, but his keen sense of humor, sometimes just silly, relaxed him a bit.  His shenanigans made people chuckle, guffaw, or simply shake their heads.  His seven sons’  “Gannigans” sometimes landed them in jail. We weren’t as crafty as him. (Don’t take joyrides on tractors which aren’t yours, young men.)

Onward to the Holiday season:  This always made my father, a very stern man, a little goofy and child like.  Our Father, Rodney, grew tired of purchasing Christmas trees.  He also grew tired of hanging lights on our fairly large home.  Therefore, he would find enjoyment further embarrassing his children and wife by ripping a branch off a backyard tree and saying, “This is what we’re having for Christmas this year.”  It stood proudly in front of our picture window for all the neighbors to see.  This was years before the sacred movie “A Christmas Story” graced our television sets.  Additionally annoyed by our next door neighbor’s festive stadium lights, Mr. Gannon developed a talent for unplugging those neighbor’s lights.  This was a bit of an annoyance for our next door neighbors.  Smoking a cigarette and peacefully saying the rosary, he would stroll into the neighbor’s yard and pull the plug.  That’s when the fun began for dad.  Finally, the sun went down in Spokane.   Fortunately, our neighbor had a good sense of humor.  After spending an hour checking every bulb on his house, he finally problem solved something quite simple.  Shaking his head, and rolling his eyes, knowing our father was the man who committed this terrible crime, he was capable of finding an outlet.  Then, he would drop by our house to share a beer with our father.

Dad was a pioneer of Christmas cheer, especially while attending mass on Christmas day.  We all attended church every Saturday night or Sunday morning.  We also attended,….let me rephrase that, stood  in church on Christmas and Easter.  Oddly, and statistically speaking, ( I can create a graph for this) people enjoyed dressing up and arriving in droves celebrating JC’s Birthday.  Dad had no problem with this.  Tom, Greg, Maggie, and other siblings did have an issue.  We didn’t understand, while faithfully attending mass, even when we were on vacation, being forced to stand at attention in the back, allowing ladies and gentlemen with white Q tips placed upon their heads to relax in a pew and pay no attention to the meaning of Christmas.

Babies crying and the elderly snoring during this sacred day really didn’t bother our dad.  With pious faces, dressed to the tenth, people( not his children) holding conversations during the service were what irritated our father. Very kindly, and only verbally, he would swing like a wild man.  He created a max exodus of college students thinking they could arrive at a church one day a year and not pony up any respect, or any money.  They didn’t recognize the word, “Tithing” or “Respect”.  Having very little money in college, I at least found a “buy one get one free Whopper”certificate from Burger King, and placed in the church basket of tithing goodies.  Forgive me father for I had no money.

I wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season.  And go to church, even if you have to allow an old bag to take your seat.  As you attend the Christmas service, you might heed my fathers advice: pray, don’t disrespect any religion, and shut the hell up for just one hour a week.

Christmas Trees and Women

Christmas trees are much like women.  They require tenderness, love, and nurturing, but when drinking too much, they tend to fall down.  Much like women, trees need to drink.  Fortunately for trees, they only need water.  Merely providing 8 ounces of water for our 767 foot parched evergreen, it dropped on the floor like a sorority girl taking two shots of whatever.  We recovered some ornaments, but spent several minutes wondering why we purchased this large bit of lumber.  We spent several other minutes discussing our marital status.  Divorce is a tricky theme during the Holiday Season.  In fact, it’s a bit tricky during any season……even if it’s baseball season.

We managed to laugh our way through it, kissed and made up, just before the tree fell once again.  I am not kidding.  Economically, we are screwed.  If we purchase one more ornament, lawyers will be pounding on our door.  Anyone showing up for the Christmas dinner better not expect any gifts.  They should expect a disgruntled family of dogs and cats living happily ever after.  I hope.