1st Communion

I remember my first communion. Every Sunday morning my sister and I were dropped off at St. Joseph's Church in Makawao. She would trot off to her classroom and I to mine for an hour or so of religious instruction. I remember the crucifixes in each classroom, the see-saws on the playground and the coral colored exterior of the church. Adjoining the church was the small cemetery where my paternal grandfather had been buried and, despite my own parent's nonattendance at mass, I remember my father making the sign of the cross every time we drove past. This was the church where I developed a fear of Satanists, Bloody Mary and Sister Bernadette--roughly in that order--and where the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" were drilled each week as we sat at attention at small wooden desks.

As we prepared for our First Communion in the third grade we listened raptly as the nun teaching our class attempted to explain transubstantiation to our young ears (with a Tagalog accent that made her largely indecipherable) and lay women, who were much stricter than the nuns ever were, reminded us again and again, "do NOT chew on Jesus". A friend of the family made my dress, gown really, and I carted about a large doll which she had made a matching dress for.

My grandma made the veil--the crowning glory and in the photos I stand alone in front of the altar, serious faced, in my lacy white dress, veil and maile leis. The maile was from the mountain side, fragrant bark and leaves stripped from long, thin vines. For special events my father would undertake the laborious task which began with finding, then harvesting, and then twisting together, long strands of bark and leaves. Ora et labora indeed--his love was shown through his work and we acknowledged this through our gratitude for the fragrant leis which were only awarded for major life accomplishments.

I remember walking into the nave with my class. One by one we went forward for our first confession. Confused about sin, I confessed the only sin I could think of, "I was mean to my sister" again and again--until interrupted by the priest I was sent off with my requisite Hail Marys and Our Fathers. Laughable now, but then I was afraid of Satan and knew that the Jesus who knew my every thought must, most surely, be disappointed in me.

Then, the bread. Dry, paper thin, wafer. It stuck to the roof of my mouth and I tried to ply it off with my tongue. Fearful of what would happen if I accidentally chewed the soggy, sticky, mass, I choked it down. I don't remember much else--but I do remember that shortly after my first communion my parents stopped dropping us off for catechism. Our Sunday mornings became another weekend day--no different than the Saturday before and new memories began to occupy my mind. The smell of grass cut on Sunday mornings, the crinkle of the newspaper and Sunday pancakes. With my first communion my nascent religious life began and ended--with a broken wafer and a child's confessional concerns I had learned everything I needed to know.

"The body of Christ, the bread of Heaven..."

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