Mother tucked her ample stomach up under her navel. She rolled the flesh from just above the edge of her pubic area to directly beneath her laboriously hollowed out midriff. My tongue swabbed at its dry cavity as I watched her move out of the pew. Sidestepping occasional kneelers, she balanced with sure feet on the marble floor and compressed her buttocks, accordion style, into what she hoped resembled some form of symmetry. One final upward and outward thrust of shoulders and chest completed the ritual. She stood for a moment, fingers resting gracefully on the pew’s edge, as if she were about to move through a gate into the proverbial garden. An opening presented itself, and she gratefully joined the procession. Parishioners advanced as if on one of those moving airport sidewalks that carry passengers and their paraphernalia to select destinations. These pilgrims carried spiritual paraphernalia in bodies temporarily cleansed of sacred imperfections. My mother’s physical imperfections were, however, clearly on display for all who had successfully traversed the ecumenical trail.
With knees planted in cushioned vinyl, I rested my backside gingerly, almost apologetically, on the smooth wooden bench and watched the communion parade. Why did mother insist I attend Mass every Sunday? “Come with me, it might do you good” seemed a feeble antidote to the large questions and conflicting sensibilities that loomed provocatively over my fourteenth year.
Returning to our pew, she repeated each practiced contortion and approached her waiting space with a bowed head and slightly skewed, intrepid smile. My insides felt a hard blush of adolescent apprehension, and I moved swiftly to regain an upright pose. Offering a temporary respite, Mother’s kneeling form succumbed reassuringly to its fragile accomplice.