The Bead Case, 1954

by Johnes Ruta

Five years after my family had moved from the Village at Yellow Mill in Bridgeport, it was now 1954, and I was seven. On an occasional Sunday morning my parents would still meet their friends Anna and Paul Miazga in the old neighborhood, to attend Mass and then go out for breakfast together. We came to the beautiful cathedral-sized Church of Saint Cyril, located next to the village, near the railroad viaduct. My sister June, three years younger, and I had grown up together with the Miazgas two daughters, Catherine and Sharon. I was only the second oldest of us kids, but we were all always happy whenever our folks got together. Our moms had met while working as rivitters at the factory where they made fighter planes for the War Effort, while our dads were away fighting the war in Europe.

On this particular Sunday morning at the end of September, we arrive before the start of Mass, and Ann says to my Mom, "This is the High Mass hour, and the kids won't last through it, so we better send them to Sunday School ..."

My Mom replies, "If we're going to come here often we'd better get them started, now's the time! It's September..."

So all of us kids are suddenly informed that Sunday School classes have begun for the year, and we all had to go -- So off the four of us go, all together, to each find our own grade classroom in the Parochial school building behind the big Church.

"You kiddies will have to go all year--" says Paul with his snide chuckle.

After Catherine and I have found the Nursery school room and dropped off both of our younger sisters together, she drops me off too, because she is one year ahead of me, "Here's your class room!" So I am now deposited alone, having to walk into the back door of an unknown classroom crowded with desks -- a sea of strange faces, my own age.

"Hi-ee," sings the penguin-like figure of a middle-aged nun who comes to the back of the room to accept me into her group, already in session. "I'm Sister Elizabeth. What's your name? " But when I tell her my name I notice a slight frown in the angle of her eyebrow, possibly showing her disapproval. "How come you're late?"

While I listen attentively to Sister's little stories about how good boys and girls will go to heaven, and bad boys or gilrls won't get in and have to go to the "Other Place" where nobody wants to be, I look around and wish I could become friends with some of these kids -- But I still hope we don't have to come here every week... Then Sister tells us that at the end of class we will each be given a little present as a welcoming gift.

After more stories about good lambs and bad angels who have bodies black with soot, the end of the class comes, and we all know it is time for us to return to the church where our parents are waiting for us.

But first itís time for our gifts "Now come line up in front of the table, children..." and we are mustered into two lines in front of a table set up at the back of the classroom, where stand three more kind looking nuns.

"All right, children, when you come to the table, you will each be allowed to take one of the little gifts that we've brought for you today..."

When I reach the table I see that each of my classmates is being given his choice and is then lining up on the other side of the door, waiting to be dismissed.

When I finally come up to the table, Sister Elizabeth, joined by the others, tells me that I can choose between a Tootsie Roll candy and a string of Rosary Beads contained in a little frosted plastic box. This sounds OK, but when I see that there are only a few of the little boxes left, and allot of the candy left, I remember that I already have a nice set of Rosary Beads at home, which my Mother had reminded me to bring today, so I guess I might just as well take the candy, and save the beads for the next boy or girl who hasnít any, and they won't run out of those.

When we are all lined up to be dismissed, Sister Elizabeth and the other nuns seem to be making careful notes of our selections, and I notice that all the other kids I can see have chosen the beads. I'm glad that now everyone will have beads for the next class, and Iíll bring mine next time, too.

Out in the hallway, I find Cathy and Sharon and my sister June waiting for me, and we go happily back to the beautiful church where we will be soon reunited with our parents, who are still inside, standing and chatting in the rear aisle, as the Mass has just ended.

All back together again, my Mom immediately becomes curious: "Where did you get the candy?"

"The nuns said we could choose candy or Rosary Beads..." Then I see Mom's face go totally pale, and she trills, "What ??!!
Oh, no."

Without even a reprimand or further ado, she immediately marches me back to my Sunday School classroom, where the nuns are still talking, and Mom says to me "Now, you ask them to please change the gift of candy for the set of Rosary Beads...."
They make the switch quietly for me, but their heads still nod skeptically and they whisper to each other behind their hands...