Monday, February 8, 2016

God, tiny cars and making do

God was a major player in our lives when I was growing up. Each school day started with all the students lining up to march across the school yard into the church to attend mass. Each meal started with a prayer. Each day ended with all of us on our knees around my parent’s bed for a family rosary and bedtime prayers. My mother used everything that happened in our lives as a way of explaining some form of spiritual example or church teaching. Seeing to it that each of us attended Sunday Mass was so important to my mother, that unlike other days of the week, she had our Sunday mornings programmed like a fine Swiss watch. Starched, pressed outfits with matching socks and shined shoes awaited each of us on the breakfast table: beside rows of prayer books and white plastic rosary beads. Nothing would stop her from getting us decked out and to the church in time to claim the front pews. I often wondered which was more important; attending Sunday Mass or being paraded down the aisle to the front pews. I believe if Mom could have persuaded Father Pezold to take reservations, our name would have been permanently engraved on those front two pews. 

There was one summer when the only car available to Mom was a small two passenger Nash Metropolitan. The car had a small area behind the seat for storage. While not exactly a sports car it was certainly not a family car meant to haul ten children. Mom never let that stop her from getting us the six miles to church each week. Mom lined us up by size and had us practice till we found the right combination that would accommodate all eleven of us. The winning arrangement was a layering system of bigger kids holding smaller kids with the largest child holding the baby in the front seat. I was the oldest but never the biggest and I always ended up being on the bottom of the pile since we had to be layered three deep to fit.

After the first few Sundays, word got out about this car full of children packed like sardines in a can and the congregation began to gather to watch us get in or out of that tiny car. It reminded me of a circus act I once saw. A clown drove out in the center ring in a car the size of a large tricycle. The car would stop and a dozen clowns would get out, one after the other, until the crowd roared with laughter at the sight. Being put on display like that each Sunday was one of the most mortifying times of my life.

One rainy Sunday Mom skidded off the road and rolled the car down a steep embankment as we were approaching a bridge on our way to town. We were so tightly packed in the car that no one was hurt. We climbed out, pushed the car back up to the road, climbed back in and still made it to church on time. 

My father was an auctioneer and would spend any weekend he did not have his own sale attending other auctions, purchasing bargains he could resell at the family Auction Barn. Therefore, he rarely attended mass with the rest of the family. One Saturday afternoon my father came home from a auction driving an old station wagon with a rear facing third seat. Pop made a big deal of presenting my Mother with the keys to her new ride to church. I learned years later that this purchase was the result of Father Petzold taking Pop aside one Sunday and chastising him for not providing better transportation for his family.

My mother being her usual inventive self soon figured out a way that old wagon could not only get us to church but turn a profit for the family as well. Within weeks, she and two of my brothers started making weekly trips to the city. They bought all the day old bread and cakes the car would hold from the Hostess Bakery. It was a bargain costing pennies on the dollar. What we did not freeze for our use or sell at the lunch counter during the weekly auctions, was fed to our hogs. 

Mom didn’t leave our religious training to just Sundays. She continually found ways to augment the budget so she could keep all her kids in a Catholic school. By the next spring Mom had another idea in the works that would allow our Sunday trips to church to also turn a profit. Mom made a deal with one of the city bakeries. She and one of the boys would go to the bakery every Saturday night and come home with a load of fresh donuts. We bagged the donuts into sacks of six and twelve and sold them to the parishioners as they exited the services at both the catholic and protestant church in our small town. The donut sales continued for most of the year, until the owner of the local market decided to make his own deal with a city bakery; installing a fresh bake goods counter offering not only donuts but a variety of other pastries in his store. He undercut our prices by a few pennies and mom finally gave up the curbside pastry business.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! Cramming everyone into that tiny car, must have been quite a sight.