Writers Forum President and Queen Laura Hernandez has more thoughts to share with us on quarantine this Easter weekend.
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Worst. Lent. Ever.
Except for the first one. Obviously.
We are usually going to church this week. Passover Seder with family is out. Protestants and the lazy kind of Catholic most of us have become can’t go to Mass this Sunday. We better effing not.
On Good Friday, I usually go to church (no mass, ‘cause, Sad Day), to do the Stations of the Cross. We Catholics have prayers at each horrific scene depicted on a plaque, said all together, directed and prompted by the priest. We move together, say the prayers together, remember the history as we know it together. The most famous political prisoner’s death, attended by more people now than were there at the time a couple thousand years ago. It is not a celebration. It is a day to mourn, but we do it in a group.
You might know that I grew up Catholic but it was a very rebellious kind of Catholicism. We didn’t attend a traditional parish. My three sisters and two brothers grew up down the street from a college seminary where young men studied to be priests. And they broke the rules toward Social Justice before it was cool. They lived there during most of the year and took their own bus to Loyola University in L.A. That’s who we went to mass with. The caretaker’s family of ten kids, who we also went to school with, went to mass with us too, so there were other civilians. But mostly it was the seminarians. They were our catechism teachers in classes they created just for my siblings and me, filled with research we did at the public library in another town. Our altar was turned to face the congregation, which was not done for years in civilian churches. They played their own music, protest songs too, and sang like the award-winning choir they were. (I saw the trophies in the rec room!) We were welcomed here since I was 6 and the Head of Students went jogging down my dirt road and saw my mom on the big front lawn with a baby, twin toddlers and two kindergarten-age girls. A good assumption we were Catholic.
We usually sat at the back of the room at Mass, trying not to stick out.
But at Easter Mass, there were guests. The juvenile residential detention camp, David Gonzales, would send a busload of some three dozen older teenage guys sentenced for crimes, to us. They were obviously Catholic, knew all the prayers, and when to stand and sit and kneel. They sat together at the back of the beautiful but Spartan chapel mostly holding their hands in front of them, unchained, clean in their Chambray shirts and baggy jeans and black combat boots. Respectful and quiet.
Except for the first time I saw them do a sneaky thing. My brother, the baby in his bucket, my sisters me and my mom (dad was a no-name Protestant, so not with us to Mass), sat together at the back on the other side of the center aisle from the Camp Boys. So we could see that they were doing something. One guy would shift his shoulders, left to right and after a second, the guy next to him would do it too. This movement went in a horizontal line as they stood next to each other. Mass by the early 1960s had a lot of standing, so we could watch as the movement went down the row of Camp Boys until it got to the guy at the end of the pew and had to turn. Then I could see they had been passing a bag of jelly beans to each other, taking a handful without making too much of a move, then passing the bag to the next guy with only a shift of their shoulders. Smooth Skills that probably got them to the Camp in the first place. The first time I saw this, I think I had my mouth open because the guy at the end of the row saw me and looked a little panic-y. I would never rat out a guy for jelly beans in church. But he didn’t know that. I didn’t even want my mom to see, a practiced response. I quickly smiled at him. And he winked. It was all good. But it was a secret.
We knew that the Camp Boys were already in trouble, we knew what Camp David Gonzales was. Sometimes as we drove past the entrance gate to the camp on the way to the beach, my mom would tell my little brother that he better behave, or…
We also knew that the Boys were given this privilege to be out in public, to be at Mass, and any shenanigans would revoke the privilege. Maybe for everyone for all time.
These boys and the adult offender Camp Miller men, two miles from David Gonzales, were also trained to work the fire line which was not a theoretical skill in rural Calabasas. These guys could save our lives our house, our horses, our neighbors, every fall when the Santa Anas blew in to try and kill us. I would not rat them out for eating jelly beans in Mass.
And I never did. The Camp Boys made a jelly bean pass every Easter Mass, even though there were different guys year after year. They knew how to keep a secret, too. By the next year my Favorite sister, Patty, noticed it too and we smiled at each other when she whipped her head to me in recognition the first time she got it. When my twin sisters noticed it a couple years later, they could hardly keep it to themselves. They giggled right in Mass. They were not cool. I think threats were made. I think I made them but I’m not sure.
In the following years, Easter Mass was moved to dawn, outside by the little man-made lake on the Seminary grounds. And still there was a jelly bean pass-around. Still surreptitious, still we kept secret between my family and their group.
Of course I want to go to Mass this Sunday with jelly beans in my pocket. But I can’t. You can’t either. And just in case you want to risk it, because, well you’ve been good for a couple weeks, and it’s Easter and shit.
I would like to remind you of just how Church hurt our Redding community a couple of weeks ago.
A 75 year-old woman drove to visit a friend she knew was sick in the hospital in Sacramento in the middle of March. She knew that person was sick and she knew, because it was on the news, that there were reports of Covid-19 cases in Sacramento. She knew this was a California hotspot, like the Bay Area was reported to be. Chingona virus was there. She just had to see and visit.
I don’t know why she was allowed in to see her friend in the hospital. Maybe that person was in the hospital for Something Else. But that person also had the Chingona. And that’s where she got it. But she had no symptoms. So, she went to see her adult son who lives in Redding upon her return from that Sacramento hospital. My guess is that she also went to the store. Or to get coffee. What I do know for sure, because it was in the Searchlight, is that she next went to a big event, widely attended, at her First Assembly Church on Airport Road at the end of March. She didn’t have symptoms then either.
When she did develop symptoms later, so did a few other people at her church. She died. Two other people from that church event did, too. Now maybe they had hand sanitizer at the church that day. Like that choir group in Washington State who held practice toward the end of March at one of their homes. They thought that Not Hugging and using glops of hand sanitizer would protect them, because they really wanted to comfort each other from the news of the day. Seattle, a hot spot, was 30 miles away, so what were the chances, right? Pretty great, it turned out. Forty of 60 people were infected after that 2-hour practice. Two have died. Breathing, singing, it turns out, was deadly.
What this means, in the Time of Chingona Virus is that now: church is not your sanctuary. Staying home, eating all the Easter candy is.
Think I don’t want to be at Mass, with jelly beans? We just can’t yet.
Dr. Karen Ramstrom of the Shasta County Health Department said Wednesday, that we here in this county may have to stay the eff home longer than the rest of the state. Get that: longer than all the people in L.A., we will be grounded. Why? Because people are not staying the eff home. Testing here doubled this week. That means that people who were showing symptoms got tested. A Redding Costco employee is now under quarantine, although that person hasn’t been to work since the end of March, so if you went to buy all the toilet paper since then, you probably didn’t get it from her.
We aren’t done yet. Stay the eff home. You have plenty of toilet paper. I’ll get my own jelly beans. I’m eating all the cookies, too.
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