The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost Festival

by cheri block

I am not Catholic but during my childhood, most of my friends were.

My father’s dental office in the 1950’s was a small part of a large home which sat directly across from the Holy Ghost Catholic Church, an impressive Spanish style structure. As is typical with Catholic churches, a school and rectory were part of the operation. In those days, especially after being carted back and forth to San Jose– a city 30 miles away– in a crowded Ford Country Squire with my annoying younger siblings, only to be forced to endure three hours of boring Sunday School and music in a strange language at Temple Emanuel, I announced that I wanted to be Catholic.

I want to be Catholic, dad. That way, I only have to go to church for one hour instead of three. I want to have that ash stuff on my forehead in February, but most of all, I want to go to a church that has a ghost and a festival where you can win parakeets.

As you parents can imagine, this pleading was met with a stern warning from my father.

You are Jewish, Cheri. Our history goes back over 5000 years. Theirs goes back only 1960 years. That is why you have to attend Sunday School for three hours–you have more to learn. We have Passover and matzoh ball soup and a Purim Festival where you get to dress up as Queen Esther. Isn’t that enough?

It wasn’t enough. I wanted to see the ghost and win a parakeet. I could compromise though on Queen Esther.

In Centerville in the 1950’s most of the citizens were either Portuguese Catholics or Japanese Buddhists. Since my father was one of the only dentists in town, most of the Holy Ghost’s parishioners, including the now defrocked Father Breen and many kindly nuns, came to him for dentistry. Dr. Block was made an honorary member of the Men’s Portuguese Club.

One night Dad came home from the office, poured his bourbon, sat down with the Fremont News Register, and heaved a long, tired sigh. Two German Shepherds–Dickens and Galaxy–sat at his feet and three children, including me, ran around the room in a circle, screaming. Our mother, Joan, cooking dinner in the other room while carrying the infant Jimmy, told us to be quiet and respect the fact that our father needed to rest from a long day of looking in other people’s mouths.

Ray Costa from Ray’s Menswear came by the office today, Joan, and dropped off 6 tickets to the Holy Ghost Festival on Saturday. Do you want to go? It might be instructive to the kids. They can see the inside of the church and also have a little fun.

Mother agreed. Saturday, the Block family would attend the festival.

I had heard from my friends who were in Rainbow Girls and DeMolay that you could win a parakeet and since my most recent hamster Butch had died of cardiac arrest while running a marathon on his wheel, I was hot for a new pet, other than Dickens and Galaxy, of course.

The day of the festival, I came out of the bedroom I shared with Stevie, dressed in my uniform of jeans and a red plaid shirt, complemented by my belt and boots. Back to my room, I was ordered and then made a second entry dressed in a stiff taffeta dress with a satin sash and complemented by black patent leather shoes. What a dressy outfit to wear to see a ghost and win a bird.

The multi-purpose room at the Holy Ghost Church seemed pretty much like the multi-purpose room at Temple Emanuel. Basketball hoops at each end, bright fluorescent lights, and shiny linoleum floors disappointed me from the moment those patent leather shoes clicked quickly past the cake walk and directly to the corner where at least 100 chirping parakeets were kept in small wire cages. My father and mother had been stopped at the doors, greeted by nuns who smiled broadly, advertising the skilled Dr. Block’s handiwork, and by Father Breen, that charming Irishman who at the time seemed like a kindly uncle.

I was in my element and only missing from the event was the ash I had hoped would be brushed on my forehead, signaling to all that a parakeet had been won by the only little Jewish girl in Centerville.

My parakeet, won in a single throw, I named Jesus. It just seemed like the right thing to do that day.

Jesus and I– now separated from my family which had stopped at the cake walk so that Stevie and Cindy might have some fun–wandered through an open door and into a darkened room so enormous, so different from the sanctuary at Temple Emanuel. People with halos and gold jumped out from the stained glass windows. It was very beautiful to a ten-year-old like me. The pews were wooden and long unlike the individual green velvet seats at Temple Emanuel. Where is the Holy Ghost? I wondered.

Jesus, do you know where the Holy Ghost is? I asked Jesus.

Jesus chirped. Oh, you want me to look up? OK. I looked up and on the wall was a dead man, looking down at me with blood on his hands and his feet nailed together like a the chicken legs I’d seen my mom hook up for a chicken fricassee. I screamed a scream so loud that it echoed around the walls several times.

I wanted my father. Forget the Holy Ghost, wherever it was. Jesus and I ran out of the dark room faster than the time it had taken me to win him.

Back home that night, I told my dad about the dead man on the wall. He explained that the image was Jesus, who my Catholic friends believed was also the Father, the Son, AND the Holy Ghost, all in one.

When dad left the room, I told Stevie, who was still awake in his bed on the other wall,  We have our own Jesus now, here in this room.

Jesus chirped.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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17 Responses to The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost Festival

  1. dafna says:

    Hi Cheri,
    what a pleasure to see this great short story in my inbox! if temple emanuel gave out goldfish like our temple does at the purim carnival, this story could be as much about the fate of the goldfish and parakeets after they are taken home by the children.
    as immigrants my parents were strict about contact with gentiles, so i can relate to the curiosity in your story. although from turkey with a jewish mother and muslim father, my mother was raised in catholic schools well into her college years. my first exposure to an image of the father, son and holy ghost was a giant terrifying cross on the gardens of Duquesne University where mom had attended.
    but we live across the street from saint dominic’s and jacob and i have a custom of visiting their events. even though jacob is being raised jewish, i’ve always told him that when he was an adult faith in any religion was his choice. as it happens st. dom has very little gilding and few fully articulated images of jesus, the figure on their main cross is stylized without the crown of thorns nor any bleeding. father tom himself is an open minded personable fellow who discovered on a trip to germany that his own ancestors had converted to catholicism to avoid persecution for being jews.
    very ironically, volunteers from our temple host passover seders for non-jews for cross-educational purposes, yet jacob and i have spent more than one passover with no one to share it. for those who are reading passover is a holiday that emphasizes “welcoming the stranger” into your home.
    how things change with time! thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • Cheri says:

      Thanks for this comment with wide-ranging colors, many of which could be blog posts in themselves (especially the part about Father Tom!

  2. Oh Cheri, I can identify with your curiosity to see the “Holy Ghost”! .Coming from a Christian Science beginning, I left it at age13 to explore what else was offered in the way of religious education. I settled on the Episcopal church because they let me sing in the choir. From there I moved on to Catholicism and Judaism, and yes, even Buddhism So much for religion I guess I am an unrepentant sinner now! I have my own form of Zen which seems to work for me. When I took my Campfire Girls to visit the Mission, I can still remember the shocked expressions on their faces when they saw the statue of Jesus What happened to the parakeet?

    • Cheri says:

      Jesus eventually died. As with all of our beloved creatures ( six hamsters, two hooded rats, several snakes and chameleons, and Cindy’s box turtle…the one which bit her on the lip and hung on), we buried Him in a shoebox in the garden. As far as know, he did not rise.

  3. T E Stazyk says:

    Fantastic story! Perfectly (and hilariously) captures how kids must try to process the stuff they experience.

  4. Richard says:

    I laughed all the way through this delightful account of how you found Jesus.
    I hope you are over the shock and didn’t have too many nightmares. This is probably why the Puritans ditched all the icons and blasphemous images.
    Try this one instead ……. 😀

  5. Guess you have it all wrapped up. You know the one about the Jewish boy and the Catholic boy? The Catholic wanted to be Jewish because the Jewish boy did not have to go to mass so often. The Jewish boy wanted to be Catholic because the Catholics could sin and be pardonned througn confession. The neighbour’s pasture is always greener than ours.

  6. Brighid says:

    I love your stories.

  7. Christopher says:

    Given California’s Mexican culture heritage, may I assume “Haysus” was how you pronounced your parakeet’s name?

  8. lindamomof4 says:

    Hi Michele and Kurt: You have to read this, I laughed out loud. Love Linda

  9. Cheri says:

    Gosh Linda. It is the greatest compliment to have a reader actually laugh out loud. Not sure who Michele is, but I have an inkling who Kurt might be.

  10. Kurt says:

    I have you bookmarked now, and I read your story soon after you posted it. I love the story on so many levels.On that fateful trip to the Cloverdale Creamery, why didn’t you tell Todd and me you HAD received Jesus? We didn’t need to know “Jesus” was a parakeet.

  11. Cheri says:

    I am so honored that you, Professor Kurt, have bookmarked my blog. There is a lot going on in this story (as you know). I’d say if there were one person outside of family who understands my thinking, it is you. Our relationship has changed from that time long ago when surely you were the brightest and most curious student among many to this very moment. It would be a kick to team-teach again. Maybe someday.

    As for our fateful Cloverdale Creamery Conversation–hereby to be known as the CCC–well…since I already had known Jesus, and wasn’t shopping for him, I wanted to hear your sales pitch. Besides, you and Todd were so cute and earnest. And, I loved you both. You might say that day we were The Mother, The Sons, and the Holy Sundaes.

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