Forty years ago this Easter I was convinced my mom had won the Irish Sweepstakes. I didn’t know it at the time but the only way you could get Irish Sweepstakes tickets was on the black market. Mom had been buying them from “a friend of a friend” for years and she’d hide them in the big gilded Bible kept on the dining room sideboard. All of my friend’s parents bought Irish Sweepstakes tickets and they were as common as Mickey Mantle trading cards so I couldn’t understand the need for such secrecy. It never occurred to me that my own mother would be doing something illegal. (Imagine that) Mom’s rationale was she bought the tickets because she believed that she was helping the cause in Ireland – freedom from those damned Protestants.
We heard a lot about “those damned Protestants” from the nuns at school. Just the month before, for St Patrick’s Day the nuns took up a collection to send to the IRA. As good Catholic children we dutifully lined up to drop our pennies into the collection tin and felt very pious that the money was going to help other Catholics rather than for a bag of jujubes at the corner candy store. It was a big sacrifice for a seven year old.
When we returned to our seats, one of the nuns told us the story of the Irish potato famine. She told it with such vigor I looked in the newspaper for weeks hoping to find the story to clip to bring to school for Current Events. With our money collected, the anti-Protestant propaganda was more firmly entrenched by engaging us with rousing music. Imagine this: thirty little Black kids, Italian kids and Puerto Rican kids marching around a classroom, banging on drums and sticks singing Off to Dublin in the Green while the nuns stomped their black oxfords in time. Straight out of a Dali dream sequence eh?
Anyway, we looked forward to the coming of Easter as it meant the end of Lent. Mom always made us give up something for Lent. That year it was chocolate ice cream for us kids and swearing for her. Now I can’t say that my mom had a potty mouth but she was sure fond of her French expletives. I couldn’t see what the big deal was about her swearing. We lived in the Bronx and no one could understand what she was saying anyhow. That’s how I got away with swearing at the nuns at school. I once called one of them a “maudit cochon” (damned pig) and since I was the “cute little French girl”, she just smiled, patted me on the head and reminded me to speak English. (Bless me Father for I have sinned.)
So here I am Easter morning 1966. I’d already been to morning Mass and had found all the Easter eggs hidden around the house. Shortly after we took this picture, we walked over to White Plains Road to catch the train downtown. I loved the el and the subway and I especially loved when we’d go downtown because that always meant mom would treat us to an egg cream at the Woolworth’s counter. Mom usually bought herself a coffee from Chock Full O’ Nuts and we’d split a large soft pretzel bought from a push cart vendor.
There were no egg creams or pretzels that day. Instead we stood in the longest line up I’d ever seen – it went way around the block – outside Radio City Music Hall.
I had never been to a theater before though once, Daddy took us to the drive-in to see The Ten Commandments. Radio City was the biggest place I had ever been in. It was bigger than our church! It was a palace and I figured the only way Mom could afford to take us to such a place was if she’d won the Sweepstakes.
I sat solemnly in the red velvet seat, staring in awe at the great arched stage as the houselights were dimmed and the movie began. It was The Singing Nun staring Debbie Reynolds.
After the movie and a short intermission the Easter Show continued with the spectacle of the Rockettes.
Long synchronized legs and tall head dresses – I was entranced. To me, that was the best part of the show and from that day to now I’ve had a secret desire to dance in a chorus line.
A few weeks ago while channel surfing I came across The Singing Nun on Turner Classic Movies. I dropped the laundry basket and sat down to watch it. As many Catholic families, we had the record of the movie soundtrack and because we were French, we also had the “real” Singing Nun album in French. While I liked the movie soundtrack, the record we played the most was the French one. My favourite song on the album was Entre les Étoiles and at that part of the movie I found myself singing this French version along with Debbie’s English one.
After the movie I had to call my mom. I wanted to share with her the memory I had of that day. The whole outing had made such an indelible impression that I still felt thrilled forty years later. I wanted to thank her for making that Easter so special.
My mom is experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s and when I talked to her about that day, she had no recollection of it. I have to remind myself that she might not always remember things or even know it’s me she’s talking to. I find myself wondering if you have no one to share a memory with, does that mean it really didn’t happen?