It seems that the most embarrassing times in my life have been at church. I spent eight years being taught by nuns in parochial schools, and daily Mass was mandatory. Back then, females had to cover their heads when entering the church. I can remember on more than one occasion forgetting to bring the standard-issue beanie that matched my navy blue uniform. And although I never found in any of the commandments that forgetting your beanie was a sin, I think the nuns had their own set of rules that they learned in the convent. There would be one nun stationed in the back of church on the lookout for little girls with bare heads. She would spring from her seat in the last pew and grab me shaking her head. Then sighing she would produce a Kleenex from her pocket and attach it to my head with a bobby pin.
Children who were late for Mass were relegated to the back pews. On one of the many occasions that I was stuck in the back of church, I was joined by another child who was also a latecomer. For some reason, the sergeant-of-arms nun had vacated her post. The two of us started talking and giggling. It was not easy to pay attention. Mass was said in Latin in the 1950s, and I only knew a few words. Back then the priest said Mass with his back turned to the congregation, so our antics went unnoticed.
That is until the priest turned around to bless the worshippers. He stopped halfway through the blessing and said, “Sharon and Susan, I will see you in my office after Mass!” and then he finished his blessing.
When I was 12, my mother let me wear stockings for the first time. I was allowed to wear them only to church on Sunday. This was before pantyhose had been invented so the stockings were held up with a garter belt. The gadget clipped around the waist and hanging from both the front and back were fasteners where you would clip the top of each stocking.
One Sunday I was running late (do you see a pattern?) and I didn’t hook one of the back fasteners. The front fastener on that leg had torn months before and instead of sewing it back on, I had reattached it with a safety pin. I was a pudgy child and the fat on my thighs put a strain on the fastener. In the Catholic church there is a lot of kneeling and standing throughout the Mass. I noticed that my leg was pulling against the fastener, but there was nothing I could do about it. But the last time I knelt, right before communion, the safety pin gave way and the hosiery started to fall down my leg. I got up to go to communion and the silk stocking slowly crept down my leg with the fastener still attached. By the time I got back to my pew, my stocking was down around my ankle. And because I couldn’t very well remove it without making a scene, I walked out of church that way.
My tribulations continued as I matured. When my first son was just two weeks old, I took him to Mass with me. I was a nursing mother, and I knew I was cutting it pretty close with his next feeding. Everything was going great. He was sleeping soundly until the sermon. Infants don’t wake up and coo. They are on a mission, and my son’s mission at that point was to eat. Well, he started wailing, and I immediately put a pacifier on his mouth that calmed him down. What it didn’t calm was my lactation. I looked down and my entire dress was saturated. I unfolded the blanket he was wrapped in and covered him and as much of my wet dress as possible, got up and walked out before the priest had finished his discourse.
A few months later, I was in church with my now 6-month-old child. By this time I had the timing down and had fed him just before leaving home. We weren’t 10 minutes into the service when he started squirming. I put him on my shoulder and started gently patting his back. A few seconds later he gave a large (heard several pews back) belch. I heard a gasp and turned to see the woman in the pew directly behind me wiping a large amount of curdled milk from her shoulder and neck. I apologized profusely and handed her a diaper to help wipe off the mess, but she gave me a look that said she thought it was my fault that my poor baby had a projectile burp.
Now that my children are grown, I don’t have as many embarrassing moments. That is until a couple of weeks ago when I was leaving church. I noticed that I hadn’t taken off the tags on my new blouse, so every time I raised my arms the people behind me knew that I had bought it on sale. Maybe I should stop going to church and just watch a TV minister on Sundays.
If you have a comment or have had similar moments, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org