My Life, My Testimony: Part 1
I was born July 22, 1969 in Salt Lake City, Utah, two days after Neil Armstong took his first steps on the moon. We like that: to be born around the time of a great day in history. Just think of it: the beginnings of our journey into the universe began with those steps. Look how far we’ve come now… Well, we really haven’t gone out into the universe. In fact, all we’ve really accomplished is a deeper, more relentless journey into self. Technology comes full circle. Small televisions the whole family gathered around to squint into, trying to glean the information of the day, to huge screens that filled every part of our vision, with enormous sound and crystal clarity, back to everyone gathering around small screens to glean the infor… scratch that, to see the cute kitties all gathered in a row, meowing their way into our hearts. But, that day in 1969 filled people with hope for a future of peace for mankind. And my birthday was pretty spectacular in my parents eyes too.
I had a sister three years older than me, a brother born a little over a year before me, and another sister, not to be born for a few years after I made my momentous journey outward. We were born into a Catholic family. My Dad was fully Italian, His father emigrated from Italy with two of his brothers, and his mother was the oldest of 13 brothers and sisters. My Dad was an only child. My grandfather died a couple of years after my oldest sister was born. My grandmother lived at the top floor of an old folks apartment complex. We’d go over there every other Sunday or so, opening up the basement entrance into the complex, to the delightful smells of her Italian cooking. I use to think how jealous everyone probably was, smelling that on those days we came over. Oh it was wonderful. But, my grandma, she was a bit of a cold one. We were forced to give her a kiss on the cheek every time we visited. She never hugged us, or kissed us back, she just laugh uncomfortably until the whole ceremony was done. Then we go into her closet, pull out one of the couple of games she had for us, go into the extra bedroom, and play and watch TV on a little black & white, until it was time to eat.
The rest of the clan, on my father’s side, I didn’t know very well, nor did I really want to. We’d see them once a year for a family reunion. They were loud, and off-putting, never let us kids play in the softball. Us kids would go off to play bocce ball, or frisbee, or steal some cold fried chicken or a cake my oldest sister called chocolate mess. It wasn’t bad, it was just weird. We didn’t know these people, and they didn’t seem to know us. Nor did they want to get to know us, at least it seemed to me. Even at a young age, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the group, the team, and share goals, accomplishments, our lives.
My mother’s family was much different. My Mom’s dad, my Papa, was half Navajo, and the rest, some German and other ethnicities thrown in. My Nana, my Mom’s mom, was of North American Indian descent, with Portuguese and other stuff mixed in the pot. My Mom was the second of five children. She was the oldest daughter and I believe took on a motherly role in the household as her and her siblings were growing up. The oldest of my mother’s siblings ended up being my Godfather. This is a role not taken lightly in the Catholic church, and I believe he felt it was an honor, but I never remember any guidance or counseling they, him and his wife, gave me as I grew up. I remember an old picture bible they gave me, it just had some bible stories retold with pictures and summaries. He was an extremely quiet man who I admired greatly. He took us out on his dune-buggy, taught us how to shoot a bow and arrow, and had a smile, that when revealed, would light up the room. When I was really young, probably about 4 or 5, they moved to Casper, Wyoming. We spent time with them, it seemed every year. I remember they first lived in a trailer home, off the side of a busy highway. To this day, I still love to go to sleep to the sounds of large trucks traveling by on the freeway.
Sundays at my Nana and Papa’s home were glorious. All my cousins would show up and it’d be a raucous time of running through the house, out the backyard, into Papa’s junkyard behind the garage, and out on the golf course behind their house. We’d have room to play, people who loved us, and were interested in our lives, and gave us hugs and kisses. They joked, laughed, had household projects everyone joined in, football games to watch, games to play. It was so much different than my Grandmas.
We went to a private, Catholic school, K-8, called St. Vincent de Paul. I thought everyone there was just Catholic, and since I was Italian, I was a Roman Catholic. Being a Roman Catholic was a special privilege and honor for me. We had to be altar boys, say extra confessions, and, I always believed that one of us, my brother or I, had to grow up to be a priest. I, being the more pious, or more quiet one, was most likely destined to follow this path. I had an Uncle, (my Dad’s cousin) who was a priest, and I didn’t like him very much. He was always poking me in the gut, saying I had to lose weight. Saying, I didn’t like him very much, is a little light: I actually hated him. I really didn’t want to grow up to be like this man, always with the fake grin, presenting himself to us with a self-assured holier-than-thou attitude, then seeing him in public with other people, holding a quiet solemnity and wisdom, made me want to smack him, call him a faker. His father, was of a reserved type, he didn’t hide who he was, he was just quiet about it. He smiled, gave us claps on the back, welcomed us into his home. Much more agreeable than his son. He was the assistant deacon to the bishop of Utah. Our family name was known in Utah in Catholic circles, and when I occasionally met people who knew the name, they’d bring up my obnoxious Uncle, and have glowing praise for him and what he had done for their family. It was all I could do not to grimace over this devotion to him. I could not be a priest. Now, just so you know, I was never told I was to be a priest, it was all something I had made up in my head. And when I decided I couldn’t be a priest, I wandered my life with a small guilt in my gut knowing how disappointed my parents, my extended family, would be that day they turn to me and ask, “How come you never became a priest?”
My whole young life revolved around this Catholicism and I understood and knew that there was a God in this universe and that He could hear me. I just couldn’t comprehend how He related to us through all this ceremony. Mass was uncomfortable and confusing, confession was annoying and fake, and all those prayers we had to repeat over and over again for penance made not a lick of sense to me. I never ventured to know this God further than what I was told He was like. For I was completely and utterly involved in myself. I remember the times I truly prayed to God. On several occasions I made true confession to Him, based on what some travelling nun told me about God. One specific time I was so angry that I had to wear glasses, I wailed and moaned and threw them across the room, pleading with God that I needed to have perfect vision. This prayer was completely based on faith and an understanding that God will provide, if He wants to. I’d occasionally wake up, with sleep in my eyes and see clearly across the room. I’d praise God and then blink a couple of times, making my vision come back to its normally poor performance, and then morn over lost sight. I saw God as a careless deity, who may or may not look down on us from above, with love or impatience or anger, all based on the slight whims He may feel at the moment; much like my father. He didn’t really care, but He could do what He wanted, all for His amusement at the time. My vision, He liked to tease me with. “Here you go!” He’d say giving me perfect vision, then take it all away, all with a knowing little grin.