By Larry G, South Philly
Let’s face it. For many people Midnight Mass is more a social event than a religious gathering. Oh, the priest sprinkles the water and lets fly the incense. The choir sings the carols. The people pack the church. You know the ones — the ones they call the CAPE Catholics — Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter.
So it was no surprise that it all went bad on a cold, blustery Christmas Eve for Jack Marrone. Jack and his wife Mary walked to Midnight Mass as they did every year. They would then come home to do the final wrapping of the presents for their children and grandchildren who were coming the next day for Christmas Dinner.
Jack had a special gift for Mary this year. Three identical Lennox ornaments of a child and on each was printed the name of one of their grandchildren. The fourth was of a woman – a grandmother — with her hands outward so when you put the children and the grandmother figure next to each other it looked like they were holding hands. He was going to give them to her after Midnight Mass was over.
Jack and Mary squeezed into the crowded church, getting there about 11:30. Just in time for the fashion show to begin. The young guys got there early to watch the young girls parade in with their new coats, new shoes, new outfits. Reeking of their new perfume. This year was no different as the 20-somethings paraded in and up the aisle making as much noise as possible for everyone to see them.
Jack and Mary were seated in the middle of the Church, right behind Mrs. Kowalski — a big woman with a big hat and a big mouth as she sang each carol as loud and as off-key as she could. They were also next to a group of young guys — late teens — who were ready to have fun — prayer was secondary.
The children’s choice began its pre-Mass concert. The young guys began singing loudly trying to one up Mrs. Kowalski. At the end of “Angels We Have Heard On High” one of the teens let out a tremendous fart that reverberated off the wooden pew echoing its joyous strain.
The young guys began to laugh hysterically, the pew shaking from their laughter. Jack had to laugh — c’mon, farting in Church is funny — while Mary shook her head holding back her laughter.
But Mrs. Kowalski, showing disapproval turned to the young guys and pursed her lips. “Well.” She said indignantly.
That caused the boys to laugh even louder. Jack also laughed louder. Mrs. Kowalski turned to Jack. “I would have thought better of you.”
Jack’s jaw dropped and the young guys next to him pointed and laughed. Now it was time for Mass to start. Everyone stood up and Mrs. Kowalski proudly bounced up, hymnal at the ready to begin her song. Well, her skirt had bunched up and was sticking in her butt.
One of the young guys pointed to it and whispered something to the other. “Really?” the one said. “Yeah, go ahead.” Just as the congregation was singing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” one of the young guys reached out and began picking the dress material which had bunched up out of Mrs. Kowalski’s butt crack. She spun around and let out a long “hurrumph” sound right in Jack’s face accompanied with a long exhale. Of course her breath smelled like sour milk causing Jack to cringe.
“What do you think you’re doing,” Jack half yelled and half hushed his voice. “Hooligans” was all Mrs. Kowalski said.
Two of the boys began speaking again. “You think?” one asked. The other nodded. As the song continued, this time singing in Latin, “Adeste Fidelis” the one young boy attempted to tuck the material back into Mrs. Kowalski’s butt crack. She wheeled and let out the same sounds and the same stinking breath.
“Hey, what the…” this time Jack yelled out loud.
Now the rest of the church was looking at the action in the middle pew. And you guessed it. Once the crescendo of the song hit one of the young guys farted. Again.
People began looking at Jack as if he had let it fly. Jack couldn’t believe it. He was mortified.
Through it all Father Graham just kept on going reciting prayers and swinging the incense.
Jack settled into the pew ready to listen to the readings. All was quiet — for now.
It was during the homily and Father Graham was going on..and on..and on…as only Father Graham could. From the back of the Church, loud enough for everyone to hear was a voice that yelled “Amen. Amen already Father. Just say Amen.”
Jack’s ear perked up. He knew that voice.
Jack knew that Midnight Mass was about to take another turn.
Father Graham went on undeterred.
Again from the back. “Hey Father, Amen. Let’s go. Amen!”
Jack looked back. Oh, no! It was his brother Al who had obviously gotten into the holiday spirits before coming to Mass.
Of course Al saw Jack. “Hey Jack. Jackie boy. Merry Christmas,” Al yelled. “Hey Mary — Merry Christmas.”
Jack looked straight ahead — trying to be inconspicuous. But Al kept on going.
“Hey Father. Amen!
“Jack you were right,” Al continued to yell from the back of the Church like he was hollering over a fence to a neighbor on a summer afternoon. “You said Father Graham never knew when to shut up and he could bore a dead man. Amen already Father!”
Mortified. That was the only word that Jack could think of as his younger brother got up from his seat. “I’m leaving! Jack, you coming with me?”
Jack wouldn’t turn around, but he heard Al get up and leave as the Church door creaked open and then slammed shut.
Amazingly Father Graham finished his sermon as soon as Al left.
The Mass took on a more normal tone except right after the consecration of the bread and wine. As Father Graham was finishing the consecration and the congregation was rising to recite the “Our Father”, a stunning young woman dressed in a fur coat came clicking and clacking her way into Church.
The noise she made and the bombastic entrance got everyone’s attention. Her shiny, blazing, red high heels and her Clydsdale-like gate reverberated through the Church as she stomped her way to the front pews. No one knew her. No one recognized her. He blond hair was wild and her red lipstick was a little too heavy, but she was stacked — you could tell through the fur coat.
When she saw the front was filled she squeezed into the pew with the young guys stepping over them and wedging herself and her pungent perfume right next to Jack.
He tried to be respectful. He looked at Mary with a shrug of his shoulders. Father Graham asked everyone to give the “Sign of Peace” and as Jack turned toward the woman — that’s when Jack was stunned –the young woman let her fur coat fly open to reveal — well to reveal that there was nothing underneath except a sheer negligee. Almost naked! At Midnight Mass!
“She’s only wearing a negligee,” he whispered to Mary. “Excuse me?” his wife answered. “She’s almost naked!”
The door swung open again. This time it was a young man, dressed in a brand new dark suit. He strutted up the aisle checking out each pew. He spied the blond with the fur coat and began stepping over people and grabbed her. “We gotta go.” He grabbed her by the arm and began pulling her out of the pew. As she was being dragged her coat fell open to reveal her unique Christmas attire to the congregation.
It was then that Jack recognized the guy — it was “Louie Utah” — one of the local mobsters. Louie glared right at Jack, “Whatta you lookin’ at? Got a problem?” Jack just stiffened and shook his head “no.” “Louie Utah” — no one understood how a guy who never left South Philly got a nickname of a state out West — hustled his mistress out of Church all the while glaring at everyone in the pews.
Jack knelt down and was waiting for communion to be distributed. It was the one part of the mass he enjoyed as he could really block everything else out and just focus on prayer. And gratefully, he received that peace and quiet. And for that he was thankful. He sat back after communion and held Mary’s hand.
The Mass was almost over. One last fart from the young guys to “Joy to the World” accompanied by the glare from Mrs. Kowalski and the longest and strangest of any Midnight Mass was now done.
Jack and Mary left the Church bracing against the cold wind. “Please, let’s just go straight home — I don’t think I can face anyone else,” he said.
Mary held onto Jack as they made the short walk back to their house.
Once inside the quiet of their house Jack poured himself and Mary a glass of wine to toast the holiday.
He handed her the package with the ornaments.
Mary opened the package and gently unwrapped the Lenox figures. “Oh, Jack, this is the best gift.”
Together they hung the ornaments on the tree. They sat there gazing at the tree and Mary broke the silence. Mary said, “Every time I look at these ornaments I’ll think about our grandchildren — and tonight!
“You know. That Mrs. Kowalski really does have a big butt.”
“And my brother has a big mouth.”
“And that blond had – well, she had a lot.”
“Are we going to go to Midnight Mass next year?” Jack asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Mary answered as they clinked glasses, laughed and toasted the holiday.
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