The story behind a Communion host

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  • mike keadySeptember 20, 2013

    THE BISHOP AND THE BUFFALO By Michael Keady My mother loved trying new things, and was never ashamed to be audacious. When someone told her “no”, she just considered that a challenge. For example, one of the schemes we helped her with was to turn on the siren in my dad’s plainclothes police car while he was home for lunch. I had the knowhow to press the right buttons, but I was afraid to risk the wrath of dad, so my brother Brian did the deed. Brian managed to extort a whole box of Eskimo Pie ice cream bars from mom just for being mischievous, and we all scattered when the siren began to howl. On this occasion, my sister Angela was about to attend her First Holy Communion at Saint Edward’s Catholic Church in Chicago. I, two years her senior at 11, was an Altar Boy at the church. Since my sister was one of the candidates, I was chosen to help at the service. Normally, a Bishop rather than a priest conducts the ceremony because one’s First Communion is an important occasion. I told mom that this ceremony would be conducted by Bishop John May. “John May?” my mother exclaimed, “Why he, he baptized you! He baptized ALL of you!” We had eight children in our family. She continued “He was our parish priest at Saint Gregory Church, before we moved to Saint Edward’s, before he was chosen as a bishop!” We left Saint Gregory parish in the Edgewater area of Chicago when I was 5, and moved west to Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood in order to get more elbow room for our growing brood. A few days later she said “Michael, come here!” “Uh, oh!” I thought, “What did I do now?” I grew wide-eyed as she explained her scheme. “I want you to invite Bishop May over for a drink and a visit.” she said, just as calmly as you would say “Put the milk bottles out on the back porch for the milkman.” My mind raced. “A Bishop is third in line to the Pope,” I thought to myself, “and the Pope talks to GOD!” My mother saw my look of panic, and explained further. “Don’t worry honey, just explain that he baptized all of you, and you only live a block from the church, then give him this note with our address on it. If he is busy and can’t come, then he can’t come. Don’t worry!” She cupped my cheek in her warm hand and smiled. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!” she reminded with a smile. She was full of these sayings! On the day of the ceremony, my hands were sweaty with fear as I carefully placed the address card in my left front pants pocket. I emptied out all my other pocket stuff, just to be sure. It simply wouldn’t do to mistakenly present the Bishop with one of my Movie Monster collector cards, or my U.S. Civil War trading cards with depictions of soldiers being gruesomely gored on spiked wooden barricades. At the church, the Holy Sisters of Saint Edward were all in a tizzy as they rushed around the basement sacristy helping us altar boys don our special scarlet capes and crisp white vestments. The main floor sacristy was reserved as a dressing area for the Bishop and other concelebrant priests. The gold fringe trim on our capes had to lie just so, and the pleats and creases had to be crisp and straight. The Sisters primped and poked us, transforming us from grubby street urchins into angelic cherubs. We looked like miniature priests. I had never even seen a Bishop close up before. I knew they wore special vestments and a tall, gold hat for ceremonies, and when you meet one you are expected to kiss his ring. They also use a gold shepherd’s crook in ceremonies, to symbolize their leadership role in the church. Today, mom expected me to not only introduce myself to a Bishop, but hold a leisurely conversation with him and invite him to my house. I smiled at her nerve. I didn’t know what audacity meant yet. I almost ran headlong into the Bishop as I rounded the corner from the upstairs sacristy into the sanctuary. That’s the area of the church that contains the altar. “Your, your Excellency!” I stammered. We had been drilled in etiquette by the Holy Sisters. I leaned in and kissed his ring. “I am Michael Keady, you baptized me.” He looked seven feet tall wearing his tall gold and white arched hat. “My sister is Angela, and you baptized her. She is receiving First Holy Communion today.” The Bishop’s eyes and smile grew wider as I laid out my bona fides. “My parents are Patricia and John Keady, and you baptized all eight of us children at Saint Gregory.” “How wonderful!” he said in a big, booming bishop voice. I hated to interrupt him, but I forced myself. I felt like I might faint if I didn’t finish. My stiff white altar boy collar was suddenly too tight. “My mother asked me to invite you over tonight after the Communion for a drink and a visit. We only live a block away and this is the address.” He took the note from my hand, read it, and smiled broadly. “Well of course I remember your mom and your family,” he said, “and I’ll try to make it over.” He smiled again and placed his hand on my shoulder. “Thank you, young man!” We both rushed away to our preparations as the ceremony was about to start. I honestly don’t remember much of the ceremony. I was reveling in my newfound ability to socialize with Bishops. I was so glad and relieved that I said all the things mom asked me to say, and that it all came out coherently. I do remember performing the most important function of an altar boy; that is to dutifully hold a long-handled shiny brass plate under the chin of each communicant. This prevents the small round of bread from falling and rolling around on the floor after it has been transformed by the priest into the body of Christ. At home, we all gathered around a large square white cake in the dining room. Cake was a rare treat on a Sunday afternoon at the Keady house. We were about to cut it when the doorbell rang. “EEEEEEEEEEK!!” came the scream from the kitchen. Mom never screamed. I thought perhaps my mom had sliced her hand open. Or maybe she found another field mouse trying to sneak in. “The Bishop! The Bishop! The Bishop is here!!” She screamed. Everyone ran to the front door. The Bishop looked normal now, without his tall bishop hat. He was about as tall as my dad. He wore a plain black priest outfit with black shirt and white priest’s collar. The only way to tell he was more than a priest was the bright red piping on the edge of his shirt, and a hand-sized gold crucifix on a gold chain around his neck. We lined up as best we could in our living room to greet him properly, one by one. He gave us all an official blessing, and we crossed ourselves as he said a short prayer over us. I turned to look at my mom and she looked so proud. Proud of us, her family, proud of her home, which she worked at dawn-to-dusk, and proud that someone as important as a Bishop was visiting. The next best thing we had was a form letter from the Pope which hung in a place of honor on our living room wall next to the piano. It thanked our dad for protecting Europe from the Nazis in World War II. As we began to move into the dining room, mom buttonholed my older brother John. “Take the kids to The Buffalo!” she whispered, jamming a ten-dollar bill into his hand. “Use the rest for gas!” John smiled. He had just turned sixteen and drove an old Dodge jalopy. He loved to drive. All of my older siblings were out, so John just had to corral me, Angela, and my youngest sister Betsy. “What’s The Buffalo?” I asked. With eight children on my dad’s policeman salary, we didn’t go out much. I thought it might be a zoo. When John mentioned it was an Ice Cream Parlor, I thought of a living room, which was called a parlor by my elderly godmother. The Buffalo, as we were to discover, was a famous Ice Cream Parlor in Chicago’s Albany Park. It was kitty-corner from the Irving Movie Theater, at Irving Park and Pulaski Avenues. The Buffalo made their own whipped cream, none of that fake spray stuff here. Their main room had a marble soda fountain, and old fashioned wooden cabinets containing candy. They sold cutout coin jewelry, with just a president or a buffalo or an eagle, with the backgrounds cut out and discarded. It seemed very risqué, because we had heard that defacing coins was against the law. The upper shelves held dozens of ripe bananas, because their specialty was the Banana Split. We thought only Superman or a giant could finish such a concoction, but John assured us that most grown-ups were up to the task. We were taken to a large wooden booth with bright red leatherette padding. My chocolate sundae, came, and it looked delicious! But it had extra stuff in it. A small bamboo fan made of bamboo strips and rainbow colored paper was jammed into my ice cream, as were two vanilla sugar wafers. It was too much, it seemed too much for me, but I dug in nonetheless. The long slender spoon was perfect for liberating the last bits of homemade whipped cream from the bottom of the tall sundae dish. The fancy red cherry couldn’t hide, either. My little sisters could not even finish their sundaes. We were all happy with Angie’s First communion, and we were deeply honored by the Bishop’s visit. Our trip to The Buffalo was a complete surprise. What a wonderful, surprising day!

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