Robrt Pela's Heartwarming Valentine Tale: "If It's Friday, This Must Be the Body of Christ"
Chow Bella has a valentine for you. For the rest of February, we're handing out Candy Hearts -- stories of food and love from some of our favorite writers. Enjoy.
I know a 12-year-old who eats nothing but peanut butter and chicken fingers. Three meals a day. No kidding. She has, as that old poem about eating peas with honey goes, done so all her life. My little friend is one of those poor, early-21st-century kids who are allergic to pretty much everything: potatoes, red meat, oxygen. She can't be in the same room with a lettuce leaf, but it's okay. She's lucky enough to have parents who allow her to eat Peter Pan Extra Crunchy straight from the jar and call it "lunch."
If this pisses me off, it's because I was one of those now impossible-to-fathom kids who ate anything. Sauerkraut, sushi, okra--I loved it all. This was in the Sixties before it became fashionable for children to be terrified of contact with white flour; long before any of us had ever even heard of gluten. And so I devoured plantains and mutton stew and beef liver. I asked for seconds of cioppino and broccoli and veal-stuffed cabbage. I ate everything. But I drew the line at one foodstuff: I refused the body of Christ.
I was too young to spell transubstantiation, but old enough to know that one should never eat some dead guy, no matter how famous he was. But I was a little Catholic boy, in the second grade, and this meant that the time for my First Holy Communion was drawing near. I was now old enough, my parents explained, to once a week eat the little round communion wafers that were served at the end of Sunday mass. These disks, my father explained to me, were magically turned into the flesh of God's son, and eating them somehow made everything right with the world.
My subconscious was the first to protest. I began having nightmares in which I was forced to attend a Jesus-hosted progressive dinner party that ended with a dessert made up of the Virgin Mary's lady parts.
My parents remained unconvinced that eating Jesus was a bad idea. I held my ground. I didn't care, I insisted, that Jesus's dad was a vengeful god who could see everything I did and punish me for not wanting to taste his son. I was not swayed by reports that Christ had plans to return to earth one day soon to scoop up all the people he liked best, and that refusing to swallow pieces of him would land me on his Divine shit-list for all eternity. I was not going to eat the son of God.
My parents, both staunch Catholics, tried to reason with me.
"After you make your First Holy Communion, you'll really have a relationship with the Holy Spirit," my father explained, hopefully.
"Not to mention indigestion!" I replied. "Can't Jesus and I just be pen-pals?"
"You're a Catholic," Dad tried. "You have to complete all your sacraments, and Holy Communion is one of them."
"Marriage is a sacrament," I squeaked. "Instead of doing Communion, couldn't I just get married twice, like my sister did?"
My 8-year-old sarcasm was no match for my father's impatience, and so, every Thursday afternoon, I joined the kids from St. Jerome's Catholic School to learn about the joys of drinking the Blood of Christ and how to eat a Communion wafer without chewing it, which was a sin that would cause the floor to open up and send me straight into the fiery depths of Hell.
I nearly ended in Hell anyhow, after our priest, Father Pat, turned up at our final First Communion class for a dress rehearsal of that Sunday's big event, when we'd receive "the body and blood" for the first time during mass.
"Very well, kiddies," Father lisped to all of us cannibals-in-training. "Everybody form a line. I'll be the priest, and you be the parishioners. Remember: this is a joyous occasion, but joy is no excuse for forgetting your lines."