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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

gallagher fredI remember them well! School let out and the shoes came off to stay except for on Sundays. My brothers and I left the house in the morning and usually showed back up with a few others, oh, let’s say somewhere around lunchtime. Then off again in the green and the sun and the freedom.

We looked for crawdads under rocks in the creek behind St. Michael’s baseball field, we pranked each other at every turn, had dirt clod fights and played tackle football, rode bikes to the drugstore for an 18 cent orangeade (which was two orange halves freshly squeezed into a cup with syrupy sugar water and shaved ice) and, if we were lucky, we found a place to swim, preferably by a lake bank with a rope swing attached to a high tree limb, our St. Christopher medals flapping up in our faces as we landed, hopefully right side up, in the water.

At the time I had no idea how innocent we were. As a matter of fact, I was always on the brink of feeling guilty about something I had done or was getting ready to do or had forgotten to do. (I am Catholic, after all!) I didn’t know how free we were, either, us baby boomer kids in our Eisenhower summers, playing in the trenches made by the construction of new houses. We had plenty of stitches and broken bones, but that’s about all.

There was no pornography popping up randomly on computers, or F bombs dropping every few seconds from just about every character in just about every movie. There was no blood spurting in oh-so-graphic video games, or a depraved celebrity photographed holding a model of the severed head of the president of the United States. We were not forced to grow up encountering adult situations, perverse desires, “gender fluidity,” broken families. Don’t get me wrong, our world was anything but perfect, but most folks knew it was not perfect because most folks knew sin existed. Families gathered for suppers, for worship, for ball games and vacations, for weddings and for funerals, or simply because it was evening and there might have been a little breeze on the back porch.

And I recall that one summer, for some reason, I served an early morning Mass every single day. Some days a handful of people were there, but many days it was just Father Gregory Eichenlaub, a Pennsylvania German baseball player turned Benedictine monk who manned our parish for decades; my Aunt Edie, my father’s baby sister, who, upon her death at age 90 had been a daily communicant for around 75 years; and, of course, me. Father Gregory and Aunt Edie were both feisty, you-know-where-you-stand-with-them kind of people whom most children were a little uncomfortable around. But I had all summer, and I simply got over it.

I sometimes wonder if it was just some kind of religious compulsion that kept me donning cassock and surplice every morning of that summer. I don’t know what it was. I do know I remember it, and that remembrance is now a cherished gift. Perhaps because of that remembrance, today when I pass a Catholic church, I make the sign of the cross because I know Who’s in there.

But that’s what we do in any season, isn’t it? As Catholics, we remember. We do not seek to return to a bygone era. Rather, we seek to be a catechism, to infuse a wandering society with the biblical and traditional values that are fast disappearing around us. We seek to remind others that every life is sacred – be it an ethnic or religious minority, an immigrant, a person with Down Syndrome or an unborn child. We seek to remind parents that they are the primary educators of their children. We remember the importance of those core principles that once ruled our lives – as individuals, as communities, as a country. We seek to remind families how sacred marriage vows should be and how hard we must fight to retain faith in the institution of marriage. We remind old-timers to look back in gratitude and that with God they are not alone. We remind those left after a loved one passes that love itself has not gone anywhere but lives in the hearts of each family, and that the communion of the saints is absolutely real.

If we can, we relive the days of summer, and we try to bring back a taste of the freedom that helped us once find time to talk and break bread together, to play and to pray and to walk the leafy woods together. We attempt to find in the days of summer remnants of a life that cherished sacred bonds, that celebrated growing up and growing together and growing old. We hold the remnants of that life in our hearts and we reflect them in everything we do. And, even though the shoes stay on these days, still the days of summer are back. They are long and lush and, oh yes…worth thanking God for.

Fred Gallagher is an author and editor-in-chief with Gastonia-based Good Will Publishers Inc.