Monday, January 12, 2009

A Year of Firsts

1958 was a year that I learned a lot of new things. Not necessarily from school either. (Apologies to Eleanor McMaster, my 4th grade teacher.) But from real life experiences. Please let me explain.

As a child, I was inquisitive. And, as they would say in Ireland, I was a "bold young man". So when I walked by the St. Hedwig's Parish Rectory in Smock and saw all of these colored lights flashing through the smoked glass of the living room picture window, I just had to know what was going on. And if you knew Rev. Fabian G. Oris like I did, you realized that I was tempting fate and taking my life in my hands when I approached his front door. Undaunted, I rang the doorbell, a device that NO ONE had in Smock. The button even lit up. Amazing. Then, I began to think about Father Oris and how strict he could be and suddenly wished that the door remained closed despite my joy of pushing the lighted button. But the door opened and there he was, about 6 feet of angry priest, face in a scowl, saying "Well Pegritz, what do YOU want?" I told him that I was curious about the colored lights on his window and he said "You want to know about this? Well, come in and I'll show you."

When I walked in, I thought that I would see some torture apparatus adorned with flashing Christmas lights, but instead, my jaw instantly dropped. A television with colored pictures. And the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing baseball on the greenest grass I have ever seen. I was speechless. Then, as an act of charity, Father Oris offered me a bottle of pop. Then I knew that I must have been beheaded and that this was all a dream. But the bottle of Sun Drop came and I knew that I was in some sort of heaven for headless boys.

While watching this amazing display of electronic genius, I noticed something else. The living room had no floor. What I meant was that the carpet went all the way to the wall. Wall-to-wall carpet, I was told. Who makes such a thing? The angels?

Father Oris drove a 1958 Oldsmobile Dynamic 98. It was light blue and had at least 17 tons of chrome on it. And the engine was huge, and it had an automatic shifter. But that wasn't the amazing part. Instead of window cranks, it had.....buttons. Little buttons that when you pushed them downward, actually opened the windows by some magic force. And they closed automatically too. One day in July, when the temperature was in the 90's, I saw that the '98 was outside with the motor idling. I asked Father Oris if I could put the windows down because he would roast if he got into that car on a day that was so hot. He said, "Do not touch my car and don't touch the windows or you'll let all of the COLD air out." I thought that perhaps Father Oris had just a bit too much altar wine that Sunday.

For some celestial reason, Father Oris performed a sudden act of compassion and asked me to join him near his car. He said "Get in." I thought that he was going to drive me home and tell my mother that I was useless and needed to be destroyed. When I got into the car, it was COLD. And lo and behold, beneath that 20 foot dashboard rested a box with four chrome plated "nozzles" that spewed cold air. On the top of the box read the word "Frigidaire". I instantly realized that Father Oris had a refrigerator in his car. He called it "air conditioning." I called it amazing. He then said he'd drive me up to the top of the street where I lived. I said a silent prayer that SOMEONE would be watching when I stepped out of that Olds 98. The only one to witness this event was Prince, Mr. Florek's dog.

So inside of a two week period, I saw my first doorbell, color TV, automobile air conditioner and wall-to-wall carpet. And they all belonged to the priest.

Now if you feel like most of the people in Smock in 1958, you would say something like "that priest sure spends the parish's money and buys all of those nice things; things that WE sure don't have and probably never will." But even at age 9, I knew that the priest had to get up every day of the week and say mass. I always thought that getting up really early was something that required super-human ability. I still think that way today. But then, there were the weddings and funerals and travel to the hospitals or homes where sick people were. And then making sure that Kuba cleaned the church and that all of the bills were paid. I realized that he DESERVED these things, even if he didn't work in the Robena coal mine.

So today, I have a healthy respect for the clergy. They make all of that hard work that they do seem easy since we only see about 10% of what they do each week. I now also realize the years of sacrifice in divinity school or seminary that must be done before you can buy your first Oldsmobile.

I also learned that Father Fabian Oris wasn't evil. Oh, we all have our weak moments when God is not pleased with our actions, but we are also taught that we have a God who loves us in spite of the goofy things that we do.

And, I thought that I'd never see the day where I would have my own air conditioned car, wall-to-wall carpets or color TV. But today, with the graces from the very God that Father Oris taught me to love and to serve, I have all of these things myself.

Except for the doorbell.


Cori said...

You are one fine writer!
Have you sent any of this to the Press? Call it Living in the Fray. Love it all!

Warren said...

This is very fine and funny writing. Heaven for headless boys. My word.


Tom Oris said...

Thank you! Father Oris was my great uncle and it was great to hear a story about him. He could be an intimidating man, but he was always great to his neices and nephews!

Ted said...

Great story! I got to know Father Oris later in his life when I was an altar server at St Casimir church in Keisterville in the '90s. At that time, the church was considered a chapel and part of St Hedwig. Father Oris volunteered his time to come say weekly mass on Saturday evenings so that we could still keep attending.

I don't know if old age had softened him, but he was always an upbeat and pleasant man and I always enjoyed talking to him. I'm pretty sure he still had an Oldsmobile at the time, although a much newer one than the one he had in 1958.