Olga’s Diary (Continued)
Big Scandal: My very favourite nun, Sister Marie-Thérèse, told me one day when I was at Alpha Academy, that Jamaica has the largest number of churches per square mile in the entire world. Many are beautiful, old, stone buildings going back to the 1800s. Religion has always been important to Jamaicans and especially to my family. Mammie says we are high Catholics, which I think makes us sound special, but to be honest, I don’t know what the difference is between a high Catholic and a low one. It’s one of those questions I don’t like to ask in case people think I’m stupid.
We always put on our best Sunday clothes when we go to mass. Mammie says how we dress is important because clothes say a lot about you. Ragged clothes are a sign of poverty but even the poorest person wouldn’t dream of going to church without putting their best clothes on, clean shoes and a proper hat, and not a scarf, because that doesn’t cover your head properly. Mammie is very particular about us all looking clean and smart and when we were at school she would keep us away rather than send any of us off without clean, ironed school uniforms. In Jamaica being well dressed is a sign of your social status and it’s important to your sense of self respect and self worth, Mammie says.
Going to church is a social occasion and after mass, standing around outside the Church, you can catch up on all the gossip. Unfortunately, quite a lot of it has been about the Browneys lately so we haven’t hung around for too long.
Whit Sunday: My sisters Dolly, Ruby, Pearl and I had decided to go to an early mass so that afterwards we could catch a boat to Port Royal and spend the day on the beach and swim and have a picnic. We had just returned to our pew after receiving Holy Communion when I was aware of a click-clacking sound coming from behind me and turned round to see what it was. It was coming from Vivie and her silver dance shoes. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There she was, still wearing the tight, low cut red dress she had bought to go to Freddie Howell’s birthday party the previous night. On her head was a small scarf which didn’t quite cover her newly bleached blonde hair.
“Is it a wig” Dolly whispered to me?
Vivie must have been aware of the stir she was causing in the Church, but, her faith is as important to her as it is to the rest of us and she knew that even if the congregation and God judged her to be a sinner, God, at least, would forgive her.
All eyes were on her and at the same time varying commotions erupted around the Church. There were plenty of gasps from onlookers as she click clacked down the aisle towards the altar rail. Some people were whispering, quite a few were muttering loudly and some distinct words could be heard…… “common, trash, looks like a whore”…… and some whose mouths were opened in astonishment.
Vivie and her shoes click clacked their way down the aisle heading straight for the altar rail. She knelt down and waited to receive Communion from Father Butler. He had seen Vivie approaching and was aware of the stir she was causing in the Church.
Father Butler told Mammie later that before he reached Vivie he had decided what he was going to do. And he did it. In front of hundreds of people he walked straight past her without giving her Holy Communion.
It was a slight of monumental proportions, and by now you could have heard a pin drop because there was total silence in the cathedral.and for what seemed like forever Vivie remained on her own kneeling at the altar rail.
Then she stood up and turned to face the congregation. She looked around at the faces in front of her, lifted her hand and slowly removed the scarf. That one defiant gesture, or it may have been the sight of the blonde hair, caused the entire congregation to act together and they gasped.
Vivie then calmly walked out of the Church.
Father Frank Butler was a newly ordained priest when he came to Kingston from Ireland shortly after the Great Exhibition in 1891 which, apparently, was Jamaica’s way of telling the rest of the world what a lot of opportunities there were here.
Although Father Butler’s very old now, he’s still a big man and fat. He says he’s not fat but “well nourished” and he’s got white hair and a very weather beaten complexion from too much sun.
He’s taken part in most of the important religious occasions to do with the Browneys – when we were baptised, our first Holy Communion, our confirmation and our confessions. He probably knows more about all of us than either Mammie or Sydney.
I was never very happy when he heard my confession on a Friday evening because he and Sydney are good friends and every Sunday night Father Butler comes to Mission House to see Sydney and the pair of them would sit for hours talking and smoking smelly cigars in the upstairs drawing room every Sunday night.
For a long time I was frightened that Father Butler would tell Sydney about the sins I’d confessed to and I’d get a whipping, but Mammie told me that a priest has to take an oath of silence and can never repeat anything to anyone else that he hears in the confessional box even if he was asked to by a judge in a court of law.
In the beginning Father Butler called on us for donations, either money or clothes which we had grown out of and he’d give to the St Vincent de Paul Society which helps the poor people of Kingston.
Priests are important to Jamaican families because if a family has no money they will always go to their priest for help and they will always receive a few pence for food and clothes. But things have to be really awful if you have to go to the priest and ask for money.
Anyway, this Sunday, Mammie didn’t attend mass that particular morning and, Sydney was away up country on business, so missed the incident in Church, but Father Butler told Mammie later what had happened and said he was concerned about Vivie’s “moral welfare”. Having an affair with a married man and committing adultery are mortal sins and were forbidden by the Catholic Church and if Vivie continued on her wayward journey to damnation, he would have to have her excommunicated from the Church. Most Catholics I know would say that being put in front of a firing squad was better than being excommunicated from the Church.
Mammie tried to explain that Vivie was going to ask Carlton for a divorce because she wanted to marry Freddie.
“You know as well as I do Becky, the Catholic Church does not recognise divorce and will never allow Vivie to marry Freddie”. But worse was to come……………………
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