December 3, 1966

It was an unremarkable Saturday. History records that the only newsworthy event on record (or at least, on Wikipedia) was an underground nuclear test performed in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

But on that day I received my First Communion.

It was at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Olney, Maryland. Today, Olney is a sprawling suburb replete with tract houses and shopping centers. Back then, though, it was farm country, with one stoplight at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Route 108, and a tiny DGS store in what looked like an old farmhouse. The wooden floors creaked.

St. Peter’s was a modern, utilitarian church divided in two: on one side of the altar was a smaller chapel with ancient wooden pews (saved from the original chapel), and on the other side was a massive tile-floored hall with folding chairs. This space doubled as the school auditorium. It wasn’t air conditioned. In the summer, massive metal fans on tall poles stirred warm air and did nothing to make us feel evenly remotely cool.

On December 3, 1966, I imagine, most of us were looking forward to Christmas and wondering what Santa would bring. But before that, there was First Communion. We practiced for this day for weeks, with the nuns—Sisters of St. Joseph from Chestnut Hill—showing us how to receive on the tongue, kneeling.  Receiving in the hand was unheard of.  Sipping the Precious Blood was unimaginable.

I don’t remember much about the day itself.  I wore a navy blue suit and relatives came in from New Jersey.  Somebody gave me a tiny silver four-way cross to wear around my neck. Someone else gave me a colorful ceramic plate with gold lettering: “In remembrance of my First Holy Communion.”   I remember there was a luncheon after, at our house.  But that’s about all I can recall.

Three weeks later, in an event that seemed much more significant at the time, I received a two-wheeled blue Schwinn bicycle for Christmas.  I spent hours in the freezing cold that morning, cheerfully peddling it up and down the sidewalk outside our house.

I was seven years old, in the second grade, with a new blue bicycle.

Who could ask for anything more?

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