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Chuck Brooks: Playing by the rules during Lent

If you aren't over 40 and don't come from a strict Catholic upbringing, you may not fully appreciate this week's chat. How's that for an opening?! It's true, though. I don't know that being Catholic today is the same as it was when I was a kid, but when Lent arrived, it was the bane of my existence along with many other kids' lives as well. Pull up a chair and see if you can relate.

It has to be said that my mother was a strict, stoic Catholic. We played by the rules as tightly as anyone could. There was no veering. And Lent certainly came with rules. The primary rule, of course, was personal sacrifice for the entire Lenten season. We always had to give up something. I do know people today still follow that path. However, when you're a kid, you don't want to give up anything you enjoy, and so it was for me. Yes, I understood that was the point of giving it up, but I was young and immature, and I didn't want to give up my adolescent pleasures.

I have shared this part of Lent with many people over the years, and no one has ever told me they had the same experience as the one I'm about to explain. In the Brooks household, Mom told us that on Sundays in Lent, we were allowed to do/have that which we were giving up for the other six days. This meant that if I gave up chocolate cake for Lent, I could have a piece when midnight struck on each Sunday. I've come to believe this might have been Mom's interpretation of the sacrifice. One Saturday night, I stayed up with her watching some Easter-related movie and when midnight came, I raced to the kitchen to cut a big piece of the new cake Mom had made earlier in the day. I placed it in a Tupperware cereal bowl, poured milk over it and devoured it like I hadn't had food for weeks. I never looked so forward to a Sunday as I had during Lent!

Then there was the concept of no meat on Fridays. No meat in our house meant one thing. Franco American spaghetti in a can and fish sticks from the oven. It was standard fare on Fridays. Mom would open two large cans of spaghetti and would slide a cookie tray of fish sticks into the oven. She had about two hours at home before she had to return to her window as a bank teller. It was all she had time for. I'll admit I had no issue with this meal. To this day, I'll buy that brand of spaghetti and some fish sticks on occasion. It still tastes as good as it did then.

Holy Week. Holy cow! It seemed like we were in church that week more than at home! It began with Holy Thursday night and the Stations of the Cross. Mind you, we had to attend the Stations every week during Lent to begin with. And I was in church every morning because I was enrolled in parochial school. But during Holy Week, everything seemed to ramp up. The Stations of the Cross became something I could do in my sleep. On Good Friday, we sat through the longest church service of the year. When the priest would read the Crucifixation, the parish would be on their feet one moment and kneeling the next. "Lord, hear our prayer," was our response to the priest's prayers. Stand, sit, stand, sit. Seriously, the number of times we stood, then knelt, then stood were too numerous to count. We returned on Holy Saturday to be given lit mini-candles and begin the Easter vigil. For those of us who were youngsters, it was yet another long service.

When I got to be old enough, I would leave my parishioner role and become "Altar Boy!" If you know anything about these services during Holy Week, the popular item became the incense burner. And we altar boys would have to hold the container, lift the lid and allow the priest to spoon in the powder that would begin the cloud of incense. Standing directly over the initial burst of smoke, my nostrils would be the recipient of the powerful blast. It wasn't enough to try to stifle audible choking, but if I was on the altar with a friend who was also acting as altar boy, we had to do all we could not to laugh. If Mother, from her pew, saw me laughing during any service, Holy Week or not, I swear she would have marched right onto the altar and hauled me off in front of God and all.

Easter Sunday brought an end to the long string of church attendance days, and I could finally stop fighting Satan and eat that sumptuous chocolate cake whenever! I didn't even tell you about my ashes on the forehead stories, but that's better left for another time. Or never. Ha!

Happy St. Patrick's Day! We are Rosemount, after all. Go Irish!