My mom’s side of family is [intensely] Catholic. Nominally, so am I. My mom was a single parent, and therefore a black sheep of the family, when I was born. I was baptized in the Catholic church with one of my aunts and my grandfather looking on in the role of god-parents. I think, as a child, we went to a Catholic church for a time but I’m not sure if that’s the case. (My memories from my childhood are all very hazy, on purpose, since there was a lot of pain in my childhood.) All I do remember is that Catholicism, to me, was an inexplicable thing that my mother’s family had in common. It was a source of fascinating stories between my aunts and my mom whenever they’d sit around the kitchen table. And it was a club that I couldn’t be a part of because I was being raised Methodist.
My daddy was born and raised Methodist. Since he wasn’t my real father, there was never any argument about how I would be baptized. However, he and my mother (according to Ma) had some awful fights about what to do with my kid brother when he was born. It wasn’t until many years after my father’s death and at my little brother’s insistence that he was finally baptized Methodist. As a child, we went to the same church my father attended when he was a kid. I used his very old—give to him in the 50s—Bible as a connection to him. I went to Sunday School until I slowly began to grow disenchanted with the faith. I was a part of the Boar’s Head Festival. I was an acolyte. I mean, I was pretty in with the Methodist faith before I gave up on religion, in general.
It’s the Catholic family, here, however that causes me particular concern with my current spiritual path. Logically, I know that I shouldn’t have much care in one fashion or another in what they think of my newly “outed” pagan status. (I’m friends with all of them on FB and finally changed my religious views, last night, to “pagan” instead of needlessly cryptic. As if all the new friends with witch in their usernames wasn’t obvious enough.) As they’ve all grown older, they’ve become more and more in tune with the faith of their childhood. They attend masses together and take my grandfather to them. There’s quite some chatter at family parties about it.
Of course, the cousins never weigh in when it comes to religious affiliation, although I’m fairly positive most or all of my cousins were raised Catholic. (Black sheep. That’s me.)
I can imagine my [dead] grandmother at her kitchen table with the oxygen tubes running from her nose. I can imagine sitting across from her and saying the words, “I’m a pagan, Gramma. And I don’t want to hide it anymore.”
In reality, this isn’t how things are done in the family. There are things that just aren’t “discussed.” When I had my tongue pierced, it was kept quiet and I was never to cough, sneeze, laugh, or smile in front of my grandmother because we protected her from… our choices? I know that my grandmother knew about it (it’s hard to erase the glint of metal on the tongue) but she never let on. The same went for tattoos and bad grades and bad decisions. We protected her from all of our own stupidity. Honestly? I’d like to think that my grandmother was more hip than she let on. She was just too enraptured with what I call the “Standard Catholic Persona.” That would be cold, calculating, and reserved.
However, in my imagination she has two reactions. She either stares at me deadpan and never actually comments on my announcement. Or, she rolls her eyes and goes on about kids having to explore new things all the damn time. In my secret heart of hearts, I’d like to have her smile at me and say, “I’m glad, dear. I’m glad you found something.”
Yet, that really isn’t how my family works with things. Just because we find something that makes us happy or makes us feel complete that doesn’t mean that the family has anything nice to say about it. There’s still some bad talk about all the mistakes a cousin of mine made when he was younger, even though those mistakes made him the man he is today: strong, virile, caregiver, and willing to sacrifice to do those things. There’s still some bad talk about all the mistakes my brother makes. (I lie now and tell them all that he’s doing smashingly down south and loves his life. It’s easier to make them believe that he has learned from his mistakes than to admit that he still makes them.) All of the significant others that we’ve been with for years? They’re called “special friends” until marriage happens.
TH is considered an oddity and a fascination for the aunt that took over as matriarch because he is a blue collar worker and the family considers itself entirely white collar. He is also considered fascinating because he is of Italian descent (she always makes comments about the seven fishes dinner thing) and because he went to Cathedral like she did. Honestly? She makes me feel guilty, sometimes, for being with a “young man” who isn’t what they expected. I think they all liked MEH better than TH. He was exactly what they thought I should be with. It’s too bad he threatened to kill me all the time then, huh?
Side tracked. PER USUAL.
On the other hand to all of this, I have TH’s family. I hate to admit it but this is the family that I wish were truly mine. I love my aunts and uncles and my grandfather and the history of my family, but it is TH’s family that makes me feel welcome, secure, and loved.
Religiously speaking, TH’s [mother's] family doesn’t have anything in particular. I know that the eldest, Uncle R, explored religions when he was in the military. He said that the most fun and exercise he ever had was at a Southern Baptist church. I know that they believe in God (they swear about Him enough—ell oh ell), and that some are more comfortable with ghosts and things. However, all in all, they are a hodgepodge that happen to have God at the center. The other side is nominally Catholic but I don’t believe church or masses are attended. In effect, religiously speaking, they’re catch-as-catch-can from what I can tell. It is into this environment that I was openly (from the start) and willingly able to say, “I am a pagan.”
When I first met the family, they made me feel very welcomed and loved. This is amazing in and of itself since I was taking TH away from them, having him move with me to south Texas after the dissolution of my marriage. This environment was also completely unknown to me. I was used to the cool reserve of my mother’s family or the general outcast feeling of my daddy’s family. Most of my friends had broken families or weren’t close with relatives so it seemed normal to me to have family enclaves where you felt like you were being stifled by the act you had to put on. It didn’t matter who I was, what I was doing, why I was doing it, how we met or a damn thing. I was made to feel welcome by TH’s family (even his dad, when we would awkwardly talk on the phone made me feel welcome and that is an amazing thing in and of itself since his dad… yeah, well, he’s just not that kind of guy).
The first time I met the whole family I was nervous and uncertain, but they were all loving and caring. They’re a bunch of jokers and tricksters. For example, they have games where they place beer bottle caps in one another’s houses in the most unobtrusive places imaginable. (They decorated the back fence with beer bottle caps at one point.) TH’s mom hastily assured me that if they started ragging on me, then they liked me. Almost from the start, there was ragging. There were jokes about flying on a broomstick and on dancing naked in the moonlight, and careful! she can turn you into a frog! Even to this day, the jokes are there. (I think my favorite jokes are from TH’s stepfather who is very in key with my mother’s family: cold and reserved. His jokes are always about how his wife must be doing wonders because when I first moved up here, I couldn’t even turn on the stove or open a tuna can. And now look, I can bake a whole pie and it tastes damn good.) They always make me feel good.
Part of the reason the family is so open and honest with my paganism is because they swear up and down that Great-Grampa W. was a warlock. I’m not all that sure where this story stems from or started. All I know is that the man was born before the turn of the twentieth century. He was a good deal older when Gramma L. showed up on the scene. There’s chatter about how he was born in Salem (this came from G-GW) but there’s no knowing this for fact since the records building burned down. So, there is absolutely no concrete evidence of this. Considering that a guitar TH’s mother swore he had made by hand was recently discovered to have a “MADE IN CHINA” sticker in it? It’s possible this is a tale that he purpetrated himself for whatever reason.
They call his spirit “Shiny Shoes,” though I don’t remember the story on that.
Quick aside about all of this: On Christmas, I told TH’s grandmother that I had bought a deep healing gris-gris from Snow and that, I wondered if she would like to have it for all the pain she’s always in. (She has osteoarthritis, specifically in her back, and the doctors refuse to give her the medication necessary to get rid of the pain because they don’t “want to addict” her to the medication. So, she lives with a lot of pain.) I told her that she just had to hold it in her hands and tell it what the aches were and leave it by the bedside. That talking to it might help, too. Her words to me when I asked if this was desirable? “Well, my dad was a warlock. I’ll give anything a try.” So, she’s the recipient of the deep healing gris-gris I had purchased for myself.
It is into this environment that I find myself nowadays. It is into this environment that I finally came to realize that hiding who I was, living in the broom closet was no longer a viable option. It is because I was loved, welcomed, and cared for by people who didn’t know me, never knew me, and they still wanted me around that I have found that I can no longer live with a secret like this.
Even knowing that I have the love and support of TH’s family behind me, I still worry extensively about the reaction of my Catholic relations. I still shake (literally, as I am now) at the comments I will be forced to endure behind their possibly near-sighted, uppity and unkind sentiments about something they know nothing about. I don’t want to cause a riff in my family because I love them, even if they’re not really what I would have them be or even though they make me feel badly at times about who I am and what I do and the choices I’ve made. I do love them. What’s that saying again? You can’t choose your family, right? I can’t choose that family and I can’t choose what their reactions will be.
I can only hope that they will still love me.