5- Bound by a Childhood Vow

5-Bound by a Childhood Vow

Here is the background of the conflict that was at war inside me regarding sleeping with Rory.

I attended kindergarten and first grade at the Santa Clara Church elementary school. As a seven year old I began expressing an interest in being a nun so that I could emulate my beloved teachers, Sister Celine Marie and Sister Francis Eileen. My parents transferred me to our neighborhood public school for second grade.

My mom told me later that she wanted me to be able to make my own independent choices about my life and not be overly influenced in my early formative years about something so serious that I might become committed to the dream of being a nun and not able to budge from it later.

Because we were attending public school, my sisters and I were expected to get our religious education at Saturday Catechism classes to learn about the Catholic faith. We each made our First Communion (about age 7) and our Confirmation (about age 12 or 13).

12 years old

In preparation for Confirmation, my catechism class had been told by the nuns that we would be given the opportunity to stand up at a certain point in the church ceremony if we wanted to promise God two things: 1) that we would not smoke or drink alcohol before we turned 21; and, 2) that we would not be sexually active before we were married. (I am not sure of the wording they used back in 1957.)

I gave this a lot of thought and I decided I did not want to make those promises to God. Both my dad and my mom were proud of me for thinking it through on my own and following my convictions.

Santa Clara Church
Santa Clara Church

The church was asking me to step out of two of my very happy family’s life values. Both of my parents were smokers, and in fact it seemed like almost every adult I knew smoked. (Except, as far as I knew, the nuns.) Smoking was completely socially acceptable in the 1950’s. Doctors smoked. Athletes smoked. Pregnant women smoked. Smoking was allowed on airplanes, in elevators, in hospitals, and in all restaurants.

My parents and their siblings and all of their friends were all social drinkers. Much later drinking would become a problem for my dad, but while I was growing up my parents often went to parties with their friends on Saturday nights. I have memories of my mom wearing a dazzling cocktail dress and my dad looking very handsome in a suit and tie. My dad would pick up my grandmother who would watch TV with us and get us to bed, and when my parents came home daddy would take her home.

Another good social drinking memory was the Saturdays we spent with mom’s sisters, their husbands, and our cousins. Both couples drove to our house from their homes in the Los Angeles area (about 40 miles). We gathered for a barbecue or mom’s famous enchiladas and these get-togethers were a highlight for all of us. The adults always drank and laughed and told jokes and life stories, talked about current events, and often played a marble board game called pooka. Sometimes discussions were heated and sometimes feelings got hurt, but relationships always seemed to get patched up by the time of the next party.

Our parents were in another group called the Poker Club. This group met once a month and was made up of several of my dad’s childhood friends and their spouses. They would rarely play poker–they met to enjoy each other’s friendship. These six couples remained good friends for many many years. They would have cocktail parties in the winter months and family parties at the beach or in a local park in the summer.

In my world all of the adults smoked and they all drank. Everyone was having fun.

My childhood thinking regarding the promise being asked of me hinged on: once in a while my dad let me have a sip of his beer on Saturday nights. It was kind of a sweet thing between us, and I did not want to be prohibited by an oath from having this freedom.

As far as making a decision about sex, I was only 12 years old. It was 1957 and my parents had not brought up the subject. When we went to the drive-in movies we watched shows like The Spirit of St. Louis, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Glenn Miller Story. Saturday matinees were for children and included Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Old Yeller.  We had a television and we were watching the only programs available: I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, Leave It to Beaver, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke. There’s that word again: wholesome stuff!

I don’t know if I even fully understood what the church was asking of me. But I knew I did not want to promise something that I did not know if I could follow through with, being so aware of my sinfulness. Why was I aware of my sinfulness? Because I had been going to confession every couple of months since I was seven years old trying to come up with sins to tell the priest besides I disobeyed my parents and I hit my sister.

It was a big deal not to stand up at the Confirmation ceremony. I was painfully shy and introverted in groups, and our big Gothic church was packed with decorated priests and the whole company of black-robed and helmeted nuns, as well as all of my peers from Catechism class. Families and relatives were there. There were a few hundred people in attendance. I remember that I looked straight ahead and did not look around, not sure if I would be the only one not making the promise. My parents told me later that quite a few of my peers did not stand up.

This is what I did promise God: I told Him that I would not sleep with anyone until I married my husband (meaning, on the honeymoon). Fast forward about ten years: since I had slept with Rory outside of marriage, I felt I was constrained by my vow to God to marry him. When he asked me, I said yes.