The human sow

Vitalien gave birth to her eleventh child in November 1958. It was a boy, and she was going to have him baptized into the Roman Catholic religion as were his siblings before him, and raise him on the straight and narrow of Catholicism. She believed in all the catholic teachings; the Pope, therefore, in his Vatican―whatever and wherever that was―could do no wrong, since he was God’s representative on earth. And if Purgatory was “a place where souls suffered for a time, after death, on account of their sins” as the catholic catechists taught, she knew she was surely headed there when she died.

The boy’s baptism would be done in approximately four months; there was no need to rush. Christmas was not too far away, anyway, and everyone knew what that meant. Time-honored tradition had to be maintained; the spending frenzy that characterized the season of goodwill was an integral part of the celebration of the birth of the Christian Christ. And because the paradox was lost on many, and the merchants whose coffers were filled made significant contributions in sealed envelopes from their privileged pews during collections at Sunday mass, the poverty-perpetuating custom continued. So Vitalien delayed her son’s baptism for the more worldly pursuit of consumerism.

When the seasonal festivities were over, Vitalien began to tackle the usual tasks associated with baptism in the second week of January 1959. The first step was finding a suitable godmother for her son; that was easy. She chose her fellow Canaries-born neighbor and friend, Margaret, although she considered Margaret’s husband an insufferable bore because he thought he knew everything. A godfather was more difficult, but she managed that before January ended. The next task was the most important. She had to present herself to the priest so he could set a date for the child’s baptism. Vitalien knew she couldn’t look too shabby and she had to be at her reverential best for that occasion. Priests had the power of life and death! They could ensure your passage to heaven or damn you to eternal hell. They were guiltless, blameless, and sinless. They were the haloed shepherds of the lost flock.

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