Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Family Traditions: Liturgical Celebrations

Catholic families, when I was growing up, celebrated the traditional church holidays as well as the mile-marker sacraments such as Baptism (or Christening), First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage.   In a big family, such as mine, this involved a lot of celebrations throughout the year. 

These celebrations hold some of my most treasured memories.

My First Communion Party, May 1950.  Sander Street

Our celebrations revolved around food, like most other families’ parties.  And beer and pop.  The kids, the cousins, had a blast.  We ran and played, grabbed cookies and sipped pop,  without the adults paying us much mind as long as they knew where we were.  They were busy catching up. 

These Dean Family parties were the best times  for all of us.  My father and his four siblings teased  and joked while Grandma smiled proudly over her five grown children, still close to home, and her growing herd of grandchildren.  Life was good then.

A Christmas Celebration with Aunt Clara and the Mertz and
Berding Cousins.

My fifth-grade Confirmation celebration was one of those parties, but even better because it included  my mother’s famly too, the Joneses.   

My cousin, Marilyn, Uncle Buford daughter, was my Confirmation sponsor.  Uncle Buford was my mom’s only sibling. 

The   sponsor didn’t really have to do anything, just stand behind you  as you knelt at the communion railing, as the Bishop came down the line, slapped you on the cheek and said your Confirmation name.  You had to have picked a saint’s name to be confirmed. 

I remember pouring over lists of saints’ names for several weeks before the grand event.   I thought about “Ramona,” after my Dad, Raymond. 

Seriously, there was a St. Ramona on one of the lists the nuns gave us. 

Mom said,  “No, you will not.”  She obviously didn’t care much for that name.  Dad liked it of course.

I cannot tell you how many girls in my class chose “Mary.”  The ones whose name were not already Mary.   I was always a noncomformist, so I wanted a “special” name no one else would choose. 

Mom reminded me of my long departed grandmother’s name.  Cecile.  Mom thought that was a pretty name.  I looked it up, and there was a St. Cecila, the patron saint of music. 

Except my maternal grandmother’s name was “Cecile,” not Cecilia.  Close enough, we decided.  Cecile it would be.

 It made sense, seeing as music was a huge part of my life.  And it made my mother happy.  Not having her mother around like other young women raising families always hurt Mom.  She missed her mother.    Dad said choosing Cecile was a good thing.  I don’t think he really cared about “Ramona.” 

Most of all, since I had no memory of my Grandmother Cecile—having died before my first birthday—her name would be part of me forever. 

St. George

Confirmation was an evening ritual inside the low-candle-lit,  cathedral-like church.  I almost felt like I was going to a special party in my brand new,  black suede, first-time-ever pumps—shoes with no straps!  And nylons, which I’d only the Easter before been allowed to exchange for white cotton socks.  

 Grandma had bought me, on one of our shopping trips downtown, a navy blue satin, circular skirt with an iridescant-like sheen to it.  We’d found it on a sale rack in Shillitoe’s Bargain Basement.  I wore a white frilly blouse and felt like a movie star. 

I guess Confirmation was sort of like a debut, at least for the girls.  We got to dress almost like adults.

Aunt Vera had shampooed and pin-curled my hair early that morning and brushed it out after I was dressed.  It wasn’t my favorite hairdo, but I had poker-straight hair and my mother and grandma both wanted it curled.  Aunt Vera was the Pin-Curl Queen.  She fastened the tiny spirals as tight as she could, and your scalp finally became numb after hurting for hours. 

When we arrived at church that evening, I remember being proud beyond words of my cousin Marilyn.  She was tall and beautiful, and mature.  She was older than me and my classmates. 

The only dark spot on my confirmation coming-out, was when the Bishop came down the line and stood in front of me, and lightly slapping my cheek, pronounced me “Cecil.”  Without the  “e” on the end.  Cee’-sul!  Like a boy’s name.  Emphasis on the Cee. 

And Marilyn heard it.  The girls kneeling on either side of me heard it.  Next day the whole class had heard it. 

Mom said some people had called her mother Cecil because her name wasn’t Cecilia, and they didn’t  realize the  “e” on the end was there for a purpose.   It should be pronounced Ce-seel’, accent on the second  syllable. 

It didn’t make it any better that my dead grandmother had to bear such disgrace, but I decided to look down with contempt on anyone not learned enough to know how to pronounce a simple name.  A beautiful lname. 

Finally one of the nuns informed me that the Bishop had pronounced the Latin version of Cecile.  I don’t think that was true.    

Eventually the teasing died down as it usually does, and I still liked my Cecile name. 

When I began doing family history in earnest, I liked my name even more when I wrote about my Maternal Grandmother Cecile Leeds.  I hope she knows I am proud to have her name.

My Maternal Grandmother, Cecile May Leeds


  1. Loved this post. I'm about 10 years older than you and I was raised in downtown Cincinnati and the East End, so everything is very familiar to me.

  2. Where do you live now, Lillian? I'm in Tennessee.

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