hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

May 15, 2014

The jelly doughnut First Communion

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — Emotions ran high this week when my family celebrated a very important day in religious history.

My grandson made his first Holy Communion.

Rocco joined a community of young Catholic children who marched to the altar of their church, in alphabetical order, and received the blessed sacrament.

It wasn’t the same as stepping to the plate and belting a baseball or getting into mischief around the house with three siblings. At age 7, he’ll hopefully set the precedent for his brothers and sisters.

The fact that he’s a regular church-goer in this age of religious apathy makes me rather proud and sometimes emotional. It’s still a good spiritual world out there, despite its troubles.

“Papa, did you ever make your First Communion?” he asked, shortly before his big day.

“Boy, did I? Hey, church was always a way of life in our family.” I informed him. “Eat, pray, love.”

“Were you scared?”

“No more than bringing home a report card from school or trying to hit a ball with the score tied,” I tried explaining. “Besides, God is there to help you along. You gotta have faith in Him.”

“What was the worst part?” he continued pumping me.

“The jelly doughnut!”

“Whaaat!”

I was my grandson’s age when my big moment arrived. You’re looking at someone who made church his second home back what seemed like a zillion years ago. Because my folks operated a coffee shop, Sunday mornings were spent at the Catholic Church around the corner from their business.

When we were home, I attended the church down the street. And because we were an Armenian immigrant family, the ethnic church played a prominent role.

Not to be outdone, my dad was Episcopalian and I would accompany him on occasion. There was never an argument about religion in our family, despite the patchwork lifestyle.

Add it up and you’ll be surprised to know that I, in fact, attended four churches as a child — but not at the same time, of course.

The jelly doughnut encounter left me with an indelible imprint in the pew. I sat on it.

Let me explain. It was Saturday and there I was, all decked out in my pristine white suit, ready to received God into my life. All those novenas with my mother, the Sunday School lessons, those nuns with their habits.

My mom sent me along at an advanced hour, looking forward to seeing me in church later. As for dad, business took precedence. Still, one parent at my First Communion was better than none at all.

On my way out the door, I grabbed a couple jelly doughnuts from the tray when nobody was looking. One was devoured en route to the church. Because I had no time to eat the other, into my back pocket it went for later, tucked inside a napkin.

The pastor was upright and stern in his homily to us children. He glanced over six pews of communicants and said, “Boys and girls, never lose your faith. When you are troubled, look to God for guidance. Always remember, God is everywhere.”

A thought quickly occurred to me: I hope he isn’t in my back pocket eating my jelly doughnut.

I quickly reached inside, checking on the contents, and all I felt was one mashed doughnut oozing with jelly, seeping right through my pocket. Had I not been wearing my white jacket, the stain would have been obvious to all.

How would I explain that to mom? So I delayed putting off the obvious by throwing myself a celebration. I passed the word, telling all my classmates there would be a party at the luncheonette following Mass.

“All the burgers and hot dogs you can eat,” I exclaimed.

On they came, like the animals to Noah’s Ark, those who didn’t have immediate plans of their own, 10, 20, 30 and a few more than 40. They brought their own parents — and appetites, too. My folks thought it was a sudden surge of business until I told them otherwise.

My honesty didn’t get me very far.

I drew janitorial duty for a month with no allowance. As for that errant jelly doughnut, it didn’t come clean, no matter how much scrubbing I did to the pocket. I spilled the beans on that as well and paid for it with another week of custodial time.

Looking back at it all, they were some of the best days of my life, thanks to my faith and my church. Without it, I would be like the doughnut with a hole. Zero!

I wish the same for Rocco, too.

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.