I love the time of the year when Lent rolls up on the calendar. It heralds the decline of winter, reminding me that spring can’t be far away.
In addition to the symbolism of a seasonal transition, this holy period offers me a chance to take stock of my spiritual well-being and decide how I might rate in the eyes of the Good Lord and my fellow man.
Notwithstanding all this philosophizing, I also look back amusingly at my Roman Catholic upbringing and my experiences of Lent, in Branch, in the 1950s. A week or so before Ash Wednesday, the most popular question circulating in the schoolyard and elsewhere was, “What are you giving up for Lent?” The act of “giving up something” was essential. It was pointless to maintain that you were going to pray or do good deeds. For some reason, praying and helping others was not deemed as difficult as depriving yourself.
I recall one year when I decided to stop reading comics for Lent. As my mother would describe it, I was blindfolding the devil in the dark because there was nowhere in Branch to purchase comics. They usually only came my way when I borrowed some from friends or when Mommy made an infrequent visit to Placentia. I decided that denying myself this little pleasure shouldn’t be too hard. I could justify a Lenten requirement to my classmates and at the same time I would meet the demands of our local religious customs. Sure the season of Lent would be a breeze.
Suddenly, a monkey wrench was thrown into my act of self-denial when my mother had to make an unscheduled trip to St. John’s. She returned with a large cardboard box full of used comics of all genres. Thanks to my aunt in the city and her American friends at Pepperrell Air Force Base, about 300 comic books had come into my possession. Colourful covers with exciting titles such as Gunsmoke, Cisco Kid, Mutt and Jeff, Rin Tin Tin and many more flashed before my eyes. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! I was in comic book heaven!
That is, until my older sister put a damper on my enthusiasm by reminding me of my promise of abstinence. Jean didn’t love comics the way I did and she was always a bit of a spoilsport anyhow. Never mind that she had decided to give up seeing boys for Lent and that promise lasted until the first time some fellow asked her out on a date. Where did she get off chastising me?
But not to worry! With about four weeks still remaining in Lent, I was quick to take advice from my best friend Eleanor, who was as passionate as I was about the likes of Hopalong Cassidy, Tarzan, Roy Rogers, Captain Marvel and others. She wisely informed me that Sundays were not included in Lent. “Count the days on the calendar,” she urged. “You have to leave out Sundays to get 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.
"You can read comics on Sundays all you like without breaking your promise.”
On the following Sunday, I spent the whole day immersed in the fantasy world of Dell, Marvel, DC and Walt Disney. On Monday, I started my act of self-control again. But by then, I probably had the entire box of comics read and reread. Not much sackcloth and ashes involved there and not exactly the epitome of the perfect penitent.
— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She is a retired teacher who lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org