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Ash Wednesday 55 Years Ago

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

My best friend, DiAnn, lived just up the block from me the year we were in second grade. We usually walked to school together. It was just a long block away. We were proud "Riverview Eagles". Her parents owned a "supper club" so they slept in the day time and worked evenings until after the kids went to bed. So, DiAnn had a Nanny! I loved old Mrs. Venne! She seemed ancient to me but such a sweetie! She was a devout Catholic. She went to mass every morning at the old downtown cathedral where mass was still performed in Latin!

I am not a Catholic. DiAnn told me for years I was going to hell! But I digress! It was a chilly Wednesday morning and I walked up the street and stopped in front of DiAnn's house! She didn't come out. I never knocked or rang the bell because her parents were sleeping. I walked on to the school without her!

We were all settling in to our desks, getting ready for roll call, when in rushed DiAnn. She threw her coat toward the hook in her cubby and flopped into her desk behind me! No one ever wanted a "tardy" on their permanent record!

I turned around to ask her where she had been. Her face was dirty and she was out of breath. Being the good friend that I am, I licked my thumb and wiped her forehead clean! She shrieked, "What did you do?"

"I wiped some schmutz off your head." I told her.

"Oh my God!" she says. "That was my ashes from the Priest at Mass this morning from the palm fronds they laid down for Jesus." She looked horror stricken and ready to cry! I probably looked as dazed and confused as I felt. I looked at my dirty thumb and tried to wipe the schmutz back on to her forehead.

She was in panic mode all morning. At recess she told me I would have to come home for lunch with her so she could ask Mrs. Venne if it was a mortal sin to wipe off the ashes. She told me I would have to tell Mrs. Venne that I did it. I figured they already thought I was going to hell so what difference would it make? Plus, I wanted to know what this "mortal" sin was. We only had one kind of sin in our Sunday school lessons. DiAnn hadn't started Catechism yet so she wasn't sure.

We left school as fast as we could run to get to DiAnn's house at lunchtime. She flies into Mrs. Venne's arms, sobbing, "Linda did it!" (Typical, blame it on the other kid!!?) So, I told Mrs. Venne I thought DiAnn just had a dirty face and so I wiped it off for her.
Mrs. Venne just laughed and said it was okay. She wiped DiAnn's tears and fed us grilled cheese sandwiches and minestrone soup. She explained the ritual to me.

Just before we left to go back to school, I put my fingers in the ashtray on the coffee table and gave DiAnn a new ash mark on her forehead. She wore it proudly all afternoon!

We still laugh about that! I still wipe cigarette ashes on her forehead occasionally just to make her mad! And one of us is surely going to hell!

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