by John Stiles

Bless me father for I have sinned. Boy, have I sinned. It's been Š Just how long has it been, anyway? Let's see. The last real big sin I can remember copping to was skipping out of school to go down to Bradshaw's for a couple of games of nine ball. God, has it been that long?

When I was a kid, like most of the rest of the guys I ran around with at the time, going to confession was one of those things you did not look forward to. But, as good Catholic boys we had to suffer that painful anticipation once every week throughout our young lives. Oh, it wasn't as if the actual ritual itself was all that bad. In fact, I remember feeling downright good after each duck inside the darkened confessional.

It was all the preparation the weekly event required. Like most of my peers it took no small amount of imagination to come up with just the right combination of sins not quite vile enough to reach the mortal category, but not too venial as to allow the priest behind the sliding door to catch on to the fact that we were making it up. Besides, if you went into the nitty gritty details of what teenage boys were really up to back then, it would have taken all day for father to complete his obligatory lecture and assign the appropriate penance. Not to mention how long it would have taken to say a kazillion Our Fathers and Hail Marys That's right, we used to invent our confessions, which, no doubt, is another category of sinning all together.

But not everybody took the sacrament as lightly as I and most of my friends. Take my brother for instance, which in the words of the late, great comedian would be followed by a sincere ''PLEASE?'' Anyway, the cynicism which would later prove so invaluable in my choice of profession, was the direct result of an incident that occurred one Saturday afternoon as my brother and I were walking home from confession. It was about a mile jaunt, and we'd have to hoof-it home after mom had dropped us off at church each and every Saturday afternoon. That included just about every season, with the rare exception of those Saturdays when the mercury dropped into the sub-zero range and the streets were clogged with anything more than a foot or two of snow. So, we're walking home and not more than two blocks from the church, I spot some of those large drums, like the ones you see ice cream delivered to dairy stores in.

Well, I first discount the sight as the obvious hallucination of one so recently in communion with God. But upon closer inspection I discover not less than a half dozen 5-gallon ice cream containers lying in the road, as if they had fallen out of the back of a truck. And they're all full.

I immediately pick up two of the ice-cold treasures and instruct my little brother to do the same.

Right away there's a snag.

''I can't do that,'' he informs me with one of those choirboy angelic smiles on his face. ''That would be stealing. We've just come from confession.'' I counter with all the logic that a 13-year old boy could muster.

''This isn't stealing,'' I insist. ''Besides, these things will simply melt here in the street, unless somebody comes by and scoops them up.'' ''No, I’m not about to help you commit this sin,'' says my red-headed, Mass-serving sibling.

That's what you get when you let a kid put on a cassock and handle books and bells at Mass on Sunday.

So, I eventually turn to the trusty threat of physical violence, which is just about as effective as my logical approach. My brother simply runs on ahead of me and I'm forced to carry home just the two containers I can hoist.

I make sure they're both strawberry, which is my favorite flavor. And it's not an easy journey, believe me.

When we get home I tell mom and dad about my find, but only because I can't think of a way to stash the treat without their complicity. My parents call the local dairy distributorship and discover that the find falls under maritime salvage law -- finders keepers -- and we get in the family car and go back to see if there's anything left. As luck would have it, nobody else has happened upon the creamy manna and we take the booty home. It takes a little wangling to find someplace to store all that ice cream but my Pops comes through. That night we feasted on double helpings of strawberry ice cream, of which my brother Mark was allowed to partake.

Of course I immediately lodge a complaint, pointing out that he wouldn't even lend a hand when we first found the stuff. But, as usual, my appeal falls on deaf ears and full stomachs and I'm left to contemplate the lesson of this semi-religious experience. If you play your cards right you can have your ice cream and a clean soul, too.

''Bless me father, for I have ice creamŠ''

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online January 23, 2002

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