I grew up in a family where secrecy held pride of place on the mantel piece between the crucifix and the statue of the blessed virgin Mary. The statue was not your typical blue and white plaster cast nor was it simply a statue of Mary on her own. It was cast in a glazed terracotta brown and it included Mary’s baby Jesus and their crowns.
It seemed apt therefore that the statue stood on the mantelpiece directly above my mother’s head as she sat in her usual chair alongside the fireplace. My mother was queen of the babies.
My father sat on the other side of the mantelpiece closer to the crucifix, which fitted him given that the initials of his first two names matched the JC of Jesus Christ. Our father often gave the appearance of a man who was tortured.
My father did not hang spread eagled on a cross but he exuded suffering, though I did not see it like that then. Then in my childhood my father was not Christ like at all, not the Christ I had learned about at school, the one who was meant to be loving and kind.
My father was a brute. And in my imagination in those days I considered it the role of fathers everywhere to dominate and to control. It was necessary therefore to keep all things from my father. It was necessary to stay safe by staying away.
My father I think now must have been lonely in his large family with so many children.
So what were the secrets you ask? Or was it more an attitude of secrecy, as if we all had things to hide from one another and so we went about our daily lives hiding things from each other, especially from our father.
I put some of this compulsion towards secrecy down to the fact of confession and sin. I learned early that many things were sinful. Thoughts alone were enough to get you into serious trouble within the heavenly sphere above.
It did not stop me from having such thoughts but it led me into a pattern of doing and undoing – commit the sin and then seek forgiveness, the sin of theft being highest on my list of real sins. The other sins I made up. I admitted to disobedience when I was never so, at least not in my memory.
I admitted to telling lies once. Every week the same list of sins, disobedience once, telling lies once and stealing once. I did not elaborate on any of these things. I had them down pat and they worked well enough. They fooled the priest. Once a week off to confession to wash away my sins.
It did not work so well with my impure thoughts though - thoughts of bodies, desirous thoughts that now in my imagination I can scarcely remember.
The impure involved games with my younger sister where we cavorted together on the bed; where we touched each others bodies the way we saw the grown ups on television touch; where we felt hot with excitement, an excitement I did not then understand, only I knew it was wrong.
I could not admit to such sins of impurity to the priest. I could not even utter the words and so I resolved these by novenas. To make a novena you needed to go to Mass every Friday for nine Fridays in a row and the all sins, mortal and venial, were washed away.
The point of all this talk of sin is that the sinful nature of my childhood evoked a spirit of secrecy. This might account for my all too ready tendency these days to say, ‘I’m sorry.’
To say 'I’m sorry' has become a joke in my household. It has morphed into the words, ‘I’m sorry about that’.
A certain tone of voice, a certain emphasis on some of the words in this short sentence can give the impression, as my husband says, not of contrition but of an exasperated ‘sorry about that’, as if I couldn’t care less.
I’ve had enough now. 'Sorry about that', but you’ll just have to lump it. Sorry about that and now fuck off.
And so ends this morning's reading from the bible of my childhood, of which I have written and read many chapters and now I get to the point as I do in life generally, I’m sorry about that.
Enough for now.
I shall skulk off to the privacy of my room and hide my secrets behind closed doors.