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Carmelita 1952

June 10, 2011


Carmelita was the color of a latte, today I might call her Carmelatte as a joke. But 60 years ago I was a stupid little girl and had some crazy notions.

Like one time I went up to the attic where Carmy was changing. The shock when she removed her slip, to see her breasts weren’t white! In my mind, no matter what color your skin, private parts were always white. See? Stupid.

Carmy was a Creole, some black, some French and Spanish, very proper, unmarried Catholic lady. New Orleans is still a Catholic city. It has plenty of schools with names like King Louis the Fourteenth And Jesus Our Lord Middle School. I always thought it was funny that the King of France took top billing.

I was the child Carmy never had and went with her everywhere, to stay overnight with her family, shop, and go to church.

Every Saturday she’d tell my mother we were going downtown to the movies but every Saturday instead we would go to the big Catholic church behind The Roosevelt Hotel. I loved that it was about 8 degrees cooler than outside, the mammoth interior, gorgeous stained glass, quietness and darkness. A stepped wrought iron tray held flickering candles and Carmy would always let me drop a coin into the bowl and light one with a little prayer. Then I would dip my fingers in the holy water, cross myself, tap tap forehead to chest, tap tap left shoulder to right shoulder.

Holding hands we would walk the long red carpet between the pews up to the gold encrusted statues in front, tap tap… tap tap, curtsy, turn left, take a seat and be quiet for a few minutes as Carmy fingered her rosary beads. It was fun, it was spectacular, magical, and it never occurred to me that not every Jewish child did this. Carmy loved me too much to let my heathen soul burn in hell.

Mom was throwing another big party, this time with a Chinese theme. She did lots of exotic hors d’ouevres like shrimp toasts from recipes in Thoughts for Buffet. All the fine and rich Jews were there.

It wasn’t surprising that mom brought three of the women up to see my new bedroom she’d just redecorated. The tiny blue and white flowered wallpaper matched the quilted fabric on my bed, the bed I fell out of every night.
The surprise was that at the exact moment they walked through the door, they found Carmy and I kneeling bedside, saying prayers to Jesus, crossing ourselves, tap, tap, tap, tap.

I’ve always felt those church days were a gift. Unlike many Jews I enjoy being in churches and decorating my house full-on Christmas. And you don’t have to be Christian to know Jesus was great. Still, when it comes to Easter, I uneasily join my tribe at a Chinese restaurant followed by a movie.

  1. Very nice, Carol. Not sure which i like more, the drawing or the story. They work great together.

  2. Appreciate that Randy coming from another writer!

  3. Carol, what a wonderful piece!! It is so colorful even it’s brevity. Of course, i know these things too. I will tell you how a carving knife passed over the chest of my sister when she had “the fever” and the voodoo broke the 105 temperature without a drug. Georgia was a lot like Cammy. Mother was shocked!!
    I loved your opening…really strong.
    I admire your observations in both the ptg and in the written story.
    Keep on girl!!

  4. Marylisa Tencer permalink

    Oh my god, cp, I love this…you are terrific.
    I still remember one of my favorite things was to go to the Catholic Church, Our Lady of Solace, in the neighborhood I grew up in, and put a coin in the box, lift a long match out and light the tall glorious candles. I rarely put more than a quarter in, but I always lit as many candles as possible. I figured god wouldn’t mind. Years later, on a trip back to Brooklyn, and a stop at the church, they had changed the candle-lighting to drop-in-the-coin and the little flashlight bulb would light. It was never the same again.

  5. gene g permalink

    amazing story, perfect illustration, can see carmalatte as if it were yesterday. next time you’re in town let’s do that church together. maybe it’s time to bring lillian with us and tell her the story. can’t i still have mother’s copy of thoughts for buffet. keep writing carol, another of your many gifts. kisses,gene

  6. pat bruning permalink

    This is terrific, I love the story and the image. I wish could have grown up with a Carmy. You
    lucky girl. Keep writing and drawing you have many stories to tell


  7. Sigrun Bynum permalink

    I read all of your stories this morning, (the VA computer did not complain!)
    and this one is my favorite!

    • Thanks Sigrun. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment! It was so fun visiting with you yesterday, as always.

  8. Barbara Grossman permalink

    These are fantastic!!! Just finished reading them.I especially like this one and Monkey Women….
    love your writing and your drawings…you are so talented…keep on creating!
    Love you…Barbara

  9. Gloria Wilkerson permalink

    Ditto Sigrun….this was my favorite too! Yet another hidden talent Carol. I’m wondering how many more will surface? What a marvelous gift you have, or should I say gifts?

    • I’ll be thinking of all the nice things you and others have said as I go down in financial flames! (along with most everyone else in Ameri$a. Thanks for reading and leaving such a nice comment.

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