Friday, October 09, 2009


To say that the town in which I grew up, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, has a large Catholic population would be an understatement; when I was growing up in Parma it was just assumed that you went to one of the gianormus Catholic parishes in town. While in high school I had only one friend who went to a protestant church. One. She was Lutheran. After spending one Saturday with her, my friend’s mother offered to drive me home, but first she needed to drop something off at their church. She asked if I wanted to see their sanctuary and I replied that I would. I thought it was lovely and simple and very blue, far different than the pomp, marble, gold and spender of Saint Chuck’s (Charles) Romanesque architecture where my family attended. When I mentioned my amazement at the simplicity of their church building at dinner later that day my father totally freaked that I had been take to, and been physically present in, a church building that was not Catholic. A building that had not been ‘blessed’ and sanctified; its pews and dais liberally drenched in holy water. I had no idea that it was against Catholic law to set foot in a protestant church. He threatened to call “this woman” and straighten her out about exposing my poor innocent soul to the corrupting influence of a Protestant church building. Fortunately, my mother calmed him down, but thus was the atmosphere of being raised in a Catholic family in a town full of them.

Once I had moved to the south after college, Catholic churches became a rarity, they are speckled here and there, but the Baptist and Christian churches seem to be favored here. A few years ago while visiting Ohio during the Christmas season, Lily having never been in a resplendent Catholic church building, I thought that she would enjoy it and so we attended a midnight mass with my aunt. My daughter was used to a lot of socializing before the services back home in the realm of the plain and simple churches that we had attended. The silence as we sat waiting for the mass to begin that Christmas Eve and the sheer splendor of the building in which we waited was unnerving to her. My kid is just NOT used to having to be quiet…for anything, but the stillness in this gothic marble space was so overpowering, and the sites so brilliant and foreign that for once she was relatively quiet. At least that is until the mass started and the questions began. Most were asked while the chanting and singing were going on, so her urgent questions and my whispered answers were not much of a disturbance. But then came the communion with all those around us going up to the front of the church to receive the host and wine while Lily and I stayed seated. She watched and she waited and then while a reverent hush lay over the congregation she indignantly asked “Hey Mom, why do THEY get a snack and juice and we don’t? Not fair! I want a snack too!” Now in a southern church anyone hearing that would laugh freely, but in a Catholic church people either tried to pretend they hadn’t heard her or we were given the evil eye. And I KNOW that everyone heard her because the acoustics are really good that way in such a vast gothic hall.

Anyway… I had not visited the town in which my father lived during the summer time for nearly twenty years, if I was able to make it to Ohio it was usually during the frigid winter holidays. So it was with much delight that I discovered yard sale signs popping up all over the neighborhood at the end of the week that I was there. I am a total sucker for a yard sale, and as we were attempting to leave early on a Saturday to head back to Virginia, the van just didn’t get very far as we encountered sale after sale after sale. The signs and set ups of these suburban sales were truly amazing. The yard sales I am used to where we live are sort of slapped up affairs with all the stuff thrown on a blanket in the yard and you have to ask how much everything is, which is fine, no worries, it’s a yard sale, but let me tell you, Parma, Ohio knows how to put together a yard sale sister! Everything was so organized and clean and all the stuff had price tags. Items were neatly laid out for viewing on tables and grouped by category, it really was dreadfully impressive, and it was like this at every single one. PLUS, there were SIGNS that had the date on them and actually led you to the sale, unlike the signs in the country where we live that might have been up for months because apparently it never occurs to anyone to date them or to go back and take DOWN their signs after the yard sale is over. The drooping florescent posters in Lousia could lead on a many miles long and winding trip to nowhere. Wasteful and incredibly frustrating! Once you’ve gone down one of our country roads, you might drive for days before encountering a crossroads or a highway sign. It’s like a short story by Stephen King; the-never-ending-country-road-to-nowhere-that-you-can’t-get-off-of. I’ve actually ended up several counties over on occasion by following one of these errant signs, and rather than turning around because I have already come so far, I continue to remain optimistic that I will come upon another road in which to put my hope and in so doing end up in West Virginia. Ah, but I digress yet again…

So there I was in suburbia, perusing the racks of children’s clothing and shelves of chotskies when I spotted ‘Toddler Jesus’ in the free box. TODDLER JESUS, in the FREE box y’all! He is adorable AND FREE?! He is by far the cutest Jesus I have ever seen and I quickly snatched him up and held him tight. One of the women having the yard sale sees my delight and comments on it; I tell her that I haven’t seen one of these since moving to the south. “Well then, you might want to keep it hidden.” She says facetiously, “You could find a burning cross in your front yard some night.” Oh dear, she doesn’t exactly have a very positive picture of the south now does she? I assure her that no one will place a burning cross in my yard if I take home Toddler Jesus. She then asks why I am in town if I live in the south. I tell her I am there for my father’s memorial service. She asks what parish the funeral was done at and which priest performed it. SEE? SEE? She just ASSUMES. All I know to tell her is that the priest is called Father Russ, and was a friend of my father’s. “Oh!” she replies, “He is at Saint Leo’s. He’s wonderful!” All righty then, glad she approves.

Having appeased the church ladies, I departed with my treasure back to the minivan and looked him over. It had been so long since seeing one of these, and never had I seen one so cute! He is dressed as a little king in a red, lace trimmed robe, cape and crown and is holding a sphere with a cross on top in one hand while giving a two fingered benediction with his other. (Sure, MY toddler stands around like that all the time). I was so used to having seen this version of wee Jesus that when daughter #1 asked why he was dressed the way he was, I had to admit that I really didn’t know, I’d never really thought about it. She was quite puzzled though and asked, “Mama, why is he wearing a red cape? Do they think he is Super Man?” and before I could answer that I didn’t know, she continues with, “Well, I guess he sort of is, isn’t he?” She then wanted to know what you were supposed to do with him. I told her that when I was a child many people attached them to the dashboards of their cars and I demonstrated. “But why?” She wanted to know. “Well, I guess they thought that it would protect them from accidents, kind of like a good luck charm, but I have always thought that if you are going to attach him to the dash he should really be facing this way so that he can see where he is going“, and I turned the little statue to face the windshield. A sigh and an “Oh Mom.” Is what I got in return. But to be perfectly honest, I didn’t know why he was dressed in such an elegant way, or why he was being depicted as a child in the first place rather than an adult Jesus. It is just one of those things that you grow up seeing around you so often that to actually think about the ‘whys’ never occurs to you. After all, I grew up in the land of ‘Bathtub Marys’ and plastic pink flamingos in every other yard, so baby dolls dressed up in lacy finery meant to represent a young Jesus was just something you saw all over the place. Toddler Jesus watches over restaurants and bars from perches high on a shelf next to the TV broadcasting the sports channel. He peers from shop windows, peeks from behind cash registers and gazes down from fireplace mantels in private homes. But it did spark a need to know, so once back home I set to finding out what I could about this dapper little guy even though I had no idea what this kind of depiction of the Christ child might be called. Still, it didn’t take long to find the information I was searching for on the internet by entering in a brief description, (bless the web’s little mechanical heart).

Apparently, these statues are meant to be copies of The Infant Jesus of Prague which is housed in the Church Of Our Lady Of Victory in Bohemia ( it certainly makes since that he would be so popular in northern Ohio since most families in the area have roots in eastern Europe and Italy). The Infant of Prague is considered a “miraculous image”, and here are the basics of the story: in 1620, Ferdinand, Emperor of Austria won in a battle against the united Protestant armies near the city of Prague. He attributed his success to the infant Jesus because just before the battle, as he and his Catholic advisors were preparing to attack, the priest that ministered to them, a learned Carmelite priest called Father Dominic, held high a painting of the nativity of Jesus and exhorted the emperor to go forth in unwavering confidence in the all-powerful help of the infant Jesus. Apparently, they did so and interpreted their victory as reward for their faith. In gratitude, the Emperor founded a Carmelite monastery at Prague. So things went along for a few years, the infant Jesus not really playing much of a part in the life of the monastery until one day, a noble lady came to the city to visit her daughter, the Princess Polixena. She was presented with the gift of a highly prized family heirloom; a wooden statue with a wax coating representing the infant Jesus in all his majestic splendor. He was clothed in a well decorated dress and mantle, and held a globe of the world topped with a cross to represent his kingly sovereignty (called an Imperial Orb), and his other hand held in a sign of peace. Later, the Princess decided to give the little king to the Carmelites with the direction to honor the infant so that they would never be wanting. Through these early years, the image came to be associated with the fulfillment of answered prayers, thus it being venerated as “miraculous”.

Unfortunately, in 1631 the Swedish Protestant army invaded Prague and Catholic churches and monasteries were pillaged, the wee statue was tossed upon a pile of garbage where it lay for seven years, its tiny hands broken off. When once again the priests were restored to their monastery, there came a novice named Cyirlus who remembered the statue and searched for it until it was found once more. He claimed the statue spoke to him and commanded that its hands be restored to it. Once he had recovered from the shock of being addressed by a wooden doll covered in refuse, he set to finding a benefactor to pay for the restoration. He found one that gave him so much money that he decided to replace the entire statue. When the imposter was set in the original’s place however, it was quickly struck down by a falling candlestick and broken to pieces. The prior became very ill and had to resign and everyone took this as a sign that the original statue was very displeased that it still did not have its hands after SPECIFICALLY asking for them to be given back. The new prior set to restoring the hands to the original statue. Once happily re-establish and given a new gold plated shrine, the little statue once again set to dispensing its favor and in recognition of this, was given a crown to complete his regal ensemble in 1655. And there he has remained to this day, being reproduced by the millions and distributed throughout the world. Wow.

Have I mentioned Lily’s revulsion towards baby dolls? Dolls depicting teenagers or women are apparently fine for some reason, so Barbie and Brats are no problem, but baby dolls totally give her creeps. Lily claims to be so repulsed by the site of a baby doll that she can’t eat if one is in the same room. She claims that they make her sick. My Toddler Jesus has remained in the minivan since I acquired him and Lily claims that the site of him is causing her great distress. Even if I turn him around so that he is facing away from her, she still protests. So I guess that Toddler Jesus is going to have to find somewhere to reside out of Lily’s site. Perhaps I could use him as a guard to keep my kid from ‘borrowing’ my stuff. Can you imagine? Every time Lily goes to peek into one of my drawers out pops Toddler Jesus. No, I am not so cruel as to use him for such a purpose. Although, to rig something up where a disembodied voice moans “My hands! Give me back my hands!” when an off-limits drawer is opened IS quite tempting. But no, it won’t be gold plated, but I will find a shelf somewhere in the house for ‘TJ’ to rest upon. I will keep the little guy close at hand so that when I am confused about a decision that must be made, he will remind me to ask ‘What Would Toddler Jesus Do?’ WWTJD y’all.

©KKW 2009


Kate said...

Of course, Lily would probably change her mind if you got the rest of the Action Toddler Jesus playset. Or the Action Toddler Jesus Chemistry Lab that lets you turn water into "wine."

Come to think of it, I want one, too...

Kim Kelley-Wagner said...

I actually DO have a Jesus action figure...I got him at a yard sale, go figure.

Glomama said...

I am catching up on blogs and I have to say that this entry has me chuckling the whole way through. Absolutely hilarious!! Nothing like being nearly a year behind. I was going through and deleting ones that I didn't remember and I remembered what a wonderful writer you were. I live in the southeastern corner of Michigan.