I knew it was not going to be a good day when even the nuns were drinking.
Good girls don't drink, or so I was raised to believe. According to the Holiness Pentecostal churches of my youth, alcohol is the surest road to hell, with gambling a close second and voting Democrat not far behind. I've long reconciled that since I've regularly indulged in each of those sins, my southeastern Kentucky relatives think I'm headed for the big Down South when I die. To me, hell can't be any worse than an outdoor summer family reunion without a cooler full of Buds on ice, so I just let them worry about my soul all they want while I worry about the tequila-to-lime ratio in my margarita.
My own social drinking no longer gives me any sort of religious guilt, but I will never, ever get used to the glorious Catholic tradition of getting hammered at church events. Drinking is one thing; drinking inside the church is another animal altogether.
This weekend was the annual church festival to benefit the kid's school, and Saturday night saw us buying frozen cocktails from the same little old church ladies who lead the rosary before mass. If that felt odd, it was nothing compared to seeing the priest walk around with his little single-serving plastic bottle of Merlot. And yet still not as odd as the annual ladies-only fundraiser where the men of the parish pass out trays of jello shots. It would be creepy, but the only thing they're trying to get us too drunk to say no to is pull-tab lottery tickets and split-the-pot chances.
I've been Catholic for 15 years now and I imagine it will eventually no longer surprise me. Especially since I am a big fan of church-basement draft beer. Nobody painstakingly ices down a keg quite like a deacon.
What will continue to surprise me, though, is how very un-Christian people can behave at events benefiting a good Christian cause.
The last day of the festival features a fried chicken dinner, and I had the un-pleasure of volunteering at it for six long hours last night. What I saw there were enough examples of human selfishness, gluttony, and messiness to make me want to get on my hands and knees on the beer-soaked reception hall floor and say prayers for the human race.
I never waited tables while putting myself through school, but I did work catering jobs. And there I fully expected people to not clean up after themselves, be occasionally rude, and eat themselves into comas. After all, we were getting paid well to wait on them and keep them happy.
More shocking to me by far than the fact that four nuns showed up to the dinner giggling over peach daiquiris was how not-nice people felt okay behaving at a church charity function.
I saw people feverishly saving entire tables for 8 for a few relatives who wouldn't be getting through the chicken line for another half an hour while other folks were wandering around with trays full of food, and small children in tow, desperately trying to find just a few seats in the crowded hall.
I saw people turning what was already an ample serving and a great value into an all-you-can-eat chicken buffet simply by camping out at tables for 2-3 hours (did I mention it was crowded and seating was at a premium?) and sneaking back up to the head of the dinner line and pretending to be part of families who had just dropped their dinner tickets into the basket.
I cleaned up after people who could not be bothered to so much as throw away their drink cups and used Kleenex. True, adult volunteers like myself as well as a local Boy Scout troop were helping to bus tables. But even as a minor lush, I believe in cleaning up my own beer cups. And, when possible, cleaning up my own mess in general. Boy Scouts should not have to touch half-full stale beer cups with dip spit mixed in for good measure.
I was hit on several times by an older gentleman whose family sat at one of the tables for over 2 hours going back through the desert line and getting free refills on iced tea, and who thought it was hi-larious to keep asking me to give him some "sugar" and pretending to be offended at the stockpile of sugar packets I kept dropping at the table. It started off playful and good-natured; the flirting, if that's what it was, took on a mean edge as he became more bored with the desert selections and after I became too busy clearing chicken bones off of tables for families desperate for somewhere to sit to bring him his 16th refill.
I've worked the gambling booths before and have been really put off by people who go to church festivals seemingly just to try to rip off the church and cheat at the Big Wheel. I didn't realize people would also try to milk a charity chicken dinner for all they could.
By the end of my long shift, I was finished. Finished with people in general, finished with fried chicken and tea and sugar packets, finished with drunk people milling around a church undercroft trying their best to get something for nothing.
Yet I know that I will be back next year, because I'm required to volunteer. Which means it's not volunteering, technically, but whatever. Because we're doing it all for the good of Catholic education. It's for the kids!
Who get an important life lesson about the nature of humanity right there alongside their mashed and gravy and their parents' beer.