When I was in second grade at Christ King School, we were instructed one day by Sr. Shawn Marie to bring our rosaries to class the following day. Since we were preparing for both our First Confession and our First Communion, it may have had something to do with that. I don’t know if I even owned my own rosary at the time, although I am pretty sure I didn’t, because I would have brought my own rosary had I owned one.
For reasons that are murky to me, I told no one I needed a rosary–that would have been the easy, sensible approach and so not my first instinct–instead going into my mother’s dresser drawer to find one of hers. My mother usually had several rosaries; one in her nightstand drawer for sure and then at least one more in her dresser.The rosary that I spied in her dresser that day was the sterling silver one that my grandmother Mimi had held in her hands at her own wake two years earlier.
When the undertaker had closed Mimi’s casket for the trip to the cemetery, he removed her jewelry and the rosary and gave them to my father. My mother no doubt put the rosary in her dresser that night for safekeeping. I knew the rosary was in there because I had seen it on one of my regular treasure hunts in my parents’ bedroom. I was a major snoop, and poked around in places I had no business being. (For another story of how this character flaw landed me in deep and wholly self-caused trouble, see A Frozen Playboy, A Bowl of Ice Cream, and the Wages of Sin.)
My mother’s dresser drawer was always a reliable treasure trove, and I loved looking through it. She had a box of silver dollars in there, an unopened bottle of Shalimar perfume in a purple velvet case, the box that had once held her pearls (my dad had bought them for her when he was stationed in Tokyo in World War II), some extra stocking-to-girdle clips, random family pictures, and even what I thought was a First Class Relic. (For those who are not Catholic: a First Class Relic is a piece of a saint’s body or a piece of her/his clothing.) I used to wonder which saint the Relic belonged to; I assumed it was a cute female saint because the relic was a small-but-tasteful blue-and-white checkered piece of cloth encased in a plastic dome. Many times I had held the Relic in my hands and imagined this holy saint dying a tragic but fully tasteful death in her blue-and-white checked dress.
On that particular day, I didn’t stop to look at the Relic, the pictures, or anything else in the drawer. I spied the rosary, scooped it up, put it in its black zippered rosary case, and brought it to school with me the next day. I figured I would have the best rosary in the class, no doubt attracting the envy of the other girls, who would see this classy silver rosary, realize what an intriguing and desirable girl I was to have such a rosary, and instantly start vying for my attention and friendship. I would wave the silver rosary around (discreetly, of course, like the future saint I almost certainly was), perhaps even letting some of the girls hold it for a minute or two.
To my chagrin, no one even noticed my silver rosary, much less asked to hold it. Apparently, I was the only Rosary Snob in the class, and Rosary Envy was not A Thing. Disappointed and chastened, I put the rosary back into its case when Sr. Shawn Marie told us to line up for our march back to our classroom.
When we got back to the classroom, I noticed that the black rosary case was not zippered. It was open. It was upside down in my hand. And the rosary was gone. In an instantaneous black panic, I rushed up to Sr. Shawn Marie and told her that I had lost my rosary on the way back from church and could I please go and look for it? Sister said yes, I could look in the hallway but should come right back whether I found it or not.
I ran the route from our second grade classroom to the Church and back several times. I went back into the Church and laid down on the pew to look underneath it. I examined every tile on the church floor. The rosary was gone. It had vanished. Weighted down with shame, panic, fear and guilt, I trudged back to the classroom and spent the rest of the day in a daze of stunned terror and dread. When the final bell rang at 3:00, I walked home, worrying that my mother had already noticed that the rosary was missing and would be waiting for me at the back door.
She was not waiting for me, and apparently had not noticed that the rosary was gone. For days, I searched the halls of Christ King School and the aisles of Christ King Church, praying to see a silver glimmer in a corner or a pew. Nothing. Every day, I waited for the ax to fall when my mother noticed that Mimi’s rosary was missing. Nothing. I prayed more passionately to God than I had ever prayed for anything, ever. I begged Him to restore the rosary. I imagined my life with the rosary found and back in my mother’s dresser drawer, dreaming of how light and free and joyful I would be when it was found.
I never found the rosary. I never told my mother I took the rosary. My mother never asked me where the rosary was. Thirty one years later, when my father died, I thought that my mother would finally look for his own mother’s rosary, to place in his hands in the coffin. I was thirty eight years old, and still anguished about that lost rosary. My mother must have noticed the loss many years earlier and never thought to ask if I had taken it. It probably never occurred to her to think, “I wonder if Anne looks through my dresser drawers now and then and decided one day to take Mimi’s rosary.”
Many years later at a family party, I asked my mother which saint she had a First Class Relic of. Puzzled, she looked at me and said, “What are you talking about?” My siblings, who were there at the time, also had thought that the plastic dome held a relic, because they joined in on the questioning. Finally, I went upstairs, got the Relic out of her dresser drawer, and brought it downstairs for verification. When my mother saw what I held in my hand, she said, “That is a sample of some wallpaper I was thinking to buy for our family room back in Park Forest.” The origin of the Myth of the First Class Relic–the identity of the spying Maloney sibling who first invented and then spread that tale–is a mystery that endures to this day.
My father was waked with his own battered rosary, the crucifix so beaten up that he had affixed Jesus more securely to His cross with chewing gum. The undertaker prettied up my father’s rosary and it went into the casket with him. By the time my mother died, four
years later, I had stopped worrying that someone would ask about Mimi’s Missing Rosary, but I never quite got over wondering what happened to it and feeling badly for having lost it. A few weeks after The Case of the Missing Rosary, we made our First Confession at
Christ King School (another occasion I made a great deal harder that it had to be–see My Failure to Avoid My First Confession.) Oddly, it never once occurred to me on that penitential day that I should tell Father about my snooping nature, my invasion of my mother’s private dresser-drawer space, my theft of a rosay, and my failure to tell my mother what I had done. At seven years of age I had reached the age of reason but clearly the age of self-knowledge was still ahead of me.