The Lenten Season has begun, but I don’t believe that Lent is as important to people now as it was when I was a kid. Way back then most people celebrated Lent, a religious season of penance, by giving up something they really loved.
When I was a preschooler I remember my mother and my older brother suffered through Lent because they always gave up candy.
On Good Friday the ladies of the PTA spent the day in the school cafeteria making the smoothest, creamiest caramels anyone ever tasted. Then they sold them Holy Saturday afternoon when Lent ended. A lot of people must have given up candy for Lent because the crowds waiting for them to begin selling those caramels rivaled the crowds at the after Thanksgiving Day sales now.
As I recall I followed the family tradition and gave up candy when I was old enough to do penance for Lent. Actually it wasn’t too difficult for a little kid to give up candy because we didn’t have the access to money or stores that kids seem to have today. We just had to stay away from the penny candy counter at the neighborhood grocery. Besides, if we approached that counter with pennies in hand, the grocery keeper usually knew who gave up what for Lent and he would remind us.
When I went away to college, a new concept was introduced for penance. We were told that rather than giving up something we should do something extra. One of the girls in our dorm had already agreed to give up something she thought she loved — her boyfriend. He agreed, so they did not see or talk to each other for the whole six weeks. I don’t know whose bright idea it was, but they never did get back together.
It was while I was in college that some spiritual adviser suggested that dieting during Lent was really not a penance because our aim was to lose weight, not to do penance. That bit of advice was a blow to most of us because it killed a really good two-for-one deal—penance and weight loss.
By the time my kids were old enough to observe Lent by doing penance I had all kinds of ideas for them, but they had their own ideas. I favored their doing extra things, but they preferred giving up things like homework and housework, or certain vegetables.
We compromised. They gave up candy, but an argument I never thought of surfaced. Were Sundays days of Lent? Lent was supposed to be 40 days. If you counted from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday there were 47 days. So, they reasoned, or some of them did, Sundays didn’t count. They could eat candy Sunday during Lent. The first Monday after Ash Wednesday I heard one of the boys yell at his sister, “You are not holier than I am.” She smiled smugly, stuck her nose in the air and walked away proudly. I found out later that she gave up candy on Sunday too.
By the time folks reach my age, not much is required in the way of penance during Lent. Maybe they think that living this long is its own penance. But old habits die hard, so I usually follow the Lenten rules. However, memory weakens.
Last Wednesday I had an appointment with an eye doctor in Tipp City. My daughter drove me there because I had to have my eyes dilated and couldn’t drive home. Two grandsons had to go along, so I suggested we take a side trip on the way home. That’s how we found “the nut house.”
The Trophy Nut Co. has a factory outlet store in Tipp City. I had seen the sign attached to a lamp post pointing the way. So with my eyes wide open due to the dilation, we headed there.
Not only did they have all kinds of nuts, they also were sampling Winan’s chocolates, which they sell. There was a plate full of samples and we enjoyed about half of them. It wasn’t until I ordered fish for supper that I remembered it was Ash Wednesday.
Now my problem is do I continue to do penance Easter Sunday to make up for Ash Wednesday, or do I do penance Sunday since they don’t count as Lent, or do I take advantage of being old. What a quandary!
. AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Greenville Advocate Mar. 8, 2006.