Living on the edge

(Still reminiscing about fall, still looping back in time after my last post about 1995.)

In grade school, from 1981-1984, I was an altar boy at our church. I tell people this and get some snickering, considering all the scandals with Catholic priests over the decades, but that's the (unfortunate but sadly not inaccurate) stereotype and not the norm. I didn't mind being an altar boy, and it was the kind of thing that was expected for boys at our Catholic grade school (this was before most churches switched to altar servers, letting girls help out at Mass as well). But there was one Mass assignment altar boys dreaded: the 6:30 a.m daily liturgy. You usually only got it one week a year, but it was for all five weekdays, 6:30 a.m., in a near empty church. It was so early.

In September 1983, I likely served 6:30 a.m. Mass for the last times. I woke up around 6 a.m., got dressed, and if I was lucky, either a parent or my grandmother (if she was staying with us that week while my grandfather was out of town for work), I would get a ride to church in time to light the candles, fill up the water and wine vials, and assist with Mass. The service averaged maybe 20 people, half of whom would get Communion right at the beginning and then head to work. The rest of the church was empty (I bet a reason why newer churches have chapels -- and St. Eugene's church wasn't that old, built maybe in the early '70s). The priest would barely give a homily (if he gave one at all), and the whole Mass was done in a half-hour. The only thing tough about serving 6:30 Mass was it was 6:30 a.m.

This memory isn't about Mass itself but getting ready for it. Chicago has some insanely early sunrises, but by  late September, it was dark when I woke up. I turned on the radio as I got dressed to hear "Livin' on the Edge" by Jim Capaldi. The song wasn't a big hit nationally, but WLS played the heck out of it and was one of the most-played songs on the station that year (No. 21 on the end-of-year survey). In a fall in which I was enraptured with music videos, I didn't see "Living on the Edge" until way into my adulthood when I found it on YouTube.

And that's it. That's the fall memory. Fall 1983 was full of memories -- a lot of taping songs off the radio, watching music videos, playing Dungeons and Dragons, my Atari 400 and being an eighth-grader -- but this is the one I keep coming back to. I'm not sure why, either. Maybe the dark morning that foreshadowed a long winter lingers in my brain three decades later. Plenty of songs hold memories for me this fall; maybe "Living on the Edge" stands out.

Maybe, I was so out of it at 6 a.m., the song was the only thing that registered that morning. I already wasn't a morning person in 1983.


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