We all knew without ever saying so – by our spot at the dinner table, our seat in church, our place in line – where we stood in our large family.
When I was 11, I wanted to leave my three younger sisters behind and achieve the “cool” status that my five older siblings possessed. I almost made it one April night.
That sunny evening, headed to a candlelight service, my older sisters and brothers strode in a tight, quiet pack down the block towards church. In my filmy, floral dress and one-inch heels, I walked behind them with my older cousin, Mary, who was talking and laughing loudly.
Dad drove slowly down the side street as Mom gave us sidelong glances from the passenger seat, and the three little kids waved frantically from the window. I ignored them.
At church, Dad guided us down a pew until all 12 of us were spread out from end to end. We knelt with straight backs, knowing Dad would check if we leaned back against the pew.
The stain-glassed windows filtered in the last vestiges of light at St. Gregory’s, our small basement church in Saint Paul. This is where we had and would worship for my childhood into adulthood. As the lights were dimmed, the ushers walked down the aisles, giving each of us lit candles, then nodding for us to light the next one until the darkened church was aglow. I held my candle tightly. Mary held hers loosely. I closed my eyes to pray.
In the silent church, I heard a soft thud, opened my eyes and looked down to see a flash of light. Immobile, I stared at Mary’s thin white candle lying on its side, still lit, in the pew in front of us. The flame flickered as if reaching toward the fur wrap next to it. I looked at the wrap’s owner, an older woman deeply immersed in prayer. Wide-eyed, I looked at Mary and then back to her candle, still lit, flame inching forward, hot wax melting. It was dangerously close to the wrap, sure to go up in a fiery blaze any minute.
I assumed Mary would take action. She simply snorted and covered her mouth. Her shoulders quivered with stifled laughter. Then, a spurt of laughter erupted from my mouth, then another. I reached down and grabbed the candle, but my body was shaking so much that I dropped it.
Surrounded by contemplative churchgoers, I burst out laughing with Mary roaring at my side. I grabbed the candle and extinguished the flame, along with the tiny blaze of my own candle. Mary and I pushed my siblings aside until we climbed over their legs and out of the pew, ran down the aisle and launched out the church doors.
Outside, we laughed uncontrollably, clutching our sides, not caring about the punishment we’d receive later nor my diminished place in line from “almost cool older kid” to most certainly “little kid” once again.
BETH L. VOIGT's passion for writing is only exceeded by her love of family. She began writing as a child to entertain her family and more recently to share essays in Christian Science Monitor, Midwest Home & Garden, Months to Years, Saint Paul Almanac, Minnesota Moments, Talking Stick, My Villager, and Parenting.