Editor’s note: David Mark Chatowsky, who grew up in Warwick, submitted this story of his childhood days along with the painting.
Off Cowesett Road stands St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church. In back of this church is a baseball field. On thewestern edge of the ball field there was a dirt trail. If you followed this trail south you would come to a small pond with a large oak tree growing from its bank. We called this St. Gregs’ Pond and the oak tree went with the name part and parcel. The following story is one about my time growing up exploring this area. For it was here, at the edge of St. Gregs’ Pond, with its majestic oak towering overhead, that I began to learn how truly miraculous life is.
Once, after baseball practice at St. Gregs, I took the trail on the western edge of the ball field and walked down to St. Gregs’ pond. There I was lured into the pond itself because I thought I saw ripples caused by a painted turtle after it had dropped off the rock it was sunning itself on. Painted turtles are very beautiful and my brother and I liked to keep them as pets. They are dark with striking red painterly marks. They have a voracious appetite for aquatic insects and plants. And they love eating earthworms.
Painted turtles sun themselves on logs and rocks. They do this because the vitamin D from the sunlight is very important in the development of their shell. A turtle’s shell is also known as a carapace. Now when a sunning turtle sees, hears, or even feels the vibrations of your footsteps they immediately drop into the safety of the water. By doing so they create ripples. It was these ripples which I thought I had seen.
As a boy, wading in ponds, looking for turtles was a blast! The only scary part was if you went barefoot, which I typically didn’t, you ran the risk of stepping on a broken bottle or a jagged piece of metal. This particular time I did go barefoot because I didn’t want to ruin my brand new baseball cleats.
As I waded out into the pond my feet sank into the muddy bottom. I walked all around the rock where I had seen the ripples but to no avail. I could not find the painted turtle and I began to question whether or not I had even seen any ripples at all!
Dejected, I returned to the shore and used my socks to clean my legs of the pond mud.
After putting my socks and cleats back on I was still pretty muddy. The drying pond mud that I had attempted to clean was now smeared all over my legs. Worse yet it was beginning to stink. Standing under the majestic oak on the edge of St. Gregs’ pond with stinky pond mud on my legs I had to make a decision of where to go next.
Being in the afternoon, I decided to walk back to St. Gregs’ church. My mother, I reasoned, might be there for an afternoon mass. Therefore, I could catch a ride back home with her.
When I got to the church there wasn’t a car in the parking lot. For some reason I tried the back door and to my surprise I found it open. The door opened into the apse of the church. The apse is the room directly behind the alter. I walked quietly inside. The church was empty and silent. From where I was I could see a small table. On this table was a white towel and upon this towel sat a basin and what looked to be an ornate crystal decanter of Holy Water. Just then the afternoon light streamed in from the windows above and cloaked the table and crystal decanter of Holy Water with pure white light.
When I saw this shaft of white light on the Holy Water I took it as a sign that I should use it to clean myself. So sneaking through the apse and taking the crystal decanter I poured the Holy Water into the basin. Then I took the towel and dipped it into the basin and cleaned myself of the pond mud. I started to laugh a little bit at the thought that I was getting a blessing from the Holy Water. With this thought in mind I took it one step further, and asked God to clean me from all the iniquities an 8-year-old boy could have incurred. I figured if I was going to run the risk of sneaking into the church to clean myself from pond mud I might as well go for it all and ask the big man upstairs to clean my soul too.
When I was all-clean of the stinky pond mud I felt much better. But then I got this terrible feeling that someone might not look to kindly on me sneaking into the church and using the sacred Holy Water to cleanse myself. And what of the dirty towel? Surely there would be negative consequences for me having soiled it. So I left faster than a painted turtle can dive off a rock leaving only ripples on the pond.