Climbing up the Bell Tower of St. Mary’s Church

As I drove down M Street toward St. Mary’s Church last week, I gazed up at its bell tower, which dominates the skyline in our neighborhood. It harkened up a long-since forgotten memory.
When I reached 12 years of age, I became an altar boy at the church. In that capacity, I had responsibility for assisting the priests in the service of mass. During that time, a Catholic Brother named George, headed up the altar boy team. He was a nice man, who often played touch football with the boys in the yard at St. Mary’s School. The good brother made sure each service of mass went off without a hitch, so he was always on site at the church when we performed our duties.
One Saturday morning after mass, my fellow altar boy and best friend Lou Viani and I stood talking with Brother George in front of the church. During our conversation, Lou asked the brother if he had ever been up the bell tower of the church. George said he had, and then asked, “Would you like to go up there some time?” Lou and I responded with a resounding, “yes.” Then Brother George said, “I am too busy to do that today, but if you guys meet me here next Thursday, at 7 p.m., I will take you up there.” Wow, we could hardly wait.
So it was, on the next Thursday, Lou and I met Brother George on the front steps of the church, where he let us into the vestibule. From there, we proceeded up the stairway to the glass-enclosed children’s room in the back of the church, then up another flight of stairs to the choir room. There facing the choir room stood a locked door which George unlocked and let us in. Inside the room, we looked straight up to the top of the bell tower. Now we were really exited.
We followed Brother George up four flights of stairs to a stoop at the very top. He then reached up and pulled down a retractable ladder which he climbed up and then slung open a trap door. Into the tower he went and then waved us up. Within seconds, we sat in the tower overlooking the entire landscape of the city of Sacramento. The views were incredible. Looking north we saw Sacramento State College and the H Street Bridge, with cars streaming across it in the waning light. Looking west we saw the lighted dome of the California State Capitol building. Over in the south, we viewed the California State Fair, with lights ablaze as the fair had just opened up.
We sat up in the tower for about 15 minutes, taking in all the sights and wafting in the warm air of a Sacramento Summer night. Finally, Brother George said, “we better get out of here now boys, before it gets too dark. So, down we went to the first floor of the church where we said our good bys and headed home.
I have never forgotten that experience. In the intervening years I have ascended the Eiffel Tower, rode an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and gone to the top of the Pearl Tower in Shanghai, China, but I think none of those adventures made a greater impression on me than climbing to the top of the St. Mary’s Church bell tower: another unforgettable Janey Way memory.

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